U.S. Coast Guard Awards
William H. Gaskill
Walter M. Yeomans
John A. Guthrie
James W. Fulcher
John E. Kirkman
Calupt T. Jarvis
Joseph L. Lewis
Awarded 12 April 1905
The 387-ton, three-masted schooner Sarah D. J. Rawson, with a crew of seven, sailed from Georgetown, SC for New York with a full cargo of lumber on 2 February 1905. While standing under short canvas in a SSE gale at 5:30 PM on the 9th, the vessel stranded in the breakers on the south side of Lookout Shoals. She became a total loss. As soon as the schooner struck the master gave orders to take in sail. While the crew reformed this work, a heavy sea swept the decks and carried Jacob Hansen, a Norwegian seaman, into the surf. He soon disappeared.
The same sea struck the master and 3 other seamen. Only by the most desperate efforts, did they cling to the vessel. The schooner gradually worked onto the shoal and lay somewhat easier. The violent onslaughts of the sea, however, broke over her and soon carried away her boat. Then they swept the fore and aft deckhouses, her deck load of lumber and her spars. Powerless to do anything for the vessel, the crew sought refuge in the highest part of the wreck. Their situation appeared to be hopeless.
At Cape Lookout (NC) Life-Saving Station, about 9 miles N by W from the vessel, a vigilant lookout had been maintained during the day. A surfman remained constantly on watch while the keeper himself had twice visited the tower during the morning. A thick mantle of fog, however, covered the ocean and shut the doomed vessel from view. At noon, just as the lookout had been relieved, the keeper again climbed into the tower and at 12:05 PM, while scanning the sea with the glasses, he caught a glimpse of the schooner’s topmost spars. Knowing from her bearings that she probably was upon the shoal, he immediately called away the lifeboat. Every member of the crew promptly responded.
Though nearly all the men were ill, there having been an epidemic of influenza at the station, not one shrank from what all knew would be a long and wearisome pull in wintry weather over 18 miles of rough sea. A light WSW breeze made for a favorable wind and allowed the surfmen to make sail. With 8 men at the oars, they were off to the wreck within twenty-five minutes. At 4:00 PM they reached the scene of the disaster. The schooner lay upon her starboard side in the midst of the breakers. Her bowsprit, foremast, main topmast, and deckhouses were gone and her stern to mizzen rigging carried away. She was surrounded by wreckage and lumber. This pitching and beating flotsam threatened the safety of the lifeboat and the lives of its crew. Rawson’s six remaining crewmen could be seen by the surfmen. Though the latter repeatedly attempted to make their way through the mass of debris, they could get no closer than about 200 yards, when they would be beaten back. The master of the schooner stated that he expected to see the lifeboat pitched end over end in the turbulent sea. This would have occurred, but for the cool and skillful management of the keeper and crew.
Night soon came and the life-saving crew anchored near the edge of the breakers. They hoped, that in case of the schooner’s going to pieces, they still might be able to rescue some or all of the sailors. They maintained a vigilant lookout, frequently fending off fragments of wreckage that menaced their boat. After midnight, the wind increased in force and hauled to NW. With the weather still thick but much colder, the crew shifted the lifeboat to an anchorage about 500 yards to windward. The keeper stated that he did this so that should conditions worsen, they might be able to weather the shoal and put to sea. Throughout the long, tedious night the surfmen suffered greatly in their open boat from exposure, fatigue, and hunger. The keeper, however, maintained his post. He encouraged his crew and urged them not to fall asleep.
At dawn they returned to the wreck and found that, while her remaining masts had been swept away, a portion of the hull remained intact. This enabled the crew to survive the perils of the night. The sea was still running very high and the keeper decided to wait until the tide turned before attempting to rescue the crew. He had rightly judged that conditions would improve. About 1:00 AM the wind and sea moderated and the lifesavers pulled to a position about fifty yards to windward of the wreck. Here they anchored. By veering carefully upon the cable, and steadying the boat with the oars, they dropped in among the breakers and debris, as far as possible, and succeeded in throwing a heaving line on board the schooner. Then one of the seamen bent the line about his waist, jumped into the sea, and was hauled into the lifeboat. His companions followed his example, and, one by one, all hands were rescued--drenched, chilled, and nearly exhausted, but safe.
The surfmen removed their own oil coats and wrapped them about the shipwrecked men. They made the return trip to the station without mishap, arriving about 5:00 PM. The crew of the Rawson had been forty-eight hours without food or water. The lifesaving crew had spent twenty-eight hours in an open boat without food and their limbs cramped with cold. Lacking room to move about, their bodies ached from maintaining a sitting posture for so long. That the wrecked crew had not succumbed was due to the fact that the vessel lay nearly on her beam ends and afforded them something of a lee from the wintry NW wind.
The rescued men were furnished food and shelter at the station. Though there was clothing from the supplies of the Women’s National Relief Association, this stock became exhausted. The surfmen supplemented it from their own stores. The master of the Rawson was cared for part of the time by a personal friend at anchor in Lookout Bight. No member of the crew had suffered serious injury, though one seaman was afflicted by an attack of rheumatism and was transported upon a stretcher. On the 12th the revenue cutter Seminole arrived in Lookout Bight and the following day she took the crew of the Rawson on board and carried them to Wilmington, NC. The loss of one life at this disaster occurred a very short time after the vessel struck. It was impossible for anyone to lend a helping hand to the drowning man as he was carried to his death in the breakers.
The keeper discovered the Rawson at the first instant that she became visible at the station. No other eye sighted her, no one but the lifesavers went to the rescue. The shipwrecked men lost their boat soon after the vessel struck. Not many hours elapsed after the rescue before the vessel broke up and disappeared. All hands might have been lost. The fate of the Sarah D. J. Rawson and her crew would never have been known but for the unflinching heroism of the crew of the Cape Lookout Life-Saving Station. Each was subsequently awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for extreme and heroic daring in saving life from the perils of the sea. Those awarded for their rescue of the six crewman on Sarah D. J. Rawson included Keeper William H. Gaskill, Surfmen Kilby Guthrie, Walter M. Yeomans, Tyre Moore, John A. Guthrie, James W. Fulcher, John E. Kirkman, Calupt T. Jarvis, and former Surfman Joseph L. Lewis.