Lost to the Perils of the Sea

Wreck of an unknown three-masted schooner.
To many people, the Outer Banks are synonymous with shipwrecks. Indeed, one would have trouble finding a more representative or fascinating aspect of local history. Just as the sea has always been an integral part of life on these barrier islands, so too have been its many victims. A countless number of ill-fated vessels as well as many of the courageous seafarers who manned them have succumbed to the local "perils of the sea." The Tiger, an English ship of Sir Richard Grenville's expedition, was the first unfortunate vessel, wrecking here in June, 1585. The latest may be as recent as this morning's newspaper.
Why have so many ships been lost, after the lethal dangers of the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" became widely known? Unfortunately, avoiding these navigational hazards is much more difficult than recognizing them. In days gone by, it was the wooden sailing ship carrying goods and passengers that kept the nation's commerce afloat. To follow coastal trade routes, thousands of these vessels had to round not only North Carolina's barrier islands, which lie 30 miles off the mainland, but also the infamous Diamond Shoals, a treacherous, always-shifting series of shallow, underwater sandbars extending eight miles out from Cape Hatteras. While many believe that navigating Diamond Shoals is the only challenge, there are several other complicating factors.
First, there are two strong ocean currents that collide near Cape Hatteras. Flowing like massive rivers in the sea, the cold-water Labrador Current from the north and the warm Gulf Stream from the south converge just offshore from the cape. To take advantage of these currents, vessels must draw close to the Outer Banks.
The remains of the Laura Barnes (wrecked 1921) on Coquina Beach, now mostly covered by the shifting sands.
Ordinarily, following this course would not lead to trouble but the storms common to the region can make it a dangerous practice. Devastating hurricanes and dreaded nor'easters overwhelm ships with raging winds and heavy seas or drive them ashore to be battered apart by the pounding surf. Since the flat islands provide no natural landmarks, ships caught in storms often ran aground before spotting land and realizing their predicament.
Combined, these natural elements form a navigational nightmare that is feared as much as any in the world. Pirates, the American Civil War, and German U-boat assaults have added to the heavy toll nature has exacted. The grim total of vessels lost near Cape Hatteras is estimated at over 1,000.
While hundreds of these "dead" ships now reside in the Graveyard of the Atlantic, their legacy lives on in many ways. Mariners stranded on the islands often chose to remain, establishing families and a heritage which continues to this day. Many island residents made a substantial part of their living salvaging cargoes and dozens of local buildings were built entirely or in part from shipwreck timbers. Due to the frequent storms and many other navigational hazards resulting in great loss of vessels, the U.S. Lighthouse Service, U.S. Lifesaving Service (1874-1915), and U.S. Coast Guard (since 1915) have kept a steady watch for almost 200 years.
Map of the most commonly seen shipwrecks on the seashore.
Remains of Shipwrecks That Are Sometimes Visible
Though the vast majority of area wrecks have broken up and are lost to the sea forever, divers have access to a variety of sunken vessels offshore. Many shipwrecks also lie buried beneath the beach and can be uncovered by storms. After a brief period, they are again concealed when beach sands rebuild. At one time, a large number of shipwrecks were visible and recognizable along the seashore. Today, due to time, storms, salvaging, and vandalism, this is no longer the case. Parts of the following wrecks may still sometimes be seen. Please remember not to disturb or remove any shipwreck remains.
Laura Barnes
The Laura Barnes is representative of the many wooden sailing ships that were lost on the Outer Banks. The four-masted schooner came ashore in dense fog on the night of June 1, 1921. The crew was rescued by Coast Guardsmen from nearby Bodie Island Station. Her remains have since been relocated a mile south of their original location to Coquina Beach (across from the Bodie Island Lighthouse) for public viewing.
Lois Joyce
One of the Outer Banks' most recent shipwrecks, the Lois Joyce was a 100-foot commercial fishing trawler lost in 1981 while attempting to enter Oregon Inlet during a December storm. Though the crew was rescued by Coast Guard helicopter, the $1,000,000 vessel was a total loss. The wreck is located on the northern, ocean-side hook at the mouth of Oregon Inlet and is best viewed at low tide. It is accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles only.
A Federal transport during the Civil War, the steamship Oriental has been grounded in her present position since 1862. Local rumor has it that some of the area's largest fish make their home in the Oriental's rusty remains. You can see the exposed boiler and smokestack in the ocean surf off Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, opposite the Self-Guided Nature Trail parking lot.


  1. What are the Outer Banks known for?
  2. What was the first?
  3. Why are there so many in this area? (2 main reasons)
  4. What happened to sailors on these ships?
  5. What 3 organizations have tried to keep the number of shipwrecks down?
  6. Where can adventurers find these shipwrecks?
  7. What causes visible shipwrecks to disappear?
  8. Summarize each of the famous shipwrecks described at the end. (30pts)

Designers Set Sail, Turning to Wind to Help Power Cargo Ships


Published: August 27, 2012

If the world’s shipping fleet were a country, it would be the world’s sixth leading emitter of greenhouse gases. To reduce those emissions — and, not incidentally, to conserve expensive fossil fuels — cargo ship designers are now turning to the oldest source of power there is: the wind.

The new vessels, mainly still on drawing boards and in prototype, look nothing like the graceful schooners and galleons of centuries past. Last spring, for example, the University of Tokyo unveiled a model of its UT Wind Challenger at the Sea Japan trade show. It has nine masts, each 164 feet tall, with five rigid sails made of aluminum and fiber-reinforced plastic; the sails are hollow, designed to telescope into one another in rough weather or at anchor.

Then there is the 328-foot, 3,000-ton cargo carrier being designed by B9 Shipping (pronounced benign), part of the B9 Energy Group in Northern Ireland. Its three masts rise 180 feet, as tall as a 14-story building. Powered by a combination of wind and a Rolls-Royce biogas engine, it is intended to operate with no fossil fuels.

A model of the B9 ship was tested last month at the University of Southampton in England. “The tests were promising,” said Diane Gilpin, a founder-director of B9 Shipping. “They validated the economic case for deploying a B9 ship on certain trading routes.”

The next step, she said, is to seek financing for a full-size ship to demonstrate the technology. It would cost $45 million and take three years to build. Several factors are driving efforts like these. Effective this month, ships in North American waters are required to burn low-sulfur oil, which costs 60 percent more than bunker fuel. The United Nations’ International Maritime Organization is also phasing in restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions by commercial ships.

Meanwhile, the price of bunker fuel, which accounts for most of a vessel’s operating cost, has been rising steeply — 600 percent over the last 10 years. Wind, of course, is cost- and emission-free. But none of the designs under consideration would replace a ship’s engine, only supplement it.

Nor is wind power practical for large vessels like container ships, which sail faster than 15 knots and need their deck space for cargo. But it is well suited for smaller, slower-moving ships, those in the 3,000-to-10,000-ton range — which accounts for 10,000 vessels, one-fifth of the world’s total cargo ships, and are an essential link in the global supply chain. Still, wind-powered technology faces a steep development curve before the industry will be ready to embrace it.

“There are a number of projects looking at the use of wind as a power source for shipping,” said Craig Eason, technology editor at the shipping newspaper Lloyd’s List. “Whether these projects will prove to be successful business ventures remains a question.”

Wind is one of a number of technological fixes under consideration to lower costs and emissions. They include replacing bunker fuel with liquid natural gas; streamlining hull designs; adding exhaust scrubbers; or just steaming more slowly.

All of these ideas face economic obstacles. Shipowners don’t necessarily pay for their ship’s fuel; the charterer does. So there is little incentive to make an energy-saving investment if the owner does not benefit financially. Moreover, most sectors of the shipping industry are losing money, so it is not an ideal time to introduce new technologies.

“The industry is quite conservative,” said Roger Strevens, vice president for environment at the shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics. About wind power, he added, “There are a mix of significant technical, operational and economic hurdles to overcome.” Or as Richard Pemberton, a marine technology expert at Southampton, put it, “The shipping industry will adopt whichever technology allows them to make a profit.”

One company that is well past the design stage is SkySails. Founded in 2001 in Hamburg, Germany, it has been selling automated towing kite systems for cargo ships for several years. Resembling a giant paraglider, SkySails’ 3,500-square-foot kite is launched from a ship’s bow, pulling it forward when the wind is right. The company says that depending on wind conditions, fuel consumption can be reduced 10 to 35 percent. SkySails has installed its giant kites on six ships, and Cargill, the world’s largest charterer of dry bulk carriers, has announced plans to install the latest SkySails technology this year on its ship the Aghia Maina.

But wind technology for modern cargo ships goes back at least a quarter of a century. In 1986 Capt. D. C. Anderson of Earth Ship Limited fitted a 3,500-ton grain carrier called the Carib Alba with an auxiliary wind-propulsion system called Comsail. “On a perfect day,” he recalled, it “saved an astonishing 35 percent of fuel.”

But after oil prices collapsed that year, the Carib Alba’s owner took a blowtorch to Captain Anderson’s sailing masts, leaving them on a pier in Houston and bringing a promising experiment to an abrupt conclusion after 363 days of testing.


  1. What shocking fact does the article start with?
  2. What are cargo ship designers trying to do to combat this?
  3. What features are found on the prototype UT Wind Challenger?
  4. What is special about the engine of the B9 prototype? What did tests reveal?
  5. What factors are causing the shipping industry to look for alternative fuel and power sources?
  6. Why is wind power not practical for large vessels?
  7. Aside from wind, what other options are they looking into?
  8. What will ultimately be the deciding factor in what the shipping industry will turn to?
  9. What is SkySails? What do their systems resemble?
  10. What did Capt. Anderson try in 1986? What was the result?

Slowing to a Whale’s Pace in Samoa


Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, writes from Samoa, where he studies the formation of local communities among dolphins and their genetic isolation from one another.

Today was the last day of our surveys in Samoa. We have completed the circumnavigation of both islands, Upolu and Savai’i, covering more than 600 nautical miles, and have encountered short-finned pilot whales, spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and beaked whales.

The strong trade winds we have experienced over the last few days are a reminder that it is winter in Samoa, and with this comes the annual migration of humpback whales. Although it is still early in the winter breeding season, humpbacks are our most common sighting along the south coast of Upolu.

The Samoan islands are part of a vast winter breeding grounds of humpback whales in the South Pacific, including New Caledonia, Tonga, the Cook Islands and the Society Islands of French Polynesia. These whales feed during the austral summer months in the Southern Ocean near the Antarctic and migrate thousands of miles to the warm waters of the tropics to mate and give birth.

Based on catch records from 20th-century commercial whaling (including illegal Soviet whaling), it seems likely that populations around these islands once numbered 20,000 and were reduced to only a few hundred before international protections were enacted in 1966. Using a large catalog of individual identification photographs and DNA profiles from biopsy samples (the same methods used in our study of dolphins), members of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium have estimated that the populations have recovered slowly and now number about 4,000.

After our work with the dolphins, the whales require a shift in timing and approach. Rather than moving at speed, as we did with the dolphins as they rode our bow, we now try to move in slowly behind the whale as it surfaces, to photograph the natural markings on the underside of the tail (flukes). Once the whale dives, it could be six to nine minutes before it resurfaces. The trick is to maintain position during this time, in hopes that the whale surfaces nearby.

During one of our encounters, the whale rolls slowly at the surface, revealing all-white coloration on the undersides of its fluke. This white coloration is characteristic of humpback whales in the South Pacific, whereas those in the North Pacific are often entirely dark. The small marks and scars on the undersurface and variation in the trailing edge can be used for individual identification. Juney will add these photographs to her catalog for Samoa.

Tomorrow we return to Apia. Renee has already left for Hawaii, where she is helping with a long-term study of rough-toothed dolphins. Juney and I will work on a short report for her ministry and an article for The Samoa Observer, the local newspaper.

Nevé and I will visit with colleagues from the secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program to discuss a Web site for submitting records of stranded whales and dolphins in the region. With growing access to the Internet and smartphone technology, even remote villages can contribute to documenting the relatively uncommon stranding events in the region. Given the increasing concern for human-related causes of strandings, records from Oceania could provide a baseline for a relatively undisturbed habitat.

At dinner this evening, we discuss plans to repeat surveys of Samoa next year during the austral summer, to look for seasonal differences in species distributions and to focus on the offshore species in calmer conditions. For the moment, these are just plans.

Despite the importance of Oceania and the vast jurisdiction of Pacific Island nations, money for surveys of cetacean diversity in the region is difficult to find. I have been extremely fortunate to have support for the current surveys from a Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship and from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a longtime supporter of research by our South Pacific Whale Research Consortium. The vessel owner, Greg Hopping, gave us a deep discount on the charter boat because of his personal fascination with whales and dolphins. It will be a challenge to find other sources willing to invest in this research — but it will happen.


  1. Who is Scott Baker? What is he studying?
  2. Where is he studying? How far has he traveled?
  3. Why are the Samoan islands so important?
  4. How many whales could have been found in this area in the 20th century? Why have their numbers declined?
  5. How does tracking dolphins and whales differ?
  6. Which whales have a white coloration on their bellies? How can this information be used?
  7. What will the website they develop try to track?
  8. What will next year’s survey look at?
  9. In at least 2 sentences, discuss what animal you would like to track and why.

Satellites Show Sea Ice in Arctic Is at a Record Low


The amount of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen to the lowest level on record, a confirmation of the drastic warming in the region and a likely harbinger of larger changes to come.