Carolina Dunes, an ocean to sound community

Ghost Ships at Carolina Dunes

The Outer Banks stretch over 180 miles from Currituck southward to Cape Lookout. It is a fragile string of barrier islands whose very existence rests completely at the mercy of nature. It is also a place where the cold Labrador Current and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream clash over the "Graveyard of the Atlantic". It is a place battered frequently by "Nor'easters" and by hurricanes of immense destructive power. It is constantly shifted and altered by relentless ocean waves and wind. And yet it has remained here for thousands of years.

History and legend go hand in hand on the Outer Banks. Weave in some ghost stories and mysteries, pirates, shipwrecks and unselfish bravery, and you have the fabric that makes up the folklore of the Outer Banks. There is history surrounded by legend, not the least of which is Blackbeard, whose mark is all around the coast of North Carolina, from Bath, to Beaufort, to Ocracoke and beyond. Ghost ships and mysterious sightings, and other tales live on of dreadful fates of shipwreck victims by the truth that is the "Graveyard of the Atlantic". Magical, mystical tales, such as those told by superstitious men of the sea, weave their threads into those stories of the crews of the Life-Saving Stations, whose fearlessness in the midst of deadly storms is factual, recorded history, and is now legend.

But the history of this place will tell you it wasn't pirates that mariners feared most along the Outer Banks, it was the shoals, the shallows and the vicious storms that took more ships than pirates ever dreamed of scuttling. Shipwrecks were in fact an integral and important part of life on the Outer Banks. Being so isolated, the residents made good use of everything, especially salvaged cargo from wrecks, including the wood, beams, ropes and hardware from the ships themselves. Nothing went to waste. Many homes were built, furnished or repaired from ship salvage.

Thirty years ago there were more wrecks visible than there are today. Time and storms have taken their toll. Wrecks get washed ashore, then covered by sand, then uncovered in storms, and covered again. They even get moved by storms, as well as broken apart and scattered over the years.

Shipwrecks often appear and disappear during storms on the Outer Banks. They are sometimes washed onto shore, or carried out to sea, and covered or uncovered as the sand is hauled about by the ocean currents and storm surges from hurricanes.

Did you know that Carolina Dunes has two shipwrecks? The first wreck can occasionally be seen at 149 Buffell Head, which is at the bottom of the southern beach access steps (between Widgeon and Pintail streets). When the ocean surf is rough and the currents wash away the beach sand, you might be able to see the side of the this shipwreck. Itís merely yards southeast of the bottom step. Check it out!

The second wreck is located at 159 Buffell Head, which is only 5 houses south of the first wreck. It was re-discovered by the Alvord family after Tropical Storm Ida in November, 2009. Check this spot as well. Who knows, maybe you can also find this Ghost Ship!


  1. Outer Banks Guide Book website
  2. Carolina Outer Banks website

Ghost Ship at 149 Buffell Head Pictures

These are the southern-most ocean access steps (near Widgeon and Pintail streets). Remains of the ghost ship are about 15 yards away, as seen in 2008.

Note the brass pegs. They were used to fasten heavy wooden timber to the sides of the ship.

A closer look at the brass pegs.

As an update to the story. In 2004, the Claughs family noticed one of the pegs from the first Ghost Ship protruding from the sand while surf boarding. It was jokingly suggested to the kids that they 'dig it up'.

Well, they did dig. And they dug for over a half of a day! Many people on the beach (young and old) chipped in and helped! See Additional pictures below.

When the tide returned the night of the big 'dig', sand again Covered this Ghost Ship, and it could not be seen the next day.

Who knows. When the next tide goes out, maybe this Ghost Ship at Carolina Dunes will again return. You should watch for it!

Ghost Ship at 159 Buffell Head Pictures

This Ghost Ship was re-discovered by the Alvord family after Tropical Storm Ida in November, 2009. These pictures were provided by them.

What are the names of the two Ghost Ship at Carolina Dunes? (Answer: According to the Coastal Studies Institute (UNC) and the Program in Maritime Studies (ECU), a schooner originally named 'Scannel' and later renamed 'Momie T' sank around Caffey's Inlet on Jan 27, 1920. The design of this schooner closely matches the shipwreck structure at 159 Buffell Head (See '2010-06-07 Shipwreck at 159 Buffell Head' picture under the CDA Photo Gallery). Sadly however, the name of the shipwreck at 149 Buffell Head may never be known!)

Cautionary Note:

Shipwrecks off shore and occasionally on the beaches are a unique and non-renewable resource that are in a constant state of change. The natural forces that work on North Carolina's barrier islands are also working on our shipwrecks. In many cases, the shipwrecks are the end result of the most extreme of those natural forces, while in other instances, the shipwrecks are the result of the most violent forces created by man.

For the people who visit them today, the wrecksites provide the foundation for a ecosystem of incredible diversity and beauty. It is easy to forget that they were intially born as a scene of destruction, sacrifice, injury and death.

Please care for them as an ecosystem, respect them, protect them as our heritage and please do not remove parts of them.

2004 CDA Newsletter Ghost Ship Discovery Article: