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Aground but not a loss

Shipwrecks were a common occurrence during the age of sail, what with thousands of vessels plying America’s inland and coastal waters. But there were shipwrecks and then there were shipwrecks. Some involved the tragic loss of life; others were merely an inconvenience to ship owners.

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Here’s the five-masted schooner Nathaniel T. Palmer aground off Beach Haven, N.J., in March 1901. At 295 feet, she was the largest sailing vessel in the world when she slid down the ways in Bath, Maine, three years earlier. Owned by J.S. Winslow and Co., the ship was with cargo out of Portland, Maine, and headed to Philadelphia when she was caught in a series of fierce storms. Anchored as a last resort, she dragged onto the treacherous shoal near the Bonds Life Saving Station.

Station Capt. John Marshall organized a rescue of all 12 crewmen aboard, using the breeches buoy. The ship’s captain, William Kreger, took the lifeline shot from the Lyle gun himself and stayed on the stricken schooner for the next two days. Damage was estimated at $125,000, a princely sum in those days. No big deal. Eight days later, salvage crews had the 2,500-ton ship off the sand and refloated, and she went back to work.

The philosophical managing owner, E.W. Clark, told a local reporter: “These matters come with the shipping business. [Our] company owns 30 vessels and had eight of them stranded at different times.”

August 2013 issue


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Just yesterday: The life of a lifesaver

The U.S. Life-Saving Service grew from roots planted along the shores of Cape Cod in the 18th century, with men assembling at times of need to pluck mariners from the sea along that long and sometimes treacherous Massachusetts coast.