The Brief History of the Quarterdeck Club

Once in a while, I do some shipwreck research which turns out to be fun. Such was the case with the search for information on the Quarterdeck Club.  It took a while; searches involving the NJ DEP always do. But there is now a shipwreck in our files that actually sank in Barnegat Bay.  Hope you enjoy it.

The Maritime Museum’s shipwreck files is an impressive monument to a lifetime of data collection.  Information on over 4600 shipwrecks has been organized into 80 binders stored in book cases covering one wall of the museum’s main room. The files contain the research of Frank Watson, Richard Krotee, Marie Levine, Sir Robert Marx and many others as well as newspaper articles and photos, some dating back to 1825.  The earliest documented shipwreck occurred on Sandy Hook in 1705; the latest at Barnegat Inlet in 2020. The vast majority are on the Jersey shore in the Atlantic Ocean.  In recent years, we have added several wrecks that met their demise in the Delaware Bay and River.  But up until very recently, we have had no – zero – documented shipwrecks in Barnegat Bay or Manahawkin Bay.

There are some valid reasons for the absence of documented bay wrecks. Barnegat Bay is too shallow to provide an inland route for commercial traffic.  And while recreational boats are known to occasionally strand or sink, those incidents rarely show up anywhere beyond the billing records of Sea-Tow and Tow Boat US.  Until now.

During my weekly museum service as a docent, I recently got a call from a woman – Pam – who grew up in Lavallette.  She remembered a barge being stranded on a beach in the Bay when she was a teenager and wondered if we might have information on it.  A search of the Asbury Park Press archives produced a couple of possibilities.  Then a call to the Lavallette boro hall connected me with Denise, a resident who writes articles about Lavallette history.  Together, we were able to reconstruct the short but fascinating existence of the Quarterdeck Club.

The barge was originally a 100 foot long railroad barge owned by the Erie Lackawanna Railroad and was used to carry railroad cars and freight across the Hudson River to Manhattan.   It was retired from service and sold to William (Bill) Scott, a Lavallette resident.  Scott anchored the barge in a Lavallette lagoon and went to work to convert it into a 24 hour restaurant, a fishing bait & tackle store and even a compressor to refill scuba tanks. The conversion was done quickly and the Quarterdeck Club was opened for business in July, 1962.

Bill Scott had a very colorful past.  He was once a charter boat captain operating in Brielle.  Bill moved to Florida and served as a tug boat captain ferrying freight barges between Cuba and Miami.  He was running an air conditioning business in Cuba which he lost when Fidel Castro came into power.  Scott then became a freedom fighter with an anti-Castro group in their futile efforts to defeat Castro.  Much of the work to convert the barge to a restaurant was done by five refugees who came out of Cuba with Scott.

1 AP Press Photo July 1962

The Quarterdeck Club was a modest success but was not lacking in excitement. Just a month into operation, the restaurant was visited by five young toughs from Union.  They took $100 from the restaurant cash register and went looking into the private parts of the barge where they were met by Scott.  He ordered them to leave.  When they refused, Scott took out a pistol and shot three of them.  All five were arrested for trespass along with Scott who was charged with atrocious assault. The charges on all of them were later dropped.  There was one other  rumored incident when Scott shot at four other persons who entered his private space in the barge.  No one was arrested or charged in that incident since Scott missed them all.  It could be that Scott started this rumor to let potential thieves know that he was armed and willing to shoot.

Disaster struck on June 20, 1963.  During the night, the Quarterdeck Club mysteriously broke its moorings and drifted away.  With the pipes to the sewerage tanks severed, water entered the barge.  It finally sank into the mud in a lagoon off Monterey Beach and firmly attached itself to the bottom.  Bill Scott claimed that all was in good shape when he left the restaurant the prior evening.  The Dover Township (now Toms River) police investigated the possibility of sabotage or criminal intent but found none.

2 AP Press Photo June 1963

Scott made several attempts to pump the barge out after sealing all the vents and openings that were submerged.  Each attempt failed.  More underwater openings were found and sealed.  Bigger pumps were engaged.  But the Quarterdeck Club remained firmly aground. After several months of legal wrangling, the State Bureau of Navigation declared the barge to be an obstruction to navigation and took over the task of raising it.

The contract was given to Joseph Matthews, a salvor from Neptune.  He successfully refloated the barge in February, 1964.  The Bureau then had to wait for the next full moon high tide before it could be safely towed to Seaside Heights.  Once there,  Quarterdeck Club would be sold at public auction with the proceeds intended to cover the cost of the refloating contract ($3,686).

The next logical question should be “What happened to the barge at the public auction?  Who bought it?”  The short answer is – I don’t know.  The State Bureau of Navigation was absorbed into the newly created NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) in the 1970’s.  Any non-essential records were discarded during the transition.  I fear the final chapter to the story of Quarterdeck Club is lost.  But the known history of the infamous barge and its owner will endure as the first documented Barnegat Bay wreck in the NJ Maritime Museum’s shipwreck files.

3 Photo Provided by Pam Q

Thank you Pam for bringing this stranded barge to our attention and providing a photo.

Thank you Denise for your research help and knowledge of Lavalette and the surrounding communities.

Thank you, Captain Bill Scott for giving so much material to Asbury Park Press reporters.  Please don’t shoot.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment