ShipWrecks: The Graveyard of The Atlantic

 

Cape Point, the intersecting stretch of beach which divides Hatteras Island's north and south facing beaches, is known today as the East Coast's surf fishing Mecca, attracting fishermen from all over the world. But, the same conditions that consistently lure in the blues, spot and drum, specifically the meeting of the artic Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream current, have also caused the waters off Cape Hatteras to be a deadly trap for mariners for centuries. The shifting sandbars, colliding waves and unpredictable currents located off Hatteras Island earned the nickname "Graveyard of the Atlantic" for this stretch of shore, and it is the final resting place of more than 600 ships.

The first recorded shipwreck off the North Carolina coast was in 1526 at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. During the 1500s, the excitement of the New World attracted a number of explorers to the treacherous waters of the Outer Banks, in search of the rumored riches to be found at the new American colonies. This was the beginning of Hatteras Island's reputation as a deadly destination for ships, and over the next 400 years, this reputation only grew.

 

The Civil War

 

During the late 1800s, when commercial shipping was enjoying a rejuvenated business following the Civil War, the number of shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast peaked, and the area had gained national attention and government response.

In 1837, the steamship Home was destroyed in a hurricane off Ocracoke Island. One hundred people, including many prominent figures, were lost at sea due primarily to a lack of life preservers. As a result of this tragedy, The Steamboat Act was passed, which required all ships to have life preservers available on board for all passengers.

The area known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic generated national attention again in 1877 when a Navy warship, Huron, wrecked off the coast of Nags Head. The lifesaving station was closed for the winter season, and because of this lack of aid, the wreck resulted in a loss of 100 lives. Just a few months later, even more lives were lost when a passenger ship, Metropolis, wrecked off the coast near Corolla. Flooded with horror stories of shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast, the government passed bills establishing year-round lifesaving stations to be located every seven miles along the Outer Banks. These flagship lifesaving stations would later become the United States Coast Guard.

But, treacherous waters alone weren't the only cause of the innumerable shipwrecks in the Graveyard of the Atlantic. War played a significant role, and the German U-Boats of both World War I and World War II which were lost to the waters off Hatteras Island are modern reminders of the Graveyards of the Atlantic's dark history. Depending on the tides, several of these ships can be spotted off the shoreline in Buxton, and a number of these lost U-Boats can be discovered and explored by the adventurous scuba diver.

Perhaps the most famous military ship that calls the Graveyard of the Atlantic home is the USS Monitor. A relic from the Civil War, the USS Monitor was designed by John Ericsson, one of the most innovative engineers of the 19th Century. At the time, the Confederate Army was gaining ground in the battle to stop the Union Army's blockade of Southern ports, which essentially stopped all goods and supplies from being shipped into the Southern states. The biggest tool the Confederates had in the fight was the ironclad Virginia, a revolutionary warship because it replaced the wood and sail boats with a ship of iron and steam.

The USS Monitor, a 987-ton turret gunboat, left New York for Hampton Roads, Virginia to fight against the Virginia. On March 9, 1862, (just one day after the Virginia had sunk two US Navy ships, the Congress and the Cumberland, killing 240 of their crew,) the Virginia and the USS Monitor came face to face. The ensuing battle between the two ironclad warships ended in a stalemate, but compared to the one-sided victory the Virginia had savored just the day before against the ironclad's predecessors, the battle was an indication of things to come - the triumph of industrial age warfare. And, ultimately, the USS Monitor helped the Union keep its stranglehold on the South's ports, playing a big role in the North's victory in the Civil War.

In late December of 1862, the USS Monitor headed south for other missions and was caught in one of the winter storms at Cape Hatteras. On New Year's Eve of December 1862, the USS Monitor sank off the coast of Cape Hatteras.

The wreckage was discovered in 1974 by John G. Newton and a survey team from Duke University. Scanning the ocean floor, The USS Monitor was found lying just 16 miles South-Southeast of The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Soon after its discovery, the Governor of North Carolina and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior helped to designate the USS Monitor as a National Marine Sanctuary and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Over the past several years, NOAA has made extensive efforts to retrieve artifacts from the USS Monitor, and work is presently underway to recover major components of her structure and machinery.

While the USS Monitor is arguably the most recognized battleship stranded on the ocean floor off the Cape Hatteras coast, it certainly isn't the only one. Nearly a century after the USS Monitor met its demise, the Graveyard of the Atlantic earned itself a secondary nickname - Torpedo Junction.

German U-Boats

 

In the late stages of World War II, the North Carolina coast was swarming with German U-Boats, submarines that lingered off America's Coast, and targeted innocent merchant ships that attempted to get in and out of the Outer Banks.

The submarines were part of Adolf Hitler's plan of attack on the American East Coast, known as Operation Paukenschlag, or "Drumroll." The strategy, originated by Rear-Admiral Karl Donitz, was similar to the Union Army's own Civil War plan to stop merchant ships from landing on East Coast ports, essentially blocking the coastal commerce and the arrival of supplies. Initially, only five U-Boats were sent to the coast, but their presence was detrimental to the East Coast and the plan was, at first, tremendously successful.

The U-Boats were both ruthless and meticulous. Despite the best efforts of merchant ships to avoid the onslaught of attack by zigzagging towards shore to avoid the torpedoes, the U-Boats brought down 397 merchant ships from January to June of 1942. The area off Cape Hatteras was a popular spot for the U-Boat commanders, as it was a central point for merchant ships, and the area soon became known as Torpedo Junction.

Many innocent sips were targeted, such as the Buarque, a Brazilian ship that carried both cargo and passengers and was en route to New York. Because of its Brazilian flags and its status as a neutral country, the ship's crew was under the assumption that they would not be a target for the German U-Boats, but they were wrong.

A German U-Boat, the U-432, started circling the passenger ship before it seemingly disappeared, but despite the initial appearance that the Buarque was safe from attack, the U-432 ultimately launched its torpedoes, sending the Buarque to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the shores of Kill Devil Hills. Miraculously, and thanks to the efforts of the Coast Guard, 84 of the 85 people on board were rescued. Out of the wreckage, only one person had died.

Avoiding the U-Boats was an impossible feat, as discovered by the captain and crew of the City of Atlanta, a cargo ship that was headed for Savannah from New York carrying a variety of goods including food, leather, wool, brass, soap and three cases of whiskey. Three days before they left, it was reported that the tanker Norness, one of the first casualties of the U-Boat attacks, was torpedoed and destroyed just south of Mantauk, New York. As a result, the captain directed the crew of the City of Atlanta to hug the shoreline and dim the navigation lights to avoid the U-Boats' attention.

Unfortunately, the strategy did not work and on January 19, 1942, at 2:12 a.m., the City of Atlanta was struck on the portside by a torpedo. Five survivors were picked up by the freighter Seatrain Texas hours after the City of the Atlanta went into the ocean, but the remaining 42 crew members had died.

The same boat that destroyed the City of Atlanta, the U-123, quickly found another easy target just two days later, the Ciltvaira, which was slowly moving down the coast. The Ciltvaira was also a cargo ship and was carrying a load of paper from Norfolk, to Savannah, Georgia, when it was struck by a torpedo on the portside at 5:00 a.m. Badly wounded but still afloat, several ships including the Brazilian freighter Bury and the tanker Socony Vacuum attempted to tow the Ciltvaira, but were unable to do so, and instead, picked up the surviving crew members. The Ciltvaira sank off the coast of the Outer Banks, in between the villages of Salvo and Avon.

After months of similar and widely publicized stories of innocent ships being attacked, at last the dire situation of the U-Boat attacks was addressed. The United States Navy, with British assistance, began a campaign to rid the North Carolina coast of the German submarines. Long-range aircraft patrols were implemented, a coastal convoy system was initiated and more anti-submarine vessels were deployed.

A few of the U-Boats were sunk, including the U-352 off the coast of Cape Lookout, and by late 1942, Admiral Donitz withdrew his submarines from the East Coast. Even though a few merchant ships were occasionally targeted and destroyed throughout the rest of the war, the reign of Torpedo Junction was essentially over.

 

U.S. Lifesaving Service and U.S. Coast Guard

 

Fighting against both the treacherous waters off Cape Hatteras as well as the numerous causalities of warfare were the local lifesaving stations and later Coast Guard stations of North Carolina.

In 1874, in response to the shipwrecks that plagued the Graveyard of the Atlantic, the first seven lifesaving stations were built along the North Carolina Coast. As pioneers of The Lifesaving Service, the early recruits, often local residents who were familiar with the treacherous waters and how to navigate them, turned the ragtag lifesaving stations into flagship operations. The fearless crews of the early lifesaving stations provided a number of tales of heroism that are still told and re-told amongst locals today.

One of the most adventurous lifesaving endeavors took place in December of 1884. The cargo ship Ephraim Williams was headed home to Savannah, Georgia from Providence, Rhode Island with a supply of pine lumber when it was tangled in the rough weather and waters off Cape Hatteras and became waterlogged. The crews of the Cape Hatteras, Durant's (Hatteras) Creed's Hill and Big Kinnakeet (Avon) Lifesaving Stations saw the ship stranded but was unable to help. The weather, which the experienced surfmen claimed was the worst they had ever seen, kept the crews on alert on the beach, waiting for a sign from the sinking ship that there were survivors on board. During the night, the boat floated 7 miles northeast, across from the Big Kinnakeet Station. At 10:30 a.m. the men from the Hatteras Island lifesaving stations finally saw a sign- a flag raised to half mast to indicate a distress signal. Benjamin B. Dailey, leader of the Cape Hatteras Lifesaving Station and his crew immediately launched their boat, and the crew of Big Kinnakeet Lifesaving Station soon followed.

Few people on shore thought the rescue would be successful, and most believed the crews that foolishly rushed out to save the survivors would never return. Dailey's crew maneuvered through the inner bar and the more treacherous outer bar, timing their rowboat strokes to drift past the enormous breaking waves. The Big Kinnakeet crew was unable to get through, and waited to see if Dailey could make it to the floundering Ephraim Williams. Indeed, the crew was able to pull close enough to the waterlogged ship to toss a line to the captain and rescue the men one by one. Dailey's boat, with 16 people on board, nine of which were survivors from the Ephraim Williams, cautiously but successfully made their way back to shore. The rescue of the nine men, from the time the Ephraim Williams was spotted, had taken 90 hours.

On August 17, 1899, the captain and crew of the schooner Robert W. Casey were driven ashore by an east-northeast hurricane with very high surf and tide. The crew of the Little Kinnakeet Station, which is still visible from NC Highway 12 between Avon and Salvo, immediately headed to the beach and patiently waited for their chance to row out to the ship to bring the stranded crew ashore. All seven men aboard the boat were rescued and brought back to the station for food, clothing and supplies, and the captain and crew of the Robert W. Casey submitted a letter to the U.S. Lifesaving Service. After explaining the circumstances of their shipwreck, the captain and crew wrote the following:

"We also wish to say that these noble, gallant, and heroic life-savers do most dreadfully suffer hardships of life to save, protect and take care of sailors who may be cast into their care. There was nothing left undone by the acting keeper and crew of the above-named station. They performed their duties most nobly."

One of the most famous stations was Rodanthe village. Having undergone a complete renovation, it is also one of the most popular attractions on Hatteras Island, drawing thousands of visitors every year. One of the most famous stories originating from this station was the rescue of the crew of the British tanker, the Mirlo, which was hit by torpedoes off the coast of the Outer Banks by a German U-Boat.

On August 16, 1918, at 4:30 p.m., the The Chicamacomico Life Saving Station lookout reported seeing a huge spray of water shoot into the air, indicating that the ship had been hit. By 5:00 p.m., the crew of the Chicamacomico Station was launching a surfboat, heading out to the burning wreckage. The water was calm enough to swim to the wreckage, but the ocean was covered with burning oil, black smoke and flames. The lifesaving crew spotted six men clinging to a rowboat. Later, the survivors reported that they had to duck under water frequently to save themselves from being burned to death. The crew rescued the six men and looked for the other five men who had been aboard the Mirlo, but they were nowhere to be found, and the flames made an extensive search virtually impossible.

By 9:00 p.m., the crew and the survivors of the Mirlo had made it safely back to shore. The Chicamacomico crew eventually received 6 Crosses of Honor, out of 11 Crosses of Honor ever given.

The early lifesaving stations eventually became the United States Coast Guard, and while all of the original stations are no longer in use, having been abandoned, destroyed or preserved by the National Park Service and other non-profit groups, the U.S. Coast Guard still patrols area waters and has several stations located along the North Carolina Coast. As recently as May 2007, when an Outer Banks Nor'easter threatened three sailboats traveling down the coastline of the Outer Banks, the Coast Guard continuously performs rescues along the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

 

Scuba Diving

 

Because of its deadly history, the Graveyard of the Atlantic has become a popular locale for scuba divers, and adventurous visitors to the Outer Banks can try their hand at wreck diving for treasures hidden and buried in the Graveyard.

The list of discoveries one can find diving around the numerous wrecks is endless. Many scuba divers are attracted to the Graveyard of the Atlantic simply for photos of the famous shipwrecks that can only be spotted underwater. Other divers are in search of artifacts from the sunken warships such as the recently recovered USS Monitor relics. Still others are drawn by the possibility of lost and abandoned goods, dating back to the blockade runners of the Civil War. And though seldom discovered, the prospect of long buried Spanish gold and pirate "treasure" draws ambitious scuba divers hoping to strike it rich.

From the novice diver to the expert, there are a number of popular wrecks to explore that are conducive to every skill level and ambition.

The Indra is a former landing craft repair ship that was sunk as part of an artificial reef program very recently in 1992. The ship sits upright and is intact in 65 feet of water with the upper decks rising to 35 feet. The wreck is close to shore and is one of the easiest to reach, making it an ideal wreck for beginners and even first time divers.

For intermediate divers who are in search of obtaining some good photographs, the Papoose is an excellent wreck to explore. A tanker that was blown apart by a German U-Boat torpedo in 1942, the Papoose was broken in two pieces and lies upside down in 120 feet of water. This is a popular diver destination because of the groups of sand tiger sharks that flock to this wreck. Relatively indifferent to intruding divers, the swarms of sharks provide some exciting photo opportunities.

For a slightly bigger challenge, divers head to the Huron. The Huron was on its way to Havana, Cuba when it ran aground on the shoals off the coast of Nags Head in 1877. One of the early iron-hulled stem-and-sail ships, the Huron is now a Historic Shipwreck Preserve. Even though it's located in just 20 feet of water, the cold northern currents and heavy surf zone make it an unsafe dive for beginners.

Adventurous divers can also explore the first German submarine that sank in American waters, the U-85, also known as the Wild Boar. Shattered at the ocean floor, this wreck is covered with coral and algae and rests in 100 feet of cool water and strong currents, with visibility of only 30 feet.

Finally, for advanced divers who are not afraid of a challenge, the U-352 is a popular but dangerous wreck. Sunk by the Coast Guard Cutter Icarus in 1942, this German U-Boat lies in 115 feet if water, attracting bait fish hiding from larger predators.

Even if you don't dive, you can still explore the shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast without stepping into the water. Many wrecks are visible from the sandy beaches, depending on the tides. The Laura A. Barnes can be seen off NC Highway 12 at Coquina Beach in Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Just north of Laura A. Barnes, the famous Huron can often be spotted from the Nags Head Fishing Pier in Nags Head. Further south, near the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island, you will find the Stovepipe Hat wreck, and near Emerald Isle on the Crystal Coast, you can discover the Iron Steamer offshore at the old Iron Steamer Pier location.

Causes of Shipwrecks

What makes these waters a magnet for shipwrecks, giving the area off Cape Hatteras the well-deserved nickname of Graveyard of the Atlantic? Essentially, it's the Diamond Shoals. Stretching 14 miles into the Atlantic off the coast of Buxton, the shoals are shifting sandbars with accompanying shifting currents. With no significant natural landmarks, ships had to get close to shore to get their bearings, making it easy for them to succumb to the pounding currents and get smashed to pieces, or run aground on a sandbar, stranded in the middle of the ocean. As a result, the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was erected in 1803 as a guide for ships that ventured too close to the dark shores of Cape Hatteras. At only 90 feet high, the lighthouse did little to protect shipwrecks, so the second (and existing) lighthouse went into operation in 1870. At a towering 208 feet, The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse remains the tallest lighthouse in the world.

In addition to the shifting sandbars and barely visible shoreline, the two primary currents that hug the East Coast, the cold northern Labrador Current and the crystal clear, warm Gulf Stream Current, meet in the middle of Hatteras Island, creating ideal conditions for wild, rough seas. Compounding the equation is the frequent joining of high and low pressure systems forming from the combination of warm and cold waters, making conditions ripe for treacherous weather systems to form and thrive in these waters.

In addition, the occasional Nor'easter, tropical storm or hurricane which has a tendency to brush the Outer Banks, has always caused problems for the most experienced of sailors. In fact, these naturally treacherous conditions were the root cause for many of the shipwrecks that comprise the Graveyard of the Atlantic. One shipwreck that was devastated by a hurricane can still be spotted today in the surf and in the sand just north of Salvo. The George A. Kohler was a large schooner that was grounded by a hurricane in 1933. This ship sat on the beach for a decade before it was salvaged for its iron during World War II.

One of the Outer Banks most recent shipwrecks, the Lois Joyce, was caught in a December Nor'easter. A 100-foot commercial fishing trawler, the Lois Joyce became lost in 1981 while attempting to enter Oregon Inlet. Though the crew was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter, the $1,000,000 vessel was destroyed. The wreck is located on the northern ocean side hook at the mouth of Oregon Inlet, and can still be seen, particularly at low tide.

Pirates and the Outer Banks

 

Obviously, warfare played another significant role in making these waters so dangerous, but another threat, and another deadly hindrance to sailors who braved the Graveyard of the Atlantic, lingered off the coast of North Carolina for hundreds of years.

Pirates have laid claim to the waters off the Outer Banks coastline for centuries because of the intertwining barrier islands that could hide them from authority and allow them to sneak upon unsuspecting ships. The most recognized pirate, Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, loved coastal North Carolina and considered Bath, North Carolina his home out of the water. Supposedly semi-retired, Blackbeard met his demise off Ocracoke Island on November 22, 1718, after being lured into battle by a British sloop.

Many locals claim that Ocracoke Island got its name from Blackbeard himself on this fateful day, as eager for the morning to arrive so he could start the battle against the British ship, Blackbeard was heard yelling "O, cock crow! O, cock crow!" Also according to legend, even though Blackbeard lost, he kept fighting after being shot, stabbed and slashed across the throat, until he died while cocking a pistol.

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Today

Today, however, the Diamond Shoals and the Graveyard of the Atlantic isn't as treacherous to modern sailors. Obviously, World War I and World War II provided the Graveyard of the Atlantic with some of its most notorious causalities, but as the 20th Century stretched on, technology and lifesaving advancements helped prevent further casualties along North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Weather tracking advancements allow meteorologists to predict hurricanes and storms days in advance, and tracking systems which are standard on boats, like GPS devices, allow sailors to monitor the depth of the water and the coastline, avoiding the risk of running aground on the sandbars of Diamond Shoals.

In addition, the necessity of the small merchant ships that swarmed along the coast in the 1700s and 1800s is no longer needed, and the merchant ships and maritime commerce has declined. While the introduction of international trading and international seafood supply has been a blow to local fishermen, it has also assisted in the declining number of sailors who have to travel through the waters of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. In fact, the majority of modern boats that trickle through the Diamond Shoals are privately owned pleasure boats, such as yachts and sailboats that are meandering down the coast or taking a diversion from the neighboring Intracoastal Waterway.

 

Ghosts and Their Ships

 

Today, years after the shipwrecks occurred, locals still chat about ghostly survivors who can be still be seen drifting along the Outer Banks. Even visitors have said that they have spotted apparitions from the Graveyard of the Atlantic, such as the Grey Man of Hatteras, a shipwreck "survivor" who wanders the beach before storms and warns passerbys of impending danger.

But perhaps the most famous ghost ship of all is the Carroll A. Deering. Built in Maine in 1919 by the G.G. Deering company, which always used a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses to christen their ships - never champagne. After replacing the original ailing captain, Captain Merritt, the Carroll A. Deering set sail under the command of Captain Willis T. Wormell from Portland Maine on to Rio DiGenero on December 8, 1920.

Returning from Rio, the Carroll A. Deering was spotted by the Cape Lookout Lightship, sailing at 5mph. According to the lookout, "A man on board other than the captain, hailed the lightship and reported that the vessel had lost both anchors while riding out the gale south of Cape Fear, and asked to be reported to its owners." The crewman didn't speak, act, or look like an officer, being tall, thin, and with reddish hair, and the lookout thought this was unusual. Nevertheless, the vessel was reported in.

Five days later, on January 25, the following report was made by Captain Henry Johnson of the SS Lake Elon:

"In connection with the stranding of the American schooner Carroll A. Deering on North Carolina coast, January 31st, 1921. I can report that while bound from Sagua La Grande, Cuba, toward Baltimore on January 30th, 1921, about 3:30 p.m. we sighted a five-masted schooner about two points on our starboard bow. The wind was S.W. moderate and she had all sails set and steering about NNW making about seven miles. We passed her about 5:45 p.m. about one-half mile off our port side. We were then about twenty-five miles S.W. true from the Diamond Shoals Light Vessel. From the description of the Carol A. Deering, we think that this schooner was her but we could not read her name, there was nothing irregular to be seen on board this vessel but she was steering a peculiar course. She appeared to be steering for Cape Hatteras. We sighted Diamond Shoals Light Vessel about 7 p.m. and passed it at 8:32 p.m. The lookout on the schooner should have sighted Cape Hatteras Light, also the Light Ship at Diamond Shoal a little later than we did but in plenty time to avoid going on shore as the weather was clear and cloudy with good visibility. There was a couple of more ships in the vicinity steering a course parallel with us which should have convinced the Captain of the schooner that he was steering a wrong course."

On January 31, Surfman C.P. Brady of the Cape Hatteras Coast Guard Station spotted the Carol A. Deering stranded on a sandbar along the Diamond Shoals, and battered by the breaking waves. He and his crew paddled to the wreck as quickly as possible, but once they arrived at the ship, it was deserted. All of the lifeboats were gone, and the ladder was thrown over the side as an indication that the crew had tried to leave, but they were never seen again.

On February 5, after days of treacherous waters, local lifesaving crews were able to board the ship and what they found was peculiar. There was no sign of personal belongings of the officers or the crew and the ship's key navigational equipment and some papers were missing. The ship's anchors were missing and red lights had been run up the mast. Yet food in the galley appeared to be laid out in preparation for a meal. Three different sets of boots were found in the captain's cabin and the spare bed appeared to have been slept in. The handwriting on the ship's map appeared to have changed on January 23rd and the steering gear was disabled with charts scattered about the master's quarters. And, the only living soul that remained aboard the Carroll A. Deering was the ship's six-toed cat.

While theories abound as to the fate of the crew, the main three being that there was a mutiny, the crew were victims of piracy, or that the ship was simply abandoned, historians and government agencies alike still struggle to figure out what happened to the crew of the mysterious "ghost ship," the Carroll A Deering.

 

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

 

In memory of the hundreds of shipwrecks and sailors that were lost along the Outer Banks, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum was constructed in Hatteras Village and opened its doors to the public in 2000. Shaped like an ark, with timbers reminiscent of the shipwrecks spotted offshore, the 4,000 square foot museum is a public, non-profit, educational institution. According to its statement of purpose, the museum is dedicated to the preservation, advancement and presentation of the maritime history and shipwrecks of the North Carolina Outer Banks from the earliest periods of exploration and colonization to the present day.

Exhibits are generally focused on a single wreck or event, such as the Billy Mitchell bombing or the U-85, the first U-boat sunk during WWII. In addition, many renowned authors and historians visit the museum to give lectures and lead educational sessions. Local historians, such as Danny Couch, owner of Hatteras Tours and President of the Board of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, often make appearances for both historical lectures and local storytelling. The website offers a comprehensive list of upcoming lectures and special sessions for the public.

Click here to visit the Museum's website, which offers a comprehensive list of upcoming lectures and special sessions for the public, as well as information about the museum's current showcased exhibits and stories.
 

The Dark History of The Graveyard of the Atlantic

 

But real or imaginary, historical or plain old local legend, the Graveyard of the Atlantic is notorious for spurring tales of heroism, terror, and unimaginable dangers at sea. For hundreds of years, it has both captivated and terrified sailors from all over the world, and serves as a deadly reminder of the East Coast's turbulent maritime history.

While modern visitors to the Outer Banks won't fear the Diamond Shoals as their predecessors did, the shipwrecks peeking out of the ocean and the rough currents that consistently bring in the big catch of the day will always be around to tell visitors and locals of the dark reputation and history of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

 

A Must See Shipwreck In Corolla

 

The Outer Banks is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, with shipwrecks scattered along both the beaches and on the ocean’s floor.  This week we came across a shipwreck on the beach in Corolla that is easy to get to and amazing to see.

You can visit this shipwreck by driving North on Ocean Trail towards Timbuck II.  As you reach the Tomato Patch Restaurant and Food Lion, turn right on Albacore Street.

Go to the end of Albacore and find a place to park.  There is no public parking, but you can probably get away with parking on the side of the street for a few minutes.  You can also park in the Food Lion parking lot and walk down Albacore, as the shipwreck is behind the Food Lion shopping center.

Once you are on the beach, look up and down the dune line until you see the ribs of the ship.  As far as I know, this ship is of unknown origin and has yet to be identified.

A local restaurant owner found coins near this wreck.  Furthermore, people have found musket balls at the shipwreck site using metal detectors.

When you are visiting Corolla in the Outer Banks, this shipwreck is a must see for those seeking a bit of adventure.  It is a bit of history just at the edge of the sand dunes behind Food Lion – and who knows, perhaps you may find treasure!

If you visit this shipwreck or are aware of its origins, your comment is especially welcome!

 

Corolla shipwreck

 

Outer Banks Shipwrecks

 

shipwreck behind Food Lion

 

Albacore Street

 

obx shipwrecks

 

 

Are Pirates Still Roaming The Outer Banks?

Posted by Barbara Weibel

Visitors to the Outer Banks are often fascinated by the history of piracy that surrounds these barrier islands. Bluebeard and Blackbeard both hid out along the Outer Banks and legends still abound about buried treasure that has never been discovered. These days, although stereotypical peg-leg, patch-eyed pirates no longer sail the seas off the North Carolina coast, every now and then something happens on these remote islands that makes us wonder whether pirates of old left more than buried treasure on these barrier islands.

Before the second nor'easter, the boat was still sitting upright and undamaged. Photo courtesy of Don Bowers and island Press.Consider, for example the saga of the Gypsy Dane, a 50-foot, double-masted sailboat that got caught in the surf off Hatteras Island two weeks ago and washed ashore. True to their tradition, Outer Bankers rushed to the rescue. Owner of the boat, Yves R. Oger, of Toronto, Canada, was safely assisted from the distressed vessel by the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service, and Hatteras Island Rescue Squad. Volunteers with the Avon Volunteer Fire Department cooked him dinner and allowed him to take a hot shower. One local business owner even let Oger use their Jeep, allowing him to sleep on the beach in front of his boat where he could keep an eye on it.

Because the boat was sitting upright and appeared to be undamaged, with only its keel buried in the sand, a marine towing service in Hatteras attempted to move the boat using a system of anchors and winches at high tide. When that didn’t work, they tried to turn the boat sideways and tow it out to sea. Still the boat didn’t budge. Next, Oger contacted a local dredging company to attempt to free the boat by digging a trench around the buried keel.

Before the dredging operation began, Oger met Murray Clark (“Frisco Mo” to locals) who agreed to dig the boat out for less money, so Oger canceled his arrangements with the dredging company. But with another Nor’easter on the way, those rescue attempts had to be put on hold. By the time the storm passed, the Gypsy Dane was lying on her side with several cracks in her hull.

The Gypsy Dane, beached on the beaches of the Outer Banks, one mile south of the Avon Pier. Photo courtesy of Don Bowers and Island Press.

The Gypsy Dane, beached on the beaches of the Outer Banks, one mile south of the Avon Pier. Both photos courtesy of Don Bowers and Island Press.

It was clear that the boat was no longer sea worthy. That’s when the National Park Service intervened. Worried that the boat would begin to break apart, becoming a hazard for beach goers and a potential cleanup expense, Oger was given an ultimatum: move the boat or the Park Service would do it for him.

Another islander, Buxton resident Barry Crum, subsequently contacted Steve Steiner, a licensed house mover who happened to be working on Hatteras Island, and told him about the boat. Steiner assessed the situation and provided Oger with a bid to move it. When Oger declined, saying he couldn’t afford the fee, Steiner agreed to move the boat in exchange for ownership. Last Sunday morning, Oger signed the boat over to Steiner, and the extraction process began. It took all day and well into the evening, but the boat was eventually freed and the next day the Gypsy Dane traveled to her new home, Steve Crum’s stables in Buxton, where Steiner said he would start taking bids on the boat.

 

God bless the neighborly traditions of the Outer Banks pirates.