Coastal Review Online features research, findings and commentary from author Kevin Duffus..
The second in a two-part series begins at Flying Pan Shoals off Cape Fear on October 13, 1893, with a Cape Fear lifesaver heading for the wreckage of the Charles C. Dame. Please read Part 1.
The stricken ship, Charles C. Dame, was only eight miles away and rapidly broke apart at the Flying Pan Shoals. However, constant waves and winds from the south slowed Cape Her Fear’s lifesaver progress to less than a mile per hour.
For more than eight hours, the brave men of Cape Fear Station suffered “a difficult and dangerous struggle against raging seas” to reach the shipwreck. As they approached, Keeper John L. Watts could see that the ship had once been a three-masted schooner, but is no longer. Only the lower part of the foremast remained standing. . The rear part of the ship was broken and the deck was washed away.
Watts’ surf boat finally arrived at the disaster site at 3:00 pm. Keeper wrote in his official report: The crew huddled in the jib boom, the only place they could leave the sea. ”
Watts shouted over the roar of the storm, “Who are you and where are you from?”
EMTs found that the schooner’s crew had been clinging to the jib boom for more than 12 hours and that their endurance was near exhausted. Grove later told Watts, “He had given up on getting lost until he saw a surf boat.”
Watts said that if he and his men did not act quickly, it would soon get dark and they could be forced to spend most or all of the night outside, leaving no one left to save them by morning. Crew members of the U.S. Lifesaving Service are not known to have derelict shipwreck victims at sea.
The technology of the Cape Fear’s lifesavers allowed it to line up through the wreckage in less than 10 minutes, extracting all eight crew members from the Charles C. Dame. Captains, mates and stewards were white, and the deckhands were black. All were barely alive.
The 27-foot-long surf boat was now swarmed by 16 men. The gunwale of the boat was barely above sea level. It was so crowded that Watts and his oarsman did their best to keep the overloaded boat under control. They nearly overturned many times. A drogue resembling a small parachute was deployed, slowing progress but making the boat more manageable.
In a presentation at the International Ocean Congress of 1889, Superintendent of the United States Life Service, Sumner Kimball, described the skill of American station keepers in maneuvering lifeboats in rough seas: It works instinctively and unmistakably with oars, much like a seasoned musician pressing the appropriate keys on an instrument. Thus, he prevents the boat from broaching and avoids the fear of capsizing. ”
Keeper Watts’ small boat was always filled with water, though not as fast as the boat’s crew would have liked, but the water was eliminated by an integral self-bailing system.
Despite heading downwind, the return trip took more than four hours. Chasing them like a pack of wolves, the sunlight dimmed and the waves became hard to see.The sun was not visible, but sunset occurred at 5:38 pm
Cape Fear’s surf boats rushed the waves, and in almost total darkness, with only an oil lamp in the station window to guide them, they suddenly dashed out onto the beach. they were at homeThe time was 7:30 p.m.
Exhausted, drenched, cold, thirsty and starving, the Cape Fear crew put their needs to work in order to become hospitable hosts to Charles C. Dame’s relieved, helpless and almost naked men. I had to ignore it. Station stoves were lit, meals were prepared, and clothing provided to shipwreck survivors provided by the Women’s National Relief Society.
Over the next two days, all men rested and recovered. According to station logs, survivors were provided with 40 meals. And on October 16, the crew of the Charles C. Dame was picked up at Southport, from where they began the long overland journey by train.
Three days later in Baltimore, schooner Samuel S. Grove wrote to John Watts thanking the Cape Fear Keepers and Surfmen for their selfish and meritorious service. As a sailor I always see it as a sailor’s hope when wrecks face shipwrecks in the storm-stricken seas along our coast. Landing the crew safely was a job that I respect and delight in. Same from my officers and crew.
The day after “Hurricane Nine” hit the Carolina coast, the hurricane moved to the Great Lakes. That It became known as “The Great Storm of 1893”. The storm, which sustained strong tropical winds and rains, sank or grounded 39 ships and claimed 54 lives.
At the end of each fiscal year, the American Lifesaving Service awards gold and silver medals to both service employees and civilians who have performed extraordinary heroic feats in saving lives.
The standards the Self-Defense Forces set for their subordinates were very high. In fact, lifesaving services in the United States rarely awarded medals to their employees, only when surfmen apparently risked their own lives to save people in danger at sea. So rarely. Because, reluctantly, even risking lives was seen as part of the job.
In the annual report published by the Service, the statements accompanying the names of those awarded the medals included “extreme valor,” “unflinching heroism,” and “in imminent danger.” ‘, ‘under grave difficulty’, ‘great danger’, and ‘heroic service’.
All of these descriptions seem to explain what Keeper John Watts and his crew accomplished, but in October, during what would be considered a Category 3 hurricane today, Charles C. I didn’t receive a medal for rescuing the crew of the Dame. 14, 1893.
Perhaps it will always remain a mystery why the lifesaver of Cape Fear was not recognized for his extraordinary heroism. One possibility is that Lieutenant George H. Gooding, 6th District Inspector for the Elizabeth City-based Revenue Cutter Service, failed to recognize or appreciate their achievements.
Watts and his crew launched the surf boat in stormy conditions that no one else could. The U.S. Lifesaving Agency administrators were well aware that in responding to the same wreck by the Oak Island crew, in a surf boat he was unable to make it out to sea after two attempts.
During the same massive hurricane, lifeguards at Cape Lookout attempted to launch a surfboat “due to violence at sea” in an attempt to reach the stranded British steamer Daylight, but failed.
The same storm hit the Chikama Comico lifesaving station on Hatteras Island, and the first attempt to launch a boat to reach Birkentin Ravenswood was reported as “impossible.”
Failed attempts to launch surf boats are well documented, but the Cape Fear crew succeeded only through their own audacity, strength of character and amazing endurance.
Of course, they did not perform feats of unparalleled selfish valor for recognition or reward. They did it because it was their job. Yet, in doing so, they achieved the same standard by which other lifesaving crews were awarded medals.
In saving the eight men of Charles C. Dame, Jon Watts and his men were in “imminent danger” and “grave difficulty” while performing “heroic acts” in “great danger.” In the face of it, he demonstrated “extreme courage” and “unflinching heroism.” service.
For Watts and his number one surfman, John E. Price, their efforts weren’t just a one-off fluke. Six weeks ago, the duo were also instrumental in helping Oak Island keeper Dunbar Davis save the life of his 60-hour marathon. Neither Watts, Price nor Davis were awarded medals for their achievements.
Even the humblest of men have heroes in every walk of life, worthy of the admiration of the world, whose names do not appear in the scrolls of fame, but whose lives are examples for others and which benefit the world. by an unknown act of heroism that transcends the limits of their own contractual environment. James Splant, “Men of the Past”, Tales and Traditions of the Lower Cape Fear, 1896
Prior to 1920, 33 American Lifesaving Service employees in North Carolina are known to have received gold or silver lifesaving medals, all of whom worked on the Outer Banks.
In 1918, under the recently reorganized U.S. Coast Guard, six Chikama Comico lifesavers were awarded gold medals. In 1996, the U.S. Coast Guard posthumously recognized the Pea Island station keeper and all African American crew members for rescuing survivors of her ES Newman shipwreck on October 11, 1896. awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.
It was an unfortunate oversight on the part of the US government that the crew and their families of the 1893 Cape Fear lifesaving station were denied such certification.