The National Park Service (NPS) crew working on the renovations of the original surfboat that was used in the historic 1918 rescue of the British Tanker Mirlo are heading back to Rodanthe to work on site, and to restore the vessel in time for the centennial celebration.
The vessel in question is known as Surfboat No. 1046, and it is the last surviving example of the typical 25-foot surfboat used by nearly all of the early Life-Saving Service Stations in the United States.
When the Mirlo was torpedoed by a German submarine on Aug. 16, 1918 in the midst of WWI, it was the Surfboat No. 1046 that carried the Chicamacomico Station’s crew members out to the scene in an ocean of flames. The crew members then rescued 42 of the 51 British sailors in an hours-long, 28-nautical mile expedition.
The rescue of the Mirlo went on to become one of the most significant and highly awarded rescues in U.S. history, with the six crew members receiving a one-of-a-kind medal struck by King George V of the United Kingdom, as well as the Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor. (To date, only eleven Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor awards have ever been bestowed, with six being given to the members of the Chicamacomico crew.)
The project to revitalize Surfboat No. 1046, which started in April 2018 with a team of four NPS conservators, encompasses an intricate effort to restore or create replicas of elements of the vessel that have simply worn down over the years.
“The boat is not in terrible shape,” says Larry Grubbs, Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Chicamacomico Historical Association. “It’s just over 100 years old, so it needs to be touched up here and there.”
The team performing the work has a home base in Charles Town, W.V., and they perform renovation projects throughout America, working both on site, and at the Harpers Ferry Center in Charles Town, where the National Park Service’s artifact conservation facility is located.
“They travel a lot, and they certainly stay busy,” says Cultural Resources Manager for the National Park Service, Jami Lanier. “They do conservation work for all of the National Parks in the country.”
After their April work, the team temporarily removed a number of parts from the vessel to transport back to Charles Town, and on their upcoming late July return, many of these pieces will be reinstalled. The team is also creating a replica of the vessel’s fenders, as the original parts were painted with lead paint, and became inflexible over the years.
“In April, they basically stripped off all the brass, chrome and bronze parts of the boat,” says Grubbs. “Some will be stabilized and put back on the boat, and some will be used to reproduce the replica pieces because of the value of the originals.”
Surfboat No. 1046 is currently and continually on display at the Chicamacomico Historic Site, and is housed within the original 1874 Life-Saving Station within the complex.
But despite the vessel’s notable claim to fame, its full-circle journey back to its home was a long one that took a few decades to complete.
Originally built by a boatyard in Long Island, New York, the surfboat stayed at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station for 12 years after its assistance in the Mirlo rescue, until it was replaced with a newer vessel. Recognized for its historic significance, the boat was then transferred to a U.S. Coast Guard storage facility until it was moved to the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, V.A., as an outdoor exhibit. It was donated to the National Park Service in 1956, and was restored in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and then transferred once again a little closer to home to the Little Kinnakeet Lifesaving Station, just north of Avon.
After being housed at Little Kinnakeet for more than a decade, in 1983, Surfboat No. 1046 was returned to its original station, the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, where it has remained ever since.
“The boat technically is the property of the National Park Service, but that boat’s day in the sun was the Mirlo rescue, so it’s only fitting it would be housed at Chicamacomico,” says Grubbs.
Though not set in stone, the team is planning to return for the week of July 23, and to have all renovations completed by the anniversary of the Mirlo rescue on August 16, 2018.