August 4,  2009

Hatteras village shipwreck appears and disappears
with the shifting sands...WITH SLIDE SHOW


(Editor's note:  Shipwrecks are part of the history and heritage of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.  Even today, new ships wash up on the beach from time to time, and old wrecks get uncovered. The shipwreck that is the topic of this week's archived story is in Hatteras village and, if you are looking for it, you can still see parts of the old vessel.)

Known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, the waters off the coast of the Outer Banks are laden with the remains of unfortunate vessels. 
“There are, literally, thousands of ships wrecked off Hatteras and Ocracoke islands,” says Joe Schwarzer, director of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras.

Yet, in spite of the proliferation of wrecks, there are very few that are accessible to the casual observer. Most are buried deep below the waves, visible only in pictures or with the help of special equipment. 

One of the few exceptions to this rule lies on a beach in Hatteras village.

There, one piece of the Island’s maritime history—the wreckage of a mystery barge—can still be seen, in varying degrees, by anyone who cares to walk the stretch of beach at the end of Flambeau Road where it rests. 

It is known locally as The Flambeau Road Shipwreck.  But, like so many other ships that met their demise in the waters off the islands, very little is known about the ship.

What we do know, according to Schwarzer, who assisted with an excavation of the wreck a few years ago, is that the relatively large vessel—153 feet long with a 30 foot beam—was a coastline schooner, a cargo ship used to haul goods, such as timber, coal, and turpentine to various ports up and down the East Coast.

Cargo ships used to be a very cost-effective, and thus popular, means of delivering goods, as there were no fuel expenses involved, and a normal route would have taken the ship from Charleston, S.C., to Norfolk, Philadelphia, Boston, Bangor, and back.

Based on the ship’s construction, we can also estimate its age.

“The ship is very heavily constructed, and the more iron fasteners, the more modern the ship,” says Schwarzer.

He says the barge has a construction consistent with the late 19th to early 20th century style and estimates that the ship was built anywhere between 1895 and 1910.

But there is much, much more that we don’t, and probably won’t ever know, about the ship, including how and when it ended up on a beach in Hatteras village.

“The locals will tell you they remember driving over [the wreck] in the ‘40s and ‘50s because it would tear their tires up, so it’s been there for quite some time,” Schwarzer said.

Over time, the debris has gone through various degrees of visibility, covered and uncovered by the incessant shifting of the wind and the tide.

Earlier this year, in the spring, a big blow revealed large portions of the wreck – larger parts than most locals can remember seeing before.

It remained visible for a few weeks, and then, slowly but surely, wind and water action conspired, once again, to cover the barge over with sand. 

Now, little of the wreck is visible, but the site remains clearly marked—just look for the boardwalk with the (Hatteras Village historical preservation sign #20) directly at the end of Flambeau Road, head toward the water, look to your left, and there it will be.


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