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Of Tide And Time:
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Long Beach Island History
Of Tide And Time
Shipwreck

In this chapter:
The Government Houses
The U.S. Life Saving Service

As the Earth spins in its orbit, the rotational forces cause the oceans to swirl and spin. Currents flow across the large bodies of water from continent to continent. Early explorers to the New World were able to use the Atlantic currents to their advantage. Ships leaving Europe rode the waves in a large arc that brought them to the eastern shores of America.

However, Nature's gifts are costly. The same Tides that carried sailors to this continent would also claim hundreds of ships as payment. The currents deposited sand on the continental shelf, creating shoals and sandbars hazardous to vessels. Avoiding these obstacles was difficult before the advent of modern technology. The ocean currents forced ships toward the dangerous landings, and Nature would often multiply the challenge with storms.

Hundreds of ships were stranded on Barneget Shoals throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Wind and crashing waves would tear vessels apart, and freezing temperatures would prevent survivors from reaching shore before succumbing to the cold.


The Government Houses

In August of 1839, a brutal storm forced the Austrian brig, Count Perasto, to hit ground about 300 yards from shore at Long Beach Island. There was no way at the time to reach the stranded passengers and crew, so all were lost, as Dr. William A. Nowell and others stood on the shore and witnessed the destruction of the ship.

Dr. Nowell would become a congressman many years later. The haunting memory of that terrible night and the increasing number of other ships that shared the fate of the Count Perasto, inspired Dr. Nowell to petition Congress for some form of lifesaving service. He was given funds in 1848 to build over twenty Houses of Refuge along the Jersey Shore. These were often called Government Houses, and first one was constructed on Long Beach Island at Harvey Cedars. Another was built in the area called Bond's (Holgate).

There was still no formal crew to help during shipwrecks, as the Government Houses were manned by volunteers. Also, the equipment was often neglected or stolen. The buildings were often difficult to find during storms, and there were not enough of them along the coast. The number of shipwrecks continued to climb as did the number of fatalities. However, the number of lives saved by the establishment of these Houses of Refuse spurred the development of a better system.


The U.S. Life Saving Service

In 1871, the head of the Revenue Marine Service, Sumner Kimball, founded the United States Life Saving Service. Funded by Congress, this body would establish red houses all along the Atlantic Coast which would house paid crews. Stations were placed in six communities on Long Beach Island, and the Loveladies, Long Beach, and Harvey Cedars Stations are still standing.

The U.S. Life Saving Service grew to be so efficient and successful, Congress separated the Service from the Revenue Cutter Service in 1878 and set up a separate independent organization.

The members of the Service were trained in the use of life-saving equipment and would often drill on the beach to the delight of summer visitors. Since exposure to the elements was the worse problem facing grounded ships, speed and teamwork were emphasized. Training included the use of equipment like surfboats, the Beebe Self-bailer and breeches buoys. Of course, First Aid was also taught.

During a storm, a crew member would climb into the station's tower to search for vessels which had run aground. Ships often carried rockets and flares to alert the stations of trouble. Seeing a rocket, the watchman would sound an alarm and the entire crew would head out, hauling the surfboats and mortar carts down the beach.

As steampower ships replaced sailing vessels and more modern methods of navigation became available, the Service became obsolete and was incorporated into the United States Coast Guard in 1915.

Next Chapter: Note In A Bottle

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