Thursday, April 5, 2012

Steamer Thistleroy ~ 28 December 1911

On the night of this date the British steamer Thistleroy, of 4,027 tons, en route from Tampa, FL, to Liverpool, England, via Norfolk, VA, with a cargo of cotton, mistook the Cape Lookout (N.C.) Light for the lightship on Cape Lookout Shoals, ran off her course, and stranded about 3 miles offshore and 4 or 5 miles south by east of the cape mentioned. Vessel and cargo, valued together at $310,000, became a total loss. The entire crew of 30 men and the single passenger—the master’s wife—aboard the vessel were saved, however, by the crew of the Cape Lookout Life-Saving Station, assisted by boats’ crews from the revenue cutter Itasca and the wrecking tug Rescue. This case is regarded, aside from the great property loss involved, as one of the noteworthy wrecks of the year, because of the fact that no lives were lost, notwithstanding the rescuers had to contend with unforeseen and disheartening difficulties and accidents in their work of saving the imperiled ship’s company.
     When the steamer struck, shortly after nightfall, the sea was moderate, there was little wind, and the weather was clear. The life saving crew discovered her situation as soon as she got into trouble and promptly put out to her in their power lifeboat. They found her resting easily on the shoal, with everything on board apparently in good condition and her crew taking their misfortune philosophically. As the weather outlook was good and no one on board desired to leave, the life savers soon put back for the shore, carrying with them, for delivery at Beaufort, NC, messages from the master to his owners.
     On the morning of the 31st, the weather becoming threatening, the life saving crew boarded the Itasca to ascertain whether they could take a hand in wrecking operations. The captain of the cutter responded to the proffer of assistance by asking them to stand by. They accordingly dropped astern of the cutter and anchored. Shortly afterwards a signal was observed aboard the wreck signifying that some of her crew wished to be taken off. The life saving crew and a boat’s crew from the cutter responded to the signal. The cutter’s boat hove to about a hundred yards from the steamer, while the power lifeboat ran in alongside and took on board 10 men and the master’s wife—all who desired to leave the vessel at that time.
     A short distance from the wreck, on the way to the Itasca and while the lifeboat was still in the rougher water on the shoal, the engine stopped. As the occasion was one in which time could not be taken to work over the machinery, the crew immediately resorted to the oars to get out of the dangerous area. After rowing a distance of perhaps 50 yards they took a line from the waiting cutter’s boat, with which assistance they proceeded to the Itasca.
     At this point arose the second obstacle to be encountered by the life saving crew in the course of their day’s work. When they attempted to transfer their passengers to the cutter they found that the exchange could not be made except at great risk owing to the state of the sea. There was nothing to do under the circumstances but hoist sail and run the four or five miles necessary to be traversed to reach sheltered water. This they did, the cutter accompanying them in.
     While the power boat lay in protected water near the Itasca an engineer came aboard from the cutter and set the boat’s engine to running again. The life saving crew thereupon returned to the wreck. They reached the vessel on the second trip just in time to save one of her boats containing 14 men. Unused to working in broken water, the sailors had got into the trough of the sea and were in imminent peril of swapping with the power lifeboat overhauled them. They were transferred to the service craft and their own boat taken in tow. When the party were halfway to the shore their engine stopped a second time. They immediately resorted to the sails, as on the preceding trip, and came safely into harbor, where the load of passengers joined their shipmates aboard the Itasca.
     Twenty-four men and a woman comprised the number saved from this wreck through the efforts of the life saving crew, a boat from the tug Rescue having taken off the 6 others included in the Thistleroy’s crew. The entire party of rescued persons were transported by the Itasca to Wilmington, NC.

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