By Michelle Wagner on November 14, 2012
Assistant State Archaeologist Nathan Henry said Tuesday the bow fragment, believed to be part of the Irma Schooner that ran aground in 1925, will stay for now where the ocean tossed it on the Bonnet Street beach.
With lack of funding for preservation, Henry said, it is protocol to have shipwrecks stay put unless they pose a danger. Under North Carolina law, shipwrecks are property of the state.
Researchers believe the fragment is the same one that has come onshore a number of times and is part of a small schooner now in the surf near Asheville Street in Kill Devil Hills. The piece was first recorded in 2011 near the Croatan Surf Club.
It washed onto the Nags Head beach sometime around Hurricane Sandy at the end of October and a nor’easter a week later.
The Irma was a well-known schooner that served as a popular dance hall and meeting place. The schooner slowly broke down, deteriorated and ran aground. The remains on the Bonnet Street beach include the bow and a round iron ring called a hawse port, which protects a ship as the anchor and chain is dropped and raised.The piece is surrounded by yellow caution tape.
“These pieces do quite a bit better if they are left for the ocean to beat around than if they are moved onto an embankment where the sun will deteriorate them,” Henry said.
“And it is a neat thing for folks to look at,” he added. “It’s part of our state’s heritage.”
Typically, shipwrecks that become exposed are eventually covered again with sand or taken by the ocean.
This piece of wreckage has revisited the shores of northern Dare County four times in the past two years, said Dr. Nathan Richards, head of the Maritime Heritage Program at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute. It has traveled nearly four miles south in the surf over that time.
“It’s an interesting piece because it’s very mobile and keeps coming back onshore. It is becoming a raft that floats ashore again and again.”
The only option for these remains and similar ones is to bury them, leave them or get them to a museum for preservation, which Richards said, is often cost prohibitive.
“It’s a difficult management situation,” he said. “We are trying to look at how to deal with this more proactively. We are hoping to study this further at the Coastal Studies Institute.”
But Richards added that with lack of funding for cultural resources and a facility for preservation, the best researchers can do is salvage the information about the shipwrecks. Often wreckage is tagged so researchers can track the pieces.
Richards said that the bow fragment has suffered some damage since it was last seen, including the loss of one of the hawse ports.
“There is no doubt this is the same piece, it just has some damage. And this piece is very likely from the Irma,” he said. “It’s our best contention.”
It is very common for wrecks to become exposed and for pieces to break loose and move, he said.