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Remains of wooden ships west of Reeves Beach in Riverhead. (Credit: David Benthal)

The dramatic high bluffs at Reeves Beach in Riverhead offer some of the best views on the North Fork, especially at sunset. 

Nestled at the end of Park Road, the secluded beach opens to a wide expanse of the Long Island Sound. But further down along the shoreline, a mystery awaits: remnants of five ships known as “The Wrecks.” 

From the steps leading down to the shore, it’s about a 10-minute walk to the west for a glimpse of what remains of five wooden Merchant Marine ships. 

The vessels are believed to be WWI-era freighters that were sunk in the 1930s to create a breakwater for a local sand mining company, according to Riverhead Town historian Georgette Case. Due to poor sand quality, the mining operation was abandoned and a pair of fires destroyed the vessels in the 1940s. 

A 1943 Riverhead News article notes that men removing iron and steel from the wrecks were using a blowtorch, which may have started the blaze. A second fire in 1947 burned the structures to the water line and sparked many brush fires along the shoreline. 

Case said her office receives the most inquiries about the Friar’s Head Wrecks, named for a nearby soundfront property that’s now a golf course. “When people go walking on the beach, they see it and don’t know what it is or why it was put there,” she said. “They get curious.” 

Shifting wind and sand conditions determine how visible the hull is on a given day, but it’s usually a safe bet to venture out during low tide. 

Over the years, the wood has deteriorated, battered by the waves, but the massive beams still remain a sight to behold, covered in emerald green moss and barnacles. 

The town beach is open year-round, however a town parking permit is required from April 15 through Nov. 15. So head out soon!