Supplied photos courtesy of Kenny Hand
Kenny Hand spotted these remains of a shipwreck, most likely The Fanny and Jenny, while paddleboard fishing near the Masonboro Inlet north jetty last week.
Unusual sightings of marine life were the norm this summer.
The first call came on a Thursday morning in May from Matt Johnson at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier. Anglers had spotted a grey Atlantic seal, rarely seen in this part of the East Coast.
Last month, Alyssa Ward spotted an alligator, typically a freshwater species, in the brackish waters of Banks Channel. A few days later, some kids caught a juvenile octopus in their seine net.
So it was no surprise when Kenny Hand called last Wednesday, Aug. 28 to report his underwater find. It was not the 5-foot barracuda he saw that had him so excited. Hand, of KowaBunga Surf School, had been paddleboard fishing near the Masonboro Inlet north jetty when he saw something below the surface that prompted a series of free dives for a closer look: the remains of a shipwreck.
Visibility was good that day, Hand said, as he dove into 5-10 feet of water to photograph the parts of the wreck that were exposed. Later that afternoon, his photos were sent via email to Nathan Henry of the state’s underwater archeology branch at Fort Fisher in Kure Beach. Henry, who has been stationed in Beaufort for the continued excavation of Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, forwarded the photos to archeologist and scholar Gordon Watts of Tidewater Atlantic Research. Watts was the state’s first underwater archeologist and helped build the program. The former East Carolina University professor of maritime history and underwater archeology has been engaged in underwater research for more than 40 years and is affiliated with the Institute of Nautical Archeology.
During telephone interviews on Aug. 29 and 30, Watts said it appeared that the exposed wreck is that of the Civil War blockade-runner, The Fanny and Jenny.
Hand said approximately 200-250 yards offshore, about 40-50 feet of the wreck is exposed. The bow of the ship points south toward the inlet and the stern faces north. His close-up inspection revealed parts of the ship’s steam propulsion system including a pressure tank, a piston, a spindle and shaft.
“It stays abreast of the beach at an angle,” Hand said by telephone on Aug. 29.
Many believe The Fanny and Jenny to have sunk near the location of Crystal Pier, farther north along the Wrightsville Beach strand. Watts said that’s not the case and explained there are three shipwrecks of Civil War era vessels in the same vicinity south of Crystal Pier and near Masonboro Inlet’s north jetty. In addition to The Fanny and Jenny, The Emily of London, and The Dee, which were run aground by Union forces, set ablaze and sunk in February 1864, there is the USS Columbia, which accidentally ran aground and sank in January 1863.
Watts said The Fanny and Jenny is located on the ocean side of the jetty, about two-thirds the way past the beginning of the capped sheet pile bulkhead before the stone rubble begins. The Emily lies north of The Fanny and Jenny. Another wreck was located at the end of the Crystal Pier before it was partially destroyed during a recent hurricane. A third, which everyone thought was the Columbia — they’re still not entirely sure — was at the end of the jetty, somewhere out there. Three decades ago, Watts said wreckage material was also found between Masonboro’s two jetties.
“We’re not sure exactly where the third one is,” Watts said by telephone on Aug. 29. “There is something at the end of the north jetty, we don’t know for sure if that’s the wreck.”
Watts confirmed that the wreck Hand found is The Fanny and Jenny.
“Definitely, it has a paddle wheel shaft,” Watts said. “That’s what we identified it as years ago. We still don’t know where the Columbia is. If the bow of the ship is exposed, a lot more is exposed than it’s ever been and we’ll probably be up there … sometime this fall,” Watts said on Aug. 30.
“We want to get in there and take a look at it before there’s any sort of beach nourishment or changes in the environment that covers it back over,” Watts said.
Crews from the Underwater Archeology Branch of the North Carolina office of State Archeology will revisit the wreck of The Fanny and Jenny this fall. One of the objectives will be to confirm the locations of The Emily and the USS Columbia, as well as the 1850s wreck of a tug about 200 feet off shore from the Blockade Runner Beach Resort.
“We know it’s a tug because it has towing bits on it,” Watts said. “It’s not one of the ones we’re looking for but then again nobody’s ever made a concerted effort to sort all these out although we’ve been piddling at them for decades.”
Meanwhile Watts said divers who want a closer look should be aware if the uncovered wreck is the Columbia, that the site falls under the jurisdiction of the Naval Historical Center. Removing anything would be a violation of state law as well as federal law.