James Sprunt.

Chronicles of the Cape Fear river, 1660-1916 online

. (page 53 of 74)
Online LibraryJames SpruntChronicles of the Cape Fear river, 1660-1916 → online text (page 53 of 74)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

structures, and not properly placed to mark the new channels.
Ten of the new lighted beacons were established December 1,
1912, and the remainder November 15, 1913.

The aids extend along the Cape Fear River from the entrance
to Wilmington, a distance of about twenty-nine miles. The
sites are (except in three cases) submarine, the depth of water
averaging six feet. The bottom is hard sand, underlaid in a
few cases with rock.

The substructures built on marine sites (thirty in all) con-
sist each of four reinforced concrete piles and connecting
beams. These are surmounted by skeleton towers of galvanized
iron pipe, carrying slatted wooden daymarks. Towers for rear
range lights are thirty feet high and for front lights and others
ten feet high.

A variety of illimiinating apparatus has been installed, as
follows :







Range lens

4th Order lens

300 mm. lens lanterns

300 mm. lens lanterns

300 mm. lens lanterns

300 mm. lens lantemf




Flashing every second

Occulting every 2 seconds

Flashing every second

Flashing every 3 seconds

Occulting every 2 seconds



Digitized by


Peace Restored 521

In general, acetylene is used as the illuminant, where possible,
for a distance of about twenty miles from the entrance, and oil
from there to Wilmington. All acetylene lights are white, rear
lights being occulting every two seconds and front lights flash-
ing every second. All oil lights are fixed, rear lights white,
and front lights red.

Eight of the white range lights which could be suitably located
abreast of turns in the channel are provided with red sectors of
30 degrees covering these turns.

There have been no quarters provided, all lights being un-
watched. The change of illuminant in Bald Head Light,
which constitutes a unit of this system, makes quarters no longer
necessary in connection therewith. The entire group of lights
is cared for by two post light keepers, one resident near South-
port, close to the entrance, having charge of three oil and sixteen
gas lights, and one at Wilmington, at the other end of the
group of lights, having charge of fourteen oil lights. All gas
lights are so located that gas tanks can be landed from a launch
directly upon the structure, except at Bald Head Light.

These improvements in the lighting of the Cape Fear Kiver
are being made under the Act of March 4, 1911, appropriating
$21,000, and the Act of August 26, 1912, appropriating
$30,000 additional. The total expenditures and obligations for
the thirty-three lights to September 30, 1913, is $50,076.30,
with a probable further expenditure of $500 for one additional
light, and $300 for clearing timber which partially obstructs
one range line.

Other aids supplementing the lighting aids mentioned above
are. Frying Pan Shoals Whistling Buoy, westward of the outer
end of the shoals ; Cape Fear Entrance Whistling Buoy,^ about
two and one-half miles off the bar; Cape Fear Entrance Bell
Buoy, at the entrance to dredged channels, and thirty-three iron
buoys and five beacons marking turns and other critical points
in the dredged channels in the river. Two other iron buoys
mark the quarantine anchorage, and one marks a wreck on the
middle ground at the mouth of the river.

iNotice to mariners:

*'0n November 2, 1915, Cape Fear River Entrance Oas-and-Whistle
Buoy CF, painted in perpendicular stripes, was established in 6%
fathoms of water, in place of Cape Fear River Entrance Whistle Buoy
CF, which was discontinued. The gas-and-whistle buoy is cylindrical,
with skeleton superstructure, and shows a flashing white light of 390
candlepower every three seconds, thus, 0.3 seconds; eclipse 2.7 seconds,
16 feet above the water."

Digitized by


622 Chronicles of the Cape Fear River


Between Cape Hatteras and Charleston, three dangerous
shoals extend seaward at right angles to the coast, namely,
Diamond Shoals, Lookout Shoals, and Frying Pan Shoals.
These shoals reach out from the shoreline to an average distance
of twenty miles, and have an average width of 1.5 miles. A
fourth shoal exists in the vicinity of Cape Romain, but of less
extent and of less dangerous character than any of those just

The prevailing winds on the North Carolina coast are from
the northeast aroimd to southeast and southwest. The attend-
ant currents generally set directly on the three great shoals be-
tween Hatteras and Cape Fear, and it is in the vicinity of these
shoals that practically all the maritime disasters on the coast
of the Carolinas occur.

The treacherous currents along this stretch of coast are
largely responsible for the sweeping of vessels upon the shoals.
From Cape Lookout Bight to Frying Pan lightship, Capt. G.
L. Garden, conamanding the Seminole, has usually found it
necessary to allow for at least five miles westerly set of current
on a run of eighty-nine miles. Below Frying Pan, there is
also a strong set into the bight, and this is especially noticeable
in the run from Cape Fear Bar to the entrance of Winyah

According to Captain Garden, there is a safe rule for all
navigators to follow on this station ; that is, never get inside of
ten fathoms, unless sure of one's position. The ten-fathom
curve will carry one clear of all the great shoals from Hatteras
to Romain. The same raainent authority said to the writer:
"A stranger approaching this section of the coast will, on find-
ing himself in thick weather inside of ten fathoms, do well to
let go an anchor at once.''

The end of Frying Pan Shoals is marked by our lightship,
Number 9Jf, and the present position of this craft is most ad-
vantageous to vessels making for the Cape Fear Bar. It is a
fact that Gape Fear Light is not seen from the extreme end of
Frying Pan Shoals, and it is the end of the spit which masters
of ships are so anxious to determine. A gas buoy, 12 miles
SE. by E. l^ E. off Frying Pan lightship, marks the end of
the broken ground. This gas buoy is a favorite mark for coast-

Digitized by


Pedce Restored 523

ing vessels, and is also available for ships coining in from sea-
ward, but before shaping into the Cape Fear, safe navigation
demands that one should find the end of Frying Pan, and it is
this useful function which the present lightship serves. From
the Frying Pan lightship, two courses only are necessary, one
to clear the Knuckle Buoy, and a second course direct to the
Whistling Sea Buoy. Then from the sea buoy one has only
to run right down to the bell buoy marking the commence-
ment of the bar. Nowadays, crossing the Cape Fear Bar is a
very different matter from what it was under the ten to twelve
feet conditions of blockade-running days, when there were no
lights, nor buoys, nor any guide save the lead, the line of break-
ers, and possibly an outline of shore.

Wilmington's approach from the sea is a magnificent thor-
oughfare, both across the two miles of bar and the twe^ty-8even
miles of river stretch inland. The channel across the bar is
well lighted and furnished with buoys. The prevailing winds
being from northward to northeast, the Frying Pan Shoals
and Cape Fear Spit protect the bar entrance during the major
part of bad weather, making it a better entrance than the for-
mer New Inlet Channel, which led past Fort Fisher.

To maintain the magnificent thoroughfare of two miles of
Cape Fear Bar, it is necessary for the engineers directing the
river and harbor improvement to keep a suction dredge con-
stantly employed upon the bar, as the currents are continually
sweeping Ae sandy bottom into the ship channel, thereby en-
dangering navigation, but as long as continued appropriations
are available for this important aid, the work can be done

A project for the permanent maintenance of deep water by
stone jetties, similar to those employed on Charleston Bar, has
been discussed by our local Board of Commissioners of Naviga-
tion and Pilotage, and the matter has been taken up with the
United States Corps of Engineers.

The Frying Pan Shoals must be rounded before a vessel can
stand to the northward. The depth along the Frying Pan Spit
varies from 7 to 14 feet, and the shoals extend in an unbroken
line 10 miles south-southeast from Cape Fear. Following the
same general direction of the primal shoal are numerous patches
running out for a distance of 51/2 miles farther. The depth
over these patches varies from 10 to 24 feet. It is just beyond
these patches that the Frying Pan lightship is anchored, and

Digitized by


524 Chronicles of the Cape Fear River

by keeping to seaward of the Frying Pan lightship, there will
be no depth of water encountered less than 3% fathoms; and
the patches can be avoided by deep-draft ships by shaping a
course which will carry them to the southward and eastward
of Frying Pan lightship until the position of the present lighted
bell buoy is reached. The 3% fathom patch referred to above
lies 9 miles east by south (mag.) of the Frying Pan lightship.
For deep-draft vessels the practice in running the coast is to
pass outside the gas buoy, but the practice on the Seminole,
when coming from the northward, is to shape strai^t to the
Frying Pan lightship, making allowance for fully five miles
inset of current on a ninety-mile course.

In general terms, a stranger approaching the coast between
Hatteras and Frying Pan can determine his position by re-
course to the lead. The depths are very regular, and from 4
to 6 fathoms can be taken to within one mile of the beach.
The ten-fathom curve follows the curve of the coast at an aver-
age distance of eight miles from the shore until in the vicinity
of Cape Fear, and there it bends around Frying Pan.

There is a mighty carrying trade from north to south past
these dangerous shoals. Practically all steam craft to and
from the Gulf follow the coast, and this trade promises to be
greatly augmented since the opening of the Panama Canal.

The Seminole keeps eyes and ears open on that part of this
great thoroughfare which has been assigned to her, and night
and day trained wireless operators are listening for a calL At
the first call for help the cutter must start, and to be pre-
pared for emergency call at any hour, and for any stage of
weather, demands the constant attention of officers and crew.

The headquarters of the Seminole are at Wilmington, where
the Revenue-Cutter Service possesses its own wharf and store-
houses, and at this port the cutter is provisioned after each
cruise. The officers of the Seminole during the year 1912-13

Captain Godfrey L. Garden, U. S. R. C. S.

First Lieutenant L. C. Covell, U. S. R. C. S.

Second Lieutenant L. T. Chalker, U. S. R. C. S.

Third Lieutenant T. S. Kllnger, U. S. R. C. S.

Third Lieutenant C. H. Abel, U. S. R. C. S.

First Lieutenant Engineers R. B. Adams, U. S. R C. S.

Second Lieutenant Engineers W. P. Prall, U. S. R. C. S.

Third Lieutenant Engineers C. C. Sugden, U. S. R. C. S.

Digitized by


Peace Restored 525

The wireless has contributed wonderfully to the effective-
ness of the patrol. The Seminole has picked up messages at
the first call from distressed craft, and long after the cutter
had started confirmations were being received via official
sources from land. It is not too much to say that ordinarily
the Seminole will pick up any distress call from a modem
wireless installation which may be sent out on 'her station.
What the Seminole may miss will in all probability be picked
up by either one of the United States powerful wireless stations
at Beaufort or Charleston, and the Seminole is always in touch
with one or the other of these two stations.


- An important arm of great reach and efficiency is the admir-
able Revenue-Cutter Service on this station. At no time in
its history has this service been more effective in life-saving
and in the rescue of imperiled ships from imminent destruction
than during the past five years. Within the writer's memory
more than a hundred vessels have been totally lost on or near
Cape Fear and many brave seamen went down with them ; but
such is the equipment and efficiency of the cutter Seminole and
the professional skill and daring of her commander, his well-
tried officers and men, that valuable ships and crews, given up
for lost in the terrific winter gales of our dangerous coast, have
been drawn out of the teeth of the destructive elements and
restored to usefulness, and this without reward or the hope of
reward beyond the consciousness of duty done.

Repeated recognitions of rescue work have been made by
Lloyd's and other important underwriters, and two services of
silver plate have been presented to the commander and officers
of the Seminole, and quite recently, with the approval of the
Secretary of the Treasury, a gymnasium has been presented,
by friends of this valuable service, to the crew of that vessel
as a mark of appreciation by shipowners and imderwriters and
as a reward of distinguished merit.

The quality of mercy is not strained by the fine fellows who

iln January, 1915, the United States Congress passed an act creating
the Coast Quard by combining the Revenue-Cutter Service and the
Life-Saving Service, and all duties previously performed by the two
latter services are now performed by the former, with equipment, offi-
cers, and administration suited to the combined activities of the two.

Digitized by


626 Chronicles of the Cape Fear River

respond so quickly and eagerly to the S.O.S. wireless call for
help. An unwritten law compels them to succor a fellow sea-
man in distress even at the risk of their own destruction, and it
stirs the blood of all humanity to read of ships like the Semir
nole, tossed upon a raging sea, yet standing by a sinking ship
imtil every man is rescued from the jaws of death.

During the past decade the President of the United States
has annually designated vessels of the Revenue-Cutter Service
to patrol actively the Atlantic coast during the winter months
for the purpose of rendering aid to distressed merchant craft.
The patrol extends from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico and has
numbered as many as ten cutters. From the first day of De-
cember of each year to the first day of April following, the
patrolling force is constantly cruising.

The littoral lying between Cape Hatteras and Charleston has
for several years constituted the station of the revenue-cutter
Seminole. Measured between lightships, or over the course
usually followed by coasting steamers, the distance between the
northern and southern extremities of this station is 270 nauti-
cal miles. This stretch of coast during the winter months is
noted for the disasters which occur to shipping. The Seminole's
record for the winter season of 1912-13 is typical. During the
four months from December 1, 1912, to April 1, 1913, the
cutter assisted, in all, nine craft, comprising both steamers and
sailing vessels, and representing a value of floating property of
$993,000, a cargo value of $573,000, or a total vessel-and-
cargo valuation of $1,566,000. A tenth vessel, the Savannah,
a dangerous derelict, was destroyed with a mine.

About six weeks before a recent season's winter cruising com-
menced, the Seminole made a run of over 100 miles in a north-
east gale to the burning steamship Berkshire, of the Merchants
and Miner's Line, took off the passengers, put out the fire, and
saved both vessel and cargo from total loss вАФ representing for
cargo and vessel fully $500,000.

It may be asked why private wrecking craft are not available
to render some of the service performed by the cutters. The
fact is that they are not in evidence. Nor can private enter-
prise hope to cope with a government service in which there
is high esprit de corps such as characterizes the Revenue-Cutter
Service. Risks and hazards are cheerfully assumed by the
Revenue-Cutter Service, the sole object to be attained being
relief for the distressed and the performance of duty.

Digitized by


Peace Restored 527


A public service which measures its efficiency by the num-
ber of human lives saved from the perils of the sea is to be
classed among the highest himianities of a great government.

Through the courtesy of its general superintendent, the
Hon. S. I. Kimball, I have obtained the following information
with particular reference to the Life-Saving Service in the
neighborhood of Cape Fear.

The equipment of the Cape Fear and Oak Island Stations,
which are located in the vicinity of Cape Fear, consists of
apparatus, including line-throwing guns, projectiles, lines, beach
lights, signaling devices, and power boats, as well as other
boats. The Cape Fear Station has a Beebe-McLellan self-bail-
ing surfboat, an open Beebe surfboat, and a Beebe-McLellan
self -bailing power surfboat, with horizontal engine; and the
Oak Island Station is equipped with a Beebe-McLellan self-
bailing surfboat and a 36-foot seK-righting and self -bailing
power lifeboat. The Beebe-McLellan self-bailing power surf-
boat and the 36-foot self-righting and self-bailing power life-
boat are the latest developments in power life-saving boats, and
are as good as any in the world. A constant watch is kept from
the lookout towers of the stations and a beach patrol is main-
tained at night, and during the day when the weather is thick
or stormy.

The recent instances of service at wrecks by the Cape Fear
and Oak Island Life-Saving Stations have been as follows:

On December 8, 1912, the steamer Aloha, tonnage 42, value
$16,000, with four persons on board, was rendered assistance
by the Life-Saving Station at Oak Island; also on December
16, 1912, the schooner Dohemo, value $7,500, with two per-
sons on board, and in the same day, the launch Anerida II.,
value $1,700, with two persons on board, was saved.

On December 27, 1912, the schooner Savannah, tonnage 584,
value $44,000, which was a total loss, with nine persons on
board, and on March 26, 1913, the British steamer Strathardle,
tonnage 4,377, value $120,000, with thirty-three persons on
board, were rendered assistance by the Life-Saving Stations at
Cape Fear and Oak Island.

On October 10, 1913, the schooner John Twohy, tonnage

iSee Note on Revenue-Cutter Service, page 525.

Digitized by


528 Chronicles of the Cape Fear River

1,019, value $30,000, which was a total loss, with ten per-
sons on board, was rendered assistance by the Life-Saving Sta-
tion at Cape Fear.

The total value of property involved in the above disasters
was $218,200; the total value of property lost was $74,000,
and the total number of persons on board was sixty. No lives
were lost.

The rescue of the crew of the schooner Savannah, which was
stranded on the western edge of Frying Pan Shoals, is illustra-
tive of the value of this work. It is indicative of the service of
these stations.

On December 27, 1912, the 584-ton, four-masted schooner
Savannah, bound from Jacksonville, Florida, to Portland,
Maine, with a cargo of pine lumber, and carrying a crew of 9
men, all told, stranded about noon on the western edge of Fry-
ing Pan Shoals, in a westerly gale and thick weather. The
vessel and cargo, valued together at more than $40,000, were
totally lost. The ship's crew, however, were saved by the crews
of the Cape Fear and Oak Island Stations.

As the schooner lay on the shoals, with the mountainous seas
dashing against her and over her, she was discovered by Keeper
Brinkman of the Cape Fear Station. To make sure that she
was aground the keeper climbed the tower of the Cape Fear
Light to get a look at her through a spyglass. On leaving the
tower he asked the lightkeeper to set a signal, which, according
to a previous understanding, would convey to the station crew
at Oak Island and to the revenue-cutter Seminole the informa-
tion that a vessel was in trouble offshore.

The Cape Fear crew put off the beach in their surfboat with-
out loss of time, and covered the eight miles to the schooner in
two and a haK hours. The Oak Island crew also appeared
about the same time in their power lifeboat. It was agreed
that Keeper Brinkman should undertake the work of rescue,
a boat imder oars being more readily and safely handled than
a power boat, in broken water about a wreck. This arrange-
ment was duly carried out, the Oak Island crew standing by,
ready to assist their comrades should the surfboat meet with
misfortime while alongside. "After a hard battle with wind
and sea," says Keeper Brinkman in his report, "we took the
captain and eight men off."

The rescue accomplished, the sailors were transferred to the
power boat, which thereupon proceeded ashore with the surf-
boat in tow.

Digitized by


Peace Restored 529

The ship's crew were cared for at the Oak Island Station
until the following morning, when they were placed aboard the
Seminole, which had appeared off the station during the night.
The cutter and two tugs attempted to float the schooner, but
without success.

The total approximate cost of maintaining the Cape Fear and
Oak Island Stations and for salaries during the fiscal year
which ended June 30, 1913, was $17,430, the expense being
about evenly divided between the two stations. The amounts
expended for salaries were $7,089.10 and $6,940.80 for the
Cape Fear and Oak Island Stations, respectively. The expense
for maintaining the stations averaged about $1,700 each dur-
ing the year. The cost of rebuilding the Cape Fear Station,
now under way, will amount to between four and five thousand


About the year 1870 the late Alexander Sprunt, founder
of the firm of Alexander Sprunt & Son, demonstrated in a
magazine article published abroad the efficacy of the use of
oil at sea in stormy weather. He subsequently endeavored to
induce the British Admiralty to provide every ship with his
simple device for protection against breaking seas while lying
to, and received some recognition.

At that time, in the winter, he loaded a small brig of about
two hundred tons register with a heavy cargo of naval stores
for Europe. The captain was induced to provide a barrel of
crude oil, two canvas bags perforated with a large needle, and
a twenty-foot spar with block and tackle, to be used in case of
need. On his return to Wilmington some months later, he
gratefully acknowledged that his ship and crew had been provi-
dentially saved from destruction by this simple and effective

He was obliged to lay to for several days in a hurricane.
The heavy waves smashed the boats and threatened to destroy
the vessel. He thought of the oil and at once applied it. Run-
ning the spar out on the weather side, he filled the bags with
oil and hauled them out to the end of the spar. Immediately
a thin covering of oil spread over the advancing waves and,
although the brig rose and fell upon the moimtainous seas, the
water did not break, and the little vessel rode out the gale in

Digitized by


530 Chronicles of the Cape Fear River

In the Hydrographic Bulletin of the United States Navy,
December 31, 1913, the following reference is made to the use
of oil to calm seas:

''Imperial Transport (Br. ss.), Capt. E. R, Frankland:

"On November 25, 1913, during the voyage from Narvik
toward Philadelphia, a hurricane struck the vessel from the
southwest, gradually shifting to the westward. The hurricane
was of such force that it was found impossible to steam against
it. The engines, therefore, were stopped, and the vessel, losing
headway, fell off beam-on to the sea. During this operation oil
was used plentifully, several pints being thrown on the deck,
and the same washing overboard to windward smoothed the
tops of the seas, thus stopping them to a great extent from
breaking on board. When the vessel was drifting, two oil-bags
were hung overboard to windward, one at each end of the bridge
deck, each bag being attached to fifteen fathoms of line, this
usage greatly assisting in arresting the force of the seas. One
oil-bag was hung in the forward lavatory at the break of the
forecastle head, and the flush left open, tiie oil thus coming in
contact with the sea without being blown to leeward. The
same operation was repeated in the lavatory amidships. A

Online LibraryJames SpruntChronicles of the Cape Fear river, 1660-1916 → online text (page 53 of 74)