Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1903:
This vessel anchored in Lookout Bay, about 2 miles W. from station, on the evening of Dec. 2, and early the next morning hoisted a signal of distress to which the life saving crew promptly responded in surfboat. They found that the master had broken his leg and desired to be taken ashore. The keeper requested permission to shift the vessel to a safer anchorage, but his request was not granted, and he took the master ashore and sent him to Beaufort for medical treatment. On the morning of the 5th the wind came out WSW. With hurricane violence, the vessel dragged her anchors, and at 4 a.m. struck the outer reef, finally becoming a total wreck in Lookout Blight. The cook John Chaulkley, was killed by a falling spar, and the rest of the crew, 5 men, were swept overboard by the terrific seas, but were all rescued by the life savers, who rushed into the surf to their aid, then took them to the station, supplied them with dry clothing from the stores of the Women’s National Relief Association, and succored them for two days. Two of them were seriously injured, and medical assistance was procured for them. (For detailed account see caption “Loss of Life”, also see letters of acknowledgment.)
Wreck of the Barkentine Olive Thurlow
The American barkentine Olive Thurlow was wrecked on December 5, 1902, in Lookout Bight, coast of North Carolina, and one an lost his life from a terrible blow inflicted upon his head by the mizzenmast, which gave way and fell to the deck soon after the vessel entered the breakers. The rest of the crew were saved.
The Thurlow was of 660 tons burden, 26 years old, and heavily laden with several hundred thousand feet of southern pine lumber, a portion of which was carried on deck. She was bound from Charleston, SC, to New York City, in command of Captain J.O. Hayes, and carried a crew of 7 men all told. When as far on her way as Bodie Island she ran into a gale from the north, veering to the eastward, and at about 4 o’clock in the morning of December 1 the master, deeming it no longer advisable to breast the storm, attempted to put his vessel before the wind. In order that no mistake should be made at the helm he himself took the the wheel, and while he was trying to adjust the tiller ropes one of his feet was caught between the tiller and the quandrant and jammed with such violence as to break his leg just above the ankle. The vessel was got around without further mishap and headed to the southward, which course she maintained until 8 o’clock on the night of December 3, when she dropped her anchor in 7-1/2 fathoms of water about 2-1/2 miles northeasterly from the Cape Lookout Life-Saving Station. The weather was then thick and rainy with a moderate gale from the southward.
On the morning of the 4th the captain, who had now been suffering intensely for three days with a broken leg, naturally desired to get ashore where he could receive surgical attention, and he therefore ordered a distress signal to be set in the rigging. “Two minutes later,” as he says in his testimony, he saw the answering pennant of the life-saving station, “and twenty minutes later the life savers were aboard.” He was taken ashore, whence he was sent to Beaufort without delay, and in closing his affidavit regarding the disaster he states that he “received all possible attention and was under many obligations to the keeper and crew.”
Before leaving the vessel, keeper Gaskill informed Captain Hayes that a very severe gale was imminent from the southwest, that the vessel was in a perilous position, and therefore he wished to be allowed to take her to a good anchorage in comparatively smooth water. This request the captain refused on the ground that she would not “head in and could not be put in stays” –that is, that the movement suggested could not be made. The keeper, however, had not the slightest doubt of its feasibility, and furthermore, it appears that the tug Atlantic went alongside the Thurlow and proposed to tow her to safe water and convey the master to Beaufort, but the proposition was declined because Captain Hayes would not agree to the terms offered. When the keeper left the vessel she was riding to only 25 or 30 fathoms of chain, and, although this was subsequently increased to 60 fathoms on one anchor, the second mate in his testimony asserts the wreck to have been due to the fact that more scope was not given.
The life saving station kept a strict watch on the Thurlow from the time she anchored until her fate was sealed. As soon as her crew were convinced that she was certain to strand they fired two Coston signals, which surfman Yeomans, on the north patrol, answered instantly. The life savers got out their beach apparatus cart quickly, and since they knew that the beach was in a very bad condition for traveling, they divided the heavy load by placing a part of it in the driving cart. Then they set out with both vehicles on their toilsome journey of 2-1/2 miles through the soft, wet sand, with the wind blowing at the rate of 70 or 80 miles an hour, and, notwithstanding all the difficulties, reached the necessary position opposite the wreck within an hour from the burning of the distress signal on board.
The doomed vessel was then lying broadside to the beach about 450 yards distant, and the sea was making a clean breach over her. All the men had taken to the lee mizzen rigging, and the business of keeper Gaskill was to cast a shot line as nearly as possible into their hands. The wreck was gradually working to the westward, and therefore the sand anchor had to be moved some 50 yards from the position first selected. Then the Lyle gun was fired with a 6-ounce charge of powder and a No. 7 line. The projectile fell 15 or 20 feet short, however, and a second shot was no more successful, but the third, with a No. 9 line and a 6-ounce charge, landed fairly in the midst of the sailors in the mizzen shrouds. At that very instant the masts went down, the mizzen breaking off about 20 feet above the deck, crushing the skull of the steward, John Chalkly, and seriously injuring two other men. Chalkly’s body fell overboard, while the others landed on the top of the house—men, mast, topmast, and rigging tangled together.
The vessel began to break up within half an hour after she struck, and disintegrated rapidly. First the fore-topmast fell, then the forward house and deck load went overboard, then the bow and the stern were torn off, the general ruin being finally completed by the falling of all the masts with a crash audible far along shore. The top of the after-house, or cabin, was the only place of refuge, and lying there the 5 sailors struggled for their lives, with only a precarious handhold on the skylight coamings. Meantime the life savers quickly fired another line which fell almost into the hands of the shipwrecked men, who as quickly as they could pulled off the whip line and made fast the tail block to the stump of the mizzenmast, but, while the surfmen were engaged in sending out the hawser, a heavy sea tore off the top of the cabin on which the sailors were gathered and carried them with it into the breakers.
The passage of these unfortunate men to the beach was a frightful spectacle, even to the surf-shore people, to whom shipwreck in its most harrowing form is no novelty. Lying flat upon the top of the cabin they thrust their arms through the windows of the skylight and desperately hung on. Two were sorely injured, and the other three assisted them as best they could. “At times,” says the keeper, “all must have been 10 feet under the water,” when their grasp would almost fail, and even when they rose to the surface the break of the waves would nearly smother them again. At last one lost his hold and seemed sure to drown, but the life savers went far out into the surf in spite of the wreckage and deadly undertow and saved him—luckily themselves escaping great injury or death, which was liable to follow a single blow from the heavy timbers thrust to and fro with terrific force. “The rescued man,” says the keeper, “was more dead than alive when taken from the water.” The other four still held on, and as soon as they were near enough the surfmen again went out into the breakers and dragged the poor fellows to the beach. The second mate, who was badly hurt by the falling mizzenmast, and a sailor who had several flesh wounds and severs bruises, could not stand, and had to be carried to the station in a wagon. The three others were practically helpless, but though bruised and sore were not wounded. None of the five could have held out much longer, nor any have saved themselves had they lost their places on the piece of wreckage which sustained them. All were at once taken to the station, where they were stripped of their wet clothing, wrapped in blankets, furnished with proper stimulants, and placed in bed. After two days they were sent to Beaufort.
It is much to be regretted that keeper Gaskill was not allowed to shift the Thurlow to a better anchorage, since it appears in the testimony that the schooner Warren Adams safely rode out the gale in a berth selected by him. The thanks of the Service are due to the keeper and two assistants of the Point Lookout Lighthouse, and to several fishermen, for their voluntary and efficient aid in rescuing the shipwrecked men. The following letter was received from the latter by the General Superintendent:
CAPE LOOKOUT, NORTH CAROLINA, December 7, 1902
We, the crew of the barkentine Olive Thurlow, which went ashore December 5, at 4 a.m., and became a total wreck in Lookout Bay, wish to thank Captain Gaskil and his crew, of Cape Lookout life-saving station, for the timely assistance and care received at their hands. We would also state that if the vessel had held together a little longer all would have been saved in the breeches buoy, but the mizzenmast broke, killing the steward and injuring two others, after their line had been made fast to it, for which they are in no wise to blame. C. FLORIAN, Mate ; A. CURTIN, Second Mate ; F. FINCH, Seaman ; J. JOHNSON, Seaman ; G. BURGENSEN, Seaman