Graveyard of the Atlantic: Shipwrecks of the North Carolina Coast
by David Stick
This is a factual account, written in the pace of fiction, of hundreds of dramatic losses heroic rescues and violent adventures at the stormy meeting place of northern and southern winds and waters—the Graveyard of the Atlantic off the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Paperback: 287 pages
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (August 11, 1989)
A thrilling record . . . . David Stick . . . captures the spirit of this treacherous coast. He has done a major research job. – New York Times Book Review
An engrossing account of shipwrecks off the Outer Banks of North Carolina. – New Yorker
If you like shipwrecks (to read about, that is) you’ll revel in Graveyard of the Atlantic. – Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
Graveyard of the Atlantic
Shipwrecks of the North Carolina Coast By David Stick
The University of North Carolina Press
Copyright © 1989 University of North Carolina Press
Catching up on Lost Time: 1866-1877
Coastal trade flourished in the period immediately following the Civil War, for peace brought with it a great demand for the civilian goods so long denied the participants in the struggle between the North and South. One immediate result was that a large number of war craft were hastily converted to commercial use; another was that coastal Carolina was soon littered with the remains of ships lost in this scramble to catch up on lost trade.
The 560-ton passenger steamer Thames, on its regular run between Galveston and New York, rounded Cape Hatteras, April 5, 1869, and headed north along the coast. When still within sight of the lighthouse on the cape a frenzied call was heard from amidships: “Fire!” By the time Captain Pennington could organize his fire-fighting crew, the flames had spread so rapidly that there was no hope of bringing them under control, and all hands-nine crewmen and nine passengers-were driven from the cabin.
With the wind blowing strong from the west Captain Pennington ordered the three aft boats removed from their davits and carried forward; then, with passengers and crew gathered on the bow, he headed his vessel into the wind, toward shore.
The flames continued to spread, however, and soon afterwards Pennington was driven from the pilothouse, leaving the vessel in an unmanageable state. Hurriedly the three boats were then lowered over the side, the passengers and crew crowded in them, and the Thames, by then almost completely engulfed in flames, was abandoned in the sea off Hatteras.
Two of the boats reached shore that night. The third, containing the ship’s cook, two cabin boys, a seaman, and a coal heaver, either drifted to sea or overturned on Diamond Shoals, the five crewmen given up for lost.
On January 27, 1871, the bark Templar and the steamer Kensington were involved in a collision sixty miles northeast of Diamond Shoals. The World Almanac lists this as one of the worst maritime disasters in history and claims that a total of 150 lives were lost; but the plain facts are that no one was lost either on the Templar or the Kensington, though the steamer did go to the bottom.
The Kensington, with a crew of thirty and eighteen passengers, left Savannah, January 25, 1871, for Boston carrying a full cargo of cotton, rice, and lumber. Two days later, January 27, the Templar sailed from Hampton Roads, bound for Rio de Janeiro.
About 7:30 that evening, while tacking to the eastward, Captain Wilson of the Templar made out a steamer on his starboard beam. “Saw her mast head and red light plain,” the Captain said, “and supposing that the steamer would pass under our stern we held our course to the eastward. Finding then that the steamer did not alter her course, several of the crew hailed her as loud as they could. No attention was paid to the hail, the steamer holding her course.”
Realizing that the steamer would, on that course, cut his own craft in two, Captain Wilson ordered his wheel hard over. Slowly the bark turned aside as the Kensington passed under her bow, taking away the “bowsprit, jibboom, fore and main topgallants, foretopmast, and all attached.” A moment later the bark crashed into the side of the steamer.
A sailor, who at the time of the accident was perched in the forward rigging of the bark, was thrown to the deck of the Kensington. The two vessels then drifted apart, and since Captain Wilson claimed he “heard no sound or indication from the steamer, of distress,” he quickly sounded his pumps and ordered the debris cleared away on the Templar.
Meanwhile, the sailor who had fallen from the bark to the deck of the steamer found all confusion there. The Kensington, with a large hole in her side, was already filling with water, and crewmen were even then in the process of lowering away her boats. The sea being comparatively calm, this was accomplished in a short time, and the thirty members of the steamer’s crew, the eighteen passengers, and the lone sailor from the Templar managed to row clear before the vessel sank.
They were picked up late the next morning-fifteen hours after the collision-by the steamer Georgia, which transported them to Charleston. Complete details of the disaster, as recounted by the crew and passengers of the Kensington and the sailor from the Templar, were printed in the newspapers there and sent by telegraph to other parts of the country, together with a statement that the Templar and the remaining members of her crew were presumed lost.
Two days later, however, the steamer Yazoo, en route from Havana to Philadelphia, sighted the Templar off the Virginia Capes, partly filled with water and moving slowly northward under improvised sails. The Yazoo took the bark in tow, reaching Norfolk the following day, and subsequently the vessel was repaired and made ready for sea duty again.
The above facts are gleaned from interviews with the Captain of the Templar, the passengers and crewmen of the Kensington, and the crews of the Georgia and Yazoo, as published in contemporary newspaper accounts. It is definitely stated in several of these articles that there were forty-eight persons on board the Kensington and that all were saved; and in none of them is there mention of so much as a single life being lost on the Templar, thus completely refuting the published reports in more recent times that 150 lives were lost and that this was one of the worst maritime disasters in history.