February in the North Country has been snowy and brutally cold. The worst so far was minus 27 degrees F. So on vacation we went somewhere warmer. Which could have been almost anywhere, but we went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I love the off-tourist season there, as it was quiet and very beautiful.
The boys and I were delighted to find the remains of a wooden ship buried in the sand only a few hundred feet from the place we were staying! There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of shipwrecks off the island. In fact we weren’t far from a lighthouse built to prevent them. But this skeleton on the beach wasn’t marked.
I don’t know how old it was or how big. The keel and ribs I could see suggested it may have had a beam around 16-20 feet. The stem and sternpost were long gone, but what remained was around 30 feet long. It could have been much larger, but I couldn’t hazard a guess as to the final size.
The timbers were heavily weathered, but were very substantial. Most interesting to me were the wrought iron spikes and pins in the remains. True wrought iron has been out of use since WWII and was declining in ship building from 1900 onward. So this vessel could be anything from a 70 year old fishing boat to something older and larger.
Wrought iron is made of iron with layers of silica impurities in the metal. This imparts both greater ductility and slows rusting. The silica acts as a barrier to continued rusting. The longitudinal fibers give the iron a look like wood grain.
Up here in the North Country our wrought iron remains and scrap are usually found as old wagon tires and rotten farm equipment. It was interesting to see wrought iron and old timbers surviving as part of our Maritime history. It was fun to sit on the beach in the sun and make up stories about the ship and where it may have gone to sea.