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The Wreck of the William B. Woods
At Wallop's Beach, Virginia 1889
by George and Suzanne Hurley

At six o'clock on the evening of March 3, 1889, a thick fog covered the beach. It was also raining, and a strong southeast wind was blowing. The surfman on the south patrol from the Wallop's Beach Life-Saving Station saw a large three-masted schooner standing directly for the land. He immediately burned a Coston flare and ran to the station with the alarm. Keeper John B. Whealton ran down to the beach and saw that effort was being made by the men on board to change her course. Whealton again burned two Coston flares, and then ordered out the surfboat.

The sea was very heavy, the surf was in turmoil, and it was with a great deal of difficulty that the surfboat was launched through the breakers. Upon arriving on the scene, it was discovered that she was the William B. Woods, of Bridgeton, New Jersey, bound from Sagua la Grande, Cuba to Philadelphia with a cargo of sugar. When the schooner was twelve miles to the southeast of Assateague Light, she had struck the spars of a sunken wreck and sprung a bad leak. It was soon discovered that her pumps could not control the leak, and the captain ordered the craft to head for the beach. When she was about one-third of a mile from shore, she sank. Her crew of eight took refuge on the bowsprit and jib boom. The lifesavers put five of the men in the surfboat and landed with them on the beach without mishap, beaching the boat to free it of water.

The night had fallen very dark, the storm was increasing, and nothing except a dim light could be seen in the direction of the wreck. The lifesavers launched again against the wind and driving rain, and after two atsitets to pass the breakers succeeded in reaching the William B. Woods again. They returned with the mate, a seaman, and the captain. The captain saved only a small portion of his personal effects, and the others saved only the clothes on their backs. The sailors were taken to the station house and given dry clothing and a hot supper.

The next day, the keeper and his crew again pulled to the wreck in the surfboat, in the hope of saving something, but the schooner's decks were twelve feet under water and nothing could be done. Several days later the crew of the William B. Woods was taken to Chincoteague and passage to Philadelphia was arranged.

Copyright 1984 Shipwrecks and Rescues: Along the Barrier Islands of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia by George M. and Suzanne B. Hurley. All Rights Reserved.

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