1862 Shipwreck of the Federal Transport Oriental

Location: On Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, opposite the Pea Island Wildlife Visitor Center/Nature Trail Information Center.
GPS coordinates: (guesstimated distance) 250 yd. due east of N 35.71753   W 075.49232
How To Find It: Cross Oregon Inlet Bridge south onto Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Continue south to the Wildlife Visitor Center and Nature Trail Information Center on NC Hwy 12, located 1/10 mile south of mile marker 31. Park at the visitor center and take the foot path over the dunes on the east side of the highway directly across from the parking lot. The boiler stack is visible in the water, though more is visible at low tide. Binoculars or a telephoto lens works best to view or take photos. In the aerial photo (above right) much of the highway and parking lot is still covered with sand washed up by Hurricane Isabel, making them difficult to distinguish in the photo.

The Oriental sank in 1862. Comparing the 2004 photo on the left, and the 1973 photo on the right , it's obvious little has changed in 30 years. Though low tide reveals more of the stack, and it has developed a slight tilt to one side, there still is no mistaking it.

The left image was taken in 2004 at low tide with a calm sea. The low angle of the late afternoon sun gave a soft reddish light that brought out details not visible in earlier images. The green on the metal is algae growing up to the high water line where high tide covers the metal much of the time. At right is a more detailed image taken in 2009 with a 700mm telephoto lens.
(above) Herschel's nephew provides
a size reference to the tank.

Part of the Oriental?

     In April of 2008, a wreck report and photos arrived from Herschel Reese concerning a large riveted metal tank found near the Oriental site. Herschel writes, "Saw something today (03April2008) I hadn't seen before. At the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, go across to the beach... [by] the Oriental stack sticking out of the water. On the beach about 300 yards north is what appears to be large riveted iron tank 2/3 buried in the sand, assume[d] from the Oriental. "

     The photo at right shows the tank's location in reference to the waterline, which appears to be at low tide. The lower left photo clearly shows the riveted construction of this tank in great detail. This is obviously not some old oil drum that's washed up on the beach. As close as this is to the Oriental site, it seems highly likely it could be a part of the wreck that has broken free and made its way ashore.

Underwater Report on the Oriental from Marc Corbett:
Marc Corbett is an Outer Banks resident whose hobby is diving on near-shore and sound side underwater wrecks.
     "The shipwreck itself is running roughly parallel with the beach. It is in about 30 feet of water, the stern is facing north and there is a propeller. I think the bow has broken off and is now under the sand. You can follow the tower that is the steam engine all the way to the sand, there are a number of places you can swim through it. There is a good bit of coral growing down by the base. There are lots of fish on the wreck, I have heard there are often sharks but I have not yet seen any on this wreck. Also on the shore where the boiler is that you have pictures of there was also some sort of cast iron tub that had washed ashore, I have seen similar things out on the wreck and I think this tub may have come off the wreck."

   Unknown Wreckage (ID: UNK-Pea_Island_3-30-10)
   (rated as likely to wash with a storm because of it's smallish size, and because it is not protected by any dunes.)

Location: .75 miles south of Pea Island Visitor Center, high up along the dune line where dunes are washed out.
GPS coordinates:   N 35.70614 W 075.48901
How To Find It: On Hwy. 12 go .75 miles south of Pea Island Visitor Center and park along road. Walk toward beach to find the wreckage high up along the dune line where dunes are washed out.

The left photo shows how this wreckage section has two "beams" adjoining three others at about a forty-five degree angle. The drawing at left depicts this more clearly. Several heavy metal rods which hold the pieces together are visible along the edges. This is very obviously a piece of a ship.

No dimension exceeds five feet, so this is a relatively small piece. Although it is high up where the dunes should be, it sits exposed because the dunes are washed away here, as shown by the two right photos. One looks from the wreckage toward Hwy. 12, and one looks back toward the beach, showing there are no dunes to protect it. Given it's size and it's exposed location, it could easily be moved by a storm tide washing through the dune gap. Pea Island has proven highly succeptible to such high storm tides.

1862 Shipwreck of the side-wheel steamer, transport Pocahontas
(probable identification)

Location: North of first beach access ramp - south end of Salvo
GPS coordinates: N 35.54152   W 075.46562
How To Find It: Look for the parking area on the east side of NC Hwy 12, just south of the last building on the south end of Salvo, and 4/10 mile south of mile marker 43. This will be beach access Ramp #23 (though the ramp number sign was missing, due to Isabel damage, when this was prepared in April, 2004). You can either park and walk, or take your 4WD over the dunes on the access road, and go 7/10 mile north on the beach. The visible part of the wreck can be seen in the surf at high or low tide, but more is visible during low tide.

Two local citizens provided information which led to this shipwreck. There was nothing about it in any Park Service or tourist bureau information. It is said to be the Union side-wheel steamer ship called the Pocahontas which wrecked while transporting troops in the Civil War.

At low tide this metal hulk is sometimes close enough to the beach that it can be waded to, as seen in the right photo. This may not be advisable, however, as it is not known what sort dangerous debris may lie around it.

- Thanks to Park Ranger John Benson, and to Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station personnel for information on locating this wreck site.

1933 Shipwreck of the Schooner G.A. Kohler

Location: Edge of the surf at low tide, 75 ft. north of 4WD beach access Ramp #27, north of Avon (and south of Salvo).
GPS coordinates: (as of October, 2004)  N 35.47034   W 075.48127
How To Find It: This wreck site was not found in April, 2004. It WAS found, however, in October, 2004, located 75 ft. north of Ramp #27, which is near mile marker 47, between Salvo and Avon.

This 1973 photo of the Kohler at left shows what was visible then. Of course, wreckage is constantly being covered and uncovered, at the mercy of shifting sands and storm erosion. The Kohler was a very large ship, as can be seen by the thickness of the ribs in this old photo. How could you know how much more was under the sand in this photo?

On the trip of April, 2004, however, the Kohler was not located. This doesn't mean it isn't still there. One report indicated it was visible in the surf, and others put it on the beach. The author drove along the beach from Ramp #27 north for a half mile, and then turned around and drove south for 3 1/2 miles to exit at Ramp #30, and no sign of the Kohler was spotted. It is supposed to be right at Ramp #27. The tide was not optimally low, which might have covered the wreck if it is now located in the surf. But the reported information varied, which makes locating these wrecks more difficult. The search will continue.

Update: October, 2004 - Kohler located

The October 2004 trip was immensely successful for discovering shipwreck locations. The G.A. Kohler was found right where it was said to be. But in the short 12 hour period from 8:00 pm in the evening to 8:00 am the next morning, the surf had exposed more of the wreckage than was visible the previous evening. This emphasizes how fickle and fluid the business is of finding some of these wrecks. In order to take the new photos of the Kohler from the angle used in the 1973 photo above, you would have to stand knee deep to waist deep in surf. Furthermore, the wreckage in the 1973 photo is something like 100 feet from the foot of the dunes. In October 2004 it is located only about 50 feet from the foot of the dunes. The landscape changes constantly here, especially the beachfront. It's a wonder the wreckage is visible at all.

Taken at night by headlights and camera flash

Taken soon after sunrise on a heavily overcast morning

Taken the next morning

Update - Ten weeks after the above report, this wreck site had been significantly uncovered. Much more of it was visible, and in fact, was drier and much lighter in color than in the October photos. These new photos were taken December 28, 2004, at a low tide, and show how much more of the wreck had been revealed. The author's son standing near the wreck gives some sense of the actual size of the beams.

An interesting note- although 31 years separates the 1973 photo of the Kohler in the initial report section above and these most recent photos, it is easy to see that the beach seems to have changed little. It had few dunes of any size then, and is still almost bereft of dunes near the Kohler. Although more of the wreckage is presently above the sand, the beach slope looks very similar. and the location seems to be about the same distance from the dune line.
The far left photo above shows the large ribs which were protruding from the sand in the 1973 photo, all that was visible at that time.

Update: November 2008 - More of Kohler exposed

The Kohler has survived the wrath of many hurricanes since the 1973 photo seen at the top of the article was taken. These great timbers have been covered and uncovered time and again by storm waves and high tides just since the 2004 photos above were taken. Then in November of 2008 an inspection of the site revealed that much more of the wreck was exposed than had been seen before. Looking at the photo from 1973 one would never know how much more timber was actually hidden beneath the sand. The whole north end of the wreckage was above the sand this time, and the east side (surf side) was exposed deeper than before. The scale of this wreckage can be gauged by comparing it with the fishermen at the far end in the vertical photo at right.

1878 Shipwreck of the Schooner Altoona

Location: East of the Ramp #44 pond at Cape Point, Buxton (Cape Hatteras).
GPS coordinates: A best guess based on the 1973 photographs here puts it at that time about    N 35.230766, W 075.529690
How To Find It: The Park Service reported that it washed away in a storm in the late 1970's or early 1980's. However, other sources claim it is still there, though the area is now a mucky, stagnant, swampy area infested with poisonous snakes.

The photo at left shows the Altoona in 1973. The Dare County Tourist Bureau brochure titled "Shipwrecks & Lighthouses Along The Outer Banks" still lists this wreck in 2004, though it was reported many years ago as having washed away in a storm. Other sources claim it is still here.

A trip in October, 2003, and again in April, 2004, failed to provide any indication this wreck still exists. A concerted effort to find some traces of it in December of 2009 also failed to locate anything, due greatly to the stagnant mucky marsh environment that now covers the area. At the minimum, it is no longer easily visible. The section of wreckage in the photo was no longer than perhaps 12 to 15 feet, and appeared to be sitting on the sand, as opposed to being partially buried. A loose section that small could have easily washed away in a storm, given its exposed location at Cape Point.

Note: October, 2004 - A tedious attempt to locate the position of this old wreckage was unsuccessful. I tried to find a location which matched the old 1973 photos by positioning myself where the lighthouse and communication towers would line up as seen in the old photos, taking into account that the lighthouse had moved. I could not drive by 4WD or reach on foot a position which came anywhere near matching the old photos. The terrain has greatly changed since 1973. I have given up any further attempts to locate this old site. - Fred Hurteau

Note 2: November, 2009 - I have read reports claiming this wreckage is still visible near the end of beach ramp # 44 at Cape Point, claiming it is in a poisonous snake infested area. Aerial photos show two "ponds" near that point which might indicate a wet enough environment to account for snakes.

This second photo of the Altoona from 1973 (at right) shows the wreck from a different angle than the upper photo. It puts the wreckage next to a pond at that time. In fact, close examination of the full enlargement on file appears to show it at the juncture of two ponds, which actually matches the 2009 aerial image showing a similar pond alignment. If foot access is permitted (questionable because of protected bird nesting sites in the area), I will pursue this investigation based on this new information. - Fred Hurteau

Note 3: Another search in December 2009 also failed to produce any results. GPS coordinates were taken at that time and adjusted to try to match the 1973 location.

Unknown Wreckage (ID: UNK-1_10-16-04)

Location: 1.3 miles south of Ramp #23, Hatteras Island, very close to wreckage site
UNK-4_10-20-04 (on next page).
GPS coordinates: (as of October, 2004)  N 35.51247 W 075.47296
How To Find It: Take Ramp #23 onto the beach and go 1.3 miles south. Single beam located near base of dune line.

This single beam, approximately 15 ft. long, was discovered October 16, 2004, along the base of the dune line, above the high tide. Most of he metal spikes were badly rusted and broken off close to the beams surface. It washed up during the busy 2004 hurricane season, as it was not here the previous April. This is one of several discoveries made the same day along the beach between Ramps 23 and 27, which seems to be a hot spot for wreckage.

Update - A subsequent trip (12-29-04) just ten weeks after this was first located found this piece of wreckage had been fully uncovered, had moved a few feet to N 35.51254  W 075.47315, and was flipped over, presumably by high water.

Unknown Wreckage (ID: UNK-2_10-16-04)

Location: 2/10 mile south of Ramp 23, Hatteras Island.
GPS coordinates: (as of October, 2004)  N 35.52774 W 075.46931
How To Find It: Take Ramp 23 onto the beach and go 2/10 miles south. Large wreckage section located above high tide line. (UPDATE: December, 2004 - This wreckage seems to have disappeared. See "Update" below photos.)

This large wreck section, shown in the panoramic photo at right, appeared on the beach during Hurricane Alex, which hit the Outer Banks on August 3, 2004. Judging from the excellent condition of the wreckage, this section must have never been washed up or exposed prior to Alex. It is so well preserved, it must have been completely covered with sand, as there was no sign of algae or barnacle growth at all.

The wood is still light in color, and the brass spikes which hold it together are still shiny, with a light spotting of green patina. Dowel pegs are plainly visible all over the structure. Even the wedge in each peg is still easy to see. Many details are clearly visible, unlike most pieces of wreckage seen by the author on the Outer Banks. Even layers of pitch which sealed the hull can be discerned. These photos were taken October, 2004. It remains to be seen how long this interesting wreck will be visible. Hopefully, many people will have an opportunity to see it and wonder what the story is behind it.

The excellent condition and level of detail visible on this wreckage is far beyond any others the author has found on the Outer Banks.

Update - Just ten weeks after this excellent wreckage was first found and photographed on October 16, 2004, it had vanished. Two other wreck sites along this beach had uncovered considerably during that time (the G.A. Kohler, and the wreck identified as UNK-5_10-20-04). While this certainly indicates wave action during that time, it would not seem to indicate a storm large enough to move this wreck or wash it away. Judging from the condition of this site when it was found, it is reasonable to assume a university or museum took serious interest in this site and possibly had this wreck hauled away for study. This will be looked into. Unless the disposition of this wreck is determined, the set of photos taken for may be all there is of this wreckage.

Update: January, 2010 - Upon inquiry concerning this wreckage, a State Archaeologist with the NC Dept. of Cultural Resources Underwater Archaeology Unit reported that they had no record of this site and assured me it was not officially removed, as that would only have occured if it posed a public safety issue. He felt confident it was still in place but covered.

Oh, yes, there are lots more shipwrecks to see here.
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Shipwrecks Photo Archive page

Map to beach ramps

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NOTICE: Follow the ramp access link above for important 4x4 access news.

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