February 14, 2013

Winter beach yields some surprises this week


Islanders always enjoy exploring the winter beach on Hatteras and Ocracoke.

The beaches are relatively empty except for a few other beachcombers and maybe a couple fishermen.

And as you pick through the flotsam and jetsam along the tideline, you never know what you might find – a perfect shell or a piece of sea glass.

However, this week Hatteras Island beaches gave up some unusual surprises and islanders flocked to the shore to check out the sights.

On Monday, Feb. 11, a dead 34-foot sperm whale washed onto the beach in Hatteras village at the end of Dunes Drive, just north of Ramp 55.

Despite the fact that it was a gray, rainy day, dozens of folks headed to the beach to see the whale and snap a photo – many of which ended up on Facebook.

The dead whale was an older female, said Britta Muiznieks, lead biologist for the National Park Service on Hatteras Island.

She said the whale was necropsied on Tuesday and then buried on the beach. The necropsy did not turn up any immediately apparent cause of death.

Meanwhile, high winds and heavy seas from a low pressure offshore resulted in several feet of ocean water and sand on Highway 12 at high tide Friday through the weekend. The highway was closed off and on during the high tide events and while the North Carolina Department of Transportation cleared the road.

The storm also scoured out some of the northern Hatteras beaches, again exposing the wreck of the schooner George A. Kohler, which washed ashore between Avon and Salvo during a 1933 hurricane.

The Kohler stayed on the beach for several years and was salvaged by enterprising Hatteras islanders.

Gradually the sands of time covered the wreck.  Occasionally, a small part would be visible on the beach, and, from time to time, large parts of the wreck would be uncovered in storms.

That’s what happened last weekend, and by Tuesday, islanders and professional and amateur photographers were out documenting the remains of the once-great sailing ship.

You can still see the shipwreck if you want to venture out.  It’s located just south of Ramp 27 between Avon and Salvo.

Here is what island historian Danny Couch said about the Kohler in a 2008 story on Island Free Press, entitled “Shipwreck salvaging is a time-honored tradition.”

Couch wrote:

The last of the great shipwreck vendues was the George A. Kohler. It was a proud four-masted schooner bound from Baltimore to Haiti for logwood when it was driven ashore below Chicamacomico by 90 mph winds during the Hurricane of 1933 on Aug. 22.  At 212 feet long, the Kohler presented a sweet opportunity to ship busters in Kinnakeet and Chicamacomico.

One of the fortunate busters was Charles Williams II of Avon, who bid in the vendue. He and others received salvors’ fees for removing everything of value on the Kohler to the beach. While she carried no cargo for Haiti, there was plenty of stuff to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, such as desks, furnishings, foodstuffs, fresh water, canvas, sail gear, and the hulk itself.

One man who remembered the wreck and sale of the Kohler was the late Charlie C. Gray of Avon. Still in his possession when he was interviewed for a story in May, 1993, was the captain’s seafaring shaving kit, a gift to Charlie from his uncle, Percy Williams, one of the Kinnakeet wreckers.

“Little Charles and myself went up with Uncle Percy and Uncle Charles in Charles’ truck and unloaded her,” Charlie said. “Lots of heavy stuff had to be hoisted over the side.  The Kohler had sanded up real bad, and it was easy to throw a ladder up the side. We got to go aboard her and it was a thrill running around on her decks.

 “I wasn’t but about 6 and Little Charles wasn’t much older, but it was pretty high up there for two little boys.  We felt like we were on top of the world.”
 His Uncle Percy, according to Charlie, got a desk, chair, and various small furnishings.  He paid to tear all the wood out of the forecastle for his barber shop, in which he cut hair for many years afterward, Charlie said. The ship’s master, Capt. George Hopkins, salvaged the sails. The yawl boat was bought by Noah H. Price from the owners, White and Vane of Baltimore.  Price resold it for a tidy profit to Lloyd Meekins. Charlie’s Uncle Charles bought the rights to the hulk from White & Vane for $150, which he periodically stripped and sold.
In 1938, Williams sold the hulk to Leonard Hooper of Salvo, who used some of it to build what is now the Salvo Assembly of God Church (now the Lighthouse Church). Hooper then burned the remnant for its massive amounts of steel and iron in 1940, leveraging the high market the fittings brought as scrap metal for the World War II effort.


You can read all of Danny Couch’s story on salvaging shipwrecks by clicking on this link: http://www.islandfreepress.org/2008Archives/07.28.2008-ShipwreckSalvagingIsAimeHonoredTradition.html

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