Sunday, March 18, 2012

Schooner George W. Wells ~ 3 September 1913

The George W. Wells was the first six-masted schooner ever built and
the largest sailing ship to wreck on the Outer Banks. The interior of her cargo
holds was compared to the interior of a cathedral.


Special to The Washington Post

Norfolk, Va., Sept. 4 -- Life-savers of Hatteras, Ocracoke, and Durants Neck stations established a new record for bravery when they rescued 20 men, 2 women, and 2 children from the six-masted schooner George W. Wells, which went ashore yesterday 3 miles north of Hatteras Inlet, during the terrific storm which swept the Virginia and North Carolina coast. The schooner, which was one of the largest afloat, is a total wreck.
     The vessel was bound from New York to Fernandina light. When discovered by life-savers the men and women were clinging to the vessel's riggings.
     The wind was blowing 70 miles an hour, and the rain fell in torrents. After several unsuccessful attempts the life-savers finally succeeded in reaching the schooner and all were taken off.
     An unknown schooner, with only one mast standing and no signs of life on board, is ashore 3 miles north of Ocracoke. The revenue cutter Seminole has gone to her assistance. Two miles farther south an oil steamer flying the British flag is also ashore. Life-savers have been unable to learn her name, but are making strenuous efforts to reach her.

The Lowell Sun, Massachusetts

NORFOLK, Va., Sept. 5 -- With the telegraph wires still down it was impossible today to get detailed information of the havoc wrought by Wednesday's storm on the North Carolina coast between Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke on the lower coast. The six-masted schooner George W. Wells, which went ashore short of Hatteras, has gone to pieces.

The twenty men, two women and two infants rescued from the schooner are being temporarily cared for in the vicinity of the Ocracoke Inlet and Durant lifesaving stations.
The schooner reported ashore three miles north of Ocracoke turns out to be a four-master sighted in distress 12 miles off shore with her main top-mast and bowsprit gone. This vessel is believed to have been the schooner Annie R. Heidritter, heretofore reported drifting helplessly eight miles southwest of Diamond Shoals.

Unless the Ocracoke disaster is confirmed, the loss of life appears to have been very small.

Information found at Photos courtesy of Capt. York's great great grandson, Jean-Pierre Fortin

As the George W. Wells approached the shore, Capt. Joseph H. York ordered her anchors lowered, but the chains parted, and the Wells was driven onto the beach near the present day pony pen.
     Surfman Roscoe Burrus at the Hatteras Inlet station had spied the Wells. Well aware of the difficulty of attempting a rescue in hurricane force winds, Keeper Barnett requested assistance from Durant’s Station on Hatteras Island. Crews from all three stations arrived at the wreck between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Reports indicate that they participated in one of the most daring and courageous rescue operations ever recorded.
     Surfmen from the Hatteras Inlet station had harnessed ponies to their beach apparatus cart which was heavily loaded with breeches buoy, pulleys, sand anchor, various sizes of hemp line, brass Lyle gun and other equipment. The sea tide was rushing over the beach, inundating the cart as every wave passed by. After two miles the ponies balked and refused to continue. Without hesitation the surfmen hitched themselves to the cart and pulled their equipment the remaining six miles, often in water up their waists and through quicksand, to the site of the wreck.  
     Keeper Barnett’s first two shots from the Lyle gun fell short of the Wells. He fired five more shots, but none succeeded in getting the breeches buoy to the schooner. The last line parted as it was being hauled to the vessel.  
     Finally Capt. York tied a line to an empty oil barrel and sent it adrift. After an hour the life savers were able to reach the barrel by wading into the sea up to their necks. Soon afterwards they were successful in sending the breeches buoy out to the stranded schooner. Captain York secured the hawser high up on one of the masts, and signaled that he and his crew and passengers were ready to abandon ship.
     By 11 o’clock that night all 26 people (20 crew members, three women, and three children) and a large Saint Bernard dog were brought safely to shore. One of the passengers was barely able to keep his two year old child’s head above water as they were pulled to safety. Capt. York was the last to leave his crippled ship. He carried the Saint Bernard and a red lantern, the latter of which he dropped into the ocean just before landing on shore.

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