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The Fascinating Story of the Nathan Cobb

Cobb Painting 3.jpg

"Dear Friend:

You have heard about poor Waterhouse, and can imagine somewhat how we all feel, who saw him go down not over 200 feet from us, in the rush of short, high reaching breakers, and the terrible pull of the undertow that you have seen here after four days of a northeaster on the Ormond Beach.  Every effort that could be made was made, and the seconds seamed hours.  But it lay not in the bones of the strongest swimmer ever known to reach him, least of all help him if they could-this I know from personal experience, and had we taken Lou Bingham with us that day, it would have been his last in the sunlight; those waters out these have a mad hold when a gale is it its height the waves are flattened and in the rush of water will take anything towards shore.



I had men patrol between here and Daytona yesterday and today.  Tom Fagen went early this morning, and last night Charles Bostrom, Joseph Price went quite a ways below, but up to tonight we have not found his body.  Will go out again this night.

Waterhouse was a brave boy and I am proud he was raised near where we were.  It was no foolhardy trick on his part for he knew what the sea was and had heard the breakers roar of alarm before, and he knew he took his life in his hands; but there were six men on the wreck and no one could tell how near to death they were from hunger and thirst.

This is an excerpt from a letter written December 6,1896 about the terrible tragedy of the Nathan F. Cobb by William Fagen to John Anderson.  He tells the story of a great sea drama enacted offshore from Ormond when the 656-ton schooner, was wrecked the previous day. The three masted schooner set sail from Brunswick, Georgia with a load of railroad cross ties, bound for New York.  Two days after they set sail, the schooner ran into heavy northeast storm, and soon began to leak.  On December 1, the Nathan F. Cobb capsized near Frying Pan Shoals, but after losing her main and mizzenmasts, the ship was righted and began to drift helplessly southward.

On the morning of December 5, eight days after she had left Brunswick, the schooner grounded offshore at Ormond.  The crew members were suffering from exposure and lack of food, and looked despairingly towards the beach for help.  As soon as Joseph Price of the Hotel Ormond heard the news he rounded up most of his employees, including 23 year-old Freeman Waterhouse and headed for the beach.

Freeman Waterhouse and Tom Fagen attempted to take a lifeboat out to where the Nathan Cobb was stranded.  The two men succeeded in rowing the boat through the roaring breakers.  It was when the men reached the outer bar that a tremendous wave struck the boat and filled it.  The men made good progress in the yawl until they neared the outer 


sandbar. Then giant waves began crashing down on the lifeboat, filling it with water.  Fagen yelled to Waterhouse to leave the boat and swim to shore. But as they jumped, the yawl turned bottom-side up and Waterhouse climbed atop the boat while Fagen swam toward shore.


The men on the beach began to haul her in, but the next comber turned her right side up and Waterhouse sat in the boat while the men began hauling her in. She went bottom up again with Waterhouse under her. Some of the men started out in the other lifeboat to get him. They then saw Waterhouse come up and go down and they knew he was drowning.


Bystanders on the beach watching this tragedy unfold, ran out into the surf, but no man could swim against that sea nor across that current. In a few minutes it was all over with poor Waterhouse. He drowned about a thousand feet from shore.


Captain Brenner, Captain of the Nathan Cobb, seeing that a man sacrificed his life in an effort to save the lives of the crew, tied a line around his waist and dropped overboard. The lifeboat reached him and he clung to the bow while the rescuers pulled him in. A life preserver was tied to the captain's line and the schooner's crew retrieved it. Each man, in turn, was pulled ashore.

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