Each month, an interesting aspect of the world’s oldest continuous maritime service will be highlighted. The men and women of the Coast Guard follow in the fine tradition of the brave mariners who have served before them. As sentinels and saviors of the seas, the Coast Guard proudly continues its commitment to honor, respect & devotion to duty to maintain their vigil - Semper Paratus.
Nora No More
John Fogerty’s body lay still. His eyes, glazed over and opaque, appeared lifeless as they stared blankly toward the paint-crackled ceiling of the small bedroom. The room was quiet, short of the striking of hoofs from horses pulling carriages along the hot summer streets of , but the mind of John Fogerty was a crescendo of yelling, screaming, and the maddening rush of the ocean’s mighty wrath. Fogerty’s eyes blinked but he uttered not a word. A family friend, a damp cloth in hand, leaned over his shock-stricken friend and wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead.
While Fogerty continued to stare quietly at the ceiling and relive the terrible ordeal of which he had barely survived, his friend eased back in his bedside chair and grabbed the folded day-old newspaper. As he scanned down the page, he reread the article describing the tragedy at Anglesea, . He paused at the listing of those lost – including John Fogerty – and shook his head. He refolded the newspaper, placed it on the bedside table, and once again wiped the beads of sweat forming on his friend’s forehead. He eased back into the chair and closed his own eyes and tried to imagine the horror aboard the Nora. The bedroom was quiet, but the mind of John Fogerty remained awash as he continued drowning in a tormented hell.
On July 29, 1906, the Nora, an eight-ton sloop, slid easily through the waters off Anglesea, . Captain Herbert M. Shivers and his mate attended to the rigging and sails as the passengers – thirty excursionists – stood at the gunwales for a day of rest, relaxation, and sport. Shivers navigated through the cool waters to his next “spot” as the excursionists lined the rails with their fishing poles and tackle. The sky was clear and a light breeze, like the conversations between captain, crew, and excursionists, filled the air. All aboard were enjoying the respite from the sweltering heat of and other inland locales, and for the next few hours of the early morning, all was fine, with fish aplenty brought aboard.
Captain Shivers was sure to provide his passengers with a good day of “sport” but knew that he had to remain vigilant in regards to the weather. Though he had set out early in the morning under ideal conditions, he began to notice, as the noon hour passed, that the breeze was stiffening. Shivers astutely observed that several other boats in the vicinity began to tack for home. Shivers, a competent sailor, knew that heading back before the winds and weather worsened was the better course of action. He passed word to his crewman and passengers to reel in their lines. The Nora was heading back.
By the time the Nora had raced back to the entrance of Hereford Inlet, the ideal conditions of their morning passage were all but a wishful memory. The wind, now closer to gale-like conditions, had whipped the sea into a maelstrom. The wind, coupled with a flood tide, caused the waves across the bar to break with terrific energy. Shivers knew that with skill and patience he could safely cross the bar and return his excursionists to the pier. He ordered his crewman to his station, told the passengers to remain calm, and began to maneuver through the waves with assistance from his small gasoline engine. The Nora had begun to cross the bar when something went terribly wrong.
Keeper Henry S. Ludlam, of the Hereford Inlet Station, pointed out the workings of the small surfboat to a party of visitors. Required to remain at the station even in the inactive season, Ludlam was showing the visitors the various pieces of equipment utilized by him and his crew during rescues. Little did the party of visitors know that they would soon see Keeper Ludlam and his equipment in action. At fifteen minutes past one o’clock, Keeper Ludlam’s son rushed into the station with terrible news. Immediately excusing himself from the visitors, Ludlam called upon several volunteers to assist him in launching the surfboat. As Keeper Ludlam and his six volunteers rowed through the water toward the bar, Captain Shivers, his crewman, and the thirty excursionists fought to survive in the tumult of the Hereford Bar. Everything, Captain Shivers thought, had happened so fast. As he was maneuvering the Nora across the bar, he saw a “cross-sea coming at a point right on the port quarter. It raised the stern of the boat right up and caused her to lay down so much on the starboard side” that the vessel took water on her deck. Captain Shivers ordered the men to remain where they were aboard the vessel. But the passengers, not wanting to get hit with the wet wave of salty water, rushed en masse to the leeward side of the sloop. Water continued to fill the sloop and the sharp sea, coupled with the shifting weight to the leeward side, pitched the Nora on her side. In a matter of seconds the Nora had “suddenly veered, swung around, wallowed a moment in the trough of the sea, then turned completely over, snapping off her mast like a pipe-stem.” Several of those aboard were immediately trapped under the overturned hull of the sloop. Others were tossed into the slamming seas. Panic gripped most of the day-trippers.
Captain Shivers, bound by his duty, swam back toward the capsized hull. He took a deep breath and dove under the gunwale. Feeling his way, he was able to free lifejackets. He grabbed them and swam back out to the open water. While Shivers was working to get lifejackets, the bulk of the men aboard the Nora grappled along the overturned hull and scrambled to get aboard. A few others, believing that they could make shore, swam for dear life. Meanwhile, several others who had been swept clear of the Nora when she capsized fought the waves and were pushed farther and farther away from the capsized hull. Captain Shivers began passing the lifejackets to the men in the water. Most, however, despite the safety that the lifejackets would have provided, pushed them away. Shivers maintained his attempts and several passengers finally grabbed them and put them on. Others continued to paw frantically at the overturned hull. The lifejackets, unused, floated away in the frothy sea. Captain Shivers dove under again to grab more lifejackets. His subsequent attempts to pass out lifejackets met with a similar “maddening” result. The men, those in the water near the overturned hull or aboard the hull, continued to push away the lifejackets.
Arms flailed, breaths gasped, and exasperated screams for help shrieked across the seas. Help was on its way.
Keeper Ludlam and his crew of volunteers rowed hard for the scene and as they neared the overturned Nora, several of the exhausted swimmers were pulled aboard. As the men caught their breath, Keeper Ludlam and his volunteers continued toward the Nora. A powerboat and a bank skiff, both of their skippers seeing the Nora’s plight, also maneuvered closer to help. As the surfboat neared the Nora, three of the volunteer crewmen alighted from their posts and dove into the water. While Keeper Ludlam and the remaining crewmen maneuvered the surfboat alongside the Nora, the three men assisted several of the Nora’s passengers who were wallowing in the waves toward the Nora. Several of those who had not been able to swim back to the Nora were entangled in rigging, fishing, and other lines. The three volunteers, utilizing knives, desperately cut at the death shrouds to clear the panicked men from almost certain doom. In short order, the surfboat had ten men safely aboard.
The Violet, the powerboat, had plucked four men from the water and the bank skiff, under the command of Captain Johnson, had quickly pulled two men from the rough sea. Ludlam, while coordinating the rescue, passed word to Captain Lilly of the Violet to take his ten rescued souls aboard and race back to the station so that the survivors could be provided medical attention. Ludlam and his men would remain on station and continue to search for more survivors. Captain Lilly agreed and the men were quickly transferred. In the wake of the powerboat’s exhaust, Keeper Ludlam and his men continued to search for the rest of the Nora’s complement.
The Nora continued to be slammed, as did the surfboat, with the heavy seas. Keeper Ludlam and his volunteer crewmen remained on the scene and in the nearby vicinity, in hopes of finding others who had been tossed clear of the stricken sloop. After some time, however, it was clear that they had done all that they could. No others were found. The surfboat returned to the Hereford Inlet Station, where the survivors were being attended to by several of the station’s regular crew, “a number of private citizens, 3 physicians, and several nurses.”
Keeper Ludlam, satisfied that all that could be done for the survivors was being attended to, decided to return to the Nora to try again to find those who were missing. The wreck, upon their return, continued to pitch and toss in the raging sea. No more survivors were found, only one lifeless body. Keeper Ludlam decided that only time would provide for any more of the missing to surface. He ordered the surfboat back to the station. Upon their return, the men assisted in attending to the survivors. A pall of silence, mixed with blessings from those who had survived, filled the station. A few hours later, however, duty called again.
Keeper Ludlam once again ordered the surfboat into the water. The volunteer crew once again manned their oars, and rowed toward the Hereford Inlet bar. Another vessel, the Alva B., had capsized in the rough seas. Their arrival on scene however was ultimately not needed. Two other vessels, the Israella and the Fannie E. Moffat, both having witnessed the capsizing of the Alva B., had swept in and pulled all but one of the passengers and crew to safety. One man, sadly, remained unaccounted for as the sun set on the scene. The surfboat and her crew turned once again for the sanctity of the Hereford Inlet Station. It had been a tough day for the volunteers and the not-yet-on duty Keeper of the station, H.S. Ludlam.
The death toll on that fateful day in the waters off Anglesea, New Jersey would be devastating, with a total of nine from the Nora and one from the Alva B., lost. But as noted by Keeper Ludlam, in regards to the services of the volunteer crew assembled for the rescue work, “they were brave men…and worked hard. Had it not been for a crew made of such material the loss of life would have been much greater.” The combined efforts of Keeper Ludlam, his volunteer crew, and the skippers and crews of Good Samaritan vessels had been successful in saving so many more.
July 29, 1906, another day of fun-filled excursion on the sea, had ended in a tragic loss of ten men. While many wept over their lost husbands, sons, or fathers, others considered themselves blessed. Thirty-two men aboard the Nora and twelve aboard the Alva B. had been tossed wantonly into the waves in two separate acts of fate, but thanks to the bravery of volunteers and regular life-savers, all but ten had been lost. The rescuers of the Nora and Alva B., completed by a volunteer crew under the leadership of Keeper Henry S. Ludlam and by the competent good Samaritan skippers of the Violet, an unnamed bank skiff, the Israella and the Fannie E. Moffat had quickly responded to the scenes of life and death to offer assistance. Though over one hundred and six years has passed since that fateful day, the illustration of the humanity of man toward his fellow man remains unchanged.
Unlike the “off-season” status of the Hereford Inlet Station at the time of the tragedy, today’s lifesavers – the men and women of the United States Coast Guard – remain ready at a moment’s notice all along the nation’s waterways to ensure timely response to scenes of peril. Keeper Ludlam’s quick action and response, coupled with the willingness of perfect strangers who volunteered to assist, are two components of the maritime environs that remain pivotal to life at sea. The United States Coast Guard, though on duty to respond, remain as indebted today as they did in 1906 to the Good Samaritans - watchful skippers and observant sailors – who can and will continue to assist others in need when disaster strikes or accidents occur. It is this most crucial component that provides not only the men and women of the United States Coast Guard, but also the men and women who go to sea for pleasure or for profit, the ability to serve humanity as well as fellow sentinels and saviors of the seas.