Monday, December 18, 2006

The Blanche

116 years ago yesterday the 2 masted schooner, Blanche, bound for Boston, was sunk on Ocracoke's beach, about 300 yards from shore in stormy weather. Keeper James Howard's shipwreck report is transcribed below (I have preserved his spelling and punctuation as faithfully as possible, though parts of the report are difficult to decipher).

He describes firing lines to the stricken vessel, which then allow the station crew to haul the eight sailors ashore by means of the breeches buoy (a life ring with leather "breeches" attached to it, that traveled along a sturdy line anchored on one end to a wooden crotch planted in the sand, and on the other end tied to the ship's mast or rigging).

Note that surfman Ballance spied the Blanche early in the morning (at 7 am according to another part of the report), and arrived at the station an hour and a half later. It took the surfmen five hours to pull the beach cart 12 miles down the beach, contending with strong winds and rising water. It was another six hours before they returned to the station, after saving eight sailors. They had given their all for nearly twelve straight hours. And this was all in December. It is difficult to imagine today what fortitude and bravery it took to be a member of the Life Saving Crew on the Outer Banks one hundred years ago. Notice that Keeper Howard asks in his report that the government add another station on Ocracoke.

Here is Keeper Howard's report:

"H.H. Ballance out on beach discover a vessel ashore on beach in breakers, sunk finding live men on board, put whip to his horse for the station, arriving to station 8:30 reported sch shore on Ocracoke beach with distress signals flying.

"Keeper immeatly cauld out crew. Hitch up team, tuck apparatus cart, left station 9 am for sch. Surf very rough running over beach, wind SW fresh gale witch mad our progress very slow, the distance about 12 miles with water and wind to contend with it was all we cold do reaching abrest wreck sch. Wee was nea fag out but seeing the condition of the wreck men, wee tuck curedg went at work.

1st shot was unsuckcessfull, hauld shot ashore gain. The nex shot line drop cros vessel, the crew of sch got line, hauling off whip shot line, no. 7 parted. The third shot line drop acros wreck crew got the line hauld of whip line made fast in starboard riging. Sent off hausser, the current so strong and forse of sea was hard to handle the gear. Men from the settlement rendered us valable service.

Hop n to haul on gear. After hausser hauld taugh, buoy sent off landing in all eight persons all right. Hade to cut our hausser, cut shot line, current so feirce cold not resk it, so cut them, one shot lost. The wreck crew was very bad off. They had life lines run around them to keep them from washing over board. All that peple that was there to see the site and my judgement seas ther was noth elce cold saved the crew. Pleas gave us another station. Capt. was very thankful and many thanks for our assistance."

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is Jamie Tunnell's story about Dory Fishing on Ocracoke's Beach. Click on the link to read it.

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