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S.S. Zoe

An article on the S.S. Zoe, written by Jason Kennedy

On February 12, 1871 the iron hull steamer Zoe left New York for Brest, France with a cargo of provisions for the relief of the French sufferers. After several miserable days at sea while off the coast of Nova Scotia rough conditions had caused some barrels of cement in the holds to shift and break open. When the captain realized that the cement had choked up the pumps allowing the crashing sea to flood the ship he set course for the nearest port of Shelburne, Nova Scotia. After reaching the approaches of Shelburne the captain saw he could not make the safety of the harbour due to the ice formation preventing access to the harbour. He made for Halifax and in reaching Sambro took on a pilot so to insure the safety of his vessel entering the approaches to Halifax Harbour.

On February 18, 1871 a wooden Brig by the name of Fawn met her fate on the rocks of Duncan’s Reef in these same rough seas. Part of her cargo was sugar and oranges and locals plundered all the cargo left on the vessel. This practice of looting wrecked ships, and in some cases luring ships in to their doom so that their cargo may be salvaged was called Wrecking. Wreckers often waited until an unsuspecting ship was in harms way and then make out to be a light and disorientate the ship to it’s watery grave. When this became a punishable offence, wreckers often worked at night to salvage the cargo of sunken ships.

As the pilot was bringing the Zoe in to port he noticed the lighthouse on Meaghers Beach. He set his course accordingly and shortly thereafter struck Bell Rock. Although not intentional, the wreckers plundering the Fawn resembled a light close enough that it caused the wrecking of the Zoe and 3 close calls. The brigantine Florance made the same mistake and was saved only due to the alertness of her lookout. The schooners Summerville and Morning Light also were mislead to narrow escapes.

The previous year the Zoe was wrecked in Cow Bay Cape Breton (Morien Bay). She was sold to Mr. Bellont of the Block House Mining Company and other parties in New York. She was raised and taken up on the Marine Railway and repaired. From there she took a load of coal to New York before being chartered for her present voyage.

The Zoe lay partly submerged after going down in twenty minutes. No lives were lost but it was determined that the vessel was a total loss. The hopes of saving some of the cargo were left to the chance of weather remaining favorable. As fate would have it by the time clear weather came the ship had succumbed to the relentless pounding of the seas and had slipped beneath the waves.

The first time I dove this wreck we had a couple sets of numbers and we were unsure of the correct coordinates. As usual we relied on Skipper Dave Gray’s expertise in spotting wrecks using his color sounder. As we hit the first set of numbers he said “There’s no metal on the bottom here.” We advanced to the second set of numbers and the anchor was dropped. As the second group in, after already completing a deep dive to the Sonja Maersk we descended down the anchor line. The bottom appeared quite quickly as the boat had drifted back over shallow water. The anchor was secured in 87fsw. As we touched on the bottom and adjusted our gear we headed towards deeper water. As we descended down over the ledge the first group of divers were returning to start their assent. Seeing only small fragments of steel we were encouraged by the two divers who pointed in the direction of the bulk of the wreck. Lying in a valley we followed the debris field to 116 fsw. Suddenly a shadow dimmed the light coming down the rock face from the surface. Turning to investigate, I came face to face with a hull and propeller, and rudder still standing vertical upside down. As requested I shot my liftbag so as to get a solid set of numbers for the wreck. Getting out of the deeper water we made our way up the ledge through the wreckage. I spent the rest of my dive in the shallower depths where the typical ceramic square galley tiles along with some broken bottles and dishes could be seen. Could this have been the mess? It was pretty badly mutilated and there was no strong evidence that could separate one part of the wreck from another. As my decompression obligations increased I floated off the bottom and back to the anchor line, which was just above us as the angle of the line disappeared over the ledge. As happened to us, we met up with the third group of divers entering the water. Giving the same courtesy that we received we pointed to the direction the wreck was concentrated in as we swam towards our first deco stop.