Remains of 'The Wreck' can be seen in surf at low tide West of Davis Park, Fire Island, NY USA 

TIME MACHINE - THEN & NOW ... Still Waving Goodbye To a Ship Out of Luck

October 28, 2000 by Rhoda Amon / Newsday

In the 19th Century, the Blue Point Beach on Fire Island was an equal opportunity wreck site. Raging gales drove ships of every type and nation onto the outer bar, some never to be seaborne again. One such luckless vessel was the German tanker-steamer "Gluckauf", driven aground on March 25, 1892 (March 23/24 have also been cited), or the same date in 1893 (accounts vary). The ship, said to be the world's first bulk oil carrier (though, fortunately, nearly empty at the time), worked its way too far up the beach to be towed off. Hard-working surfmen from the Blue Point Life-Saving Station near the community of Water Island rescued the crew by breeches buoy. Wrecking tugs managed to dislodge the ship on April 7 and were towing it out to sea when the hawser broke and the Gluckauf came permanently ashore, according to an eyewitness account in "Wrecks and Rescues on Long Island," by Van B. Field. The unlucky Gluckauf, its stern sunk in the sand and its bow up, became a Fire Island tourist attraction. Visitors posed on or near the vessel, as seen in the Benjamin T. West photo above. In about 1900, junk dealers built a narrow-gauge railroad over the beach hills and, using horse-drawn carts, removed everything they could strip.
Today the waves break over what remains of the hull. Though fishing is good at the site, surfcasters like Stuart Greenbaum of Brooklyn say their hooks sometimes get entangled in the underwater wreckage.


A BIG STEAMSHIP'S FATE - Now Only a Prey for Seaside Relic Hunters.

NY TIMES: Published: November 10, 1895


For Over Two Years a Plaything for the Surf and a Curiosity for Summer Strollers Along the Beach.

On the 24th of March, 1893, just before dawn, and during a slight snow squall, the German tramp steamship Gluckauf, an oil tank boat of 2,000 tons, chartered by the Standard Oil Company, went ashore on Fire Island beach, opposite Sayville, about fifty miles from New-York, on the south side of Long Island. The men from the Blue Point Life Saving Station were promptly on hand, and the Captain and crew of the ship were brought ashore without trouble, for the sea was not rough. In fact, it was so calm a night that a rumor went along the coast to the effect that the grounding of the Gluckauf showed curious lack of care; she was insured for $200,000 in German companies, and was said at the time to be worth twice that sum. At all events, she grounded on the outer bar and a storm coming up the next day, before wrecking steamers could reach the spot, she was driven, bow on, right to the beach. Had she gone a thousand feet further she would have cut the Blue Point Life Saving Station in two. With her bow clear of the sand, so that a man could walk under her keel, the surf broke over her stern, and, at high tide, all along her starboard side.

For a few weeks it was hoped that the wrecking companies might get her off, and some thousands of dollars were spent in attempts to pull her from the sand at high tide. With every day's delay, however, she seemed to sink deeper into the sand, and when another storm opened a breach in her hold and poured in hundreds of tons of sand all hope was abandoned. She was stripped of most of her rigging, engines, fittings of every portable description, and left there for the sea to break up.

It's an ill wind that blows no good. The loss of a fine steamship cost German stock holders some hundreds of thousands of dollars; but it gave to the Summer population of Patchogue, Sayville, Blue Point, and a dozen other villages along the Great South Bay a curiosity which, during the last, three Summers, has been of more interest than a sea serpent-a big ship, 300 feet long, still in apparently fair condition, and right on the beach, where every one can climb aboard and wander all over it. Whoever the owners of the ill-fated Gluckauf may be, they make no objection to having the ship used as the playground of the thousands of visitors who climb up her sides every Summer. There she lies, a forlorn and helpless monster, bearing on her bows " Gluckauf" in big brass letters a foot long, meaning " good luck," or " lucky one "-- the irony of fate. If you have a small boat astern of your sloop, you can row ashore at the Blue Point Life Saving- Station and find yourself at the spot. But a sailboat draws too much water, and has to land at the
docks at Water Island, a local beach resort about a mile west of the Gluckauf. For miles before you reached Water Island you can see the masts and the bow of the steamer; on a clear day she can easily be distinguished from the train on the Long Island Railway, if you know where to look for her. On the ocean beach she is visible for ten miles either way, if there is not too much mist from the surf. Watching her from the bay, on the sail across from the mainland, it looks exactly as if she was trying to get across the Fire Island beach into the quiet waters of the Great South Bay.

Since she came ashore three years ago the sea has dug a pit at the stern. With the result that the bow is steadily rising. She is also canted over at a sharper angle. From the land, or port, side. a wire cable hangs over the side, enabling visitors with any ambition to climb the twenty feet to the deck. Until last year there was a rope ladder provided, but the privilege was abused by relic hunters, the last one carrying off the ladder with him, and now the wire Cable has to suffice, and it does suffice for most men and for lots of women. From the deck the view is a fine one, especially if the tide is high and a good surf crashes against the other side. Each incoming wave or breaker meets the iron sides of the ship with a tremendous crash that sends the spray forty feet into the air. The ship shakes from stem to stern, and the wonder is that, if a July surf can produce this effect, how anything is left after a January pounding. Having recovered breath from your climb, you make the tour of the ship, holding on to the rail most of the way; the deck is almost at an angle of 45 degrees. Of the four masts three remain. The fourth was cut away the night the ship came ashore. Everywhere are evidences of the marvelous power of the waves - iron bars an inch thick twisted as if made of wax: bits of machinery weighing tons tossed 40 feet out of place; bolts too heavy for a man to lift torn out and hanging in the rigging.

It is a common thing for people who visit great steamships to exclaim as they examine the massive fittings, that it is incredible that seething water could create havoc and make playthings of such ponderous things. Let them climb aboard the Gluckauf where everything bears the mark of the ocean's fury - where nothing is quite erect or straight, or whole, where everything is bent, twisted or broken. Down in the main cabin, by means of the now crazy steel stairs, the impact of the surf reverberates like thunder, driving the more timid visitors to the deck. Bits of seaweed and sand fill what once was a comfortable cabin. Everything that man or the elements could carry away is gone. In the cook's galley souvenir hunters have even pried up the encaustic tiles; every bolt or nut that could be unscrewed has been taken. Made bold by familiarity and the absence of any caretaker, people have brought axes, saws, and hatchets with them with which to hack away trophies. What they cannot carry away they disfigure. Some wretched vandals even succeeded this Summer in tearing away two of the brass letters of the name "Gluckauf," on the port side. The letters K and F are gone. Those who carried off the K and the F must have had a cold chisel with them. A recent visitor managed to chop off a copper bolt from one of the hatches: later he had the name of the Gluckaut, with the date, engraved upon it for a young woman who wanted a paper weight. Where people have failed to get a piece of the Gluckauf, they have vented their spite in scribbling their insignificant names in conspicuous places, upon the masts especially. Worse than that, some pill-maker has scrawled the name of his nostrum in letters 3 feet high on the sides of the ship. It appears to be only a question of time when every available square foot will be covered by these signs which deface our trees, fences, and big rocks. It was here on this beach last year that a Long Island genius plastered the advertisement of his cough syrup upon the broad back of a dead whale that drifted ashore.

The Long Island coast has many wrecks to boast of besides the Gluckauf, but as a rule they last only a few weeks or months. There was the Louis V. Place, that came ashore a year ago last Winter, and of which' not a vestige remains. She was a wooden vessel. Iron seems to defy the surf. The mains of the boilers and engines of the steamship Franklin, wrecked off Bellport in 1848 are still there. It may, therefore, take half a century before the Gluckauf ceases to be an object of Interest.


Type: tanker, Germany
Built: 1886, Germany
Specs: ( 300 x 37 ft ) 2307 gross tons
Sunk: Friday March 25, 1893
ran aground in storm - no casualties
Depth: 0-25 ft

The Gluckauf lies 75 to 100 ft offshore in 25 ft of water. Visibility is poor, and worsens as the surge increases. Small sections are exposed at low tide. No artifacts worth mentioning are left. She is a jumbled mass of twisted wreckage, spread over a wide area. The most dived section is the stern.

The Gluckauf was the first tanker of modern design, where the liquid cargo is contained directly in the hull, rather than in barrels. Ironically, Gluckauf means "lucky" in German, but then all ships eventually come to an end.


The tanker Gluckauf was built by Armstrong Mitchel & Company in Newcastle England in 1886. She was 300 feet long had a 37 foot beam and displaced 2,307 gross tons.

On March 24, 1893 the Gluckauf was en-route from Stett in Germany to New York. She ran aground near the Blue Point Life Saving Station on Long Island. At first her Captain though this ship could be pulled off the bar but after two weeks and several attempts to re-float the beached vessel she was abandoned. On April 21 a storm and heavy breakers severely damaged the ship.

Today the remains of this large tanker are completely buried beneath the sand only 100 feet offshore of Fire Island in 25 feet of water.


The 2700-ton GLUCKAUF, built in Britain, became the world's first true oil tanker, with separate tanks for the oil built into her hull.

Gluckauf had a bulkhead along her centerline, and further transverse bulkheads to divide her cargo space into eight tanks. Above the tanks was a trunk to allow cargo to expand. A pump room separated her tanks from the engine room. The engines were placed right aft and she had a navigational bridge almost amidships. She was the first ship to place engines astern. Tankers like Gluckauf loaded deeply, and at sea waves would often wash right across their decks.

Until her appearance, oil had previously been shipped in barrels or drums. Now it could be pumped directly into the ships tanks. With the Gluckauf the vessel hull itself became the oil container. This started a new trade which, would grow enormously over the years. Apart from increased size, tanker design has largely followed that of Gluckauf ever since.

Ironically, Gluckauf means "lucky" in German, but then all ships eventually come to an end. Her career was short lived. On March 25, 1893 she ran aground on Fire Island, New York and could not be re-floated. The remains of her hull can still be seen, just off what is a popular fishing beach.

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