In nautical circles, building a boat that proceeds to sink an astonishing 24 times would be considered a disaster. For the purposes of the crew tasked with filming 1975’s shark thriller Jaws, it meant they had done their job.
In an era before computer effects, director Steven Spielberg and production designer Joe Alves wanted their adaptation of the Peter Benchley novel—about a shark that terrorizes the tourist hub of Amity Island—to feel authentic. That meant shooting on location at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where they spent five agonizing months putting actors and several malfunctioning mechanical sharks in the water. Often, those scenes would be centered around the Orca, the fictitious shark-hunting boat manned by salty seaman Quint (Robert Shaw). For shots where the 42-foot Orca was assaulted by the atypically aggressive shark, Alves and his team substituted the functioning boat for the Orca II, a near-exact duplicate that had no motor but could sink on command. It’s the Orca II that takes up most of the screen time during the film’s climactic scene, when the shark decides to jump on the stern of the boat to take a bite out of both the vessel and Quint.
But the shark was not the only threat to the Orca II. After being decommissioned and put out of movie service, the replica boat would spend the next several decades being ransacked by Jaws fans and memorabilia collectors despite being located on private land. Frustrated and fed up, its owners would take a chainsaw to its fiberglass hull, leaving little more than a relic that was later visited by an archeologist fascinated with its status as a “fake” artifact.
In being looted by trespassers and ravaged by the sea, had the Orca II transformed into something other than a movie prop? Had it become a cultural touchstone worthy of closer examination, or had the film’s popularity exaggerated its significance? And after nearly 45 years, would there be anything left of the Orca II to even examine?
From the beginning, the Orca II may have been the only element of Jaws that worked as expected. The Universal film, which initially had a modest budget of $3.5 million, was directed by Spielberg, who had impressed executives with his television work and a 1974 feature, The Sugarland Express. Spielberg and screenwriter Carl Gottlieb rewrote Peter Benchley’s script, preserving only the bare bones of the story: A shark arrives during tourist season on Amity Island, throwing the town into an uproar. Chief of police Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) recruits a marine biologist named Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and ornery old seaman Quint (Shaw) to protect their shores from the marine terror. Quint’s boat, the Orca, would be their maritime base of operations.
Alves tells Mental Floss that the need for a second stunt boat was obvious from the beginning. “I did 250 storyboards,” he says. “We knew the boat had to sink, and there was no way of sinking the real Orca and bringing it back.”
The working Orca was a 42-foot-long former lobster boat dubbed the Warlock that Alves had found near Marblehead, Massachusetts. The white boat was repainted in burgundy and black and accessorized with a pulpit and oversized windows, the better for a casual audience to identify it as a formidable shark-hunting vessel. It was part of a fleet of 16 ships the production used for filming on water, including multiple barges that towed boats and the mechanical sharks, as well as a catch-all vessel, the SS Garage Sale, that had dressing rooms and a bathroom for cast and crew. Speedboats could transport people or supplies back and forth from shore. Even with these ships, shooting on water was interminable, a fact that’s become part of Jaws lore.
“It’s so difficult,” Alves, who worked on three of the four Jaws films, says. “The water is non-consistent. You had to anchor boats with four anchors to control them.” Once, the Orca took on water and partially sank. It had to be pulled out, dried out, and have wood replaced, all in time to be ready for shooting the following day.
Knowing the actual boat could never withstand such repeated stresses, Alves commissioned the production crew to make a cast out of the Orca and use it to construct a fiberglass replica. On the surface, the Orca II was a mirror image of the Orca; the team ran props back and forth between the boats as needed. But underneath was much different. Without a motor, it had to be towed into place for shots. If it needed to sink, a crew member would use pneumatic tubes to tip the barrels mounted below the hull so they would begin to take on water, and the ship would be pulled into the depths. Once water was siphoned out, the barrels would regain their buoyancy and it would return to the surface. It was so convincing that production painter Ward Welton once jumped on board to try and start it—and got confused when he couldn’t find the motor. He thought it was the actual Orca.
What Alves needed in addition to the Orca II and the other boats were experienced boat operators. He found a local named Lynn Murphy while supervising the construction of Quint’s home in nearby Menemsha. “I hired him,” Alves says. “He had a little shack there where he kept his boat. He was yelling and screaming. I asked if he was a boat guy because we needed some.” Lynn and his wife, Susan, both came on the production to captain the boats and oversee their use. “Lynn knew a lot about boats. He got there and corrected some things. We started using him to tow the shark.”
That Alves witnessed Lynn yelling was not an unusual occurrence. The former auto mechanic, who operated Menemsha Marine Repair, was infamous in the area for his fiery temper. Following some kind of verbal dispute with harbor master Phil Le Vasseur in 1969, Lynn ended the argument by tossing the man into the harbor.
“He was a rough kind of sea guy,” Alves says. As the story goes, Spielberg was so enamored with Lynn’s persona that he directed Shaw to channel him for Quint. That makes sense to Alves, who says Shaw took inspiration from Lynn and that the two often went out for drinks after filming for the day.
(Tempestuous as he may have been, Lynn was also known for his selflessness. He was once commended by then-Senator John F. Kennedy for his bravery in securing boats and providing assistance during two major hurricanes in 1954.)
As difficult as filming was, it might have been impossible if not for the efforts of Lynn, Susan, and the other locals. Filming that was supposed to end in July dragged on through August and into September. Shots that would have been simple to do on land were at the mercy of unpredictable waters and unforeseen circumstances. Once, the Orca II sank a little too well, taking with it two Panavision cameras that cost Universal $24,000 a week to rent. Both cameras were full of film. In a panic, a crew member stuffed the film into a bucket of freshwater to try and prevent the saltwater from ruining the celluloid. He then jumped on a plane to New York in the hopes that Kodak could develop it in time. The footage was saved, but the fate of the cameras is unknown.
Near the end of shooting, the Orca II was positioned for its biggest moment. In the final face-off between man and shark, the mechanical predator (nicknamed “Bruce” after Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Ramer) was to “jump” on the stern, destroying it and gobbling up Quint in the process. Alves had made several breakaway sterns for the Orca II out of balsa wood. “We had three sterns,” he says. “I wish we had four. I’m not that happy with how the shark landed. There’s not a lot of balsa wood in Martha’s Vineyard. We shipped it in from Los Angeles.”
In September, Spielberg finished principal photography. Alves and others stayed behind for pick-up shots, including one last sinking of the Orca II. Once the film was finally done, the crew hurried off. Virtually no thought was given to the movie even being any good, let alone concern for the props or production elements involved.
“The studio didn’t give a damn,” Alves says. The Orca was shipped to Hollywood, where it was sold to a special effects technician who wanted to use it for sword fishing. He paid $13,000. The Orca II was left behind.
Lynn Murphy saw a purpose for the Orca II, but not as a piece of memorabilia. As the owner of a salvage operation, his property on the shoreline of Menemsha Creek across from the small fishing village of Menemsha had several scrap boats and vehicles, including the SS Garage Sale and three barges used for the film. He paid Universal a nominal amount of $1 to buy the Orca II, intending to use the fiberglass to build a shed on his property. It really had no other purpose because it was not actually a boat.
“It was simply a prop,” Lynn’s wife, Susan, tells Mental Floss. “It had no bottom. There was nothing that could make it float. It was not seaworthy. The only thing that made it seaworthy was the tanks that were filled to keep it floating. That’s how it could sink on cue. The only reason he got it is because they practically gave it to him.”
Lynn towed the Orca II to his private shoreline but quickly ran into a snag. The shed he intended to build was not approved by local building authorities. With little use for the replica boat, he decided to let it sit idle on shore. The Orca II was visible across the water to anyone walking near the shoreline on Menemsha. For the rest of 1974 and for part of 1975, that was not a remarkable fact. But when Jaws opened in June 1975, everything changed.
The film became Hollywood’s first real summer blockbuster, devouring box office records and sitting atop the list of the highest-grossing films of all time before Star Wars arrived two years later. Suddenly, Martha’s Vineyard was no longer just a spot for vacationers but a place to make a pilgrimage to Amity Island. Lynn Murphy’s boat was no longer a discarded hunk of fiberglass but the Orca II, sticking its mast out for all to see. People just assumed it was there for their enjoyment.
“It started to be picked to death,” Susan says. Fans of the movie—who were eventually labeled “finatics”—would come over by boat and begin tearing into the Orca II, yanking out nails, planks, and whatever else could be removed by hand. Quickly, the pulpit, mast, and fly bridge went missing.
“I’ve known people who have gone over there and taken pieces,” Jim Beller, a Jaws historian and collector, tells Mental Floss. “They weren’t sure it was the right thing to do.” Some, Beller says, took a piece and then regretted it later.
“Sometimes we called the police,” Susan says. “They would meet people on the other side of the harbor after they got back on the road with the stuff and arrest them for trespassing and stealing.” Some arrived under cover of night, using flashlights. The Murphys put up “No Trespassing” signs to little avail. A peculiar sense of ownership seemed to empower fans of the movie to chip away at the Orca II, piece by piece. It is something of a wonder that Lynn Murphy, never long on patience, didn’t wind up in a confrontation with one.
“Lynn probably yelled at them to get away from the boat,” Susan says. “Whether he ever threw anyone overboard or got violent, I don’t think so.”
This went on for years; the Orca II seemed fated to be ransacked. According to Susan, towing it away was not really an option. It had arrived by water and there was nowhere else to put it. It was too large to drag further inland or display indoors. Partially pulled apart, it was likely of little interest to Universal, who had scrambled to buy back the Orca from the special effects technician after the movie was a hit so it could be put on display at Universal Studios as part of its Jaws ride. He reportedly charged them 10 times what he had paid them for it.
Out of options, the Murphys had little choice but to watch as the Orca II continued to be disassembled, both by fans and by the damaging saltwater washing over it. Souvenir hunters had even taken to yanking parts from the Far Star, a boat unrelated to Jaws that was located near the Orca II, leading to confusion over which was the genuine fake boat. Some posed for pictures, proudly displaying their technically-illegal gains.
“People get into a frenzy,” Susan says. “They think they can take anything they want. They were not really respectful to the movie they seemed to revere.”
The breaking point came in 2005, when the Murphys discovered that Martha’s Vineyard would be hosting Jawsfest, a weekend celebration of all things Jaws. Fans of the film would be coming to the island in greater numbers than ever before, and it was likely they would descend upon what was left of the Orca II like ants on a picnic.
The Murphys had enough. “Once we cut it up,” Susan says, “it was done.”
Taking a chainsaw to what remained of the fiberglass hull, the Murphys expedited the dissolution of the Orca II. They were left with 1000 fiberglass squares that measured 1 foot by 1 foot each. If fans wanted a souvenir, they could buy them in a proper transaction. The pieces did a brisk business, with certificates of authenticity from the Murphys. One piece reportedly sold on eBay for $1850.
In 2011, the Murphys entered into an agreement with co-authors Beller and Matt Taylor to contribute smaller pieces to a limited edition of Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, a book that takes a comprehensive look at the making of the film and highlighted their contributions to the production. “Once the book came out and people found out how big a part in the movie we had, there was a certain element of respect that wasn’t there before,” Susan says. “I’m not one to hold a grudge. I have to let go of what happened to the Orca II and the difficulty we had in protecting it.”
That appeared to be the end of the Orca II, at least as far as its shore presence was concerned. But there was still at least one person curious about what remained.
The Jaws phenomenon that gripped the country in 1975 was not lost on P.J. Capelotti. When he was 14 years old, he caught the film seven times in one week when it was playing at the $1 cinema. “It’s one of those movies you could watch endlessly,” Capelotti tells Mental Floss.
Now a professor of anthropology at Penn State Abington, Capelotti was looking for a project that might prove to be slightly less strenuous than some of his archaeological pursuits of the past. In 2015, his daughter showed him an article in the Boston Globe about the 40th anniversary of Jaws. “It had a picture of two different Orcas, one that was actually a real vessel and one that was a mock-up of the real vessel,” he says. “I thought, ‘Cool.’ I’m a Jaws fanatic. I knew where it was.”
Capelotti was not in search of a souvenir but to assess the location itself, which had become the unlikeliest of archaeological sites, for a chapter in his 2018 book, Adventures in Archaeology. “I wanted to see what was left,” he says. By this time in May 2017, Lynn Murphy had passed away; the couple had sold the land to the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank, where it eventually wound up in the hands of a Native American tribe. To step foot on the land, visitors need permission from the natural resources department of the federally acknowledged Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Capelotti reached a friend at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get approval. A 45-minute ferry ride got him to Vineyard Haven, and a 45-minute drive took him to the segment of West Basin Road that looks out opposite Menemsha. After a 45-minute hike across a salt marsh and white dunes, Capelotti finally found it: the final resting place of the Orca II.
Above the sand and shallow water, the only thing that remained were six stanchions from the metal framework that was beneath the hull and held the barrels. Together, it measured 18 feet, 6 inches long and 8 feet wide. Some short lengths of the pneumatic tubing to assist in the sinking were also there. Nearby, what was left of the Far Star continued to erode, though it retained a boat-like shape. Some 60 feet away was the SS Garage Sale, the utility vessel from filming. It was all little more than a little bit of rubber, metal, and outlines in the sand. Whatever might be buried farther down went undisturbed. “I didn’t have permission to excavate into the sand,” Capelotti says.
Had it not been for exposure and overzealous fans, it’s likely the Orca II and its fiberglass frame would have outlived the original Orca, which went missing from the Jaws ride in 1996 and was thought to have deteriorated to the point that it sank and subsequently broke in half during an attempt to salvage it.
With the Orca II stripped down to its bones, Capelotti saw more than the vestiges of the prop it once was. It was a lesson in the fragility of cultural artifacts.
“Most sites we work on [in archaeology] have been reduced steadily over time,” he says. “The stone in the Roman Coliseum was looted in the Middle Ages to make homes for people in Rome.”
Susan Murphy continues to sell pieces of the Orca II, which she mounts in a shadowbox for $130 plus shipping. They still move at a steady clip, and Susan says she has enough inventory to keep Jaws fans supplied for the foreseeable future. Purchasing one requires some imagination. Stripped of paint, the fiberglass pieces aren’t easily identifiable as something that was once part of the iconic vessel that helped bring down one of the most terrifying horror villains in movie history.
“I have a piece of the red part of the Orca II, a big piece, but you wouldn’t know what it was,” Beller says.
If the Orca II had remained intact, Capelotti believes it could have been destined to sell for an incredible sum to a collector. “Dorothy’s ruby slippers [from The Wizard of Oz] are valued at millions of dollars,” he says. “Imagine what something like the Orca II would have been worth.”
Sometimes, Beller says, there are renewed talks of a fan building a full-scale replica. No one has fully committed to such an ambitious and expensive project, though. To date, nothing has surfaced, and the Orca II lives on only on film and in photos. But that doesn't mean it's been entirely forgotten.
Not long ago, Alves was at a convention, Shark Con, when he was approached by a father and daughter who presented him with a small piece of metal. “What’s this?” he said. The two explained they had been to West Basin Road—presumably without tribal permission—and had taken what they believed to be a souvenir of the Orca II. This time, though, things went a little differently.
“They gave it to me,” Alves says.
Additional Source: Adventures in Archaeology.