Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

October 21, 2013

Shifting sands reveal remnants of shipwreck

HATTERAS, N.C. — Everybody around here likes to hear a good shipwreck story,” Clara Scarborough of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras said during a telephone interview on Friday. “I don’t know if it’s the lure of finding a few doubloons or just the romance of the search, but the lure of treasure hunting can pull you in.”

The museum in Hatteras came by its name honestly, laying claim to thousands of shipwrecks through the centuries. The Gulf Stream that swings north along the east coast of the North American continent proved to be more valuable than an aircraft carrier catapult in sending gold-laden Spanish galleons from the Caribbean back to home ports in Europe. However, the unpredictability of Atlantic weather systems can transform sea and shore in the matter of a few days or even hours.

From Oct. 7-10, Hatteras Island experienced a near record rainfall of 9.05 inches of precipitation as reported by the coop weather observer in Frisco, N.C., about four miles north of Hatteras.

“It wasn’t technically a tropical storm,” Jim Merrell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport, N.C., said. “Tropical Storm Karen had died out coming across Florida. A weak low pressure developed (in the vicinity of Cape Hatteras) that became more like a nor’easter, similar to the storms we see coming through here in the winter. There was high surf, and waves about two feet higher than normal.”

Merrell said that the wind and wave action along the outer banks prompted the Weather Service to issue a high surf advisory. The beaches of the outer banks took a beating during the three-day storm event with sand blocking portions of Route 12 and standing water in every low point along the way.

The wind subsided and a break in the clouds appeared Thursday morning. While it was short lived, there was time enough for a piece of history to emerge from the sand, although it’s appearance was brief.

“I didn’t know what it was at first,” Evonda Archer of Bluefield said.” “We’ve seen a lot of beautiful things on the beach through the years, but nothing like this.”

A closer inspection revealed a partially buried nautical structure of some kind, approximately 32 feet in length and eight to 10 feet wide. The thick wooden timbers were fastened together with large spikes. The most interesting feature — according to Archer — was a three-inch thick, cast iron kettle-like apparatus about 20 inches to two feet in diameter and 14 to 18 inches deep. “It just looked like a kettle, but you could tell it was built into the craft,” Archer said.

The tide came in about two hours after the sighting, and by mid-afternoon, it was no longer visible. North Carolina Department of Highways crews would work tirelessly to clear sand from Route 12, the main road on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but water a foot deep or more remained on the road for at least a day after the storm subsided.

“Our water tends to stay around a little longer than it does in the mountains,” Merrell said.

After seeing photographs of the wreck, Scarborough said that it appears to be from a wreck that people familiar with Hatteras Island refer to as the Flambeau. “From time to time, the Flambeau reveals herself to visitors,” Scarborough said. “The proximity (of the find) and the iron pins give credence to the fact. One of the images captured appears to be a hawser opening. The hawser opening would have been for some type of chain ... like that of an anchor.

“She was once a sturdy barge measuring 220 feet long and 50 feet wide,” Scarborough wrote in an email response to seeing the photos. “The vessel was built (between 1895-1910) and likely carried coal or timber, but in the 1930s — perhaps it was the following decade — the barge met a storm (maybe a hurricane) and wrecked at the southern end of Hatteras Island.”

Many of the streets on the Outer Banks are named for shipwrecks and with thousands of shipwrecks to choose from, there are several names left unused. Scarborough explained that Flambeau Road is named for an older 19th Century ship that wrecked in the area, but she said that since the old coastline schooner is often spotted near Flambeau Street, local residents have called it the Flambeau for several years.

In the spring of 2009, a large portion of the barge wreckage was visible following, what Jordan Tomberlin of the “Island Free Press” called, “a big blow,” but the wreckage has a long history of appearing and disappearing in the context of the ever-changing forces of nature.

“Portions (of the wreckage) have been visible all summer,” Scarborough said. “It has been at least a year that I know of since it was completely uncovered.”

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is located on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It was established by Congress in 1937, and in 1994 the museum was given the honor of serving as the site where the permanent display of the USS Monitor artifacts are housed. The Monitor was the first ironclad warship in the Union Navy. It battled the Confederate Navy’s ironclad, the CSS Virginia (formerly the Merrimac) to a draw in a battle. The Monitor sunk in a gale off the coast of Cape Hatteras.

In 1995, the museum partnered with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association and continues to grow in its diverse educational and interpretive mission. Since opening in October 2002, the museum has welcomed more than 300,000 visitors, according to the museum’s web site.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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