Friday, March 30, 2012

RACER'S STORM ~ October 1837

In late September, 1837, a particularly violent hurricane known as "Racer’s Storm" had blown up south of Jamaica, crossed Yucatan, struck the Gulf coast of Texas, curved to the east to move over Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, George and South Carolina, and arrived off the North Carolina Coast on October 9.
     Even before the eye of Racer’s Storm reached the Outer Banks, it had caused the loss of one ship, the schooner Cumberland, which had struck on Core Banks on October 8 with the loss of her entire cargo of coffee, hides and cigars being transported from Curacao to New York.
     Before the hurricane passed, it was credited with sinking two more ships, seriously endangering a third and taking some 90 lives in one of the worst maritime disasters in Outer Banks history.
     First of the three vessels to encounter the wrath of Racer’s Storm was the brig Enterprize, of Warren, RI, which was within 20 miles of the Virginia Capes on a passage from Wilmington to Georgetown, when she was beaten back by the storm of October 8. “I hauled offshore while the gale continued increasing,” said Captain William Brayton, “On the 9th hove to under close reefed main topsail and at 8 p.m. a heavy sea boarded her and started the deck load. Sounded the pumps and found 3 feet of water in the hold; set both pumps to work and commenced heaving over deck load.”
     The following morning, according to Capt. Brayton, the Enterprize “got into the breakers running masthead high and the wind blowing tremendously swept everything by the board, the vessel striking heavily in going through the breakers.” Soon after she hit, the waves were washing over her to such an extent that the crew members were obliged to jump overboard to try and gain the shore through the breakers. In this attempt one seaman was lost, but the others reached the beach on Bodie Island.
     At the same time the Enterprize was first encountering difficulty off the North Banks, two larger vessels, elegant steam-packets, were proceeding along the same coast in the face of the hurricane winds: The steam packet Charleston, with a full crew and passenger list, was enroute from Philadelphia to her home port in South Carolina; and the steam packet Home, bound from New York to Charleston, the same run on which she had just recently broke all speed records. The following letter is from a passenger who was aboard the Charleston:

Extract of a letter from a passenger on board the
Steam Packet Charleston, from Philadelphia
during the same storm in which the Home
was wrecked.

First day afternoon, 10 mo. 8.—The wind and swell of the sea have increased considerably, and the appearance of the ocean is awfully grand. The waves tower above the upper deck, while the gulf which yawns below seems as though it would swallow us up. Our course is in the trough of the sea, with the winds and waves on our side, which makes the boat roll excessively, and the force of the waves striking the boat makes her tremble from end to end. We have shipped some seas on our forward deck, which covered it several inches in water, and altogether, it may be considered quite a storm. The seamen are now reefing our square-sail to be ready for rounding Cape Hatteras, where we are to expect a rough time. The boat rolls so that I have to hold on with one hand, while I write with the other.
     10 mo. 11.—The gale, of which I spoke in what I wrote on first day, rapidly increased in fury towards night, and the terrific appearance of the billows, with the howling of the wind, convinced me that our situation had become the most serious and dangerous. We were off Cape Hatteras, between 20 and 30 miles from land, in one of the most dangerous parts of the coast of North America. I retired to my berth very late, and was so fully impressed with our danger that I could not sleep, and the tremendous lurching of the boat would hardly allow me to lay in my berth. A little before two o’clock in the morning, a sea broke over the stern of the boat like an avalanche; the concussion was so great as to break in the bulk heads, and shatter the glass in some of the windows, far from where it struck. It broke in the sky-lights in the after cabin, and pouring into it in torrents, made a clear sweep over the after deck, as deep as the bulwarks, nearly four feet. The violence of the sea, lifted the deck fore and aft of the wheel house, making an opening about one inch wide the whole length of the boat, through which the water poured into her sponsons every time she shipped a sea, and she rolled like a log in the water. The weather side, moreover, took so much more than the other, that it occasioned her to list over very much, and deranged the workings of the engines. Had these failed, all hope would have been at an end. The Captain behaved with remarkable coolness and decision. He had been on the upper deck, at the helm, all the day and night, exposed to the fury of the winds and waves without any shelter. When we shipped the sea, at 2 p.m., he ran down into our cabin, said he could not be absent from the helm, and that if we wished to save our lives, we must turn to bailing out water, or he greatly feared the boat would be swamped, she was so loaded with it.
     At this moment four sky-lights, each eight inches by thirty, were pouring down columns of water, the whole cabin afloat, and trunks, settees, bonnet boxes, etc., were dashing from side to side, as the vessel heaved in the trough of the sea. Buckets were procured, and we commenced as fast as we could, but every sea we shipped brought in vastly more than all of us could bail out, and the water soon became so deep as to run into the top of my boots. It was evident some other means must be resorted to. The passengers and crew behaved with great calmness and propriety—none, who were able, refusing to work. We took our matrasses and pillows and stuffed them into the lights, but the returning waves washed them out. We then barricaded them with settees, stationed men to hold them in; this succeeded in part, but no sooner was this accomplished, than a tremendous sea struck us on the other side, and opened a way for the water in there, and into the ladies’ cabin. It now become necessary to put some stopping on the outside, but the boat was shipping such tremendous seas, that it was a work of great hazard. A man, however, was procured to go, who was lashed to the stanchions by a strong rope, but such was the depth of the water on the deck, from the continual washing of the waves, that he could do but little. The boat rolled and pitched so dreadfully that we could scarcely stand even when holding on, and she had shipped so much water that she leaned on the side toward the sea, exposing her to its full action. I stood bailing and handing water from the time it first broke into the cabin, until eight o’clock in the morning, wet to the skin, and nearly ready to sink with fatigue. As the day dawned, the storm raged more furiously, the billows rose as high as our smoke-pipe, and as they curled and broke, fell on us with amazing power. About 10 o’clock the engineer told us he thought the engine could not hold out much longer, she was so disarranged and injured by the heavy shocks of the sea. We knew that, as far as regarded outward means, this was our only hope of safety, and this intelligence was appalling. Our Captain was collected and energetic, but the winds and waves laughed at the puny power of man, and defied all his efforts.
     At half past ten, a.m., a sea of immense volume and force, struck our forward hatch, towered over the upper deck, and swept off all that was on it. It broke the iron bolts that supported the smoke pike, stove in the bulwarks, tore up the iron sheathings of the engine, and made almost a wreck of the upper works. On the main deck it tore away the guards several inches square, demolished the windows of the main hatch in the men’s cabin, and poured down a torrent of water which filled it nearly two feet deep. It engulfed the fire under the boiler of the engine on that side, and lifted the machinery so as to permit the escape of a volume of steam and smoke, that nearly suffocated us, and so shifted the main shaft of the engine that it no longer worked true, but tore away the wood work, and almost destroyed its further usefulness. It swept all the rooms on both sides, and threw them open to every succeeding wave. The crash was awful, the boat trembled and quivered as thought she was wrecked, and the big bell tolled with the shock, as though sounding the funeral knell of all on board. I never had an adequate idea of a storm before the whole sea was white with foam, and the wind blew up the water in such quantities that the atmosphere was thick with it. Every sea stove in some new place; windows and doors gave way with awful crashes, and several times the fires were nearly extinguished. The captain, who had stood at his post near the helm, now came down from the upper deck and told us the fury of the storm was such that he feared he could not save the vessel, that her upper works were fast becoming a wreck, and as soon as they went she would fill and sink; therefore, if it met the approbation of the passengers, he would endeavor to run her ashore, in the hope of saving our lives. He said all would depend upon the character of the beach, and on our self-possession and calmness to act with judgment at the trying moment, and assured us he would lose his life to save ours. He told us to continue working at the pumps and buckets, and in handing wood for the engines, as long as we could possibly stand; and to avoid giving way to improper excitement; that when the vessel should strike, we must make for the bow after the first sea had swept her decks. He also directed us where to place those articles we should most want if we survived. He then went to the women’s cabin, and calling them all together, stated his apprehensions that the vessel could not be saved, giving them much the same charges he had done to us. All this was done with as much apparent calmness as though all was well. He then ordered the carpenter to be ready with the axe to cut away the mast the moment she should strike, and having made these arrangements, resumed his station at the helm. The boat now rolled more than ever, shipped nearly every sea that struck against her, and swung round from the shock, so as not to obey the helm. An almost constant stream of water swept the decks, and at every stroke of the sea the boat groaned, and the bell rung with a sound that seemed peculiarly awful.
     We all procured ropes and fastened them around our bodies, for the purpose of lashing ourselves to the wreck, and having embraced each other, prepared to take our part in the work, and to meet the awful impending catastrophe. T.G.D., B.W.W., and myself, stood together for a few moments looking on the terrific display around us, and both secretly and openly, I believe, putting up our prayers. After this deeply affecting scene, I went to work and continued at it until eight o’clock at night, pumping, bailing, or handing out water, and carrying wood for the fires. As we were then 25 or 30 miles from shore, the captain’s anxiety was, to put the boat in as soon as possible, before she became unmanageable or began to sink. He steered for Cape Lookout, in North Carolina, though he could not tell certainly where he was, but concluded it must be the nearest land, and that it would be as good a place to be wrecked on as any. But a merciful and kind Providence knew better than we, and at that awful moment was watching over us, and frustrating our designs for our good. The land lay N.N.W., and the gale blowing heavily N.E., so that he could not steer her in; finding this, he came down and desired the engineer to raise steam with wood. To enable him to steer in, or otherwise all hope was gone. Accordingly we all went to handing wood for the engine, but so much had been washed over that we had hardly enough for three hours; the sea had broken down the doors and windows, etc., on deck, and we carefully collected these and put them in to keep up the fire. But with all the steam we could raise, we could not steer for shore, the wind and current carrying us down along shore, but not in towards it; and this proved our safety, for with the tremendous sea, which we afterwards saw setting on the coast, near which we aimed to ground, we must all have perished had we succeeded in our attempt. As it was, the wind, current, and steam, just served to carry us, under the guidance of a gracious Providence, we knew not whither, but into stiller water. About 9 o’clock at night the sea began to be more calm, though the fury of the storm was not lessened, by which the captain was induced to believe that we had doubled the cape and were coming under its lee. By incessant exertions we now nearly cleared the hold and cabin of water, and as the boat shortly came into comparatively smooth water, the captain thought he would try to weather the night at anchor, thinking the storm might abate by morning. Some protested against this and insisted upon running on shore at once, but the captain would not, as he thought we should all perish in the dark. He therefore steered in towards it, and after running two hours dropped two anchors which held the boat. On weighing these in the morning, we found that the largest one had broken short off, and our safety during the night had depended on a small, and, as we should have thought, very insufficient one. Thus a succession of merciful providences attended us, which I shall rejoice to recount when we meet.
     Our captain called a consultation of the passengers on third day morning, in which nearly all agreed that we should run into Beaufort, to refit. As he did not know the channel, it was necessary to sound continually; but after a few hours a pilot came off to us and steered us in handsomely.
     After refitting at Beaufort they proceeded on their voyage and arrived in Charleston on fifth day—10th Month, 1837.


A bottle washed ashore at Shelby Bay, Bermuda, October 27, 1842, with the following note inside:

“Schooner Lexington, off Cape Hatteras, July 15, 1842. This morning at half past two o’clock a.m., it commenced blowing a strong North Wester, which increased to such a degree that it was certain my vessel could not stand it. At 5 I tried the pumps and found that she made eleven inches. She being an old vessel, worked in her joints. At half past eleven, I determined to leave her with my crew (three men and myself) in our launch; but before leaving sounded the pumps, and found she had increased the water in her hold three feet. I write this and enclose it in a bottle, so that if we should not be saved and the bottle be found, it may be known what became of the vessel and us. At 1 p.m. got into the boat with provisions and water sufficient for six days, having beforehand offered up our prayers to God to protect and save us. Signed Wm. H. Morgan, Captain ; John Rider, Mate.”

Newspapers of the day made no more mention of the Lexington or her crew, but the storm Captain Morgan referred to was one of the most destructive ever recorded on the North Carolina coast.
     To this day, no authentic information has been found that gives the names of  the many vessels totally lost or the number of people drowned during the storm of July 15, 1842. Captain Etheridge of Chicamacomico said that he saw large numbers of dead horses and cattle drifting down the sound. Two unknown vessels were capsized and beaten to pieces in the breakers on Diamond Shoals, their entire crews lost, and 7 men who went out later to try and salvage some of the wrecked cargo were also drowned.
     Fourteen vessels were reported ashore between New Inlet and Ocracoke, including a large English schooner, with the owner and one of his daughters on board—both of whom lost all their personal belongings when the vessel was destroyed. Fourteen more ships were reported aground on the sound side of Ocracoke Inlet and presumed lost.
     Hardly had the residents begun clearing up the debris from this hurricane when another storm, hardly less severe, struck the same area. This one blew in from the Atlantic on August 24, and by the time it was over three vessels were known to have been lost, a number of others were reported aground and at least 8 mariners were killed:

Kilgore / Brig / August 24, 1842
Enroute from Trinidad to Baltimore in ballast, the Kilgore went ashore on Currituck Beach, bilged and became a total wreck. Her captain and crew reached shore safely. 

Pioneer / Brig / August 24, 1842
Our of the Truk Islands with a load of salt enroute to Norfolk, VA, the Pioneer stranded on Ocracoke Island with the loss of the cargo and one crewman.

Congress / Ship / August 24, 1842
Also loaded with salt from Turks Island, the Congress was wrecked on Cape Hatteras. Seven on board were lost.


The brutal gale of August 24, 1850 took 5 vessels at Diamond Shoals alone. Miles of beach were strewn with debris and bodies.

  • Ocean / Brig
  • Belle / Brig
  • Racer / Schooner / 3 killed
  • Mary Ellen / Brig
  • Margaret / Brig


While in the process of conducting a historical survey of damaging tropical storms for the state of Virginia, the authors ran across an intriguing cyclone from October 1878. It was a cyclone which developed in the western Caribbean and was not detected by the West Indies hurricane network before its movements west of the isle of Jamaica on October 18. Once its presence was known, the U.S. Signal Corps, a division of the War Department, tracked its progress northward just off the Florida coast into North Carolina and issued signals to warn of its arrival. This is a process the Signal Service had been tasked with since November 1870, and one in which it had enjoyed some limited success. The storm's similarities with other major storms of more recent decades, such as Hazel (1954) and Agnes (1972) led to a more exhaustive search for information about its impact on the Eastern seaboard. (Full storm report HERE.)
In North Carolina the cyclone was centered between Wilmington and Cape Lookout at 11 p.m. on October 22. At Wilmington, the storm began at 3 p.m. The maximum sustained wind of 36 mph was reached at 10:40 p.m., with the lowest pressure of 986.1 hPa (29.12") reported at 11:56. At Cape Lookout, the pressure fell to 983.8 hPa (29.05") at 11:02 p.m., when the wind went southeast at 68 mph. The highest winds in the last 5-½ hours reached 100 mph and a rain total of 4.06" was measured. In Portsmouth, winds reached 82 mph from the southeast at 11:04 p.m. Smithville peaked at 32 mph from the east during the day of the 22nd. Kitty Hawk greeted the storm at 6:30 p.m. on the 22nd. The winds reached 88 mph by 2 a.m. on the 23rd, just before the anemometer was blown away. The pressure fell to 984.1 hPa (29.06").

Seventy-one people perished due to the Gale of 1878 in the eastern United States. Those who were lost to the storm were taken due to shipwreck and river flooding. In North Carolina, the following narrative describes shipwrecks related to this storm:

One mile south of Cape Hatteras, the schooner Altoona went ashore at 11:45 p.m., proving a total loss. The schooner Magnolia wrecked in the Albemarle Sound that night; its captain drowned. The first officer of the Mary A. Hood was washed overboard off Hatteras. At 1:30 a.m. on the 23rd, the steamer Florence Witherbee went ashore. The schooner William Collyer went ashore six miles south of Barnegat at 2:40 a.m. Two went overboard from the schooner Wyoming trying to enter Beaufort. The steamship Gen. Barnes foundered off Cape Hatteras on the morning of the 23rd, also a total loss. The steamship City of Galveston was reported lost in the storm on the 23rd.At the height of all this fury the A.S. Davis drove ashore. Of the 20 men on board, comprising her captain and crew, her wreck left only one survivor. The steamer City of Houston encountered the gale on the night of the 22nd, and was lost off Frying Pan Shoals after it was abandoned by her crew ($200,000).

City of Houston


In 1889 Robert Lee Garnett was one of 8 men comprising the crew of the three-masted schooner Henry P. Simmons, a 650-ton vessel engaged in the coastal trade. In mid-October that year, the Simmons took on a cargo of phosphate rock at Charleston, SC and on the 17th put to sea for Baltimore.
     By the 23rd, the Simmons was well past Cape Hatteras and nearing the entrance to Chesapeake Bay when, with no prior indication that a storm was approaching, a sudden strong easterly gale struck the schooner and by 8 o’clock that evening was blowing in gusts of hurricane intensity. As the Simmons plunged through huge seas, the captain ordered his men to take in the already close-reefed mainsail. But the strong wind and furious sea made it impossible to comply forcing the captain and crew to lash the helm and take to the rigging.
     By 10:30 that evening, left at the mercy of the wind and waves, the vessel was driven on shore on the lower end of Pebble Shoals, the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina. She bilged and immediately began to fill with water. The top of her cabin was swept away by one of the first breakers that stuck and she soon settled in the sands until her hull was completely submerged—nothing but the three masts was left above water. The torrential rain continued through most of the night, limiting visibility to only a few yards so that the 8 men clinging to the rigging were unable to determine their general location.
     At 3 a.m. on the 24th, four and a half hours after they struck the shoal, the steward fell from his perch on the mast and was swept away. When lifesavers appeared on the beach that morning, they spotted the Simmons more than 1,000 yards from shore. As they were setting up their gear, a second man was swept from the rigging to his death; soon after the first line was unsuccessfully shot fired in their direction a third man met the same fate; and long before that day ended another fell from the mast, to disappear forever.
     At dawn the next day the lifesavers attempted to launch a surfboat from the beach but were thrown back. As a last resort they dispatched a telegraph message to Norfolk, asking for the assistance of a tug. The tug started from Hampton Roads and got as far as Cape Henry before it was thwarted by the terrific sea offshore and forced to return to its berth.
     At noon another man fell from the rigging leaving only three alive. Three attempts were made on the 25th to launch a surfboat from the beach with lifesavers from four stations on the Virginia and North Carolina coast taking part. But each time they were tossed back on the beach. That afternoon, another man fell from the rigging and drowned. Still later another of them lost his grip and disappeared in the turbulent sea. Only Robert Lee Garnett remained alive.
     By dawn the next day the wind died down and shifted to westward, breaking the force of the waves which had pounded across Pebble Shoals for four nights. In the early morning darkness, keeper Malachi Corbel rowed the thousand yards to the sunken ship, waited until the first light of day appeared and pulled up close beside the wreck. Miraculously, Garnett was still alive, wrapped in the tattered remnants of the sail. He climbed down swiftly from the rigging, made his way slowly toward them, dropped into the boat and, after 80 hours through which few others could have lived, was returned to shore.
     The terrible storm of October 23, 1889 in which Robert Lee Garnett’s 7 shipmates lost their lives, continued its destruction all along the North Carolina coast. At Nags Head, 35 miles to the south, the beach patrol from Kill Devil Hills station discovered the upside-down hull of a vessel in the breakers the next morning. There was no sign of life, but a body was found on the beach soon after, and a second one recovered after the storm subsided. The vessel was the Francis E. Waters, a 147-ton schooner from Baltimore enroute from Georgetown, SC to Philadelphia a few days previous with a cargo of lumber and crew of 6 men. After the storm, the Waters was found upside down on the beach at Nags Head by the crew of the Kill Devil Hills life-saving station. There were no survivors.
     At about the same time, some 25 miles further south, the three-masted schooner Annie E. Blackman of Somers Point, NJ, enroute from Philadelphia to Jacksonville with a cargo of coal, was thrown on her beam ends and sunk three miles off New Inlet. Seven crewmen were tossed into the sea—six of them killed. The captain had donned a cork life jacket the day before and so floated toward shore, eventually making his way to the beach where he tethered himself to a telegraph pole and was discovered by lifesavers the next morning.
     Hardly had the captain been carried to the lifesaving station, when the schooner Lizzie S. Haynes was discovered in the same vicinity. Her three masts broke off near the vessel’s deck and, with a crash that was heard above the roar of the wind, fell into the ocean. There had been 7 men aboard when she stranded though only two could be seen from shore. A line was quickly fired on board and the two men—the captain and steward—had pulled most of it out to the vessel when it suddenly caught in floating debris and broke in two. Another line was fired, and yet another, and not until four o’clock that afternoon was the breeches buoy finally put in operation. A third man, a mate who was seriously injured when the mast fell, violently resisted all efforts by the captain and steward to place him in the breeches buoy. With the approach of darkness, he was at last left on board while the other two were pulled to safety. Later that night a lifesaver went out in the breeches buoy and found the body of the mate yet warm. The body was quickly drawn ashore, stimulants were administered, and the lifesavers tried every way they knew to revive him, but to no avail.
     That afternoon the 250-ton Busiris, of St. John, New Brunswick, stranded and was lost 200 yards north of Poyners Hill Station.


So sudden and unexpected was this hurricane’s appearance that most ships in the vicinity had no warning of its presence until the terrific winds actually struck.
     The 335-ton schooner Roger Moore had passed by Oak Island shortly before, en route from Wilmington to Ponce, Puerto Rico, with a cargo of lumber. She was caught on the fringe of the storm, and before it was over lost part of her sails and deck cargo, and one of her 8 crewmen was washed overboard.
     At midnight on August 27 the three-masted, 286-ton schooner Three Sisters, of Philadelphia, fully loaded with pine lumber she had picked up in Savannah, was off Frying Pan Shoals Lightship. By 1 a.m. on August 28 the wind had reached hurricane force, and within an hour the sails and mizzenmast had been lost, and both master and mate washed overboard and drowned. This left the cook in charge of the five-man crew.
     Throughout the following day she drifted, wallowing in the rough sea, shipping large quantities of water, and slowly being driven toward the coast. She was spotted at two o’clock that afternoon from the watchtower of Cape Fear Station by keeper J.L. Watts and shortly afterwards by Dunbar Davis at Oak Island. When it was clear that the ship’s intention was to run toward ashore, they realized it would be fatal to both vessel and crew given the tremendous seas breaking northeast of the cape and signaled the vessel to anchor where she was and await assistance. Before dawn on August 29, 11 surfmen shoved off, rounded the cape without accident, and reached the schooner soon after sunrise. Despite heavy seas, it was a comparatively simple matter to take off the 5 crewmen and return with them to Southport where medical attention could be given. As for the Three Sisters, she was left at anchor, to be towed into the harbor for repairs when the storm subsided.
     No sooner had the Oak Island crew returned to their station when they learned a signal had been hoisted for the German brig Wustrow, stranded about 9 miles west, near Lockwoods Folly, and gone to pieces. Subsequently, word had been brought to the station that the crew of the brig had reached the beach with the aid of some fishermen in the vicinity. Keeper Davis was on the verge of dismissing his volunteer crew, but before doing so he climbed to his watchtower on the chance that he might be able to see the vessel. Almost immediately he spotted it, closer to the station than had been reported and still in tact. As he focused more clearly on the vessel, he realized he was not looking at the Wustrow, but a three-masted schooner. Two ships were aground west of his station!
     The schooner seemed to be anchored and was beyond the line of breakers, so Davis and his volunteers once again put off in the surfboat. They got only as far as Cape Fear Bar; the wind and tide and breakers combined to hold them in an almost stationery position no matter how hard they rowed. They eventually gave up and started back inside again. A pilot boat and tug appeared on the scene upon hearing of the vessel in distress, but both refused Davis’ request to tow his surfboat across the bar and into the open water beyond. His only course of action was to return to his station and proceed down the beach, on foot, with his lifesaving apparatus. It was mid-afternoon when his crew of 10 men began the long trek along the coast, pulling the apparatus behind them.
     “The beach was so cut through in many places,” Davis reported, “that we made very slow time, and I saw that we could not reach the wreck (the schooner, which later proved to be the 419-ton Kate E. Gifford, of Somers Point, NJ) before night; and further saw that she was not aground. I unloaded a part of the gear and pushed on, thinking to be some service to the crew of the brig. On coming within about two miles of the schooner I met a man with a mule and cart who stated that the crew of the brig had gone to a farmhouse and a party of fishermen was taking everything as it came ashore.”
     Davis immediately hired the man to take him to the spot where the Wustrow had stranded. “In the meantime,” Davis continued, “the schooner had tried to get underway and had grounded. It was now sunset, so I signaled to the schooner that I would assist her as soon as possible. I left a man to keep a fire opposite the schooner, and engaged the man with the mule to return for the balance of the gear. Even with the mule’s help we could make but little headway, for the sand was boggy and every half mile or so we would come to deep gullies. On one of our stops a man came up with a yoke of oxen, I engaged them, and while hitching them up Keeper Watts came up with F.W. Fulcher, D.W. Fulcher, H.E. Mints, L.A. Galloway and Ramon Williams. This was about 10 p.m., and still a hard job was before us, but I made no other stops and reached the vessel at 2 a.m.”
Dunbar Davis, 1892
     With waning winds of the hurricane striking them from across the open sea; with spray and spindrift rolling across the flat beach; with debris from one wreck washing ashore at their feet; David and his crewmen set up their Lyle gun, sank a sand anchor, hooked on the line and ball, loaded the gun with powder, and sent the shot straight and true toward the stricken Gifford. They knew the line had landed on the schooner, but the 7 men aboard the Gifford—which already was going to pieces—did not see the line in the darkness, so it just dangled there, the ball swinging back and forth in the wind.
     Forced to wait until daylight to resume their rescue attempt, the lifesavers built a great fire on the beach, affording some assurance to the shipwrecked sailors that they had not been left on their own. When dawn came, the line was at last spotted by the sailors and secured at a point high on the mast so that heavier lines and the breeches buoy could be hauled aboard. All 7 crewmen reached the beach safely. Davis and the first mate of the Gifford, remained at the scene to watch over the gear that had come ashore.
     By then it was the afternoon of August 30. The record to that time contained three vessels: schooner Three Sisters, grounded, captain and mate washed overboard, crew of 5 saves; brig Wustrow, beaten to pieces in the breakers, crew of 9 safely ashore and cared for by near-by farmers; and schooner Kate E. Gifford, grounded and breaking up, crew of 7 rescued in breeches buoy.
     Davis and the first mate built up a fire and had decided to take turns sleeping when they spotted a small boat coming in from the sea. The boat, a ship’s yawl, came up opposite them and then headed into the surf, landing safely with their assistance. There were 7 men in the yawl—cold, wet, hungry and exhausted. The boat was from the three-masted schooner Jennie E. Thomas, which had become waterlogged about 35 miles S.W. of Cape Fear. The mate and three men left her and boarded a near-by vessel in hopes of getting supplies. But the other vessel, the 371-ton schooner Enchantress carrying a cargo of railroad ties from Port Royal, SC, to New York, was in as bad a condition as theirs—waterlogged and unmanageable with one member of their crew washed overboard and the captain injured. So the captain and two of her crew had joined those in the yawl from the Thomas and the 7 had headed for the beach, eventually spotting the fire Davis had built. (Later, the Enchantress stranded near Lockwoods Folly and became a total loss. The Thomas was towed into Southport and repaired. The remaining crew members of both vessels were all saved.)
     When Davis finally returned to Oak Island Station at 9 o’clock that night he found it crowded with shipwrecked sailors: There were 6 from the Gifford, plus the mate; 7 from the Thomas and Enchantress and four from the Wustrow. All of the food in the station had long since been used up, and the clothing too. But the keeper of the lighthouse and his wife had come over to assist Mrs. Davis in tending to wounds and cooking, and provided a considerable additional food from their own supply.

None of following ships was ever seen again:
  • The Mary J. Cook, 436 tons, was bound from Port Royal, SC, to Boston with a cargo of lumber. In addition to her crew of 7, she carried one passenger.
  • The schooner L.A. Burnham, 389 tons, bound from Savannah to Portland, ME, carried lumber and a crew of 7.
  • The schooner A.R. Weeks, 445 tons, from Satilla Bluffs, GA, to Elizabethport, NJ, carried lumber and a crew of 8.
  • The schooner George W. Fenimore, 673 tons, from Brunswick, GA, to Philadelphia had lumber and a crew of 8.
  • The schooner Oliver H. Booth, 2476 tons, from Brunswick to Washington, DC, had lumber and a crew of 6.
  • The schooner Gertie M. Rickerson, 219 tons, from New York to Caibarien, Cuba, had a general cargo and a crew of 7.
  • The schooner John S. Case, 198 tons, from Jonesport, ME, to Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo, had lumber and a crew of 6.
  • The schooner Lizzie May, 201 tons, was en route from New York to Fernandina, FL, in ballast with a crew of 6.


The strongest hurricane to hit North Carolina during the official record was the San Ciriaco Hurricane of 1899, which struck the state with winds of 120 mph. See individual record ship records for details.
  • Big Kinnakeet, schooner Florence Randall, 16 August
  • Gull Shoal, schooner Aaron Reppard, 16 August
  • Cape Hatteras, 17 August ~ Several families were driven from their homes by the high water during the terrible hurricane which was raging, and were sheltered at the station until the storm abated on the 19th instant. The houses of the keeper and a surfman were washed down, the station stables demolished, and the boathouse carried from its foundation during this storm.
  • Creeds Hill, Diamond Shoals Lightship #69, 17 August
  • Gull Shoal, barkentine Priscilla, 17 August
  • Little Kinnakeet, schooner Robert W. Dasey, 17 August
  • Portsmouth, 17 August ~ Surfmen took two families who had been driven from their homes by the high water during the prevailing hurricane, to the station in a boat and sheltered them until the storm ceased. It was necessary for the keeper to scuttle the station during this storm to prevent it floating away.
  • Portsmouth, schooner Lydia A. Willis, 17 August
  • Portsmouth, hulk Fred Walton, 17 August
  • Chicamacomico, schooner Minnie Bergen, 18 August
  • Oregon Inlet, 18 August ~ A camp containing 5 fishermen became separated from the main beach by an inlet which had been cut through by the sea during the violent storm of the previous day. Surfmen managed to throw a heaving stick to the men, and, with a line, hauled them safely across the Inlet, taking them to station and providing them with dry clothing from the supplies of the Women’s National Relief Association.
  • Durants, 18 August ~ Station patrol found a body of a man among some wreckage cast up by the sea. Found nothing to identify the wreckage except a plank with the name Agnes upon it, which supposed to be the name of the vessel lost. Surfmen gave the body decent burial.
  • Gull Shoal, 19 August ~ A body, which was identified as that of the cook of the wrecked schooner Aaron Reppard, was found on the beach and buried by the surfmen.
  • Creeds Hill, 21 August ~ The evening patrol found the body of a man on the beach, where it had been washed up by the sa. Its height was 5 feet 7 inches, its weight about 140 pounds, and it had dark hair. Surfmen wrapped it in a blanket and buried it.
  • Gull Shoal, 23 August ~ The body of a man, about 6 feet tall and having light hair, was found 1 mile NNW. Of station and given decent burial by the surfmen.
  • Cape Hatteras, 25 August ~ The station patrol from midnight to 4 a.m. found a man’s body on the beach and hauled it up clear of the tide. At daylight the surfmen measured it, finding it 5 feet 2 inches in height, then wrapping it in a blanket they buried it decently.
  • Pea Island, 28 August ~ Surfmen saved a quantity of lumber and railroad ties which had washed ashore within the patrol limits of station and turned them over to the commissioner of wrecks.
Disappeared without a trace:
  • John C. Haynes             
  • M.B. Millen
  • Albert Schultz
  • Elwood H. Smith
  • Henry B. Cleaves
  • Charles M. Patterson

NOR'EASTER of December 4, 1927

The 2,627-ton Kyzikes was built in Lorain, OH in 1900. Originally named Paraguay, she had served under American registry for a number of years before being transferred to the Greek flag and renamed. She left Baltimore November 28 with a cargo of crude oil destined for Seville, Spain. The third day out, she began to leak and was on her way back to port when the nor’easter struck on Friday night, December 3, 1927.
     By noon Saturday, when her distress signals were sent out, Captain Nickolas Kantanlos held no hope of saving his vessel—his one thought was to get his crew of 28 men aboard a passing ship. She was approximately 200 miles off the Virginia Capes, had been battered by winds and was leaking badly—water was pouring into her holds from stem and stern. Most of her deck gear had been carried away and she needed immediate assistance.

“Come at once if you can. We are badly in need of assistance.”

     Those brief words were sent before her wireless antenna was carried away. But they were enough to set in motion an extensive rescue operation: The Baron Herries sighted distress rockets, stood by momentarily, then lost the tanker in the darkness. Less than 60 miles away, the steamers Harvester and City of Atlanta steamed toward the scene but was unable to locate the sinking ship. The William M. Irish damaged her hull, broke her steering gear and had to send out her own calls for assistance. At Norfolk the Coast Guard tug Carrabasset encountered N.E. winds of better than 70 mph, turned about and almost foundered before regaining the safety of Hampton Road. And the motor ship East Indian, considerably further away than the other vessels, turned back when she learned assistance was at hand.
     Thus, the battered and leaking Kyzikes was as much alone as before, despite the attempts of six vessels to assist her. While drifting before the nor’easter, the crew made fruitless efforts to pump out the deeply laden vessel. During the process four men were washed overboard and drowned, the tanker’s fires were extinguished, her engines stopped and her lights went out. The Kyzikes drifted in the inky blackness of the storm-swept Atlantic.
     “We were like a piece of bark on the ocean,” Captain Kantanlos said—until, at 4:35 Sunday morning, she struck the beach. “The seas pounded the side of the ship with terrific force,” Kantanlos recounted later. “She rocked and shook like a leaf. Then she began to break up. We could hear the tearing of her iron sides, the creaking of the tanks. It was terrible.”
     After drifting helplessly through the night, after striking an obstruction of unknown form and after crouching on the bow of their ship while horrible sounds of her own disintegration came to them above the wind, there suddenly appeared hope of rescue. “We had been expecting her to break but the pounding had been so heavy that we didn’t realize it when it happened," said second mate Evangelos Palamario. "Day had not begun to break, and it was still inky dark when we saw what we though was a ship alongside. We immediately signaled with our lights for a rescue, and were answered by similar signals.”
     Again and again the lights were flashed. Three times the answering lights came back. Then suddenly the full truth dawned on them--this was no rescue vessel at their side. Rather, according to Palamario, “It was the stern of our own ship, which had swung around almost alongside, and the men answering our signals were 5 of our own who had also mistaken us for another ship and were seeking rescue!”
     “It was evident that the portion of the ship would soon break away and sink,” Palamario continued. “I found a signboard of the Prudential Oil Company, the only thing available, and put it across the intervening space of about 6 feet as a gang plank and saved the 5 men marooned on the stern.”
     Meanwhile, on shore, ex-lifesaver Joe Partridge was waking at his home on Kill Devil Hills when he noticed a peculiar odor in the air: Oil! At about the same time, coastguardsman Jep Harris of Kill Devil Hills Station spotted a dim shape through the rain and spray while on the north patrol. Both Partridge and Harris hurried to the station to spread the word that a vessel was ashore.
     Keeper Will H. Lewark mustered his crew, called for assistance from Kitty Hawk and Nags Head stations and proceeded to the wreck. The coastguardsmen reached the scene first, but had difficulty landing a line within reach of the 24 men who were now assembled on the bridge of the Kyzikes. Eventually the hawser and whip line were attached to the mast, the breeches buoy was sent out and the crewmen were brought ashore.
     For successfully directing the rescue operation, Chief Bosun Mates Will H. Lewark of Kill Devil Hills and Walter G. Etheridge, Keeper of Nags Head Station were promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer. In the months that followed, repeated efforts were made to salvage the crude oil remaining on the tanker, first by means of pipes to shore and later by the use of a barge and pump anchored nearby. Some oil was saved, but most of it was thoroughly soused with salt water.
Steamer Kyzikes
The Norwegian steamer Cibao, loaded with 17,000 bunches of Jamaican bananas and bound for Baltimore, ran into the same storm and stranded 75 miles to the south, at a point off the mouth of Hatteras Inlet, two miles from shore and in the midst of a sea of breakers. She was discovered Sunday morning by a lookout at Hatteras Inlet Station.
     Within 30 minutes the coastguardsmen launched their power lifeboat, passed through the inlet and approached within half a mile of the wreck. They found it was impossible to effect a rescue with the powerboat and had to return through the inlet for their small self-bailing surfboat. By then the keeper and crew of Ocracoke Station and keepers of Cape Hatteras, Creeds Hill and Durants stations were on hand and took part in the rescue that followed.
     The surfboat was towed out through the inlet and cast loose just beyond the first bar. It was then rowed in close to the Cibao, but the water surrounding her was so turbulent the self-bailing boat stood no chance of getting up along the stranded vessel. The coastguardsmen shouted instructions to the 24 castaways through speaking tubes—each man was to put on a life belt, tie a line around his body and jump overboard.
     The first man jumped, disappeared beneath the surf, bobbed up and disappeared again. As the swirling sea swept him toward shore, the surfboat passed by and coastguardsman reached over and grasped the line tied around his body. The craft swept on, through and beyond the breakers, dragging the crewman behind. When calmer waters were reached, the oarsmen held up on their powerful strokes, the surfboat came to a brief standstill and the soaked, but living crewman, was hauled aboard. Time and again the process was repeated until Capt. Magnun Mylander and his crew were saved. As in the case of the Kyzikes, the leaders were rewarded—Chief Bosun Mates Charles O. Peel, Bernice R. Balance and William H. Barnett were all promoted to Warrant grade.
     Hundreds of locals were asked to cart away as many bananas as they could carry. The lightened ship was refloated and continued on its voyage without its cargo.

Representative Photo (Origin Unknown)