Thursday, April 19, 2012

Schooner Lydia A. Willis ~ 17 August 1899

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1900:

Two lives were lost from the small schooner Lydia A. Willis near Dry Shoal Point off Ocracoke, NC, during the hurricane of August 17, 1899. The names of the lost were G.L. Buckman, passenger, and Henry Blango, cook, both residents of Little Washington, NC.
     The Willis was an old craft of 17 tons, which had been chartered for a pleasure trip by a party of 9 gentlemen belonging in Little Washington. The entire company on board when the vessel sailed numbered 12—3 of whom made up the crew. On Wednesday, August 16, the schooner anchored off Ocracoke, and as the wind was already blowing well-nigh a hurricane 6 of the passengers wisely chose to go ashore, leaving the crew and three of the pleasure party still on board. During the night the full force of the storm broke upon the ill-conditioned craft, which parted her chains and brought up at 4 a.m. of the 17th on Dry Shoal Point about 3 miles east of the Portsmouth Life-Saving Station.
     The testimony of the captain (who was saved) could not be obtained, but he is understood to have vaguely stated the time when the two men were lost during the day or the night of the day of stranding—“Thursday or Thursday night.”
     The weather was so thick that nobody on shore saw, or possibly could have seen, the wreck, and as a matter of fact its presence was not known to anybody until the afternoon of Friday, August 18, when it was discovered by patrolman William T. Willis of the Life-Saving Service who reported it to keeper Terrell. At that hour the “lay boat” used by the Norfolk and Southern steamers was reported ashore on Hog Shoal flying a signal of distress, and the life-saving crew at once launched a surfboat and started to board her. On their way they saw the Willis apparently deserted, and showing no signal whatever. The wind was still blowing hard, and piling up a high sea, and the keeper therefore kept on his way to the vessel which had called for aid. He started out about 5 o’clock, and at 6.15 reached the lay boat, which he found broken in two, full of water, and having on board the ship keeper and his wife. These the life-saving crew took off and landed at Ocracoke, reaching there at 7 o’clock, having again pulled within a mile of the stranded Willis, which they scrutinized in vain for signals of distress or the slightest signs of life on board.
     The keeper determined not to attempt to return to the station that night, but to remain in Ocracoke; but before he “turned in” the agent of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad hunted him up and requested him to make another trip to the lay boat in the morning, for the purpose of recovering some $300 from the safe.
     About 8 a.m. the next day the agent appeared at the landing, and with him keeper Terrell and crew started out in the station surfboat to board the lay boat, when, as they opened out the point, they perceived a signal flying on board the Willis. It was only a bit of canvas, but the keeper was sure it was not flying when his boat passed the Willis the previous evening, and he was therefore satisfied beyond any question that there must be some person or persons on board the wreck. Therefore he pulled that way and soon made out four men, whom, upon boarding her, he found to be two of the crew and two passengers. They desired to be taken to Ocracoke instead of the life-saving station, and therefore they were speedily placed in the surfboat and conveyed to the village, which they reached between 10 and 11 a.m. Three of the men were taken in charge by some of their friends, while the fourth, Mr. A.S. Kelly, of Little Washington, was conducted to a hotel, where he was provided with proper care, and on the next morning had so far recovered as to be able to go to his home.
     The captain of the Willis told the keeper that as soon as she struck the shoal all hands took to the rigging, and that after that time there was no possibility of leaving the rigging to make a signal. Previous to that time the weather was so thick that the vessel could not be seen. He further stated that late Friday afternoon, 36 hours after she stranded, the tide and sea had fallen so that the deck was out of water, and as the weather was still thick they all lay down in the lee of the deckhouse and went to sleep. None of them was awake when the weather lightened up about 5.30 p.m. and consequently no signal of distress was set up that night. On Saturday morning it appears to have occurred to them that it might be a good plan to set a signal, which they did, with the result that they were promptly rescued as already stated.

OCRACOKE, NORTH CAROLINA, August 21, 1899


We, the survivors from the schooner Lydia A. Willis, which was wrecked on a shoal near Ocracoke Inlet on August17, hereby certify that Captain Terrell and his crew from the Portsmouth Life-Saving Station came to our assistance and rendered most valuable service in bringing us around all right. We desire to hereby express our sincere to Captain Terrell and his crew. ROBERT GRIFFIN, Master ; BENJ. GRIFFIN, Mate ; A.S. KELLY ; JOHN ROSS

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