Wreck of the Five Masted Schooner "William Carnegie"

Footnotes to Long Island History

Wreck of the Five-Masted

Schooner ‘William Carnegie’


Thomas R. Bayles


            It was on May 1, 1909 that the five masted schooner “William Carnegie,” bound from Norfolk, Va. To Portland, Me., went ashore on a sand bar off East Moriches at about the same spot where the “Miles M. Merry” was wrecked a short time before.  She was sighted very early in the morning, dangerously close to toe beach, and the usual custom signals were burned by the life saving crew on shore to warn the crew of the schooner of her danger, but the schooner soon struck the bar.

            Three life saving crews from the Moriches, Potunk and Forge River stations assembled on the beach but they were unable to launch their boats due to the heavy seas.  Repeated attempts were made to launch a boat but each time it was capsized.  Attempts to shoot a line over the stranded schooner also failed as the outer bar where she grounded was about a half mile off shore.  Seeing that all efforts to reach the stranded schooner were hopeless, word was sent for the revenue cutter “Mohawk” stationed at Staten Island, to come to the rescue.

            Seeing that all efforts of the life saving crews on shore were hopeless, Capt. Mitchell Reed and mate George McClellan, with their crew of nine men launched a small boat with the 11 men in it and put out to sea beyond the line of breakers, as their vessel was getting such a pounding by the heavy seas that she was liable to break up at any time.  Head on to the sea the yawl could be seen riding safely anchored nearly a mile off shore, but as far from help as though in mid-Atlantic.

            Capt. Charles T. Gordon of the Moriches life saving station was in charge of the combined crews, as the Carnegie struck in his district.  Capt. Isaac Gildersleeve of the Potunk station was the first to volunteer to try to get the Moriches station’s self bailing life boat through the surf.  With the aid of the three crews the boat passed the first line of breakers but was capsized before she reached the inner bar.  The life savers tried nine times to shoot a line with the Lyle gun to the stranded craft, but were unable to reach her.  When the schooner’s crew left in the small boat they took with them a dedge anchor and after getting about a mile off shore anchored head on to the seas and waited for rescue for the seas to go down so they could land on shore.  The failure of the life savers to get their boat through the surf showed them that any attempt to land with their men aboard would be useless.

            The “Mohawk” left Stapleton, S.I., about 11 and reached the wreck late in the afternoon.  Three times they tried to come alongside the small boat so as to take the crew aboard but were unable to do so on account of the heavy seas.  Then a large quantity of oil was poured on the sea and it smoothed the crests of the waves like magic, and at the fourth attempt they were successful in taking the weary men aboard the cutter and gave them food and dry clothing, as they had been unable to get anything to eat for 13 hours.  The “Mohawk” landed safely the entire crew of the Carnegie at Stapleton the next morning.

            The “William C. Carnegie” was built in Bath, Me., in 1906, and was rigged as a five-masted schooner of 2,380 tons displacement.  Her owners were J. S. Winslow & Co. of Portland, Me., who were heavily interested in shipping and owned more than 40 schooners of various sizes.  Capt. Clark of Portland, representing the owners, gave the life saving crews all that remained of the wrecked ship.  The deck houses were washed off and the hull badly broken, but the spars remained in position with some of the sails still hanging.

            This was another chapter in the history of the many ships being wrecked along the southern coast of Long Island around the turn of the century, and of the thrilling attempts at rescue made by the heroic crews of the life saving stations along the ocean beach.



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