Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1915:
Wreck of the Schooner Josephine Near the Kill Devil Hills Station, NC
The Josephine was a four-masted schooner of 639 tons, of Baltimore, MD. She sailed from Savannah, GA, for New York City March 26 with a cargo of lumber. On March 31, when off Cape Lookout, she ran into a storm of exceptional severity. Buffeted by wind and sea for three days or more, she lost practically all her sails and also became water-logged, and to keep her from sinking her master headed her for the beach. She struck the shoals off Kill Devil Hills, NC, about noon of April 3, at a point nearly 2 miles south of the Coast Guard station of the same name. In less than an hour after she stranded the terrific hammering of the breakers broke her in two. Of her crew of 7 persons, three—the master and two seaman—were lost. The four others were taken from the surf and wreckage bodily by members of the Kill Devil Hills station crew.
Notwithstanding the prevailing thick weather, the Josephine was sighted when a mile or more offshore by the station lookout. She was then scudding for the beach, but making no distress signals. She disappeared in the mist and for some time later—just before she struck—the fog patrol discovered her in the breakers.
Well knowing that nothing could save the vessel from stranding, the keeper took the crew and breeches buoy gear and followed her down the beach. They came abreast of the schooner shortly after she went on the reef and found her entire crew in the rigging. She had worked over the reef and was foundering, broadside to the beach, with her bow pointing northward. Huge seas were breaking over her settling hull, working devastation to her deck load of lumber, and the water to leeward of her was already filled with thrashing wreck stuff and big timbers.
Four shots were fired in endeavoring to put a line over her. The first line parted midway between the vessel and the beach. The second was carried by the wind—blowing at a 74-mile rate—just clear f the after topmast. The third line fell in the mizzen rigging, but was parted by floating wreckage before any of the sailors could get hold of it.
While the men on the beach were working with this last line a sea broke the hold of one of the men who had taken refuge in the rigging and carried him off. This man, the first of the ship’s crew to be drowned, proved to be the master. A succeeding wave swept another of the men from the rigging. He had scarcely disappeared over the side when still another man was swept away, and as he disappeared one of his shipmates jumped overboard with the evident intention of affording him assistance. Both succeeded in getting hold of a floating timber. A surfman kept pace with them as the southerly current bore them swiftly along, watching for a chance to attempt their rescue. When they had drifted fully a mile from their vessel the opportunity came, and the Coast Guard man plunged into the surf and hauled the two men ashore.
About the time the sailor jumped overboard a shot line was laid across the vessel between the mainmast and the mizzenmast. Two of the three remaining men succeeded in getting hold of the line, despite the fact that the vessel was breaking up, and began to haul away. The line became hopelessly entangled in the wreckage, thrashing about to leeward of the wreck, and, finding themselves unable to free it, the two sailors looked about them for another avenue of escape, and crawled out on the mainmast, which pointed almost horizontally shoreward. The lone man in the after rigging was also moving around. About this time he was seen to make his way to the crosstrees of the aftermast, there to remain for a time undecided, apparently, whether to hang on or take the risk of attempting to swim to land.
The two men still on board—one in the crosstrees of the mainmast, the other in the crosstrees of the spankermast—now scrambled back to the upturned hull. The one first referred to climbed over the hull and down upon the wreckage floating alongside. The Coast Guard crew watching from the beach tried to throw a line to him, but it fell short at every heave and ultimately became so entangled in floating wreck stuff that it could not be recovered.
Perceiving that the men on shore could do nothing to help him, this sailor went back over the hull and worked his way along it to the forward end, now nearest the land. It was at this time that the keeper entered the water, fought his way through and over the intervening wreckage to the broken hull, and laid hold of the man. Following his example, other Coast Guard men made their way out to the vessel with joined hands and dragged both keeper and sailor to safety.
One man still remained on the wreck. It seems that in moving about seeking a place of safety he had in some way been caught and held by a wire stay. One of the surfmen undertook to rescue him and made several attempts to get out to the wreck. Repeatedly forced back, he at last reached his goal, climbed upon the lee wreckage as his comrades had done in the case of the earlier rescue, and with almost superhuman strength released the sailor from the stay and lifted him over it. Then, with the aid of his fellow surfmen afforded in the manner already described, he brought the man ashore. Shortly after this the larger piece of the schooner broke up entirely.
While working on this wreck the wind was blowing with hurricane force, accompanied by rain and snow, and tide and surf wee extremely high—higher, indeed, than ever before within the memory of residents of the locality. Beyond a doubt it would have been suicidal to launch a boat. Moreover, the vessel’s hull opened up and her masts toppled over so quickly that there would not have been time for her crew to haul out the whipline or secure the hawser, even had they succeeded in getting hold of any of the lines shot out from the beach.