Wednesday, March 2, 2011
NOR'EASTER OF 4 DECEMBER 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.
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.