ENC Regional News
10:43 am
Fri May 14, 2010

Oldest know shipwreck on N-C coast soon to hit the road

Oldest know shipwreck on N-C coast soon to hit the road

New Bern, NC – INTRO - What may be the state's oldest discovered shipwreck should soon be transported to a new home. George Olsen has more.

The vagaries of time and tide can be quite staggering.

"We have one wreck that is probably either late 19th or early 20th century off Flambeau Road in Hatteras. It's 153 feet long and about 30 feet wide and every now and then its completely uncovered, like someone has picked it up and set it on the beach. Then you go back two weeks later or two months later and its completely covered over and there are people sunbathing on top of it, and no one knows its there. So it's a very dynamic atmosphere."

Joseph Schwarzer, the director of the North Carolina Maritime Museums in Beaufort, Hatteras and Southport. That dynamic atmosphere could explain how a 12-ton structure first spied by Corolla residents walking the beach in 2008 could remain undiscovered for potentially nearly 400 years.

"We were told there was a shipwreck on the beach in Corolla. Well, to be honest with you, that's not surprising. We have over 2000 shipwrecks off Hatteras and Ocracoke alone covering a 400 year period so the fact there was a shipwreck off there is not surprising. We expected it to be 19th century, that's what most of the beach wrecks turn out to be. In this particular instance we finally got a chance to examine it and low and behold it wasn't 19th century but clearly 17th century and there was a substantial amount of it left which was very surprising."

The oldest shipwreck found off the North Carolina coast to date is what's believed to be the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard the Queen Anne's Revenge which sank in the Beaufort harbor in 1718 and was discovered in 1996. The Corolla shipwreck could easily supplant the QAR in state record books.

"If you see a 19th century wreck on the beach, it usually looks like a porcupine. It's bristling with iron fasteners and when you see a shipwreck on the beach and there are no iron fasteners or very few indeed and what you're looking at is largely the wooden pegs, that's usually a pretty good indication you are looking at an older shipwreck."

And that's the case with the Corolla shipwreck. The vast majority of fasteners are wooden pegs. This fact with assorted artifacts found in association with the shipwreck in Schwarzer's opinion date the wreck prior to the Queen Anne's Revenge. In fact, the only question in Schwarzer's mind is not whether it's a 17th century vessel but how early in the 17th century.

"Many of the coins are dated which is helpful and they're from the 1640s and 1650s and some of the artifacts such as spoons or pieces of armament they would indicate a 17th century date."

One of the coins was found concreted to the ship structure while the other artifacts were found within a short range around the wreckage. The only thing that may leave doubt to the ship's age is that so far no historical record has been found surrounding the ship. The ship's construction leads Schwarzer to believe it was likely a merchant vessel but that's pretty much the extent of identification so far. Unidentified or not, the ship will soon have a new home transportation to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras will hopefully occur in the next few weeks.

"That should be quite a pageant actually. You can imagine something about 35 feet long and 17 feet wide provides challenges. The Park Service will be providing a flat bed and we'll get it loaded on in its cradle. We'll drive it down Route 12 I guess in the dead of night would be the best time because you don't want any traffic and then we'll take it to the museum and at the moment we're looking at having a concrete pad constructed adjacent to the museum which will allow us to thoroughly clean and begin treatment of this and then we'll get it into shelter as quickly as possible."

at which point the vagaries of time and tide will no longer be of concern in locating at least one victim of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Joseph Schwarzer is the director of the North Carolina Maritime Museums. I'm George Olsen.