Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Schooner A.B. Goodman ~ 4 April 1881

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30 1881:

The last fatal wreck of the year, within life-saving limits, was that of the schooner A.B. Goodman, of Seaford, DE, bound from Baltimore, MD, to New Berne, NC, with a cargo of guano, and having on board 5 men, including the captain. The wreck took place on April 4, 1881, at about half-past 6 o’clock in the evening, the vessel striking during a northwest gale, upon the outer edge of the inner shoal off Cape Hatteras, and being at once boarded by the sea, there was only time in the overwhelming rush of waters for the men to fly to the rigging; in the effort to gain which, one of them, Louis Beck, was swept overboard, and drowned.
     The point at which the disaster took place was about three miles from shore, and six miles east of Life Saving Station No. 22 (6th District), North Carolina. This station is built upon the rise of an eminence known as Creeds Hill, and its north patrol reaches for 6 miles around the edge of the dreaded cape. Looking from the station, the view toward the cape presents to the eye the aspect of an immense desert of sand, strangely and fantastically sprinkled all over with gnarled and twisted trunks of black, dead trees. In winter, or during the inclement season, nothing more dismal could well be imagined than this Sahara, with its thin remnant of a former vegetation killed by the salt tides. The level is only diversified by occasional mounds of sand, and, here and there, pools of sea water, left by some overflow in the hollows. Behind, or to the west, a forest of pines and live oaks, dense and almost impenetrable, stretches away northward to Hatteras light house. All around the cape for two miles, in storms at flood tides, a heavy sea swings across the low and somewhat shelving beach, in among its bordering hummocks, and back again with violence, ploughing gullies as it runs. The surf makes the sand a quag, quick-sands form in the gullies, and the solitary patrolman, making his way along the top of the beach in the darkness by the dim light of his lantern, faces the chances of destruction, being liable to be swept off his feet by the rush or refluence of the surf, sucked down in the gullies by the quick-sands, or struck by some fragment of wreck-stuff shot forth by the breakers. Yet this dreadful watch is made necessary by the presence of shore of a nest of shoals, range after range, which are the terror of navigators. The first, a mile wide, stretches from the point of the cape between two and three miles seaward, covered with a depth of only seven feet of water, which in storms are miles of raging foam. This formation is, in fact, a submarine prolongation of the cape. Beyond it, separated by half a mile of channel, is another formidable shoal, the Diamond, two miles long; and beyond this again, another range of shallows, the outer shoals. For 6 or 7 miles out from shore, these terrible bottoms spread their ambush for shipping, and hence the watch in this locality for vessels in danger requires to be particularly kept around the point of the cape, no matter at what toll or hazard to the sentinel. On the evening of the disaster to the A.B. Goodman, the patrolman, pursuing his journey through the floods sheeting across his way, in the midst of a squall of rain and snow, saw far off, despite the distance and thick weather, the dim outlines of a vessel, and knew by this indication that there was some sort of a craft in the neighborhood of the shoals, though exactly where, or whether in danger, it was impossible to determine. The fact was reported by 10 o’clock to the keeper, B.B. Daily, who was up at dawn, and saw the schooner evidently aground, and, in fact, sunk, on the outer edge of the first range of shoals. He at once ordered out the surf boat to the rescue.
Benjamin B. Daily
     The storm of the evening before had been brief, and the wind, blowing freshly from the north-northwest, had beaten down the surf upon the beach. The sea, therefore, was smooth for launching, but beyond, it was very heavy. Heaps of rough water incessantly tumbling, and thickets of bursting form, filled the offing, and the current running one way, while the wind was the other, made an ugly cross sea. The little group of surf men about to enter upon this stormy field had still a more serious peril before them than the chance of being overswept or capsized by the colliding waters. Their boat being light and flat-bottomed, the breeze, which was strong, and off shore, might make return impossible, and force them out to sea, where they would almost certainly be lost.  Nevertheless, as the stout keeper naively said in his testimony, “they knew it was their duty to do what they could, so they did it.” The group was composed of the keeper, B.B. Daily, and Surfmen Thomas J. Fulcher, Damon M. Gray, Erasmus H. Rolison, Benjamin F. Whidbee, Christopher B. Farrow, and John B. Whidbee, the last named a substitute for a member of the crew absent on leave. One of the crew, Z. Basnett, was left in charge of the station. It is certain that none of the others counted upon returning alive. The disposition of their slender effects was a part of the charge given to surfman Basnett by his companions in case they perished. Having thus made each his simple will, as men facing the issues of life and death, they entered the boat and gave way.
     For a long way out the surf boat kept the lee of the cape, where the surf, flattened by the off shore wind, was comparatively smooth. Once beyond the point of the cape, they entered the rough water, and their gravest peril was encountered when, rounding the end of the inner shoal, they gained the slue or channel, lying between the inner and Diamond Shoals, down which they had to row for perhaps a mile to the locality of the wreck. In this channel, all there was of the cross sea was in full career, and the greatest circumspection was necessary in the management of the boat. Finally, at about half-past 7 o’clock, two hours after starting, the life saving crew arrived near he wrecked schooner.
     She was completely sunk, her hull all under. Only her two masts stuck up from the swirling water, and perched up in the main cross-trees, wrapped in the main-gaff topsail, were huddled the four wretched survivors of her crew of five. After three or four daring and dangerous attempts to get near, baffled by the strong current and the vast commotion of the sea above the sunken hull, keeper Daily hailed the wretched group up on the mast, telling them to keep good heart and that they would be rescued as soon as possible; then dropped astern about three hundred yards and let go the anchor, having decided that it as necessary to a successful effort to wait. The efforts already made had consumed much time, and the boat anchored within an hour of noon. An hour afterward, the flood-tide somewhat smoothed the break of the sea over the sunken hull, and the life saving crew got up their anchor, worked p to the windward of the vessel, where they again moored, and then slowly and cautiously, by slacking on the anchor line, let the boat veer down toward the main mast of the wreck. Once within range, the keeper hove his boat hook, by a line attached, into the rigging and held on. The fateful moment had arrived, the boat was slacked in, so that the keeper could get hold of the first man hat came down from aloft, and the first mate slowly descended the rigging. As he came within reach, the keeper, standing n the stern of the boat, seized him, but the man, terrified at the frightful rush and roar of waters beneath him, and doubtless unmanned by cold and hunger, and the may hours of horror he had undergone, broke from the keeper’s hold and clambered up the rigging again. The boat was hauled back a little, and the keeper spoke up cheerily, encouraging the men in the cross-trees, and declaring they would all be saved. Presently, the line was again slacked, the boat veered down, and the mate once more descended. His fright again seized him, but the keeper, forewarned, got a mighty hold, and by sheer force, jerked him out of the rigging and landed him in the boat. The captain then came down, was seized by the keeper the moment he came within reach, and torn from the shrouds. The other two men, emboldened by this energetic succession of deliverance, slid down the rigging and jumped into the boat without aid. Quickly the keeper then let slack his warp, recovered his boat hook, and gave the word to haul back to the anchor. Three of the rescued men were seated on the thwarts, the captain in the stern sheets, the anchor was got up, and the hard work of the return began.
     By this time the wind had changed to the west-southwest, blowing freshly, and so roughening the water on the south side of the shoals—which was the side on which the approach to the wreck had been made—and the keeper decided it would be safer to attempt the landing on the north side, or near Hatteras lighthouse. The men gave way with a will, wind and sea against them. The light keepers watching them as they toiled upon the running swells, had some time before made up their minds that they would not be able to get to land that night, if they ever did. But the strenuous effort conquered, and somewhere about 2 0’clock the life saving crew, dripping and exhausted, gained the beach, near the lighthouse tower, with the sailors they had saved.
     These sailors were at once taken up to the lighthouse by the keepers, where a meal was set before them. No food had passed their lips since about 11 o’clock of the day previous, and they were nearly perished with cold and hunger. Their rescuers were in little better case, having eaten nothing since 4 o’clock the day before, a period of about twenty-two hours. Nevertheless, without waiting to share in the repast of the sailors, they set off to their own quarters, a tramp by the shortest cut across the cape of nearly five miles. Thy reached the station greatly exhausted. All of them had been out on the tempestuous patrol or some part of the night before, some of them from 2 o’clock in the morning until dawn. From this night of broken rest they had passed abruptly to 8 hours of tragic labor under the shadow of death upon the sea. Their valiant rescue achieved, there still remained this long trudge, which left them finally at the station, a group of haggard, worn out men.
    Descant is unnecessary upon the feat they performed in saving the four sailors. Such deeds attest themselves; and there are few scenes in human life more deeply affecting than the spectacle of this crew of poop men making their wills upon the beach, and leaving their small store of effects in charge of a comrade for the benefit of their families before entering upon a struggle of deadly peril for the lives of four unhappy creatures, who, in their dying misery, must have thought themselves abandoned forever by men, if not beyond all human aid. To have done this—to have quietly resigned the certainties for the chances of existence in such a case and under such circumstances—was more than noble; and there are no hearts, however cold, that will not feel that in this action the unassuming surfmen of an obscure coast reached again, as many low-down and almost nameless men have often reached, the full stature of heroism.

Newspaper Article:

The Norfolk Virginian
April 6, 1882

A schooner also went ashore on the Diamond shoals yesterday, in regard which two messages were sent to the chief signal officer, the last one, dated 3:20 p.m., reading as follows.
     Schooner ashore on Diamond Shoal proves to be the two-master schooner A.B. Goodman, G.F. Seward captain, bound from Baltimore, Md., to Newberne, N.C., loaded with guano; five men all told, saved; one seaman lost; crew saved by Life Saving Station No. 22 who started for the wreck at 6 a.m. today; vessel struck at 7 p.m. yesterday and crew taken off at 11 today. She will probably be a total loss; going to pieces now.

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