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One hundred and fifty years ago, a Confederate blockade runner laden with supplies and more ran aground off the coast of Bald Beach, aka the future Sunset Beach island, in the early hours of Monday, Jan. 11, 1864.
The vessel, named the Vesta, was set on fire in 10 feet of water. It was abandoned at the beach, a casualty as it had tried in vain to flee a Yankee blockade guarding the Cape Fear River and head in a more southerly direction toward the Winyah Bay in Georgetown, S.C.
Running low on luck and fuel, the Vesta’s captain may instead have deliberately veered the vessel into the breakers at Bald Beach in an attempt to salvage its cargo. The Confederates may have then deliberately set the Vesta on fire to prevent its salvage by the Union.
According to local lore, the Vesta measured 34 feet wide and 180 feet long. Its final resting place lay parallel to the beach (east to west).
When the first Sunset Beach pier was erected, “they left a wide opening, and you could look through the planks and see the boiler,” states historical information provided about the Vesta on the pier website. The Sunset Beach Pier’s prior, initial name, in fact, was the Vesta Pier, which straddled the resting site of the old shipwreck in hopes it would attract fish to the fishing site.
During the first century at its sandy resting site, portions of the Vesta could be seen at low water and low tides, including one of its boilers and the ribs and stanchions of its hull.
Today, thanks to accretion of sand, the remains of the Vesta boat are entirely submerged.
This past Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, marked the 150th anniversary of the Vesta’s happenstance demise at Sunset Beach. The milestone might have just rolled past us like the waves of the ocean if not for the historical astuteness of the Old Bridge Preservation Society.
“We need to know stories about our town, and the Vesta is part of our history,” said Ann Bokelman, an OBPS member who spoke at the Jan. 6 Sunset Beach Town Council meeting.
A lot of people in Sunset Beach don’t know about the Vesta, which had been carrying shoes, military supplies and maybe even a nip of whiskey, “which may have been part of its downfall,” Bokelman said.
It’s a story that’s being told at the fishing pier, at the Old Bridge and hopefully around local dining tables about this particular part of local history.
“We all need to know to more about it,” she said.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email email@example.com.