(Please note this is a shorter version of an article that
will appear in the November Newsletter of the Historical Society of the
I'm still gathering information to describe the development of Massapequa's school system, but I wanted to write about something many of you may have seen and have asked about, namely "What's that sticking out of the water?"
I've heard that question asked by visitors to Tobay Beach as they look out into the ocean. About one-half mile offshore, directly out from the central concession stand, is a black pipe that sticks out of the water at low tide. At best, it appears about a foot above the water's surface, per the accompanying photo taken on September 27.
The answer to the question is that the pipe is the remaining mast of the Roda, a freighter that sank off Tobay Beach in 1908.
There were many shipwrecks off Long Island's south shore. The area is affectionately referred to as Wreck Valley by divers. The current Fire Island Light was built in 1858 to aid ship captains passing Long Island on their way to New York harbor, but it was unable to prevent many ships, including the Roda, from runningaground. The ship was a 315 foot long British freighter built in 1897 that had made several trips from Europe to the Port of New York. Her last trip was from
Huelva, Spain, in February 1908, when she approached Long Island in the midst
of a gale and was driven onto a sandbar about one-half mile off what was then
one of the several islands that today make up Jones Beach and Tobay Beach. The
date was February 13. The accompanying picture shows the Roda on the bar.
The ship was spotted the next morning by one of the surfmen on beach patrol from the Jones Beach East Lifesaving Station, located on what was then High Hill Beach (south of Zach's Bay). The weather was calm, so the head keeper, Stephen Austin, rowed out to the boat and requested that the crew leave.
They refused and stayed on board, hoping they would be able to float off the bar at high tide. The Roda was carrying a large cargo of copper ore, however, and so was too heavy to move.
The crew remained on board until early morning on the 15th, when the wind
increased and the boat began to pitch on the bar. The Roda's master then signaled for help, and 23 crewmen were evacuated. The master and two officers remained on board until conditions became too hazardous, when they were also rescued by the Lifesaving Service. Nobody was injured in this daring and courageous effort.
An inquiry by the boat's owners, C. T. Bowring and Company, found no one at fault for the wreck. The captain had followed charts that
brought him far closer to the shore than is the case today. Modern navigation
aids allow ships sailing into New York harbor to approach further out in the
ocean than was typical in 1908.
Efforts were made to pull The Roda off the bar, including dumping most of the copper ore to lighten her, but the two tugs that were hired were unable to dislodge her. One, in fact, was driven onto the sand and wrecked in the Tobay shallows. The owner
subsequently removed lifeboats, anchors, chains, etc. and sold them and the
ship's engine for $735.
Within months of the disaster, the Roda broke in two and the bow sank, spilling most of the remaining ore, which lies on the ocean floor today. The stern stayed upright and eventually settled into the sand, resting today at a depth of twenty feet at low tide.
The site is now used for fishing and scuba diving, and also as a target for Tobay Beach lifeguards during swimming and rowing exercises. Boaters are advised to be careful because the remains are in shallow water and can easily damage propellers and hulls.