Drone footage, Locals tell story of Topsail ship wreck visible on NC beach
A ship that ran aground off Topsail Inlet nearly a century ago and vanished has reappeared thanks to the recent storm winds.
The William H. Sumner ran aground in 1919 near Topsail Island after an alleged mutiny. It reappeared this week and was mistaken by some for logs lodged in the sand – until beachgoers noticed the logs were interconnected, reported TV station WCTI.
The wreck has a history of vanishing and reappearing every few years, just when the community starts to forget about it.
Surf City Beach officials encouraged everyone to check out the shipwreck while it’s still visible but urged visitors to leave the site undisturbed, reported WCTI.
The Sumner is near the 700 block of North Topsail Drive in Surf City, the New Bern Sun Journal reported. Archaeologists have known about the shipwreck for the last five decades.
North Carolina claims all abandoned shipwrecks in the water, and it is illegal to move pieces. The wreck is valuable to archaeologists, who could find additional information about ship construction from that era, officials said.
The three-masted schooner weighed 572 tons and was built in Camden, Maine, records show. It sank late on a Sunday afternoon on Sept. 7, 1919. The phosphate trade ship was sailing northward from Puerto Rico, heading to its home port in New York City, according to the TopSailIslandblog.com. The captain was found dead after the wreck, under mysterious circumstances.
Some said he committed suicide “over the fact that his vessel met disaster on his first voyage,” according to a 1919 Charlotte Observer article. However, three crewmen later confessed that the first mate shot the 24-year-old captain, Robert E. Cochrane. (His name is spelled Cockram, Corkum and Corckrum in various articles from the period.)
“The story goes that the young captain on his first voyage in command had sailed too close to the shore while the currents and winds had died preventing him from sailing back offshore again. … The speculation is that the crew had asked the captain to detour to pick up supplies and the captain, wishing to head northward to port, would not. The crew then allegedly mutinied,” according to the TopSailIslandblog.
What beachcombers see is a section of the ceiling and deck of the ship, about 28 feet by 11 feet, which lies upside down on the sand, media outlets reported. The pine timbers are about 10 inches in width and held together with big iron pins.
Staff researcher Maria David contributed.