Wreck of the Ajace
By James Donahue
The Ajace, the 11-year-old three mast barque under the command of Captain F. Morice, was just completing
a voyage from Antwerp, Belgium to New York. It was March 4, 1881, and the ship, laden with empty kerosene barrels and iron
railing, sailed right into a northeaster' battering the Eastern Seaboard.
The crew was blinded first by fog and then the gale. As the men struggled to control the rigging and
deal with the storm, they nearly collided with another ship off Fire Island. She was the John Boyd, of France. The two vessels
scraped sides, but avoided serious damage and sailed off into the storm.
The ship wrecked on the rocks the following morning, even as the lights of Sandy Hook were in sight.
Captain Morice had all hands remain on deck that night and kept his sails close reefed. When the ship went on the shoals Morice
ordered all of the stays to be cut and the topmasts dropped as the storm and high seas ravaged the Ajace.
There was one survivor of this wreck. He was Peter Sala, who was miraculously rescued by the local
life savers clinging to some floating debris a few hours later. He told a horror story of how the other crew members gulped
down the captain's supply of brandy and then, as the old ship began breaking up, began cutting each other's throats rather
than endure the horrors of dying slowly in the cold and bitter seas.
Sala told of watching as the steward brought a picture of the Madonna from the captain's cabin. He
said the steward knelt with it held up in his hands, praying fervently as blood was pouring from the gash in his throat. Other
sailors joined him, their necks also cut, and all awaiting death.
At that moment a great wave swept the ship and Sala said he found himself clinging among spars and
wreckage in the cold sea. The ship was gone. Other heads were seen in the water around him, but Sala said efforts to help
them were unsuccessful. Most of the men were bleeding to death after slashing their throats.
Sala said he found himself alone and clinging to the mizzenmast when the life saving crew reached
him at about 10:45 a.m.
The Ajace sank in about 25 feet of water. The remains of the wreck are almost completely covered by
shifting sands. The ship was built in Valti, Italy in 1872.
Sala, who had been sailing since he was in his teens, said this was the fourth wreck that he experienced
and survived. The first was a wreck that happened on the Black Sea when he was only 16. The other two wrecks occurred on the
Irish coast and then the Mediterranean.