Saturday, March 17, 2012

Schooner Harry Prescott ~ 18 January 1912

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscall year ending June 30, 1912:

On the night of this date occurred one of the most serious and important wrecks of the year when the 433-ton schooner Harry Prescott, from New York for Wilmington, NC, with a cargo of salt, mistook Hatteras Light for the Diamond Shoals Lightship, got off her course, and stranded in the vicinity of the Inner Diamond Shoals.
     The vessel struck 2 miles south of the Cape Hatteras Life Saving Station and a mile from the shore. Her lights were discovered about 9.30 p.m. by the beach patrol from the station named. As there was a strong southwest wind blowing and a high sea, the crews of three stations—Cape Hatteras, Big Kinnakeet, and Creeds Hill—assembled on the north side of the cape in the hope that a boat might be launched under the protection of the land. After a conference of the station keepers on the beach it was decided that there should be small chance of going alongside the vessel in the darkness, even if a rescuing boat’s crew should succeed in making the trip to her. They therefore concluded to wait for daylight.
     At 5.30 a.m. of the 19th, although dawn brought no improvement in wind and sea, the power surfboat from the Cape Hatteras station, which had been hauled to the beach during the night, put off from the shore.
     The life saving crew found the schooner hard and fast on the windward side of the shoals, her hull practically under water, and the seas breaking high over such portions as were still exposed. Three of her crew of 7 men were in the mizzen rigging and four were astride the flying jib boom. Finding, after several attempts, that it would be impossible to get nearer to the vessel than 50 yards, the boat’s crew dropped anchor to windward and drifted down toward her, using engine and oars to keep in proper position and avoid being swamped. When they had come as close to her as they dared venture a heaving stick, thrown by a surfman, carried a line within reach of the sailors aloft. Each of the three, in turn, as the line was thrown, tied it about his body, cast himself into the sea, and was hauled into the surfboat.
     The life savers next turned their attention to the men on the jib boom, and for fully 6 hours maneuvered to get near enough to repeat the line-throwing performance. Finally, becoming convinced that the rescue could not be concluded until wind and sea should moderate, and their boat, moreover, having been seriously damaged by contact with floating wreckage, the rescuers put back to the shore.
     In the evening the wind shifted to the northeast, cutting down the sea appreciably and checking the current. To have ventured in the darkness near a submerged wreck lying in the broken waters of the shoals would have been little short of madness, however. The life saving crews therefore passed the night on the beach. At dawn of the 20th the Cape Hatteras crew again launched their boat. Arriving at the vessel, they found the crew of the Creeds Hill station standing by watching for a favorable opportunity to take the sailors off, all four of whom were still on the jib-boom. The chance soon came, and the boat from Cape Hatteras, being under power, ran in near the wreck and completed the work undertaken the day before, using heaving stick and line as in the first instance.
     In his official report of this rescue the commanding officer of the revenue cutter Itasca, Capt. John G. Berry, who arrived on the scene on the night of the 19th, says:
     "The rescue was accomplished with thoroughness and as rapidly as the terribly adverse conditions would permit. It is almost incredible that those four men could have remained for 24 hours on that wreck, washed in the breakers and clinging to a spar, but they did it and do not appear to have suffered any material injury."

Newspaper Article:
New York Times, January 21, 1912

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