Monday, June 4, 2012

Graveyard of the Atlantic

 Roll on, thou deep dark ocean, roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Thy wrecks are all they deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.
~Apostrophe to the Ocean, George Lord Byron

Alexander Hamilton coined the nickname that has stayed with the seas of North Carolina for over 200 years: Graveyard of the Atlantic. In 1773, a 15 year-old Hamilton was caught off Cape Hatteras in a furious storm which nearly sent his ship to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Shipwrecks have occurred of the North Carolina coast since European settlement of the New World. For nearly 300 years, ships grounded on the shoals, pitchpoled in the enormous breakers, encountered sudden knockdowns outside Cape Hatteras or simply disappeared from the gray, heaving sea without a trace.

While men and women carved a new country out of the North American frontier, fighting the Native Americans, the French, the Spanish, the English and each other almost no effort was made to save the countless mariners, merchants and passengers who found themselves clinging to the tattered shrouds of shipwrecks.

Though the origins of organized lifesaving are rooted in the experiments and efforts of the Northern coastal states, for decads untold numbers of ships have been coming ashore on North Carolina beaches. The Henry, the Horacio and the Islington all foundered in the winter of 1820. The elegant steamship Home, which sailed right into the terrible "Racer Storm," was one of 16 wrecks recorded in 1837. Grounded just 100 yards off Ocracoke, the Home's shipmates realized they had only two life preservers on board. 90 people perished in the surf.

The Pulaski in 1838, the Congress in 1842 and the French bark Emilie in 1845 were all victims of the shoals off the Outer Banks. And the toll continued to mount. The Mary Anna, the Ocean, the Magnolia. During some storms, such as the brutal gale of July 24, 1850, that took five vessels at Diamond Shoals alone, miles of beach would be strewn with debris and bodies. It can never be known how many lives were lost during this period.

The alarming loss of life off the Outer Banks prompted Congress to allocate funds to station surfboats at Bodie Island, Ocracoke and Wilmington in 1852, for use by volunteer crews. Despite the great need for more, North Carolina lacked the political influence for appropriations comparable to those allocated to New Jersey and Massachusetts.

In the late 1850s, a small majority in Congress finally acknowledged the need for a publicly funded organization of well-trained lifesavers to safeguard against maritime catastrophes and to respond when trouble struck. The outbreak of the Civil War delayed their efforts, but in 1871, amid continued debate, the United States Life-Saving Service (LSS) was born as a branch of the Revenue Marine Service of the Treasury Department and the age of volunteerism was over.

Found at Fire on the Beach: Recovering the Lost Story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers  by David Wright & David Zoby

Outer Banks Ghost Fleet

The North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Branch maintains
a database of approx. 5,000 ship lost in North Carolina waters.
This map represents only 600 of them.


The following list does not include vessels lost in our sounds and rivers, or those lost due to warfare, intentional scuttling or accidents (fire, boiler explosions, etc.). Totals for inlet areas include vessels reported lost at the inlet as well as along the barrier islands to either side of the inlet:
  • Atlantic Ocean off NC—111
  • Northern Outer Banks—686
  • Cape Hatteras—424
  • Hatteras Inlet (opened 1846)—88
  • Ocracoke Inlet Vicinity—586
  • Core Banks—37
  • Cape Lookout—180
  • Beaufort Inlet—110
  • Bogue Inlet to Carolina Beach—107
  • New Inlet (1761-1879)—79
  • Cape Fear—162
  • Cape Fear River Entrance—156
  • Oak Island to Sunset Beach—22

Wreckers & the "Legend of Nags Head"

"Wreckers" by E. Duncan, in the
Winter Exhibition at 7, Haymarket
"What even the storm spared will not escape the more ruthless hand of man's fellow-man. We do not see the "wreckers" leaving in their greed, as they have often don, the poor shipwrecked ones unaided, to perish; the painter has spared us that. But on all that is left--the shattered hull, the splintered masts and spars, the tattered sails--they are gathering, more rapacious than the gulls that toss and shriek above them, like birds of prey scenting carrion; like demons round a lost soul. We had hoped that the most diabolical practice of wrecking, which formerly so much prevailed, especially on the Cornish coast, no longer disgraced our civilizations; but it would appear that this is not so, judging by the most recent accounts of wrecking at Deal, and the still worst instance at New Brighton, near the entrance of the Mersey." ~ from The Illustrated London News, January 19, 1867.

Shipwrecks have shaped the destiny of the Outer Banks ever since Native-Americans stood awestruck, as some of the earliest European seafarers met their doom off North Carolina's treacherous capes and attendant shoals in the 1500s. A century later, non-native inhabitants, many castaways themselves, survived almost entirely off the flotsam of foundered vessels. A few were even rumored to have adoped the ways of the wreckers of Britain's Cornish coast, "indulging in proverbial crudity," by neglecting, or even murdering, ill-fated shipwreck victims in order to salvage wreckage with abandon. The practice produced a legend, fanciful but false, of the origin of the name, Nags Head, which was based on how wreckers may have lured wayward ships onto the beach using a lantern, dangling from the neck of a Banker pony--a visually romantic ruse but in practice, unlikely. No navigator worth his salt would ever be fooled by a dimly-lit lantern swinging from a horse's neck, even if his vessel was within a mile or two of Outer Banks breakers. In thick and threatening weather, poor visibility would make the prospect significantly more improbable. Still, there were rumors. ~ from Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks by Kevin P. Duffus


"The main land of North Carolina is separated in most parts from the ocean by a Sound, of different breadths, and a sandy bank, that is about one mile broad and one hundred miles long. This bank is chiefly settled; and the inhabitants, some hundreds in number, are employed in fishing, piloting, or navigating small coastal vessels.

North Carolina has been long noted for the number of ships that are wrecked upon its coast in the vicinity of Cape Hatteras. There is hardly any other coast on which a ship may be cast away with so little danger to the lives of mariners: a circumstance that is fully understood by the masters of old vessels that are well insured. It is known that on the coast of Cornwall in England, on the coast of Ireland, of France, and on every other coast where ships are frequently wrecked, the mariners and passengers are in much danger of being murdered by the inhabitants for the sake of getting their property. The laws of England, where the police is well regulated, have not been able fully to prevent those abominable outrages upon humanity. On the coast of Carolina there has not been an instance of murder. The mariner or passenger, who may have the misfortune to be shipwrecked, is hospitably received. The bankers lend their active assistance in saving the cargo." ~ from The History of North Carolina by Hugh Williamson, 1812

Sunday, June 3, 2012

United States Life-Saving Service

"These poor, plain men, dwellers upon the lonely sands of Hatteras took their lives in their hands, and, at the most imminent risk, crossed the tumultuous sea ... and all for what? So that others might live to see home and friends."

Historical records are filled with stories of ship disasters off the Outer Banks. It's astounding to learn how many ships grounded and washed ashore during the 18th and 19th centuries and how often Bankers risked their lives to rescue mariners and their cargo.

During the 18th century, the Outer Banks offered no organized method of dealing with one of the area’s most constant and worrisome problems … shipwrecks. Fortunately, on their own, it's residents, known as "Bankers", did a fair job of it themselves. In some cases they were rewarded for their actions either by wreck survivors, by the ship’s owner or by public sale of the ship’s cargo.

In 1801 the North Carolina Assembly finally legislated a loose system of wreck districts for the Outer Banks that authorized wreck commissioners to handle maritime disasters. Wreck masters were responsible for gathering a party of people to rescue ships in distress—accounting for the wreck and its cargo and assuring that the ship’s owners reimbursed the rescue party. If the cargo from a wreck went unclaimed for a year, a public sale was arranged by the wreck master. At best, this system was disorganized, leaving initiatives with the various coastal communities, and depending on Bankers to have the integrity to do the right thing.

A rash of maritime disasters near the mid-9th century convinced a reluctant Congress to appropriate funds for government-sponsored lifesaving stations and in 1852, federal money paid for surfboats to be stationed at Wilmington, Ocracoke and Bodie Islands in the custody of the customs collector. But it was not until 1871, following another series of shipwrecks, that a Revenue Marine Bureau was funded within the U.S. Treasury Department and given responsibility for maritime rescues. The new legislation authorized 7 lifesaving stations on the Outer Banks, to be built in 1873 and 1874, at Jones’s Hill, Caffrey’s Inlet, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Bodie Island, Chicamacomico and Little Kinnakeet. 

The presence of lifesaving stations on the Outer Banks was a step in the right direction, but the stations were understaffed for years. It required the wreck of the Huron off Nags Head in 1877, with the loss of 103 lives, to create a public outcry for increased government resources for maritime disasters.

Two months later, the steamer Metropolis grounded at Currituck, and 85 people drowned. That same year, Congress conferred full bureau status on the U.S. Lifesaving Service (USLSS), and the agency came into its own. Like the Revenue Marine Bureau, the USLSS lay within the Treasury Department.

Still, the government rescue operations extended only halfway down the North Carolina coast, leaving Core Banks, Shackleford Banks, Bogue Banks, Topsail Island and the Cape Fear regions without an official means of responding to shipwrecks. This geographical limitation may have been influenced by the Union sympathies of the upper half of the Outer Banks during the Civil War.

The politics of Reconstruction may have dealt another hand in the evolution of the USLSS on the Outer Banks. The story of the Pea Island Station, for example, is an anomaly in the service’s annals and should be recounted in some detail.
Photo: U.S.Coast Guard
     Built in 1878, it was staffed with an all-white crew. Soon after its opening for active duty, one of its watches failed to spot a grounded vessel. This lapse cost the lives of four men. An investigation of the tragedy by USLSS officials forced the resignation of the station keeper and of the surfman who had neglected his duties. The investigating official further recommended Richard Etheridge, a local black, for the position of keeper, and on January 24, 1880, he became the first black station keeper in the USLSS. The appointment of a black keeper raised the anger of the locals, especially when Etheridge hired an all-black crew. On May 29 the station burned to the ground. An investigation cited arson as the cause, but no one was ever charged with the crime.
     Captain Etheridge supervised the construction of a new station and continued with his duties, drilling his crew beyond the requirements of the service. “We knew we were colored,” recalled one of the unit’s later members, “and, if you know what I mean, felt we had to do better whether anybody said so or not.” Read more HERE. 
     Yet another shipwreck tragedy was required to convince Congress of the wisdom of extending lifesaving operations south of Kinnakeet to the southern reaches of the Carolina coast. The dreadful breakup of the Crissie Wright in 1886 off Shackleford Banks, during which horrified citizens watched passengers and crew freeze to death in the ship’s rigging, inspired lifesaving stations at Hatteras, Ocracoke, Portsmouth, Lookout and so on down the coast to Wilmington and Southport.
     The U.S. Lifesaving Service, originally set up on a nationwide basis in 1871 and expanded to include part of the North Carolina coast in 1876, was merged with the older U.S Revenue Cutter Service on January 28, 1915. The name given to the new federal agency thus formed was United States Coast Guard, but the change made little difference along the coast, for the same stations, equipment and crews were still employed.
     At the time of the formation of the Coast Guard there were 29 stations on the coast of North Carolina. These were, from north to south: Wash Woods, Pennys Hill, Whales Head, Poyners Hill, Caffeys Inlet, Paul Gamiels Hill, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Bodie Island, Oregon Inlet, Pea Island, New Inlet (abandoned the following year), Chicamacomico, Gull Shoal, Little Kinnakeet, Big Kinnakeet, Cape Hatteras, Creeds Hill, Durants, Hatteras Inlet, Ocracoke, Portsmouth, Core Bank, Cape Lookout, Fort Macon, Bogue Inlet, Cape Fear and Oak Island.
     The Coast Guard absorbed the Lighthouse Service in 1939 and its duties came to include both prevention and rescue, customs violations, prohibition enforcement and all other national maritime regulation. In many instances, the Coast Guard simply occupied the structures of its predecessors and went on with business as usual.

U.S. Life-Saving Service Annual Reports

Annual Reports of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal years ending June 30 …

1890 – Not Available
1908 – Not Available
1914 – Not Available
1918 – Not Available
1919 – Not Available

Life-Savers & Their Equipment

Chicamacomico Crew (1914)
Most U.S. Life-Saving Service facilities were built to similar designs. Stations were manned by 7 surfmen and a keeper, who was responsible for all aspects of the station's operation. Although the stations were only manned in winter, the keeper was responsible for mustering a volunteer crew and carrying out the rescue in the event of an off-season shipwreck.

John Woodhouse Sparrow
Virginia Beach Life-Saving
Station, Early 1900s
Photo: Charles A. Harbaugh
Surfmen maintained beach patrols 24 hours a day during storms, and in hours of darkness during calm weather. Surfmen would walk patrols of at least 5 miles round trip, and sometimes up to 10 miles. In the event of a wreck, the surfman on beach patrol would light his flare to let the ship know they had been spotted, then rush back to the station to give the alarm. In pre-telephone days, the dash back to the station seriously slowed the rescuers, but there was an odd resistance to giving beach patrols horses so they could make haste more quickly. In populated areas beach patrols often enlisted the assistance of residents to speed word of a wreck, but in isolated areas they simply had to trek back to the station.

Time did not always allow for the surfman to return to the station for help. Surfman Rasmus S. Midgett, walking beach patrol from the Gull Shoal Station in North Carolina, single handedly rescued 10 people from the Priscilla, a barkentine that wrecked some three miles from the station. Although he was on horseback and thus could return to the station quickly, beach conditions would have held up arrival of the lifesavers for hours. Realizing there was only one hope for the crew, Midgett dashed into the surf 10 times, each time bringing back one of the ship's crew. The last three trips were made carrying injured members of the crew. Although the keeper thought his actions did not warrant special recognition, he received the Gold Life Saving Medal and became one of the Life Saving Service's, and later the Coast Guard's, most celebrated figures.

When ships were too close to shore for surfboat rescue, or when seas were too high to launch the boats, the breeches buoy was used. A heavy line was passed out to the ship, a sort of "life-ring with trousers" was hung beneath it, and people were brought in from the ship one at a time. The beach apparatus associated with the breeches buoy was complex and cumbersome, but many times it was the only way.

In this view most of the beach gear is laid out: at left rear are the shovels and pick used to dig in the sand anchor, the crossed wooden boards directly in front of the shovels. The sand anchor secured the inshore end of the main hawser. The cannon-like device is the Lyle gun, used to shoot a line out to the stricken ship. Its shot is the cylinder leaning against the wooden box; the box holds the shot-line itself. The spike-like devices were used to coil the shotline so it would run freely when the gun was fired. The lightweight line running under the sand anchor is the whip line, used to haul the breeches buoy back and forth from ship to shore. The heavy line run through blocks in the center foreground was used to tension the main hawser. The A-frame-like wooden timbers at right are the crutches used to support the inshore end of the hawser. Atop the crutch is the breeches buoy itself; the main hawser runs through the block resting atop the buoy.

All this equipment, along with the hundreds of feet of line required for the setup, were carried on a beach cart. This cart was usually drawn by the lifesavers themselves, but sometimes a horse was employed. Dragging the cart to the scene of the shipwreck could be the worst part of the entire operation.

For a description of a hauling out process read the United States Life-Saving Service Beach-Apparatus Drill. It illustrates the proper way to set up and display a Beach Apparatus Cart per the service's regulations in 1883.

The Coston Flare

Martha J. Coston was an inventor and businesswoman best known for her invention of the Coston flare, a device for signaling at sea. She was born Martha Jane Hunt in Baltimore, MD, and moved to Philadelphia in the 1830s. At age 14 or 16, she eloped with a Benjamin Franklin Coston, age 21, who had already acquired a reputation as a promising inventor.

As a young Benjamin Coston became director of the U.S. Navy’s scientific laboratory in Washington, D.C. At the Washington Navy Yard, he developed a signaling rocket and a percussion primer for cannons. He also experimented with color-coded night signals to allow communication between ships, which at that time was limited to visual signals such as flags during the day and lanterns at night. After a dispute over payment for his work on the percussion primer, Coston resigned his commission with the Navy in 1847 and became president of the Boston Gas Company. His work with chemical fumes at both the Navy Yard and the Boston Gas Company caused his health to deteriorate, and he died in 1848 as a result of the chemical exposure. His work on the signal flares, while important, was limited to plans and chemical formulas.

The years following Benjamin's death were filled with more tragedy for Martha Jane; two of her children and her mother died in the next two years, leaving her in poor condition emotionally as well as in difficult financial straits. While searching through her husband's papers, she discovered the notes he had written on night signaling at the Navy Yard. Her husband’s incomplete work needed substantial additional effort before it could be turned into a practical signaling system.

For nearly 10 years, Martha worked to develop a system of flare signaling based on her husband's earlier work. With a limited knowledge of chemistry and pyrotechnics, she relied on the advice of hired chemists and fireworks experts, with mixed results. A breakthrough came in 1858, while she was witnessing the fireworks display in New York City celebrating the completion of the transatlantic telegraph cable; she realized that her system needed a bright blue flare, along with the red and white she had already developed. She established the Coston Manufacturing Company to manufacture the signal flares, and entered into a business relationship with a pyrotechnics developer to provide the necessary blue color.

On April 5, 1859, she was granted U.S. Patent number 23,536 for a pyrotechnic night signal and code system. (The patent was granted to her as administratrix for her deceased husband, who is named as inventor.) Using different combinations of colors, it enabled ships to signal to one another, and to signal to shore. Captain C.S. McCauley of the U.S. Navy recommended the use of her flares to Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey in 1859. After extended testing, which demonstrated the effectiveness of the system, the U.S. Navy ordered an initial set of 300 flares, and later placed an order for $6000 worth of the flares.

Martha then obtained patents in England, France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, and sailed to England to begin marketing here invention there and in other parts of Europe. She remained in Europe until 1861, when she returned to the U.S. on the outbreak of the Civil War. She went directly to Washington, where she petitioned Congress to purchase the patent so that the flares could be used in the approaching conflict. After some delay, Congress passed an act on August 5, 1861, authorizing the U.S. Navy to purchase the patent for $20,000, though less than the $40,000 she had originally demanded.

Coston flares were used extensively by the U.S. Navy during the Civil War; they proved particularly effective in the discovery and capture of Confederate blockade runners during the Union blockade of southern ports. Coston flares also played an important role in coordinating naval opertions during the battle of Fort Fisher in North Carolina on January 13-15, 1865.

In 1871, Coston obtained a patent in her own name - Patent No. 115,935, Improvement in Pyrotechnic Night Signals. In addition to working on improvements to the signaling system, she continued to press claims for additional compensation from the U.S. government. Due to wartime inflation, the Coston Manufacturing Company supplied flares to the U.S. Navy at less than cost, and Coston estimated that the government owed her $120,000 in compensation. Although she pressed her claims for over ten years, she was offered only $15,000 additional reimbursement.

Eventually every station of the United States Life-Saving Service was equipped with Coston flares, which were used to signal ships, warn of dangerous coastal conditions, and summon surfmen and other rescuers to a wreck scene. Many accounts of wrecks and rescues describe the use of the Costen flare, which was instrumental in saving thousands of lives. While Martha Jane Coston died in 1904, her company, later called the Coston Signal Company and the Coston Supply Company, remained in business until at least 1985.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Women's National Relief Association / Blue Anchor Society

“The object of this organization is the furnishing of clothing, food and other necessaries to the shipwrecked, through supplies constantly sent on requisition from the Government agent in Washington, DC, to the 269 life saving stations on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and the lakes. It has been the sole resource of the rescued by the brave life savers of our United States Life Service for twenty-one years past.” ~Mrs. Mary Graham Young, Treasurer, 14 Aug 1901

This organization was founded in 1880 for the purpose of extending aid and comfort to the victims of shipwrecks and other marine casualties on our shores. It found its widest area of usefulness in conjunction with the rescue and relief performed by the crews of the United States Life-Saving Services. The work of looking after the comfort of those whose misfortune placed them in the care of the United States Life-Saving Services (later the U.S. Coast Guard) was undertaken to meet a most serious need: the Government never made any provision for furnishing clothing to victims of accidents and disasters upon the water.

The value of the organization’s endeavors in this regard may be best understood when it's known that people rescued from stranded vessels and given succor by life-saving stations were often without personal effects and nearly always drenched to the skin, scantily clad or with badly torn clothing. In severe winter weather, they were sometimes subjected to long hours of exposure. The stations had no money or supplies to aid them, except what these women collected and forwarded in the way of clothing, blankets and restoratives.

The organization was altogether a private philanthropy with no salary list. It was managed by a body of ladies who depended entirely on voluntary gifts and gave all its receipts to aid persons, passengers or sailors shipwrecked on the United States coasts. Practically all donations that were distributed through the life-saving services consisted of wearing apparel. An order from any station of the service was promptly honored and supplies were forwarded to their destination entirely at the organization’s expense. Station keepers were required to report to headquarters the circumstances under which they were expended.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Schooner Ario Pardee ~ 29 December 1884

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1885:

Just before midnight of the 28th the south patrol of the Wash Woods Station (6th District), North Carolina saw a schooner close in, about a quarter of a mile south of the station. The sea was running high, and the weather was thick and foggy. He hurried to the station and reported his discovery to the keeper, who at once turned out the crew and had the beach apparatus hauled down the shore to a point abreast of the vessel and placed in position. Several shots were fired, but they failed to effect communication. Her red and white running lights were burning, but no signals of distress were seen. The sea was so bad that it was deemed hazardous to launch the surf boat before morning. After daylight it was seen the vessel was anchored just outside of the breakers and badly crippled. The keeper tried to communicate with her by means of the International Code, but no answer came, for the reason, as was afterwards ascertained, that she had no signals on board. She, however, set her ensign union down, as a signal of distress. By this time the crews of the False Cape and the Currituck Beach Stations arrived on the ground to render assistance. The surf boat was soon successfully launched and the vessel boarded. The keeper provided each of the vessel’s crew with a cork life preserver and placed them and their baggage in the boat, and at 9 o’clock had them all safely landed. The schooner proved to be the Ario Pardee, of Perth Amboy, NJ, from Rondout, NY, bound to Chester, PA, with a cargo of cement and a crew of four men. An hour later she parted her chains and drove upon the bar, where she soon began to break up. The crew were sheltered and fed at the station 12 days. The captain, having lost his shoes, was provided with a pair from the stock donated by the Women’s National Relieve Association. The vessel and cargo were a total loss. The following statement was handed to Keeper Corbel by the captain of the schooner:


I sailed December 8, 1884, from Perth Amboy, with a crew of five men, all told, on the schooner A. Pardee, of Perth Amboy, bound from the port of Rondout, New York, to Chester, Pennsylvania, with a cargo of cement. Sailed at 7 a.m. Wind northwest. Passed Sandy Hook 11 a.m. When abreast of Long Branch, the wind shifted to north, and commenced to snow. At 6 p.m., wind blowing a gale from the north, took in sail, and run the vessel before the wind under a reefed mainsail and jib. Gale lasted fifty-six hours, in which we had continuous high seas, washing everything movable from deck; stove water casks and split sails. Afterwards took a gale from south, lasting about twenty-four hours, and run before that. Then took a gale northwest, and run that out. Then, wind shifting to northeast, made what sail we could and run for land. Made lightship off Five-Fathom Bank. When about five miles off took westerly gale, lasting twelve hours. Hove vessel to. When wind abated, made sail again and stood for land. Made Indian River Inlet, Delaware. Wind hauled to north. We tried to beat to Delaware Breakwater. When about five miles southeast of Cape Henlopen, blew away jib. Hove the vessel to again, wind blowing a gale and snowing. The next day, our boat being stove and the vessel leaking badly, spoke to steam Chattahoochie and asked to be taken off. The steamer made two attempts to take us off. They got one man by life buoy and line. The sea running very high and night coming on, she left us. We lay hove-to about sixty hours, when gale abated. Made what sail we could and steered west for land. Weather very foggy. At midnight December 28 we sighted a bright red light ahead [probably Currituck Beach light] and saw breakers. Let go both anchors. In a short time saw lights on shore and heard guns fired at intervals during the night. Heard two shots pass over the vessel, but could not find any line. At daylight 2th we discovered that we were near a life saving station and saw signals by flags. We had no code to answer signals. Set our ensign in distress. Son life boat was launched and we were rescued, (about 9 a.m.) Vessel still afloat, but sea running very high. At 10 a.m. vessel parted chains and came ashore, and soon began breaking up. Vessel was about a quarter of a mile from shore, in two and a half fathoms of water, when we were rescued by Captain Corbel and his brave crew, and only for their aid we would most likely have all been lost. We, the master and crew of the schooner Ario Pardee, desire to return our most sincere thanks to Captain Corbel and his men for their timely rescue of us from our perilous position and their kind treatment of us since. HENRY A. SMITH, Master ; JOHN W. COMER ; OLE JENSEN ; JOHN FORCE

Newspaper Article:
New York Times, December 28, 1884

Trawler Anna May ~ 9 December 1931

The Anna May headed out of Hatteras Inlet at 2:30 a.m. the morning of December 9, 1931. She was loaded with fish and headed for Hampton, VA. Captain of the 70-foot trawler was 22 year old Ralph Carmine. His crew consisted of his father, J.E. Carmine, Sr.; a brother, J.E. Carmine, Jr.; his brother-in-law, Rideout Lewis; and a man named M.R. Johnson.
     Long before they passed out of Hatteras Bight the trawler’s gasoline engine stopped and for the next hour and a half the crewmen took turns at trying to remedy the problem, while the Anna May drifted slowly toward Diamond Shoals. Captain Carmine recalled that all 5 men were bent over the engine box when the vessel lurched to a stop and they looked up to find themselves in the midst of towering breakers. Their vessel swamped, filled with water and settled on the shoal, leaving only her single mast above the breakers. All five crewmen—thinly clad and without distress signals and life jackets—clung to the swaying mast in the darkness above the wild surf of Diamond Shoals.
     Soon after dawn the next morning, the Cape Hatteras lookout station sighted the trawler’s mast and the men hanging to it. Repeated attempts were made to launch a surfboat from the beach, but it was thrown back each time. At two o’clock that afternoon a mist settled over the shoals, completely obscuring what remained of the craft. By then the power lifeboat from the Hatteras station had finally managed to pass through the inshore breakers but on reaching the shoals found no trace of the trawler. Newspaper headlines the following day reported: “Fishing Trawler Is Believed Lost In Hatteras Quicksands, Entire Crew Going to Deaths.”
     As the sky brightened the next morning, Coast Guard binoculars were trained on the spot where the wreck had last been seen. A vague shape slowly came into view of a tall thin pole sticking up out of the breakers. The mast still stood and men still clung to it.
     A picked crew under Keeper B.R. Balance of Cape Hatteras launched a surfboat from the beach there at the point. The crew of Hatteras Inlet Station, under Keeper Levene Midgett, boarded their power boat once more and moved out through the inlet. Meanwhile, after 30 hours on the constantly swaying mast, Captain Carmine and his four crewmen had about given up hope. Soaked to the skin, nearly frozen by the December cold, they began that second day with little thought of being saved when suddenly two boats appeared nearby. As they shouted and waved in an attempt to attract attention the mast swayed far over to one side and dipped lower and lower until it toppled into the surf. Without hesitation both Balance and Midgett turned their boats toward the breakers and pressed on into the midst of the tumultuous sea.
     “We came down once between two giant waves, striking the bare sand,” Midgett said. But this did not deter the surfmen: Midgett’s boat, larger and faster, swept in, picked up one man, then a second, finally a third; Balance’s surfboat was right beside, reached the other two, turned about even as they were dragged aboard; and all five crewmen were saved.

Schooner Anne Comber ~ 17 January 1908

On January 17 the 32-year-old schooner Anne Comber sprung a leak while offshore. She was enroute from Norfolk, VA to New Bern with a load of coal. The captain intentionally grounded the vessel on Standard Point Shoal, 6-3/4 miles from the beach and 7 miles NNW of the Portsmouth Station. She was discovered shortly after 8 a.m. by both Portsmouth and Ocracoke crews and both stations displatch lifesaving crews.

There was a strong NE blowing and the cargo and vessel could not be saved. However, the Portsmouth crew brought the four crewmen to their station where they were cared for for four days. The vessel was stripped of rigging, sails and stores and all was taken to the station. The crew of the Comber were Captain J.H. Hunter and G. Baker of North Carolina; J.F. Frost and J.K. Buck of Virginia. The vessel was completely lost.

Schooner Aurora ~ June 1837

The Aurora came ashore in moderate weather in June 1837, her crew having been saved through their own efforts and with little difficulty as there was little excuse for losing a vessel under sailing conditions as they existed at the time.
     The real story behind her loss came to light the following January, when the New York Courier published the following brief news item:
     “On Thursday last, Mr. Waddell, the United States Marshal, arrested Richard Sheridan, late master of the schooner Aurora of New York, John Crocker, mate, and James Norton, seaman, on the charge of the most serious nature, and which, if proved, will place the lives of the offenders in jeopardy. The prisoners are charged with willfully wrecking and losing on Ocracoke Bar, the schooner Aurora, bound from Havana to New York, in June last, and they are also charged with stealing from the vessel after she was wrecked $4000 in doubloons, which had been sent on board in Havana, consigned to Don Francis Stoughton, Spanish Consul in New York.”
     The Marshal specifically charged that Captain Sheridan had enlisted the aid of the two crewmen, and together they had carefully planned the shipwreck and stolen the 264 doubloons, which had then been entrusted to the Captain by his henchmen for transfer to the north where they could be converted into American money. About the time this charge was made public it may have become obvious to Crocker and Norton that they joined forces with the wrong man, as on meeting him in New York they were told that he had been robbed of the doubloons and there was no loot to divide.
     When the Captain was brought to trial in New York in February he was found guilty—the doubloons had been discovered in the hands of yet another accomplice—and he was ordered to pay costs and to repay the Spanish Consul, $4,919 in all. Captain Sheridan was kept in jail for an undetermined period as further punishment.

Barkentine Angela ~ 5 March 1883

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1883:

The barkentine Angela, of Genoa, Italy, bound with a cargo of iron ore from Cartagena, Spain, to Baltimore, MD, and having a crew of 10 men, stranded at midnight 300 yards from shore, and a quarter of a mile south of the Paul Gamiel's Hill Station (6th District), North Carolina. The vessel had sprung a leak, and, being in a sinking condition, was run aground to save the lives of her crew. At the time the sea was high, the surf raging, and the wind blowing freshly from the north. The wreck was immediately seen by the two patrolmen then starting away from the station on their respective beats, and one of them promptly fired the red Coston light as a signal to those on board, and gave the alarm. The keeper, William H. O'Neal, at once roused all hands, and they turned out with the surf boat and beach apparatus, and speedily got abreast of the wreck, with which from that time until morning they were engaged in efforts to effect communications. The steepness of the beach at this particular locality, which lets the sea break almost without intervention directly on the shore, causes, in any roused condition of the waters, a surf of great fury; and on this occasion the incessant torrents flung upon the sands made boat service impossible. Operations were therefore confined to the wreck gun. Two shots fired in succession fell short of the wreck, and a third parted the line; a fourth reached the vessel, and the life saving crew waited, wondering why the sailors did not haul the line on board. The solution came at daybreak, when the barkentine's men were discovered out at sea in the ship's boat, beyond the line of breakers, having abandoned the vessel under the conviction that sh was going to pieces. In a little while, seeing the group of station men upon the beach, they proceeded to make a series of attempts to land, but were warned off in each instance by the life saving crew waving before them a red flag. It was still impossible to launch a boat, but the sea was beginning to fall very fast, and the keeper was sure that if he could only keep the sailors away from the surf, entering which they would certainly be drowned, he would be able by 10 o'clock to pass the breakers in the surf boat and save them. At 9 o'clock, however, the sailors rowed away up the beach, outside the breakers, toward the Caffey's Inlet Station, several miles north of the station at Paul Gamiels Hill. Keeper Austin, of this station, was on the beach with Keeper O'Neal and his men, watching the sailors, and instantly telephoned to his crew to be on the lookout for them, and then hurried away to his post. Upon arriving he found his crew beside the surf boat, ready for a launch. The beach at this station, unlike that at Paul Gamiels Hill, is flat, so that the surf was much less violent, and, besides, the sea had now fallen considerably. The surf boat crew, therefore, were enabled to fight their way successfully through the mob of breakers, shipping in the passage about a barrel of water, and after rowing half a mile to the southward, met the wrecked sailors, too off five of them, and put back for the shore, shipping another barrel of water in the return. After waiting a few minutes they again essayed the passage. This time they went through with the shipment of but little water, reached the boat from the wreck, took in the remaining five men, together with the captain's chest of books, papers, and instruments, and returned safely to the shore. It was then 11 o'clock in the forenoon.
     The men thus happily rescued were in a pitiable plight. The sea had drenched them, one might say, to their very hearts, and they were famished and half frozen. Some of them were nearly naked, and the remainder had not clothing enough to keep them warm under ordinary circumstances. No time was lost in making them comfortable with food and cordials, and dry clothing was procured for them from the Poyners Hill Station, next above, a supply being on hand there, donated by the Women's National Relief Association. The men thus succored poured forth gratitude in their profuse Italian way, and called down blessings on the life saving crew for rescuing and caring for them. 

Steamer Arroyo ~ 20 February 1910

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1910:

Stranded during a dense fog at 11.10 p.m. on the 20th, 5 miles south of station. Discovered by patrolman on the morning of the 21st. Life saving crew went to her assistance with beach apparatus, and made 5 unsuccessful attempts to shoot a line on board. Seeing that they would not be able to effect a landing with the breeches buoy, the keeper sent the crew to the station for a surfboat. While thus engaged the steamer’s crew of 30 succeeded in making a safe landing in their own boats, the keeper directing them as to the best place to come ashore. Four of them were furnished dry clothing and 28 were sheltered from the 21st to the 27th. The master and mate were sheltered until Mar. 1. The master and part of the crew were carried on board 6 different times in surfboat to save the crew’s personal effects. The underwriter’s agent was also taken out twice. The vessel became a total loss. (See letter of acknowledgment.)


Schooner Anna R. Heidritter ~ 3 March 1942

The Heidritter was the last of the great 20th century sailing ships to wreck on North Carolina’s coast.
Built in Bath, ME, the Cohasset burned to the waterline on January 22, 1907 while in Baltimore Harbor. She was rebuilt in Maryland as the Anna R. Heidritter and launched in 1910. She had survived a U-boat attack in WWI and carried bullets in her masts from the encounter. Captain Bennett Coleman commanded her since 1919.
Tracking the Anna R. Heidritter
An article appearing in the New York Times on November 15, 1928 indicated that the schooner had sent out an S.O.S on Tuesday night. However, owner Edward L. Swan (of 26 De Koven Court, Brooklyn) reported it was in no danger. A communication from the Navy station at Norfolk, VA forwarded a message from the steamship K.R. Kingsbury reporting, "Passed four-masted schooner Anna R. Heidritter at 5:45 p.m. Schooner flying signals of distress. Boats gone, also provisions. Request one boat and provisions from revenue cutter. Position: latitude 31:58 north, longitude 75:08 west. Holding under easy canvas." The Kingsbury said that the schooner resumed course after relaying the message. This position would have put the schooner about 30 miles off Fernandina, FL, indicating she had blown off course during a storm.
The New York Times reported on February 12, 1936 that the Heidritter, which had left New York for Charleston, SC 32 days prior with 1,200 tons of coal, was in tow the evening of February 11 and on her way to St. John's Light, FL after having been battered by storms. At the time of her rescue she was 300 miles S.E. of Charleston and about 300 miles off course. Mr. Swan reported that the ship had most likely been blown by a northeast wind across the Gulf Stream and required an easterly wind to get her back. Earlier weather reports told of gales in the Southern waters. The Coast Guard reported that the ships plight had been observed and reported by the passing steamship Raleigh Warner at Jacksonville, which then sent out the Coast Guard cutter Yamacraw to take her in tow. The New York offices of the Coast Guard reported that the schooner had lost her sails and her supply of water was gone. Otherwise, she was in good condition.
On November 28, 1937 the Coast Guard reported the cutter Champlain had taken in tow for New York the Anna R. Heidritter. Apparently the night before she had collided with the Red Star liner Pennland about 40 miles east of Sandy Hook. The schooner suffered damage to the bowsprit and fore-rigging.
While carrying log wood from Charleston to Pennsylvania she hit a storm off Ocracoke and was washed up on a bar on May 2, 1942. After seeking refuge near Hatteras Inlet her anchors parted and she was driven ashore. With her back broken, the crew lashed themselves to the masts.  All 8 on board were eventually saved.
Nine days after being rescued, Captain Coleman died in an auto accident in New Jersey. He was 63 and the youngest of his 8 crewmen. “He was one of the most able shipmasters I ever knew and a gentleman at all times,” wrote Mr. Swan. “None of us carried insurance. Captain Coleman was our insurance policy.”

Schooner Arleville H. Peary ~ 31 October 1908

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1909:

Became water-logged, and drifted ashore 2-1/2 miles S. of False Cape and 2-1/4 miles N. of Wash Woods stations. Her distress signal was discovered by the patrols from both stations, who burned a Coston in answer and gave the alarm. The Wash Woods crew hauled their apparatus to a point on the beach abreast of the wreck, where they were met by the surfmen from the False Cape station. The first shot line went beyond the reach of the imperiled seamen, but a second line landed directly on the schooner’s cabin. The whip and hawser were then hauled off with little difficulty, and the crew of 6 men were taken off. By this time the boat wagon from the False Cape station had arrived and the lifesavers went aboard the schooner for the men’s clothing and personal effects. The shipwrecked crew was cared for at the Wash Woods station until November 3, when they were furnished transportation to Knotts Island to obtain passage to Norfolk. The schooner was a total loss.

Whip Line

Whip Line & Hawser

Trawler Albatross ~ 21 February 1940

The Wilmington Morning Star
Wilmington, NC
February 22, 1940

Manteo, Feb. 21 -- The 372-ton Albatross, deep sea trawler out of Wilmington, Del., was abandoned off Ocracoke Inles today as she began breaking up in a pounding northeaster.
     A life saving crew from Ocracoke Inlet station removed Capt. Dan W. Hayman and a crew of 15 from the craft. Capt. Hayman stood by ashore and watched his vessel break.
     Rocket signals from the foundered vessel were observed from the Ocracoke station early this morning. A station surf boat was dispatched to her side but Capt. Hayman thought the trawler was in no immediate danger. The coast guard cutter Modock also was on the scene.
    The trawler stuck at high tide and when the tide ebbed she toppled over on her side, with 10 feet of water in her hold. She was carrying 600 barrels of fish taken aboard during the last three days off Diamond Shoals.
     The Albatross, 149 feet lone, was built in 1918. She recently was overhauled and a new engine installed.

Schooner Addie Henry ~ 14 April 1895

On April 14 a grounded vessel was spotted in Pamlico Sound about 10 miles WSW of the station. The vessel proved to be the schooner Addie Henry, on passage from New Bern to Ocracoke Inlet with a load of lumber. The Henry, under the command of Captain B. Hill, had been built at New Bern in 2864. She was a complete loss and only about $300 worth of the cargo was salvaged. Keeper Howard's report of April 20 follows:

Lookout cited sch. Look like she was anchored in Pamlico South. But taking rainge found that she did not move. No signal hoisted. Near Ocracoke Island on the inside. No. 2 tuck supply boat started to scene to assertain the trubble. Reaching the scene about one 30 pm found sch sunk full of water, laden with lumber and crew had left sch in there boat, went ashore at Ocracoke vilage all right. Count not do eney thing for her not untill sch could get lighter, so returned to station 4 pm. The wind blew hard before the capt of sch could get lighter. The sch went all to peaces, sch totle lost, cargo part saved but bad order. No assistance rendered.

Schooner A.P. Richardson ~ 26 September 1894

The schooner A.P. Richardson drug anchor and came ashore on the beach about 1/2 SW of the Ocracoke Life Saving Station during a strong easterly gale and a high tide. She was under the command of Captain Newton with a crew of four, all from Long Island, NY. She was enroute to New Bern to pick up cargo. The following wreck report was filed by James Howard on October 8:

Sept. 26 about 10:30 at night No 6 surfman on his beat from 10 pm to 2 am south sited sch on beach about 1030 on his way south did not go his beat but returned as early as posable reported vessel on beach. Burned coston signal before he left her to let them no that she was sene. Keeper cault out crew hitch up mule to apparatus cart. As sea was verry high and verry strong gail and raining verry hard sand blowing almost puting our eyes out. Left station 1030 arrived to wreck 11 pm. The schooner was light come high on the beach. Went at work tuck the heaving stick waded in surf and threw on board the sch. The heaving stick hault of whip line and brought them on shore one at a time all safe. Tuck them to station wher they were cared for gave them dry clothing and made them as comfortable as posable. On 28 went to wreck sch to save capt and crew things. 29 tuck Capt of sch to Hattress to send telagram to oners. Oct 8 Capt sold vessel materiels at public sail. Sch total lost. Capt gave open thanks to the service.

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1895


DEAR SIR: I desire to express thanks to the keeper and crew of the Ocracoke Life-Saving Station for the timely assistance rendered to the schooner A.P. Richardson, September 26, when stranded here on Ocracoke Beach, in landing through the surf all on board. We were taken to the station house and cared for, with dry clothing and kind attention. S.B. NEWTON, Master ; NAT. GODLEY, Mate, schooner A.P. Richardson