The water on Chocowinity Bay isn’t driven by the moon but the wind. Wind tides. In the hard blow of a Nor’easter or the spiraling winds of a hurricane, the water can be blown out of the bay, uncovering old bricks from a Civil War brickworks or the bones of a scow schooner settled in the mud.
The schooner was intentionally scuttled to serve as a breakwater, but even when fit, she was never suited to sail in open water. At best, she kept to the creeks and rivers and sounds of North Carolina, maybe sailing as far north as Virginia through the Dismal Swamp.
For lack of a more formal name, the wreck was simply called the Brickyard Boat.
A Working Boat
The Brickyard Boat measured 73′ long, 14′ beam, and slightly more than 2′ depth of hold. Her bow and stern were as blunt as a barge and her hard chine didn’t make her any less ungainly. She was rigged as a schooner with two masts. A centerboard kept her flat bottom from skipping to leeward like a stone when sailing to windward but she was never a weatherly boat.
A working boat, she probably had the beauty of an old prizefighter with flattened nose and cauliflower ears, hauling bricks from one shoal water port to another. She was a simple design that required a shipwright with minimal skill and even less budget to build. Folklore had it that any
When they excavated the Brickyard Boat, they found a boot and a shoe embedded in the silt. One of each.
The shoe was flattened at the counter, the material that stiffened the heel, probably from a sailor repeatedly slipping out of his shoes to climb the rigging barefoot. The copper rivets securing the leather uppers were characteristic of shoes made for the Union Army during the Civil War specifically for black soldiers whose broad feet tended to burst the seams of standard Army issue. The light wear of the shoe suggested it was sold as surplus after the war had ended. The single boot was Union Army issue made by Confederate prisoners.
They make the wreck seem less academic, more human, like empty shoes found on the roadside after a traffic accident. They’re a connection to the crew that sailed the Brickyard Boat, to the lives they led in that turbulent time soon after the Civil War, a time that now seems incomprehensibly distant.
When the marine archaeologists finished their excavation and measurements, they returned the bricks and silt and debris that had previously covered the wreck. It was like covering a grave. The bones of the schooner lie there still, a short walk from my home, the site marked at Cypress Landing with a plaque like a headstone.
Note: The wreck site lies just beyond the foreground docks in the masthead photo, among the reeds and the overhanging cypress trees at Cypress Landing, North Carolina.
Further reading: The Cypress Landing Shipwreck of Chocowinity Bay:
A North Carolina Sail Flat
by Ann Merriman