Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

October 21, 2013

Federal government shutdown helped with discovery of shipwreck

— — As a result of the recent government shutdown, I was able to discover an old wooden shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras on Thursday, Oct. 10. What a wonderful morning it was for my wife and I after three full days of being pelted by torrential rainstorms. We traveled to Hatteras to get away for four days rather than heading to Chincoteague, Va., because the National Seashore at Assateague Island in Virginia was closed due to the shutdown.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Karen mixed with a low pressure system that pounded us all day Monday as we drove through North Carolina on our way to the North Carolina Outer Banks. It seemed like every rain belt required high-speed windshield wiper action as we drove a new route to the outer banks. We encountered more than a few wrecks blocking traffic in the lanes not traveled by us, but the heavy rain added about 45 minutes to our trip anyway.

We have visited Cape Hatteras twice before — once when we were trying to outrun Hurricane Bertha, and another time, just long enough to mail Tom Bone a card as I promised I would send him during the vacation Evonda and I took a few months after I had returned to work following my heart attack in 2006. The card depicted an outer banks sunset, and it hung on the bulletin board at work for a few years until someone took it down. I think the message was: “Dear Tom, Wish I was here. Bill.”

Anyway, we didn’t actually see the sun during our four-day outer banks stay, but that was quite OK with my wife and me. The flooding forced the restaurants near our motel to close because their parking lots were under water. But I think my wife would agree that the big hamburgers I cooked for us on Wednesday night were exceptional, and the jumbo shrimp we enjoyed Thursday night at Hatteras were beyond superb.

But the highlight for me was the discovery of the timbers of an old, old sailing ship made out of oak beams about 12-by-12 inches, held together with forged iron spikes about an inch and three-quarters in diameter. I paced off about 32 feet of exposed hull, with an incredible feature at the stern of the boat — a kettle, forged of iron that was easily 20 inches to 2 feet in diameter and a good 16-inches deep. I got pictures of all of that stuff, with Evonda standing in a couple of the photos for scale. I playfully called the ship the “SS Evonda.”

Suddenly, all of my disappointment from not being able to visit Assateague where we could watch the dolphins play in the surf and bald eagles soar in the sky vanished. Here I was — a newsman with an important discovery less than a half-mile due south of the Museum of the Graveyard of the Atlantic in Hatteras Village, N.C. The rainfall, wind and the pounding of the surf had cleared the sand from a portion of a ship on the sea side of the beach. My wife and I had been stupid enough to buy rain slickers and walk on the beach on Tuesday and Wednesday and God was kind enough to give us one morning of a brief glimmer of sun that led us to the incredible discovery.

When we returned to our lodging, I reported the coordinates of the find to the clerk at our motel, who said it’s not unusual for beach combers to find wrecks like that. When I expressed my fear that if the kettle was exposed like that up in our neck of the woods someone would be hauling it to a scrap yard in no time, she responded that the authorities patrol the beaches regularly. She added that it was the first report of the ship that she had heard of. I secretly hoped that the patrol personnel weren’t furloughed that day.

Later in the afternoon on Thursday, the guy at “Risky Business” where we bought the jumbo shrimp said he had heard about the shipwreck being exposed on the beach, but he didn’t know where. When I countered that if it was up in our area, someone would be figuring out how to scrap it. He assured me that North Carolinians were proficient scrappers as well. That gave me no peace of mind.

But I got some cool pictures of some kind of a craft that appeared to be in the shape of a wooden-hulled sailing ship, and that was pretty cool. My newspaper work is pretty high pressure, so spending a couple of days in the middle of a low pressure zone with my wife and a few hundred mosquitoes was a good thing ... a real good thing. Still, I hope that the federal government gets the shutdown thing settled in another year or so and that we can possibly travel to the Assateague Island National Seashore again in the future. They have mosquitoes up there too.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at

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