Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1891:
The next fatal casualty occurred on January 22, 1891, at the wreck of the three-masted schooner, Nathaniel Lank, of Wilmington, DE. Her captain, N.J. Sipple, of Frederica, DE, was drowned. The Lank was a craft of 288 tons register, with a crew of 8 men. She stranded on the coast of North Carolina, about three and a half miles north of the Gull Shoal Station (6th District) at 4 o’clock a.m., while on her way to the Delaware Breakwater for orders, with a cargo of sugar from St. Thomas, West Indies. The weather was thick and rainy, accompanied by a fresh gale from the south-southeast, and the sea was running high and rough. She struck about 200 yards from the beach, a little south of the halfway point between the Chicamicomico and Gull Shoal Stations, just within the latter’s precinct. She was quickly discovered by the two patrols, who at once hurried to their respective stations with the alarm, and, after a brief consultation between the two keepers by telephone as to what appliances each should take with the the view of working in concert, they set out with their men to the scene of the wreck, the Gull Shoal crew taking their surfboat on its carriage, and the Chicamicomico their beach apparatus, as agreed upon. Before setting out keeper Pugh,, of Gull Shoal, set up two rockets for the twofold purpose of calling in his south patrol and signaling to the people on the stranded schooner that aid was coming. It was about 5:30 o’clock when he started, and fully an hour was consumed in reaching the place of operations, the tide being high and travel necessarily slow over the soft and yielding sand.
The two crews arrived on the ground at about the same time. It was seen at a glance that the surf was too high for boat service. Keeper Wescott therefore turned his beach apparatus over to Pugh, within whose patrol limits the vessel lay, and placed himself and men under Pugh’s direction, and with this understanding to start with, the two crews worked skillfully and harmoniously together until the end for which they had assembled was accomplished. When all was in readiness the first shot from the gun carried the line over the spring stay between the main and mizzen masts. The crew were grouped on the forecastle and bowsprit, and apparently made no effort to get aft to reach this line, so when the beachmen observed this as the day dawned they put another shot line into use and threw it within easy grasp of the men. The whip was then bent on and the sailors began hauling it off, but when they had pulled it halfway to the schooner the shot line they were hauling it by snapped in two and communication was severed. But this mishap delayed operations only a short time, as a third shot was fired with the dry or shore end of the broken line attached, and this caught on the end of the flying jib boom and was quickly secured by the sailors. Greater caution was not observed by the latter in hauling the whip off, and being aided in this as much as possible by the surfmen, who would walk with both parts of it along the beach to windward to offset the current, and then suddenly slack out, they finally succeeded in getting the block into their hands and making it fast to the flying jib boom. The hawser quickly followed, and in due season the arrangement of the lines between the schooner and the shore was complete.
The work of rescue was not begun by the sending off of the breeches buoy. There were 7 men in sight at this time at the bow of the vessel, the 8th man, who it appears was the captain, having gone aft and climbed into the starboard mizzen rigging. He had done this soon after the firing of the first shot. The survivors give no reason for his taking this step, and, perhaps, the best that can be advanced is that he thought, as the line just thrown had landed aloft on the after spring stay, no other one would be sent off, and that would have to be used. The gear worked smoothly, and all seven of the men forward were landed safely by 9 o’clock. By this time the schooner had gradually settled in the sand until she was almost entirely under water except the masts, which were still standing. She was also fast breaking up. Under these circumstances it was utterly impossible for the captain to get forward to the jib boom, where the breeches buoy hung in readiness for him should he reach it. The only way at that time to have got forward would have been by the spring stays between the mastheads, and he was doubtless in no condition then to attempt such a perilous feat. It was equally impossible to reach him with a boat, or for anyone to go off the buoy from the shore with any prospect of aiding him, as the surf was dashing wildly over the submerged hull between the bowsprit and the rigging, where he was. After the lapse of about three quarters of an hour, or at a quarter to 10 o’clock, he was observed to descend the rigging as though he meditated a dash for the bow of the vessel. But he had scarcely reached the sheer pole when he was swept away, and after battling desperately for a few moments with the waves in a vain effort to regain the rigging he sunk out of sight and was not seen until his lifeless body was cast up by the surf about half an hour later. Immediate efforts were made to resuscitate the body, but without success. It had been too long in the water and life was extinct. As the head and face were badly bruised it is quite likely that he was knocked insensible by contact with the wreckage very soon after being washed overboard.
The 7 survivors lost all their effects, and were furnished with a change of dry clothing from the supply of the Women’s National Relief Association, besides shelter and sustenance until the following day, (23d), when passage was obtained for them on a small schooner to Roanoke Island, whence they could proceed by steamer to the mainland. Nothing was saved of the schooner or her cargo.
The following paper was left by the castaways with keeper Pugh and by him forwarded to this office:
GULL SHOAL LIFE SAVING STATION, Sixth District, January 23, 1891
The undersigned, crew of the schooner Nathanial Lank, wrecked on Chicamicomico Beach January 22, 1891, do hereby certify that every possible effort was made to save all the crew of that vessel by the keepers and surfmen of the Gull Shoal and Chicamicomico Life Saving Stations, that the drowning of the captain was the result of his own action, and that it was not by reason of any failure on the part of the life saving crews to discharge their duty. While we deeply regret the loss of our captain we desire to express thanks to the keepers and crews of said stations for their promptness in rescuing us and for the hospitality we received after reaching the Gull Shoal Station. HARRY SIPPLE, Mate ; ROBERT GREER ; PETER AUCKER ; HENRY KING ; JOHN SOBER ; L. SANDERAGE ; CHARLES H. WILLIAMS