The historic Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, built in 1874, was the first United States Life-Saving Service station in North Carolina. All along the coast, these stations were dedicated to rescuing anyone whose life was in peril from the sea. After the U.S. Life-Saving Service evolved into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915, Chicamacomico continued to see service until 1954. Not only is it today one of the nation’s most complete remaining life-saving stations, it was home to one of the greatest rescues in early Coast Guard history.
On August 16, 1918, in the middle of World War I, a lookout at the Chicamacomico Station watched as the British tanker ‘Mirlo’ was hit by a torpedo. Instantly the six life-savers went to work to save the crew of the doomed vessel. For their efforts, they were awarded gold medals by King George of England and the Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor. The award citation best tells the story of the rescue:
“In a heavy northeast sea that caused the lifeboat to be tossed back upon the beach and the crew washed away from the oars time after time. Undaunted they returned to their task. After succeeding in getting their boat through the surf they were compelled to steer into a blazing inferno where the flames leaped at least 500 feet high, and were in serious danger of being burned to death if not drowned. They picked up a number of the crew of the Mirlo and towed four of the ship’s boats … They anchored the boats beyond the breakers and then made four trips in their surf boat bringing the entire 42 survivors safely ashore.”
The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station still sees service today, although it is of a different kind. Every Thursday at 2 p.m., active members of the U.S. Coast Guard perform an historically accurate reenactment of the rescue method utilized from the late 1800s through the mid-1950s. Commonly referred to as the “Breeches Buoy Rescue,” the reenactment consists of a live demonstration of the rescue equipment, including firing the Lyle gun (small cannon) and “rescuing” a victim.
Located on Hatteras Island, in the village of Rodanthe on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station is open Monday through Friday from noon to 5:00 p.m., between mid-April and November. Admission is $6; seniors and students pay $4. In addition to this intriguing bit of history, visitors will discover that the Outer Banks offers dozens of attractions and a myriad of outdoor activities, from kite flying, to sand dune climbing, to sun bathing along miles and miles of unspoiled beaches in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels