Hurricane Isaac Reveals Wreckage Of 1923 Schooner

The pounding surf and currents from Hurricane Isaac on a remote spit of Alabama (USA)  shoreline has again revealed the wreckage of a schooner that ran aground in 1923, delighting curious tourists and locals. 

The schooner Rachel and her eight-man crew ran aground near historic Ft. Morgan on Oct. 17, 1923, during a tropical storm. The men were headed to Mobile after a stop in Cuba. Although the men aboard the Rachel survived, others on nearby schooners weren't so lucky.

"A tropical storm much like Tropical Storm Isaac that we just went through was hitting the gulf coast, and a large number of these schooners were out in the gulf. One was sunk ... and the crew was lost," said Michael Bailey, historian for the Ft. Morgan historical society.

Because the Rachel was so far onshore, its owners could not salvage her, Bailey said. The owners tried selling the wreck, with no luck. Later, the vessel burned. Bailey isn't sure who burned it or why.

Shifting sands and tides eventually buried the Rachel until Hurricane Camille struck the gulf coast in 1969 and part of the ship was exposed before she was recovered.

Bailey caught a glimpse of the Rachel for the first time when the boat was unearthed by Hurricane Frederick in 1979. He began to delve into her history in 2004, after she was unearthed by Hurricane Ivan.

"I saw 20th-Century features and thought it could have been from early 1900s," he said. "I found a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shipwreck study that had a description of the Rachel and learned it was built in Mosspoint, Miss., at the De Angelo Shipyard," he said. Bailey found a relative of the ship's builder who gave him copies of the vessel's plans and photographs of it.

Although the Rachel was a common ship for her time, the wreck provides a look at what life was like along the gulf coast almost 90 years ago, Bailey said. He likened schooners of that era to the tractor-trailers that fill highways today. The schooners supplied many of the region's industrial and commercial needs. Bailey said the Rachel carried lumber at the time of the wreck.

According to local lore, she might also have had alcohol aboard with the hope of making a little extra money from the voyage. "She was coming from Cuba and it was during Prohibition," Bailey said.

Hurricane Isaac uncovered more of the ship than has been seen in a long time. On a recent afternoon, beachgoers crawled through her charred remains and posed for photographs.

The Rachel might be intentionally reburied because of the danger from scrapes and cuts her rusted iron skeleton and splintered wood poses to tourists, Bailey said. In the meantime, people such as John Lamb of Richmond, Ky., are making the most of her reappearance.

Lamb, who was vacationing in the area, took pictures of his young son by the wreck as he thoughtfully explored every inch of the Rachel.

"I think the most interesting thing is that, being from Kentucky, we don't ever see anything like this. We thought we'd come check it out," he said.

Jim Fletcher of Ft. Worth, Texas, has a vacation home on the beach and has seen the Rachel after previous storms, but he was excited to find more of the ship exposed after Isaac. He tugged at an orange-tinged and barnacle-encrusted rope to pull more of it from underneath the sand before taking a picture.

"History is a very fleeting thing, and I think you should take advantage of it when you have the opportunity before it is gone forever," he said. "Who knows how long this will be here? Maybe it will be covered again, and we might not see it in this state for another 100 years."