Saturday, March 17, 2012

Schooner H.W. McColly ~ 5 October 1881

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Services for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1882:

By the time the crew of the Charles were safely ashore, the schooner which the life saving crew had seem coming down the coast astern of her had also stranded about a quarter of a mile south of the station. She struck the bar at about noon. The life saving crew, No. 20 (6th District) hurried toward her as quickly as the bad condition of the beach would permit, the water in some places being almost knee deep at the foot of the beach hills, well above ordinary high-water mark. To add to the difficulties of travel the wind blew a furious gale right in their teeth.
     As afterwards learned, the schooner was the H.W. McColly, of New York, 111 tons measurement, bound from Broad Creek, Neuse River, North Carolina, for Philadelphia, with a full cargo of pine lumber. Her crew numbered 5 men, all told. Like the Charles, she had encountered the first outburst of the gale the previous night, when far to the northward, and by morning had lost most of her sails, part of the deck load, and was leaking badly. In this condition she was run ashore, having scudded before the gale until it became no longer safe to do so; her captain, from his knowledge of the coast and of the existence of life saving stations, realizing that it was the only chance he and his men had for their lives. The schooner brought up on the outer bar, about 200 yards from the beach. She lay stern to the sea, which at once commenced breaking over her with such irresistible volume that the crew were compelled to take to the rigging for safety, the captain ascending at the main while the rest went up forward.
     By the time the life saving crew arrived the sea and current had cut the vessel’s stern around off shore. The wreck gun was soon placed in position and fired, the shot lodging the line across the end of the jib boom. Watching their opportunity between the seas the men in the fore-rigging quickly descended and went out on the boom and secured the shot line, and by that means, after considerable difficulty, owing to the action of the current upon the lines, succeeded in getting hold of the whip, the tail block of which they made fast to the flying jib stay. The hawser was then sent off, and also made fast above the block. At this moment the crew of Station No. 21 arrived upon the scene, and with their assistance the hawser was quickly tautened, and everything arranged in working order for bringing the people ashore.
     While the life saving crews were hauling the breeches boy off, however, an accident occurred which, as events proved, nearly resulted fatally. The schooner had during this time gradually swung around until her head pointed to the northward, thus bringing the jib, which remained set, flat aback. This had the effect of canting her bow off shore and throwing her stern toward the beach, thus fouling the lines. The strain was too much for the hawser, as it stretched and surged, for after the men on the beach had slacked as much of it as they dared without letting go altogether it snapped in twain, the sudden jerk throwing the mate from the jib boom into the surf. The man was at once swept by the current to the southward, along the shore. Seeing his peril, three surfmen quickly donned their cork life belts and followed down the beach to a point some 300 yards distant, where, by venturing out until the surf actually broke over their heads, they succeeding in reaching him and bringing him safely ashore. He was pretty well exhausted when rescued but stoutly refused to go to the station for shelter until he could see his shipmates also safe on land.
     The schooner once started from where she first struck now began working along the bar to the southward and ere long the tail of the whip block also parted, thus for the time completely severing connection with the beach. The life saving crews quickly hauled the lines out of the surge, and after clearing them of turns and kinks reloaded the cart and moved along abreast of the schooner, watching an opportunity to again use the gun. It soon came and the line was once more dropped within reach of the people on board. At this time the schooner was lying parallel with the beach, head to the northward, having turned completely around since leaving her first position. The whip was again hauled off and the tail block made fast as before, to the flying jib stay.
     When this was done the beachmen, as a precautionary measure, sent off four life preservers. Three of them were secured and put on by the steward and two seamen, who were thus made comparatively safe. The other life preserver fouled in the wreckage alongside and was lost, leaving one man, the captain, without any. It was extremely fortunate that even three of the belts reached them, for they were scarcely in their possession when the schooner again swung around with the same result as before, viz, the parting of the line. At the time it broke one of the sailors had just started in an attempt to reach the beach hand over hand on the line. He was of course thrown into the surf, but by great good luck he managed to retain his grasp until quickly drawn ashore by the life saving crews. He was slightly injured by contact in the surf with floating lumber from the deck load, but a little brandy from the medicine chest soon revived him.
     As soon as the lines were rearranged, another shot was fired. The schooner changed her position so rapidly, however, that the line fell beyond reach of those on board. It was quickly hauled back and the fourth fire dropped it once more over the head stays. In the meantime the vessel was fast becoming a wreck. The stern had been burst in and the water alongside and to leeward was thickly strewn with lumber and wreck stuff. Scarcely had the remaining men in the rigging secured the shot line for the third time when it was cut by contact with floating wreckage. With praiseworthy perseverance the surfmen again hauled back the broken line, and, after changing it end for end, again shot it over the vessel’s jib boom. The bight of it, as the current swept it alongside was secured by the sailors in the rigging, but they were so benumbed and stiff, and in such an awkward position, that their effort to haul out the whip line failed. As the situation became more and more critical, the two men who had life preservers on resolved to attempt swimming to the beach, leaving the captain alone in the rigging. They had scarcely left her when the schooner fell over on her side. It should be remembered that during all this time she had kept steadily in motion, preserving the same relative distance from the shore, with a mad whirl of waters between, which would have swamped any boat attempting to leave the beach. The two men, buoyed upon the crests of the waves by the cork belts, gradually worked themselves shoreward and were at last thrown within reach of the surfmen, who, joining hands, waded out as far as possible, grasped them and carried them to the beach hills clear of the swash of the water. One of them was insensible, but by the energetic application of the method in vogue in the Service for the resuscitation of apparently drowned persons he was soon brought to and taken to the nearest house for shelter.
     All but one, the captain, were now safe. He clung to the rigging, anxious, but evidently with stern determination, although the very loneliness of his position, surrounded by the terrible waters, was in itself appalling. At about half past 3, just as the life saving crews were about to fire again in the hope of placing the line within his reach, to haul him ashore, the main mast broke off and he was thrown into the surf. He exhibited rare coolness and presence of mind, and made a gallant and successful struggle; for quickly disengaging himself from the wreckage he clambered to the rail which was out of the water, and thence by degrees reached the rigging of the foremast, which still remained intact. This movement was watched by the surfmen with intense interest, and as soon as he was again ensconced in the rigging the sixth and last shot was fired. At this juncture the man lost his hold and was swept out of sight, apparently under the wreck. His disappearance was but momentary, however, for to the great relief of those on shore, he quickly reappeared on the surface amidst the fragments of timbers and planking, and catching at the first piece within reach flung his arms and legs around it with the grip of death or despair. By great good luck the piece of timber to which he clung was cast shoreward by the sea, and willing hands were ready to grasp him as soon as he was within reach. When drawn ashore he was insensible. He was at once taken to a place of shelter and by proper manipulation and the administration of the usual remedies was soon brought to consciousness.
     Darkness had now overtaken them, and as soon as the men were able to travel the rescuers wended their way to their respective stations, the wrecked crew reaching No. 20 with the men of that station at about half past 8. Here, after changing their wet garments and partaking of warm food, all hands except those whose turn it was to patrol the beach, sought releaf in much needed rest after the excitement and exposure of such an eventful day. The crew of the McColly remained at the station several days until able to leave for their homes, their unfortunate craft having become a complete wreck. The crew of No. 20 thus had 8 shipwrecked sailors on their hands, those of the Charles remaining until their vessel was floated off. It should be mentioned that one of the surfmen of No. 20 had a narrow escape while wading into the surf to the assistance of one of the sailors. He was knocked almost senseless by a piece of timber, and it was only with considerable difficulty that he was rescued by his comrades. The action of the crews of these two stations (Nos. 20 and 21) on this occasion was certainly very creditable, and to their perseverance under adverse circumstances, coupled with great gallantry in wading out into the surf at the peril of their own lives, is due the saving of all those aboard the McColly.

(NOTE: See also the Charles, rescued just previous to the McColly.)

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