The Graveyard of the Atlantic | CAI

The Graveyard of the Atlantic

Jul 25, 2017


On March 29, 1984, I went out to Coast Guard Beach with a Boston television crew from Channel 5 to videotape a program about barrier beaches and how they cope with storms and erosion – part of their series on “Survival.” It was a cool, dry day, and the crew had set up on the parking lot overlooking the Eastham barrier beach, still recovering after it was smashed flat six years earlier by the “Great Storm of ’78.” I was interviewed by a friendly man with a boyish face.

He told me that the previous “Survival” segment had recounted the story of one of Boston’s homeless alcoholics who, after ten years on the streets, reformed, remarried his wife, and is, presumably, no longer homeless. He seemed to be hoping that I might come up with some equally inspiring story about beaches. (“Hello. My name is Coast Guard, and I’m a barrier beach.”)

The crew pinned lapel mikes on us and then led us around on electronic leashes, looking for a spot where the wind wouldn’t cause audio problems. The actual interview was very informal. After each question the reporter would comment on my answer (“Great!” “Super!”), then turn to the producer, a young woman with a shock of dark red hair, to get the next question. I thought it was only a warm-up, but then they said, “How about some reversals and listening shots?” The reporter and I switched places and they shot some footage of him asking the same questions, and then nodding at my non-existent answers — which would later be cut into the previous footage. So I learned that day, if I didn’t already know, that even news interviews are staged.

The questions bordered on the inane and the inaccurate: “Will this beach always be here?” “Is it true that nude bathers endanger a beach because other people trample the vegetation to get a look at them?” “Would Henry Beston, author of The Outermost House, an account of a year he spent living on this beach in 1973 [it was actually 1926], recognize this beach today?”

At one point he asked me about the history of wrecks along this shore, which he referred to portentously as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic,” and whether they still occurred. I bristled inwardly at his cheap drama and said no, we didn’t get wrecks along here very much anymore, big ones anyway, that the Cape Cod Canal, electronic and satellite navigation equipment, had changed all that.

After the wrap we headed back to the National Seashore Visitors Center, where Warren Perry, a park ranger and an old Provincetown native, pointed out a cloud of gulls circling high above the Salt Pond, whose waters were so calm you could follow the birds’ shadows on its surface. “When they wheel like that,” he said, “it’s a sure sign of a blow to come.”

* * * * * *

That was Wednesday. By late Thursday morning the winds had increased to fifty knots, with higher gusts. At 4:53 p.m., on March 30, 1984, the Eldia, a 451-foot Maltese-registered freighter, empty of cargo and carrying no ballast, was blown ashore on Nauset Beach in Orleans. She beached about a mile south of the Nauset Beach parking lot and some five miles south of where, in my interview just the day before, I had assured the public that large wrecks no longer occurred on the Outer Beach.