Field Report –
Shipwreck Site, Boca Chica, Texas, May 10, 2005
filed by Admiral Jerry Drake, M.A.
On May 7, 2005 my wife Vickie and I
visited the site of the shipwreck discovered by members of the United
States Power Squadron on Boca Chica beach.
The wreck is located in the proximity of the Texas-Mexico border,
on the Texas side of the boundary.
(NOTE: All references to specific coordinates have been omitted
from this report.) The
wreck was quite easy to find, although the location itself is remote.
Boca Chica appears to be sparsely visited and those visitors that
do penetrate to the area of the wreck seem to have taken only a passing
interest in it.
wreck is situated in a region of shifting sand dunes, many of which are
in excess of twenty feet in height.
The beach in this area appears to be highly unstable.
The wreck was exposed on the day we visited, but a photograph
sent to Admiral Walter Nass by a USPS member taken in February shows the
wreck to have been almost completely buried at that time.
wreck is situated at the tide line.
It is tilted at a slight incline toward the ocean with the
bowsprit oriented south, aligned with the beach.
A large portion of the wreckage is present.
The exposed timbers appear to correspond with the ship from a
level just above the water line down.
It is not known how much of the vessel is still intact below the
sand. However, the timbers
that are visible are notable for their remarkable state of preservation.
Short of chinking, the various exposed ribs of the ship are fully
particular interest is the forequarter of the vessel, which still has a
portion of the bowsprit intact. On
the day we visited this was the most heavily exposed portion of the
wreckage. The timbers making up the bow are in extraordinary condition
and remain tightly grooved.
wreck itself appears to be stable.
Marine life and exposure to the open air have caused some damage
to the exposed timbers, but overall the exposed material is in an
excellent state of preservation. Accurate
coordinates were plotted for the site, so even if it were to be fully
reclaimed by the beach it can still be relocated.
Description of the Wreckage
the amount of wreckage exposed it was easy to get an idea of the size of
the vessel. The length of
the exposed wreckage is 80 feet (24.384 meters), with a beam of 20 feet
(6.096 meters.) A large
wooden beam is situated roughly amidships and is perpendicular to the
remainder of the wreck.
This beam has a diameter of 19 inches
(48.26 centimeters) and appears to be the mainmast.
The mainmast, although circular, is rough-hewn, giving it a
slightly octagonal shape. Members
of the Power Squadron described finding an iron bolt jutting out from
the base of this mast, although it was not visible during our visit.
An attempt to excavate to the level of the bolt proved futile due
to wave action.
are two additional perpendicular beams nestled side by side to the
forequarter of the vessel.
beam is square, measuring 7 inches by 7 inches (17.78 centimeters by
17.78 centimeters). The two
beams nestled together create a rectangular shape measuring 7 inches by
14 inches (17.78 centimeters by 35.56 centimeters). It is tempting to refer to this structure as the foremast,
but its rectangular shape and close proximity to the bow make this
designation problematic without further investigation.
However, in all likelihood this structure is some sort of mast
bow, itself, is in an excellent condition.
A portion of the bowsprit is still present and is situated well
above water level. The ribs
in this area of the vessel are the best exposed and have remained in
good condition despite being open to the elements.
quarter of the ship is not as well exposed as the fore.
It is possible to observe many of the ship’s ribs to the
larboard side, but the starboard ribs are almost completely buried.
the rudder compartment is visible.
A search was made for the remains of a spanker mast, but probing
with a trowel proved fruitless. It
is unlikely that a ship of this size, however, would sport a spanker
day of our visit 34 ship ribs were exposed.
The ribs alternated between 4 inches by 5 inches (10.16
centimeters by 12.7 centimeters) and 5 inches by 6 inches (10.16
centimeters by 15.24 centimeters).
Additional ribs were located on both the starboard and larboard
sides with only a slight amount of excavation by trowel.
wreck is oriented with the bow facing south, paralleling the line of the
beach. It is inclined
slightly toward the sea, such that the beams to larboard remain under
water. The ship is located at the tide line and may only be
visible during low tide.
The overall material condition of the
wreck is good. Wood below
the water line remains quite firm.
The timbers of the ship appear to be wicking water from the ocean
into the extremities of the exposed timbers, helping the timbers remain
moist and, therefore, high in saline content.
Those sections of timber that have begun to fully dry, especially
in the exposed ribs to starboard at the bow, have taken on a spongy
wreck is buried too deeply to be easily preyed upon by treasure hunters. Additionally, the heavy law enforcement presence on Boca
Chica provided by the U.S. Border Patrol makes unobserved pilfering
than the sun and heat, the greatest enemy of this wreck appears to be
biological organisms. Moss,
barnacles, and various species of mollusks infest the exposed timbers,
especially on the larboard side and around the mainmast.
Removal of a few areas of infestation via trowel exposed clear
damage inflicted by the presence of these various life forms.
wave action does not appear to be a contributing factor to the
deterioration of this vessel. Physical
erosion appears to be mitigated and there was no clearly observable
damage due to the presence of the wreck at the tide line.
Is it the Moctezuma?
is no physical evidence at the site of this wreck to confirm that it is
the Mexican schooner-of-war Moctezuma.
However, there are some tantalizing clues.
This ship is clearly a schooner, as opposed to a cutter, ketch,
yawl, or other light vessel known to have been in use on the Texas
coast. Although the
historic literature has yet to provide a description of the Moctezuma,
it is known that it was boasting a crew of 77 when it was captured by
USS Grampus on August 28, 1832.
This crew component is consistent with a vessel the size of the
Boca Chica wreck.
the Boca Chica wreck is in the correct location to be the Moctezuma.
Invincible engaged Moctezuma near the mouth of the
Rio Grande and apparently ran the ship aground.
The location and orientation of the Boca Chica wreck is
consistent with the published accounts of the engagement, although
additional research is needed in order to gain a better understanding of
how the events took place.
a case for the Boca Chica wreck as the Moctezuma will require
additional primary source research, which is currently under way, and
the return of the Carbon14 dating results.
Dating will take approximately sixty to ninety days, during which
time research into the historical record will be completed.
Admiral, Texas Navy
October 6th, 2005
Exploring the Wreck of the Moctezuma
C. Drake, Admiral, Texas Navy
In the business of historical
research, the discovery of a new, tantalizing piece of evidence can
often lead to more questions than answers.
The discovery of a shipwreck lying in the beach at Boca Chica,
Texas is just one such clue. Originally
found some years ago after the tidal surge from a tropical storm laid
the wreck bare, through the efforts of the members of the United States
Power Squadron, the wreck has been carefully documented in photographs
since the time of its initial exposure.
The wreck itself is laid bare at the water line and
runs parallel to Boca Chica beach.
It is literally a ship in a desert.
The wreck appears to be that of a schooner with a length of 80
feet and a beam of 20 feet. According
to the Texas Historical Commission, it is one of many such wrecks that
litter the Texas coast and one of two wrecks located on Boca Chica. However, it is precisely the location of this particular wreck
that raises such intriguing questions.
In early April 1836, while the war with Mexico
still raged, the Texas Navy Ship Invincible encountered the
Mexican Navy Ship Moctezuma near the mouth of the Rio Grande.
After an exchange of fire, the Moctezuma was run aground.
It is intriguing to think that Boca Chica’s ship in a desert
might be the remains of that ill-fated Mexican schooner-of-war.
That possibility is very much worth exploring.
The wreck itself has given up few clues as to
its identity. Although
portions of it are exposed, little can be gleaned from the visible
remains. The wreck is
certainly the right type of vessel and in the right place to be Invincible’s
former prey. However,
those facts in no way confirm this wreck as being that of Moctezuma
but they do make it well worth additional study.
The adventures of the Texas Navy will be a hot
topic at the 2006 Annual San Jacinto Symposium.
Author Jonathan W. Jordan will provide a lecture based on his new
book Lone Star Navy: Texas, the Fight for
the Gulf of Mexico, and the Shaping of the American West and
I will be giving a talk and photo presentation entitled “A
Ship of Tides: Searching for the Wreck of Moctezuma” based on
my investigation of the Moctezuma’s history and the wreck at
that forum we will undoubtedly explore many of those tantalizing pieces
of evidence that makes studying the Texas Navy such a fascinating
Source Material Library
Please note that all
shipwrecks found along the Texas coast are important, legally protected
archaeological sites. Collecting of artifacts at such sites is strictly
prohibited by law.