Thursday, August 10, 2017

Richard S. Spofford

The three-masted schooner, Richard S. Spofford, wrecked at Ocracoke at 3:30 a.m., December 22, 1894. The Ocracoke US Life-Saving crew and their keeper, James Howard, were stationed 14 miles away, at Hatteras Inlet, and unaware of the wreck until much later in the day. Keeper Terrell from the Portsmouth Island station responded when he was informed of the wreck at daybreak but, lacking proper equipment and a trained crew, was unable to rescue the sailors.

Five of the ship's crew launched the ship's yawl in an attempt to reach shore, but were thrown into the raging breakers when it swamped and capsized. To everyone's surprise, they all managed to reach the beach where they were pulled ashore by onlookers.

Keeper Howard and his crew arrived at the wreck at 8 pm. The remaining three crew members were clinging disparately to the bowsprit as the schooner rolled dangerously each time the surf broke over the ship. Because of the cold, darkness, and raging storm it was not until daybreak that a line was successfully fired to the vessel. The captain and one crew member were safely brought to shore in the breeches buoy. The steward, Sylvester Chase, had fallen from the quarterdeck the day before and had died lashed to the capstan.

Breeches Buoy Rescue

The official government report addressed the death of Chase: "The diligence and devotion of both the keepers and the men under their command throughout the entire occurrence are well attested. It was the first instance of a wreck in the vicinity since the appointment of Keeper Terrell, and his promptness and fertility of resources go far to prove the fitness of his selection. Keeper Howard has rendered long and satisfactory service, which is not sullied by his record at this disaster."

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a contemporary account of the December 24, 1899 wreck of the Steamship Ariosto. You can read the Newsletter here:

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