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Myrtle Beach Reefs and Wrecks

Along the South Carolina coast, underwater explorers have discovered countless Civil War wrecks, merchant vessels sunk in hurricanes, and in one case two ships that long ago collided and sank together. Divers dream of doing the detective work to discover the past lives of ships that sleep in the deep, and achieving some degree of local fame by solving some of history’s mysteries.

The Governor is the name used to refer to a Civil War-era wreck 22 miles off the coast of Murrells Inlet, though some dive shops call it Civil War Wreck because the ship’s identity has never been firmly established. Apparently, it was a mid-19th-century paddle wheeler, with surrounding artifacts from that era, but who can say whether it ran any Civil War blockades, went down in a hurricane, or collided with another nearby popular wreck, the City of Richmond. It sits in 80 feet of water with visibility at 30 to 35 feet, generally considered poor, but divers still have a good chance of seeing stingrays.

Anchor Wreck got its name from the three anchors that are strewn about a single ship, notwithstanding the common practice of one anchor per boat. And that was only one small fraction of a larger riddle that may now be solved, after many years of seeking the identity of the ship itself. Divers brought up a valve stamped Goteberg, a city in Norway, but since ships do tend to get around and pick up souvenirs at various ports, that was an inconclusive piece of evidence. Typically underwater sleuths rely on local newspaper accounts to help identify sunken treasures.

However, it was a New York newspaper that shed the first ray of light on the possible identity of Anchor Wreck. In 2007 a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found a story about the sinking of the Leif Eriksson in 1905 off the South Carolina coast. A severe winter storm was in progress as it headed from its last stop in Cuba and passed through Carolina waters, with ice, snow and punishing winds lashing the coast.

The fog was thick when the City of Everett appeared out of nowhere, an early ancestor of the oil tanker, launched from New York and bound for Texas. Its cigar-shaped bow plowed into the Leif Eriksson as the storm howled all around, and the Leif Eriksson sank within minutes. The City of Everett picked up the 20 or so survivors from the wreck and, with heavy damages, limped back to New York. The Carolina coast was locked in a solid sheet of ice and the local newspapers did not report the incident.

The three anchors could be explained in light of a subsequent New York newspaper report. Apparently, the owners of the submerged Leif Eriksson, which cost $200,000 to build in 1889, sold it to a scrap company for $5. It’s possible the salvage crew couldn’t bring it up, and maybe they slipped their anchors in the attempt. Anyway, that’s the theory. The Anchor Wreck sits in 100 feet of water just off Bull’s Bay.

Civil War blockade runners

SS Georgiana was an iron-hulled propeller steamer with a jib, two raked masts, and a “demi-woman” figurehead on her clipper bow. She was built in Glasgow in 1862, a sleek vessel apparently designed for speed, and it’s very like she was headed for Charleston to receive her officers on the night of March 19, 1863. At the time of her fateful encounter with the U.S. yacht America (of America Cup fame) and the USS Wissahickon, she had 140 men on board and an arsenal of guns and gun carriages in her hold.

The America spotted her and the Wissahickon pursued her, blew a hole through her hull and damaged her propeller and rudder. Captain A.B. Davidson flashed a white signal of surrender and scuttled her in 14 feet of water about three-quarters of a mile offshore. But instead of surrendering he escaped on the land side with all hands, and a deeply disappointed Lt. Comdr. John L. Davis set fire to the wreck so that her cargo could not be salvaged.

Soon after that a sidewheel steamer by the name of Mary Bowers struck the remains of the Georgiana wreck and sank on top of her. Literally, tens of thousands 19th-century artifacts have been salvaged from the site.

The Norseman also struck the Georgiana wreck, an outbound blockade runner carrying a shipment of cotton loaded on the docks at Charleston. It was an iron-hulled propeller steamer that eventually sank not far away, but its true claim to fame was that it was owned by George Trenholm, who may have been the “real” Rhett Butler.

The fictitious hero of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” – played in the movie by Clark Gable – stranded Scarlet O’Hara on the dusty road to Tara in order to join the Confederate Army at the eleventh hour and run the blockades around Charleston. Allegedly Mitchell confessed that she based his fictional character on the real Trenholm, a fabulously wealthy Charlestonian with interests in cotton, steamships, hotels, and plantations. By some accounts, Trenholm may also have owned the Georgiana.

The Sherman is a post-Civil War 200-foot blockade runner in about 52 feet of water roughly six miles from Little River Inlet. It survived the war only to sink in 1874 near the North Carolina border. The wood portions of the vessel are long gone but its hull was steel, and the skeletal structure is overrun with marine life and has occasionally been known to yield up US belt buckles, bottles, and buttons.

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