Saturday, April 7, 2012

Schooner Sarah D.J. Rawson ~ 9 February 1905

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1905:

The three-masted schooner Sarah D.J. Rawson, of 387 gross tons and carrying a crew of 7 men, sailed from Georgetown, SC, for New York, with a full cargo of lumber on February 2, 1905. At 5.30 a.m. on the 9th following, while standing to the northward under short canvas in a SSE. Gale, with thick fog and rough sea, the vessel stranded in the breakers on the S. side of Lookout Shoals. As soon as she struck, the master gave orders to take in sail, and while the crew were performing this work one of them, Seaman Jacob Hanson, was swept overboard and lost his life. At 12.06 p.m. the keeper and lookout at the station, 9 miles N. by W. from the wreck, discovered the vessel through a rift in the fog and the lifeboat was at once called away and manned. Under sails and oars she reached the place of disaster at 4 p.m. The Rawson lay in a seething mass of breakers, badly dismantled and surrounded by drifting wreckage, so that all efforts of the lifesavers to reach her were vain. Fortunately, enough of the hull and bulwarks remained intact to afford somewhat of a shelter for her crew, 6 men. Night soon came on, and the lifesavers brought their boat to an anchor and throughout the night kept watch upon the wreck, hoping, should it break up, that they might be able to pick up the crew. At 11 a.m. the following day the wind had shifted and the sea become a little smoother. The surfmen then anchored the lifeboat to windward of the wreck, and by veering upon the cable and heaving a line to the shipwrecked men, succeeded, one by one, in hauling all hands safely into the boat. The rescued men were taken to the station, provided with dry clothing from the stores of the Women’s National Relief Association, and succored until the 12th instant, when the U.S. revenue cutter Seminole took them on board and carried them to Wilmington, C. The Rawson broke to pieces and disappeared soon after the rescue of the crew was accomplished. (For detailed accounts, see caption “Loss of Life.”)

Wreck of the Schooner Sarah D.J. Rawson

The three-masted schooner Sarah D.J. Rawson, of 387 gross tons burden, and carrying a crew of 7 men, all told, sailed from Georgetown, SC, for New York with a full cargo of lumber, on February 2, 1905. At 5.30 p.m. of the 9th, following, while standing to the northward under short canvas, in a SSE. Gale, with a thick fog and rough sea, the vessel stranded in the breakers on the south side of Lookout Shoals, and, with her cargo, became a total loss.
     As soon as the schooner struck the master gave orders to take in sail. While the crew were performing this work, a heavy sea swept the decks, carrying Jacob Hansen, a Norwegian seaman, into the raging surf, where he soon disappeared and was seen no more. The same sea struck the master and 3 other seamen, and it was only by the most desperate efforts that they were able to cling to the vessel. The schooner gradually worked up on the shoal and lay somewhat easier, but the violent onslaughts of the seas breaking over her soon carried away her boat, together with deck houses fore and aft, started her deck load of lumber, and her spars began to fall. The crew, powerless to do anything for the vessel, sought refuge in the highest part of the wreck, their situation gloomy and almost hopeless.
     At Cape Lookout Life-Saving Station, about 9 miles N. by W. from the place of the disaster, a vigilant lookout had been maintained during the day, the keeper in person visiting the tower during the morning and forenoon, and a surfman constantly on watch, but a thick mantle of fog covered the ocean, shutting the doomed vessel from view. At noon, just as the lookout had been relieved, the keeper again climbed into the tower, and at 12.05 p.m., while scanning the sea with the glasses, he caught, through a rift in the fog, a glimpse of the schooner’s topmost spars. Knowing from her bearings that she probably was upon the shoal, he immediately called away the lifeboat, every member of the crew promptly responding.
     Though the testimony taken in this case shows that the men were nearly all more or less ill, there having been an epidemic of influenza at the station, not one shrank from what all knew must at best be a long and wearisome pull in wintry weather over 18 miles of rough sea. The wind being favorable, a light WSW. Breeze, the surfmen made sail, and with 8 men at the oars were off to the wreck within 25 minutes of the time it was discovered by the keeper, and a 4 p.m. reached the scene of the disaster. The schooner lay upon her starboard side in the midst of a seething mass of breakers, her bowsprit, foremast, main topmast, and deck houses fore and aft gone, and her stern to the mizzen rigging carried away. She was surrounded by wreckage and lumber, which, pitching and beating upon the breakers threatened the safety of the lifeboat and the lives of its crew. The crew of the Rawson, 6 in number, could be seen by the surfmen, and though the latter repeatedly attempted to make their way through the mass of debris, they could not approach the wreck nearer than about 200 yards, when they would be beaten back. The master of the schooner, watching his would-be rescuers, stated that he momentarily expected to see the lifeboat pitched end over end in the turbulent sea, and this, without doubt, would have occurred, but for the cool and skillful management of the keeper and crew.
     Night soon came on and the life-saving crew anchored near the edge of the breakers, hoping, as stated by the keeper, that in case of the schooner’s going to pieces they still might be able to rescue some or all of the sailors. They maintained a vigilant lookout, frequently fending off fragments of wreckage that menaced their boat, until after midnight, when the wind increased in force, hauling to NW. with the weather still thick, and much colder. The crew then shifted the lifeboat to an anchorage about 500 yards to windward, in order, as the keeper states, that should worst come to worst they might be able to weather the shoal and put to sea. Throughout the long, tedious night the surfmen suffered greatly in their open boat from exposure, fatigue, and hunger, but the keeper maintained his post, giving encouragement to his crew, and urging them not to fall asleep, for fear of disastrous results in their debilitated condition.
     At dawn they returned to the wreck and found that, while her remaining masts had gone by the board, a portion of the hull remained intact, and the crew had survived the perils of the night. The sea was still running very high, and the keeper decided to defer the attempt to rescue the crew until the tide turned, when he rightly judged that conditions would improve. At about 11 a.m. the wind and sea moderated somewhat, and the life-savers pulled to a position about 50 yards to windward of the wreck (to windward by both wind and tide) and anchored. By veering carefully upon the cable, and steadying the boat with the oars, they dropped in among the breakers and debris as far as possible, and succeeded in throwing a heaving line on board the schooner. Then one of the seamen bent the line around his waist, jumped into the sea, and was hauled into the lifeboat. His companions followed his example, and, one by one, all hands were rescued—drenched, chilled, and nearly exhausted, but safe. The surfmen removed their own oil coats, wrapping them about the shipwrecked men, and without mishap made the return trip to the station, arriving at about 5 p.m. The crew of the Rawson had been 48 hours without food or water, and the life-saving crew had spent 28 hours in an open boat, without food, and with no other nourishment than cold water, their limbs cramped with cold and the lack of room to move about, and their bodies aching from maintaining so long in a sitting posture. That the wrecked crew had not succumbed to their terrible ordeal is doubtless due to the fact that the vessel lay so nearly on her beam ends as to afford them something of a lee from the wintry NW. wind sweeping over them.
     The rescued men were furnished food and shelter at the station, also with clothing from the supplies of the Women’s National Relief Association, but this stock becoming exhausted the surfmen supplemented it from their own stores. The master of the Rawson was cared for part of the time by a personal friend, whom he found in command of the schooner Lottie W. Russell, at anchor in Lookout Bight. No member of the crew had suffered serious injury, though one seaman was afflicted by an attack of rheumatism and when removed from the station was transported upon a stretcher.
     On the 12th instant the revenue cutter Seminole arrived in Lookout Bight, and the following day at 2 p.m. she took the crew of the Rawson on board and carried them to Wilmington, NC.
     The loss of one life at this disaster occurred a very short time after the vessel struck, when all hands were in extreme jeopardy, and it was impossible for anyone to lend a helping hand to the drowning man as he was carried to his death in the breakers. Had the weather been clear and the schooner plainly visible from the life-saving station it would have been impossible for the life-savers to reach the scene in time to be of any assistance to the unfortunate seaman.
     On the other hand, the keeper without doubt discovered the Rawson at the first instant that she became visible at the station. No other eye sighted her, no one but the life-savers went to the rescue; the shipwrecked men lost their boat soon after the vessel struck, and not many hours elapsed after the rescue before the vessel broke up and disappeared. Hence all hands must have been lost, and the fate of the Sarah D.J. Rawson and her crew would never have known but for the unflinching heroism of the crew of the Cape Lookout Life-Saving Station, each of whom was subsequently awarded the gold medal of honor authorized by Congress (act of June 20, 1874) for extreme and heroic daring in saving life from the perils of the sea.

U.S. Coast Guard Award: 



William H. Gaskill
Kilby Guthrie
Walter M. Yeomans
Tyre Moore
John A. Guthrie
James W. Fulcher
John E. Kirkman
Calupt T. Jarvis
Joseph L. Lewis
Awarded 12 April 1905



The 387-ton, three-masted schooner Sarah D. J. Rawson, with a crew of seven, sailed from Georgetown, SC for New York with a full cargo of lumber on 2 February 1905. While standing under short canvas in a SSE gale at 5:30 PM on the 9th, the vessel stranded in the breakers on the south side of Lookout Shoals. She became a total loss. As soon as the schooner struck the master gave orders to take in sail. While the crew reformed this work, a heavy sea swept the decks and carried Jacob Hansen, a Norwegian seaman, into the surf. He soon disappeared.
The same sea struck the master and 3 other seamen. Only by the most desperate efforts, did they cling to the vessel. The schooner gradually worked onto the shoal and lay somewhat easier. The violent onslaughts of the sea, however, broke over her and soon carried away her boat. Then they swept the fore and aft deckhouses, her deck load of lumber and her spars. Powerless to do anything for the vessel, the crew sought refuge in the highest part of the wreck. Their situation appeared to be hopeless.
At Cape Lookout (NC) Life-Saving Station, about 9 miles N by W from the vessel, a vigilant lookout had been maintained during the day. A surfman remained constantly on watch while the keeper himself had twice visited the tower during the morning. A thick mantle of fog, however, covered the ocean and shut the doomed vessel from view. At noon, just as the lookout had been relieved, the keeper again climbed into the tower and at 12:05 PM, while scanning the sea with the glasses, he caught a glimpse of the schooner’s topmost spars. Knowing from her bearings that she probably was upon the shoal, he immediately called away the lifeboat. Every member of the crew promptly responded.
Though nearly all the men were ill, there having been an epidemic of influenza at the station, not one shrank from what all knew would be a long and wearisome pull in wintry weather over 18 miles of rough sea. A light WSW breeze made for a favorable wind and allowed the surfmen to make sail. With 8 men at the oars, they were off to the wreck within twenty-five minutes. At 4:00 PM they reached the scene of the disaster. The schooner lay upon her starboard side in the midst of the breakers. Her bowsprit, foremast, main topmast, and deckhouses were gone and her stern to mizzen rigging carried away. She was surrounded by wreckage and lumber. This pitching and beating flotsam threatened the safety of the lifeboat and the lives of its crew. Rawson’s six remaining crewmen could be seen by the surfmen. Though the latter repeatedly attempted to make their way through the mass of debris, they could get no closer than about 200 yards, when they would be beaten back. The master of the schooner stated that he expected to see the lifeboat pitched end over end in the turbulent sea. This would have occurred, but for the cool and skillful management of the keeper and crew.
Night soon came and the life-saving crew anchored near the edge of the breakers. They hoped, that in case of the schooner’s going to pieces, they still might be able to rescue some or all of the sailors. They maintained a vigilant lookout, frequently fending off fragments of wreckage that menaced their boat. After midnight, the wind increased in force and hauled to NW. With the weather still thick but much colder, the crew shifted the lifeboat to an anchorage about 500 yards to windward. The keeper stated that he did this so that should conditions worsen, they might be able to weather the shoal and put to sea. Throughout the long, tedious night the surfmen suffered greatly in their open boat from exposure, fatigue, and hunger. The keeper, however, maintained his post. He encouraged his crew and urged them not to fall asleep.
At dawn they returned to the wreck and found that, while her remaining masts had been swept away, a portion of the hull remained intact. This enabled the crew to survive the perils of the night. The sea was still running very high and the keeper decided to wait until the tide turned before attempting to rescue the crew. He had rightly judged that conditions would improve. About 1:00 AM the wind and sea moderated and the lifesavers pulled to a position about fifty yards to windward of the wreck. Here they anchored. By veering carefully upon the cable, and steadying the boat with the oars, they dropped in among the breakers and debris, as far as possible, and succeeded in throwing a heaving line on board the schooner. Then one of the seamen bent the line about his waist, jumped into the sea, and was hauled into the lifeboat. His companions followed his example, and, one by one, all hands were rescued--drenched, chilled, and nearly exhausted, but safe.
The surfmen removed their own oil coats and wrapped them about the shipwrecked men. They made the return trip to the station without mishap, arriving about 5:00 PM. The crew of the Rawson had been forty-eight hours without food or water. The lifesaving crew had spent twenty-eight hours in an open boat without food and their limbs cramped with cold. Lacking room to move about, their bodies ached from maintaining a sitting posture for so long. That the wrecked crew had not succumbed was due to the fact that the vessel lay nearly on her beam ends and afforded them something of a lee from the wintry NW wind.
The rescued men were furnished food and shelter at the station. Though there was clothing from the supplies of the Women’s National Relief Association, this stock became exhausted. The surfmen supplemented it from their own stores. The master of the Rawson was cared for part of the time by a personal friend at anchor in Lookout Bight. No member of the crew had suffered serious injury, though one seaman was afflicted by an attack of rheumatism and was transported upon a stretcher. On the 12th the revenue cutter Seminole arrived in Lookout Bight and the following day she took the crew of the Rawson on board and carried them to Wilmington, NC. The loss of one life at this disaster occurred a very short time after the vessel struck. It was impossible for anyone to lend a helping hand to the drowning man as he was carried to his death in the breakers.
The keeper discovered the Rawson at the first instant that she became visible at the station. No other eye sighted her, no one but the lifesavers went to the rescue. The shipwrecked men lost their boat soon after the vessel struck. Not many hours elapsed after the rescue before the vessel broke up and disappeared. All hands might have been lost. The fate of the Sarah D. J. Rawson and her crew would never have been known but for the unflinching heroism of the crew of the Cape Lookout Life-Saving Station. Each was subsequently awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for extreme and heroic daring in saving life from the perils of the sea. Those awarded for their rescue of the six crewman on Sarah D. J. Rawson included Keeper William H. Gaskill, Surfmen Kilby Guthrie, Walter M. Yeomans, Tyre Moore, John A. Guthrie, James W. Fulcher, John E. Kirkman, Calupt T. Jarvis, and former Surfman Joseph L. Lewis.




1 comment:

  1. About this famous rescue, I have this to say:

    “The Rescue of the Sarah D. J. Rawson”

    T’was a cold and storm-tossed night, her voyage just half way done,
    A “3-master” bounded toward the Cape, burthened ‘wid-bout 100 ton.

    The wind was scowling, gales a’howling, the foam was flying fast,
    Little did the Rawson know, she was bounding for her last.

    Knees were bended, heads descended, her crewmen huddled tight,
    Neither star nor compass were her guide, the black sky held no light.

    Hearts confessing, received no blessing, all hands began to pray,
    The Rawson beat blindly toward the shoals, and ground up by dawning day.

    “Bottom rising!” the leadsman cried, “hard a’lee and tack - avast”!
    Too late! Too late! The keel had struck, the shallows held her fast.

    Her cargo holds began to flood, the surge would not abate,
    Despite brave hearts in every man, now destined to meet his fate.

    The duty bos’n began to pipe all hands to quarter deck,
    The signal flares were sent aloft to illuminate the wreck.

    Then from the shore the watchman caught that little spark of light,
    And realizing what it meant, called his surf men from the night.

    “Awake! Awake!”, the watchman called, all surf men knew their vow,
    For nine miles out on that treacherous bar, their duty called them now.

    Though wracked with flu and with fevers high, they mustered as oft’ before,
    And hitched the wagon to their mule, and hastened to the shore.

    “To oars! To oars!” the Keeper cried, “each man unto his place,
    We’ve work to do and souls to save, and rescue with God’s grace!”

    All hands aboard, the lifeboat launched into the freezing cold,
    All oars a’straining to cadence maintaining, all hearts a’beating bold.

    “Row, boys row!” the Keeper called, “bend backs against the strain,
    And feather ‘ye blade on its return, a greater speed we’ll gain.”

    Through breaking seas the life boat lurched, foam sprayed against the dark,
    With each man’s safety cast aside, they pressed on toward their mark.

    And finally reaching their chosen spot, at fair heading against the wave,
    They set their hook, the line came taught, they began their work to save.

    The Rawson crew had suffered long, their hopes were almost spent,
    When like a savior to them all, the heaving line was sent.

    The line paid out in perfect arc across that raging sea,
    And landed thence on Rawson’s deck - Yes, ‘twas a savior sent to thee!

    With block and tackle working hard, and the hawser its appointed deed,
    Thence with God’s help, one by one, the crewmen thus were freed.

    All souls, but one, aboard that night were rescued from that sea,
    The hand of God had worked His will, through the surf men who set them free.

    Old seamen still talk about that night, when the Rawson struck the bar,
    And the bravery of the surf men there, their motto their polar star.

    Yes, that motto blazed bright in every breast, no fear did they ‘ere discern,

    That sacred oath:

    “To always go, but not always to return”!



    Copyright © 2012 by James W. Thompson. All rights reserved.


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