A group of people climb on the skeleton of the shipwreck at Short Sands Beach on Tuesday. As the tide receded Tuesday night, people in the crowd climbed atop the wreck, then ran away from it as the next wave rolled in. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Thinking of grabbing a piece of the Short Sands Beach shipwreck as a souvenir? York town officials say not so fast.

The seldom-seen shipwreck is normally buried several feet under the sand, but it was unearthed Saturday by rough seas that pounded the shore for four days. The skeleton of the ship – believed to be more than 160 years old – sticks up from the sand close to the parking lot, providing visitors the opportunity to get a close-up view of the Colonial-era vessel.

But on Tuesday, town officials strung police tape around the wreck after receiving reports that visitors were walking up to it and breaking off remnants of the ship.

“We’re putting out a subtle message to knock it off,” said Town Manager Steve Burns. “The souvenir-seekers are more the exception than the rule. Most people don’t want a chunk of an old boat.”

The town’s beach ordinance prohibits the removal of any sand, rocks or plant life. Seaweed may be removed by special permission from the town, according to the ordinance. The shipwreck also is off limits, Burns said.

The town reached out to state officials this week to determine if the wreck actually belongs to the town. Burns said it is considered town property because it sits above the high-tide mark.

“It’s an historic resource we want to protect,” he said. “Every five years when it pops out, more people can enjoy it.”

The shipwreck is revealed every so often after large storms. It usually catches the eyes of locals, but this time its appearance has drawn an unusual amount of attention. Photos of the shipwreck posted Monday by the police department on Facebook have been shared more than 2,100 times and have amassed more than 400 comments. A television station in North Carolina called police to ask about the wreck, and a story in The Washington Post highlights the ship’s history.

Brothers Griffin, left, and Maxwell Bean of Berwick stand at the water’s edge Tuesday at Short Sands Beach in York to see the shipwrecked sloop that emerged from the sand during this weekend’s pounding surf. Their mother, Danielle Bean, had seen the wreck after previous storms and wanted her sons to see it, too. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

EXPOSED BY A SERIES OF STORMS

It took Jesssica Faranda more than an hour to drive from her home in Burlington, Massachusetts, to see the shipwreck in York Beach – a village within the town of York. She also brought her 6-year-old son, A.J., so that he could also see a piece of maritime history.

“He loved it. He kept running out to touch it,” said Faranda, a frequent summer visitor to York Beach, which consists of Long Sands and Short Sands beaches.

Her family spent about two hours at the shipwreck site. It was high tide, which forced visitors to run back and forth – if they wanted to touch the shipwreck – between waves. The trip to Maine was well worth the time and effort, she said.

“It was beautiful and the waves were beautiful,” Faranda said.

Kim Ettinger, who lives in Hooksett, New Hampshire, says she enjoys history and wanted to see the shipwreck up close.

It took her and her husband just over an hour to drive to York Beach, and Ettinger also said the journey was rewarding.

Nine-year-old Collin Montgomery, center, of Lebanon joins a small crowd Tuesday on Short Sands Beach enjoying a rare glimpse of the shipwreck. York officials took steps to safeguard the site Tuesday. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“I thought the shipwreck would be much farther out, but it wasn’t. I was thrilled to see how close to shore it was,” said Ettinger, also a frequent visitor to the town. “It was fascinating.”

Ettinger decided not to touch the shipwreck, contenting herself with taking photographs while children at the beach splashed and dashed through the waves to touch a piece of history.

The wooden hull of the ship – listed by the state as the Short Sands Beach Wreck – first made news in the 1950s after it was exposed by a storm, then again following powerful storms in 2007 and 2013.

SLOOP DATES FROM 1750 TO 1850

Shipwrecks are usually left where they lie because moving and preserving them is “hugely expensive” and only limited information can be gleaned from the process, according to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

Waves wash over the Short Sands shipwreck after high tide Tuesday. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The 51-foot hull is believed to be from a late Colonial or early post-Colonial sloop, which means it would date from 1750 to 1850, the commission said. A sloop is a sailing vessel with a single mast. Such vessels were common along Maine’s coast and were used for fishing and hauling cargo such as dried fish or lumber.

There are 1,595 known shipwrecks along Maine’s coast, including 66 in York and its coastal waters.

Burns, the town manager, said the town usually re-covers the shipwreck with sand to protect it, but this time officials have decided to wait to do that until after a storm expected to hit Maine on Wednesday and Thursday.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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Twitter: grahamgillian

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