Often, when I am sitting out in the ocean, snug in my thick wetsuit, warm against the ripping wind and salt spray, I think about all the souls that have been lost here. Over the centuries, more than one thousand ships have been wrecked between Wellfleet and Truro.
I think of the sadness and death caused by the very sandbars and waves I surf.
Ships laden with supplies and young men, pushed in by the relentless winds of lashing nor’easters and massive storm swells, smashed on the sandbars. Their cargo and their crews spilled into the sea. Thousands of souls pulled beneath the black water, only yards from the beach. Dragged down by the rip and the waves and the brutal cold. The entire crew nearly always died. There was no surviving the cold, the dark, the crushing waves, and that ripping wind.
The place where we surf today, that narrow strip where the waves stand and heave over shallow sandbars, is an ocean graveyard.
In the early 1800s, there were an average of two shipwrecks a month here. After nearly every winter storm, a ship would be found, pushed up on a sandbar, listing hard, hull broken open, sails and rigging torn to ribbons and draped over the wreckage. The Outer Cape’s inhabitants would come to collect what had washed ashore. Necessities and luxuries amidst the bodies of sailors slumped in the wrack line.
Our beautiful beaches are places of death, like historic battlegrounds.
A thousand ships. Thousands of sailors. Young men with a sense of adventure, a hunger for life. Or desperate men, signed on to provide for a wife and children. Hopeful. Alive. Caught in a storm. Terrified. Dragged down. Frozen. Dead.
And now, on the days following one of our savage winter storms, you will see, in that very strip of ocean, surfers playing in the water. In what was the most feared space over the centuries, a place prayed over, you will now hear the sounds of joy. It is now a place of happiness.
Is this OK?