History Revealed

by Oct 31, 2022History, Nature, South Brunswick

Hurricane Ian exhumes the ribs and guts of an old shrimp boat on Bird Island.

Stumbling upon the skeleton of an unearthed shipwreck sparks excitement and wonder. So, it was just after Hurricane Ian’s October onslaught here that beach-walkers stood in awe and pondered the bones of a disinterred wreck. The revealing occurred on the strand in the far west end of Bird Island coastal reserve just east of the jetty and the South Carolina state line.

Only those who had the energy to stroll the long stretches of beach beyond the Kindred Spirit mailbox would find it and witness its bow’s heavy wooden beam jutting upward and the old metal engine transfigured into a bulbous blob of rust.

Sunset Beach social media became abubble, yet none of the locals had a clue as to the name nor the history of this boat.

“I biked out there when I was a kid when I saw it for the first time – most of the ship was still intact. Don’t know the story though,” wrote Anna Ranson.

Betsy Ussery Saintsing commented, “I don’t know the history, but I saw the remains when it was uncovered 15+ years ago. If you find any info, please post!”

Shipwreck Revealed Bird Island NC

Check out the museums and historical groups, some folks suggested, and that is where the answer spilled-tell.

Combing through records and memory banks, Bruce Hovermale, co-coordinator of the Bird Island Stewards with his wife, Katie, and Ann Bokelman, president of the Old Bridge Historical Society, found the source.

Some decades ago, the former Bird Island Stewards coordinator, Jim Barber, asked Frank Nesmith if he knew anything about this wreck.

Nesmith was a founding member of the Bird Island Preservation Society. It was he and a friend who dreamed up the idea of the Kindred Spirit mailbox. Nesmith, who passed away in 2020, had visited the area for half a century and had moved here full-time. He had first-hand experience with the broken remains and wrote to Barber about it in 2010.

“About 20 years ago a good-size shrimp boat washed up at this spot and just sat there for about a month. I was told that the Coast Guard told the owners that they would have to remove the old boat. Well, one Saturday morning I looked out that way from home and saw a big smoke. So, I jumped in my boat with Spartina (my dog) and headed toward the fire. I found the grounded shrimp boat afire from stem to stern. All that was left was the engine, the metal trawling gear, and the wooded part of the boat in the sand. Orders obeyed. A friend of mine from Nashville, TN wanted the propeller so with shovel and bucket we dug and bailed until we were able to get it with one blade gone and shrimp net wound around it. So, we guessed what happened.”

Bird Island Shipwreck Revealed Hurricane Ian

The way Ann Bokelman had heard the story, the boat had foundered in a storm and apparently was damaged to the point that it would not be economically salvageable, so the owners abandoned it. The Coast Guard told the owners they needed to move it, or they would get a hefty fine. Mysteriously the boat burned, and it was blamed on a lightning storm. Nobody seems to know the name of the boat or who owned it. Bokelman said remnants of the ship pop up periodically, usually in the summer because the prevailing southwest winds blow the sand cover toward the dunes. In fact, beachcombers could see a few inches of the exposed engine between the tide lines before Hurricane Ian.

But it was the hurricane that presented the up-close-and-personal reveal of the old boat in a way people had not seen it in many a year.

And it testified to Frank Nesmith’s eyewitness account way back in the late 1980s: “All that was left was the engine, the metal trawling gear, and the wooded part of the boat in the sand.”

With winter not far away, and the prevailing winds shifting to the northeast, it’s likely the old shrimper will play hide and seek once again under the blowing sands. Only nature will disclose when she may be unveiled once more.