Outer Banks quicksand? Recent shipwreck is sinking into the beach at Cape Hatteras

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A shipwreck off North Carolina’s Outer Banks is doing something most people would think impossible: It’s sinking into dry earth.

This odd occurrence is playing out at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where the 72-foot fishing vessel Ocean Pursuit ran aground on the morning of March. 1.

The boat was stuck 50 yards off Bodie Island: surrounded by a few feet of water at high tide, but on dry land much of the time.

Photographers were quickly drawn to the haunting site, and it was their photos posted on social media that first indicated the Ocean Pursuit appeared closer to shore and lower in the sand as time passed.

It’s been two months now, and the bow has vanished below the surface and sand is filling the cabins.

Is a boat actually sinking into the beach?

Yes, it is, and this kind of odd occurrence has been seen before on the Outer Banks, the National Park Service says.

“The vessel appears to be getting lower and lower in the beach because each tide brings in water which makes the sand soft and malleable. Thus the boat sinks into the sand a little each day. Northeast winds helped carry the vessel ashore,” Cape Hatteras spokesman Mike Barber told McClatchy News in an email.

The park is counting on the boat’s owners removing it before it completely sinks, he said. A timetable for that has not been announced, but all dangerous materials and fuel have been removed — just in case.

Barber says evidence of other ships sinking into the region’s beaches dates back nearly a century.

At least four beached ships resurface periodically, often after storms scour away the top layer of sand, the park service says.

“Shipwrecked vessels like the G.A. Kohler on Hatteras Island is an example of a vessel that sunk completely into the sand over long period time,” Barber told McClatchy News. “The G.A. Kohler wreck often reemerges under the right conditions and then become buried once again.”

The Kohler, a four-masted schooner, was pushed to shore by a hurricane in 1933, according to the park service. It was stranded on the beach for a decade before being “burned during World War II for her iron fittings,” the park reports.

North Carolina’s coast is known as “the Graveyard of the Atlantic” due to the more than 2,000 recorded shipwrecks in the area, according to OuterBanks.com. Treacherous currents and shifting shoals are often blamed, though some of the wrecks are German U-boats sunk in World War II.

“The warm waters of the northbound Gulf Stream meet the cold waters of the Arctic Current off Cape Hatteras at Diamond Shoals, and the entire coast is an area of shifting inlets, bays, and capes, representing a shipping hazard,” reports NCpedia.com.


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