Baymen Net Old Anchor

Paul Lester hauled the anchor that he and his fellow baymen Danny Lester, Nat Miller, and Jimmy Bennett dragged from the surf at Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett into a pickup truck. Jeff Thompson

    “We were gill-netting there,” Nat Miller, a bayman and an East Hampton Town trustee, said of the morning of Aug. 21 off Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett when he, along with Paul Lester, Danny Lester, and Jimmy Bennett, were fishing for bass.  We “were always told by some of the old-timers — specifically Jens Lester — that that way, east of Atlantic, there was always a hang,” Mr. Miller said.

    As the net drifted in that direction, something big got caught in it. “It came in very easy,” Mr. Miller said, “and as we pulled it in, saw what we thought was a log with branches hanging off of it. It never tore the net, never broke a mesh.”  

    “Bonackers don’t swim,” Mr. Miller said of himself and his colleagues. “We’re on the water, not in it.” Just the same, they thought about getting a line around it and towing it ashore. “We wanted to get it out of the way. It wouldn’t have been safe for bathers.”

    Meanwhile, at around 8:45 a.m., as lifeguards arrived at Atlantic Avenue Beach to set up for the day, they noticed what they thought was “a piece of wood,” John Ryan Jr., the town’s chief lifeguard, said. “There hadn’t been any surf in the last two weeks, so it was quite noticeable.” The “wood” was approximately 100 yards offshore to the east of the third lifeguard stand, he said. “It was high tide. Very unusual to see a piece of wood lodged in the surf.” A lifeguard went in for a closer look. “He radioed over that it was an anchor. I and my assistant, Jeff Thompson, were up at the dory barn, so we came down to take a look.”

    “It was just the shank, which was wood, that was exposed,” Mr. Ryan said. He gave Kelly Kalbacher, one of the lifeguards, a pair of goggles. “Kelly got to it underwater and was able to straighten it up to prove that it was an old rusty anchor.” He tied a rope to it, and the baymen used their truck to haul it out of the surf.

    “That thing has been sitting out in that ocean for who knows how long. It had to be over 150 years old,” Mr. Ryan said. “It was over 600 pounds. How did it get washed up on the beach?”  

    Mr. Ryan identified the anchor as of Rodgers design. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 10th edition (1902), the Committee of 1852 on Anchors described the design. “The stock is of iron in large as well as small anchors, and is made with a mortice, to fit over the shank instead of passing through it.” The description went on to note “the shank is rectangular at its junction with the arms, and square close to the collar for the stock; the crown is made longer than the usual, and has a large countersunk hole in its centre to save weight.”

     Informed speculation about the anchor’s origin is that it came from the Daniel Webster, which went aground in Amagansett on March 25, 1856. “Not much is known about the brig Daniel Webster,” Jeannette Edwards Rattray, the late publisher of The Star, wrote in her 1955 book, “Ship Ashore!” It “was bringing from the Canary Islands a cargo of salt, rice, nuts, and fruit,” Mrs. Rattray wrote.

    “The Daniel Webster is a hell of a good story, because one of the men who comes off ship falls in love and marries,” Richard Barons, the director of the East Hampton Historical Society said. Mr. Barons was speaking of John Lawrence, a member of the Daniel Webster crew, who married Nancy Edwards, a 17-year-old Amagansett girl, and settled here. The anchor was found, Mr. Barons said, “in the general area where it went down.”

    The baymen brought the anchor to the Lester family’s front yard on Abraham’s Path in Amagansett. “That’s what we caught fishing that day,” Mr. Miller said.