Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1893:
At about 1 o’clock on the morning of February 20, 1893, the surf man having the patrol to the northward from the Little Kinnakeet Station (6th District) North Carolina, discovered a large vessel, which proved to be the schooner Nathan Esterbrook, Jr., of New Haven, Connecticut, ashore two and one half miles north-northeast of the life saving station, and about three hundred and seventy-five yards from the shore. The vessel was of seven hundred and thirty-one tons burden, having on board a cargo of guano valued at $35,000, and was on a voyage from New York City to Savannah, GA, carrying a crew of 9 men all told. The wind was from the southwest, and although strong, was favorable for the schooner, and while it was intensely dark the weather was not stormy, but the master had in some way missed his calculations, and almost before he was aware of his peril, ran hard aground as stated above. The tide was falling and the surf was heavy.
The patrolman no sooner saw the lights of the schooner than he knew she was stranded, and he therefore made his way with all possible haste to the life saving station, where the crew was aroused and at once prepared to go to the wreck. While the apparatus cart was being run out, and some extra articles that the keeper thought might be found necessary were being loaded into a horse cart belonging to him, he telephoned to the Gull Shoal Station, some 5 miles to the north of his own, and also to Big Kinnakeet, some 6 miles to the southward, informing them of the stranding and requesting their presence at the scene. Then he went to the top of the lookout and burned a red signal to the shipwrecked men to let them know that preparations were in hand for their rescue. The lifesaving crew then harnessed themselves to the apparatus cart and started off, the keeper going ahead and making faster time with his own cart loaded with the medicine chest, blankets, life belts, extra shot lines, etc. Not long afterwards he met the Gull Shoal crew and sent some of them with a horse to assist his men who were behind with the apparatus cart. No time was necessarily consumed, but the extreme darkness of the night and the condition of the beach were such that a considerable period was required to get abreast of the wreck with the apparatus, which was not accomplished until nearly three o’clock.
The Lyle life gun was immediately brought into requisition, carefully sighted by the lights of the schooner which were still burning, and a moment later its friendly shot went whizzing through the air toward the mark. The distance was great, and the darkness so impenetrable that the eye could not follow the flight of the projectile, but the fact subsequently appeared that notwithstanding the difficulties of the situation both the keeper and the gun had done their work well. It is true the shot did not rest on board the vessel, but it reached her fairly and would have proved entirely successful had it not happened to strike the heavy forestay and rebound into the water. After waiting a sufficient length of time and finding that the line was not being hauled aboard, the keeper knew that the shot had failed, and promptly prepared to try again. The second projectile was fired with a larger line and a heavier charge of powder, but fell short. Upon the third trial the same weight of cartridge was used, but a lighter line (of the same size as the first one), and this shot landed the line in excellent position across the fore gaff, between the fore and main masts.
The shipwrecked crew at once began hauling out the whip, and in the space of a few minutes the hawser was sent out and made fast, but unfortunately, as it later appeared, too low down. The movements of the life saving end, were guided solely by the signals of the lantern on board the schooner, and they had no knowledge of what was going on there except from that source, therefore, when a signal was made that the hawser was fast they set it up, clapped on the breeches buoy and sent it forth without delay. The second mate got into the buoy, and it was about to start on its first trip shoreward when a change of condition occurred which ultimately resulted in the only instance of loss of life which attended the wreck. Just as all was ready the wind suddenly veered from the west southwest, and began to blow a gale from the north, swinging the wreck around and thus bringing the beach apparatus hawser across the head stays. A signal to haul away was however, shown, and the buoy was accordingly promptly pulled ashore. When it reached the beach its occupant was found to be unconscious and was supposed to be drowned, the hawser having been made fast so low down on the schooner that the buoy was necessarily dragged through the water a large portion of the way. Efforts were instantly made to resuscitate the apparently drowned man, and he soon recovered consciousness, when he was transported in one of the carts to the Little Kinnakeet Station, attended by surfmen selected for the purpose, while the rest of the three crews assembled at the scene remained to complete the rescue of the eight men still on board the Esterbrook.
The gear being fouled the keeper now determined to give over any further efforts with that method and make an attempt to reach the vessel with the surfboat. A launch was finally accomplished in face of the high wind and furious surf, but these obstacles supplemented by a rapid long shore current, were too much for the crew, and ultimately compelled them to abandon the effort and return to the beach. It was now daylight, and keeper Hooper signaled to the men on the wreck to change the hawser and whip line to the lee bow, and while this was being done and the shore end of the gear set up over again, as was necessary, he sent a team to his station for the life car, which he proposed to use in the further operation, as perhaps under the circumstances a speedier and preferable means of getting the remaining men ashore. When it arrived the car was slung upon the hawser in place of the breeches buoy, and four trips were made with it, two men being loaded at each trip. So many perplexities were encountered that it was well into the day when the last man was safe on the shore, and it may well be accounted a fortunate circumstance that the vessel was sufficiently strong to hold together with all spars standing until rescue was completed.
No lives were lost by drowning, but the second mate, Charles Clafford, who, as before stated, was unconscious when he reached the shore, and as it afterwards appeared from his own statements and those of his shipmates was injured before leaving the vessel, and later by being dragged across the head stays, suddenly failed early in the forenoon, and at about 9:30 o’clock gave up his life. From the instant he was landed to the moment of his death every possible means was adopted for his recovery, but without avail. Just before he expired he threw up profuse quantities of blood, and it was the opinion of his comrades, as would seem to be the fact, that his death was due to necessarily fatal internal injuries. His body was carefully dressed in clothing taken from the supply provided by the generous benevolence of the Women’s National Relief Association, and then reverently interred by the life saving men in the presence of the surviving members of the shipwrecked crew.
While the circumstances of this rescue were not extraordinary so far as the weather was concerned, they afford a fair illustration of the methods of life saving-the breeches buoy, boat, and life car all having been successively brought into use—and they also emphasize the value of telephonic communications between the stations, by which three crews were easily and promptly assembled under circumstances calling for a very considerable number of men.
The shipwrecked people were furnished with dry clothing, and remained at the station until the day after the wreck, when they took their departure on a wrecking steamer for Norfolk, VA, leaving with the keeper the following statement expressive of their appreciation of the services of the life saving crews:
The schooner Nathan Esterbrook, Jr., of New Haven, Connecticut, stranded at 12:40 o’clock on the morning of February 20, 1893, about two and one half miles north of the Little Kinnakeet Life-Saving Station. The captain and crew of the station were promptly on hand. There was no lack of duty in saving our lives. Furthermore, I wish to state that the man who died at the station was saved alive. I believe that he got hurt in getting clear of the vessel, causing his death. Everything was done to save his life that could be done. I am very thankful for myself and crew for the kind treatment that we received from the captain and crew of the life-saving station. GEO. L. KELSEY, Captain ; A.L. DUNTON, Mate ; JOHN MANSTON, Steward ; T. ANDERSON, Seaman ; F. KUHLA, Seaman ; J. ANDERSON, Seaman ; T. ANDERSON, Seaman