From above, it seems as if North Carolina has an elbow. Jutting out into the sea, pulling the sand, dictating the currents, a wild and wooly orchestration of the elements. Permanently flexing — almost as if she were designed to protect her precious resources lying just inland.
From below, the coast of North Carolina seems to be described as more of a siren. Beautiful waters and a mix of currents play host to an ecosystem like no other. And yet, just like a fair maiden tossing her hair, the mood can shift in the blink of an eye. The sun fades to black, the wind pulling and lashing while waves create frothy cauldrons all along the shallow sand bars.
Inviting, unique and rich in its own special way. Unfortunately, it often comes with a price to pay.
Extending the entirety of the North Carolina coastline, the area has become known to many as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
“It never gets boring around here,” says Mary Ellen Riddle, education curator for the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, on the tip of Hatteras Island.
Located just opposite of the ferry docks, the museum serves as a priceless resource for locals and visitors alike, offering not only educational programming but an array of artifacts found from our very waters and all over the world.
“We are currently showcasing a collection of Spanish coins dating back to B.C. times,” Riddle says. “You really never know what you are going to find here.”
It’s really a nod to the beaches just over the dune line from the museum. In fact, records kept as far back as the early 1500s suggest that there could be more than 5,000 shipwrecks lying quietly, just offshore. Those ships seeking passage in our waters came from far and wide; Spain, Portugal, Norway, Canada, even Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge was thought to have sunk just off of Beaufort, North Carolina. Each ship littering the ocean floor with a bounty of treasure and history.
“From time to time, there are a few ships that will regularly become visible along the beach,” she says.
There is no warning and no particular time frame, but one thing is for sure; after the wind has blown a gale and the sea has eaten her lion’s share of the sand away, a fleeting glimpse at our maritime history will become visible.
“Some of the wrecks are so frequently seen we even have nicknames for them,” Riddle says. “There is the Ramp 55 wreck, the Flambeau wreck, and even a named one; G.A. Kohler wreck.”
In early-October 2019, after a bout of some rather unruly weather, one such gift was offered up.
“On the beach in Hatteras, just across from the Wreck Tiki Bar (aptly named for the owner’s passion for finding shipwrecks) the remains of a ship became visible,” Riddle says.
Without some real investigating, there is no real way to say what ship she is.
“However,” says Riddle, “we were able to date it as early-20th century due to the ship being made with iron fasteners.”
Thanks to Assistant State Archaeologist Nathan Henry, it seems the wreckage could belong to Dulcimer, an English barc (a sailing vessel with three or more masts) that met its demise 136 years ago, near Hatteras Inlet due to foggy weather.
Just as quickly as the curtains were pulled back, they were once again drawn. The tide and sand taking her mysteries back to the depths.
But one thing that’s on display day in, day out, every day, Riddle says.
“The ocean. It’s the biggest treasure of all, and I find it breathtaking every single day.”