Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Barkentine Vera Cruz VII ~ 8 May 1903

It was early morning, May 8th, and for Keeper F.G. Terrell and his crew the year 1903 had so far been unusually uneventful. Things were different this morning, Surfman Washington Roberts had just reported a large sailing vessel coming ashore while trying to enter Ocracoke Inlet from the ocean.
     Upon investigation the vessel proved to be the 605-ton barkentine Vera Cruz VII, of Portuguese registry, under the command of Julio M. Fernandes. She had sailed from the Cape Verde Islands bound for New Bedford, MA with 399 passengers and assorted cargo plus 214 barrels of sperm oil, valued at $6,000.
     The captain realizing that he was in trouble, had attempted to anchor the vessel, but facing a fresh northeaster and a strong ebb tide, she had dragged anchor and stranded in the breakers of "Dry Shoal Point," three miles from the Station and about 300 yards off shore. It took the lifesaving crew 41 trips in the station's open surfboats to bring the 398 passengers and 22 crew to the safety of the shoal. They also removed the body of a passenger who had recently died on board and buried him where they landed.
     With the tide rising around them Terrell hired several local men with skiffs to transport the survivors the remainder of the way to the station.
     It was now the 12th of May and the Life-Saving Station crew and good people of Portsmouth had housed these 420 unlucky travelers for three nights while feeding them a total of 2,540 meals and using four and 1/2 barrels of flour in the process.
     The lifesavers, with the help of several local men, had also removed 420 souls from the grounded vessel but when the Revenue Cutter Boutwell sailed for New Bern, there were only 416 of them aboard.

But what happened to the other four? More about the Vera Cruz VII at the Ocracoke Island Journal.

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1903:

Stranded on Dry Shoal Point, 3 miles ESE. from station, at 2 p.m., while trying to enter Ocracoke Inlet, and set a distress signal. Surfmen boarded and were informed that the vessel was from Cape de Verde Islands for New Bedford, MA, with 399 passengers, a crew of 22 men, and a cargo of sperm oil. Her master stated that his fresh water was exhausted and that he was endeavoring to enter the inlet to replenish his supply when the ship struck.
     At his request station crew took the women passengers, 23 in number, 3 children, and 10 men, to the station in the surfboat. At 6 p.m. they again went off in response to her master’s signal and quelled a disturbance among the men on board. The next morning the wind freshened from NE. and the sea began to increase, whereupon the keeper procured the services of 7 volunteers and pulled out to the stranded craft with both of the station surfboat, and, at her master’s request, landed 371 of those remaining on board on Dry Shoal. They then obtained the services of additional men with boats and took all of the rescued persons to the station, the shoal being submerged by the sea before the last ones were removed.
     The rescued women and children were made comfortable at the station and the men cared for by the hospitable residents of the village, who permitted them to occupy the vacant houses, and cheerfully rendered the keeper all possible aid in preparing food for their sustenance. The body of one of the passengers, who died from disease prior to the disaster, was removed from the vessel and buried by the surfmen. On the 11th they took off a portion of the crew and landed the baggage of the passengers, and on the 12th instant transferred 416 people with their personal effects, to the U.S. revenue steamer Boutwell, which conveyed them to Newbern, NC. On the 16th the surfmen landed the mate and one seaman with their effects and took them to the station, leaving only one of the brig’s crew remaining on board. Subsequently he was taken off by the life saving crew, who thereafter made several trips to the wrecked vessel at the instance of the collector of customs at Newbern, and finally assumed charge of her under his direction and removed her sails to the station for temporary storage. On the 29th instant her cargo of oil was removed by a wrecking company, who sent it to Norfolk, VA. The vessel proved a total loss.

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