|Levin J. Marvel|
If asked to name the deadliest shipwrecks in Chesapeake Bay history, a person’s mind might jump to the 1800s or earlier, when ships were the most common way to transport goods and people long distances.
But the shipwreck that saw one of the Bay’s largest losses of life happened just 68 years ago, and a survivor is coming forward this month to recount the experience.
The Levin J Marvel, a schooner that took passengers out for pleasure cruises, was on a weeklong summer cruise in 1955 when Hurricane Connie, a Category Four storm, came up the Bay. The schooner sought shelter in Herring Bay, but it wasn’t enough to protect the people aboard.
On Aug. 12, 1955, the hurricane’s gale-force winds broke the Marvel apart just a quarter-mile from shore. Of the 27 people on board, 14 died. 13 others, including four crew members, were rescued. Citizens of nearby North Beach and Chesapeake Bay went to great lengths to rescue the shipwrecked victims, even forming a human chain along the jetty at Fishing Creek amid ship debris, according to the Bayside History Museum.
One of those rescued was 16-year-old John Ferguson, who had boarded the Marvel for a summer vacation with his father. His father was among the 14 who didn’t make it.
The Marvel was a three-masted 125-foot ram schooner built in 1891. It was built with a shallow draft for hauling cargo through the C&D Canal and repurposed as a pleasure cruise boat in 1945. After it tragically wrecked, the Coast Guard investigation found lacked adequate lifesaving equipment, disregarded weather forecasts and suffered from wood rot. It had apparently never been certified for passenger service. Its sinking prompted regulatory changes in the oversight of small passenger vessels.
Hmm, ignored the weather forecast, had inadequate safety gear, and wood rot. First I've heard of this wreck. But I remember the wreck of the El Toro II in 1993. Some things never change.