Richard Lawrence

Shipwreck may be oldest off North Carolina coast

From Reflector

Small waves lapped over Nathan Henry's rubber boots as the underwater archaeologist stood among the stubby hull timbers of what could be the oldest shipwreck on the North Carolina coast.

It was low tide and the surf was receding in Corolla. A cold north wind penetrated even a hoodie pulled over a knit cap. Henry, a curator with the North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Branch, had come here Tuesday with Richard Lawrence, the agency director, to further document the 400-year-old wreck before it disappears.

"It wants to go south," Henry said.

Since storms struck the Outer Banks in November and December, the shipwreck has drifted more than two miles, from the beach across from the Corolla lighthouse to the surf due east of Sailfish Street in the Whalehead Beach neighborhood.

During its rough journey, floor boards and the keel have come off and disappeared. The wreck could fall apart and wash out to sea or settle completely under the sand.

Since the wreck was fully exposed in December, Henry and Lawrence have photographed, measured and studied the timbers and tracked its movements.

This wreck is probably older than the famous remains of Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, that sank in 1718 near Beaufort, Lawrence said.

Wooden pegs rather than iron spikes held this ship together, like other English ships at the time, Henry said.

The wood appears to be live oak, an indicator it could have come from an early Virginia colony, he said. About 60 or 70 feet long, the ship could have been a military or merchant vessel with a sailing crew of about 10, Henry said. Both types carried guns.

Dare County residents and avid beachcombers Ray Midgett and Roger Harris, also at the site Tuesday, found the wreck years ago nearly buried on the beach across from the Corolla lighthouse.