The ship came to its demise not far from the end of what is today the Nags Head Fishing on North Carolina's Outer Banks. The iron hulled warship of the United States Navy, one of the final three iron hulled ships and only two years old, met her fate at that location at 1:30 a.m. on November 24, 1877. She had departed New York several days earlier, made a short stop in Hampton Roads to take on supplies, and was headed south toward Cuba.
The skipper of the ship, Commander George Ryan, previously sailed through the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" numerous times and was quite familiar with the sand shoals off shore which gave the Outer Banks that name, but he wanted to make time despite the stormy conditions and therein was his major mistake. Rather than taking a longer, but safer, course farther out to see either in the Gulf Stream or beyond that north flowing current, he opted instead to hug the coast using the southbound Labrador Current to speed his way. He knew after passing Bodie Island Light later, some fifteen miles to the south, he would have to adjust his course to the east but he felt certain he was safe in what he was doing.
What he didn't count on after passing Currituck Light was the sudden arrival of heavy fog. The fog, coupled with the huge waves near shore made navigation difficult and he was unaware that he was only two hundred and fifty yards from the sandy shore. Without any warning, the ship suddenly came to a shuddering halt, grounded on the sand shoals. With its massive weight, it had no give and was gradually being beaten apart by the powerful waves. Many sailors fended for themselves; it's not known how many stayed on board but in the end ninety-eight of the one hundred and thirty-four man crew perished that night.
As if nature wanted to compound the lesson taught that night, Not far to the northwest of the end of the Nags Head Fishing Pier, the remains of the USS Huron, an iron hulled warship (one of the last three built before changing to steel) of the United States Navy ran aground at 1:30 a.m. on November 24, 1877. Commander George Ryan opted to make his run south closer to shore to avoid either the reduction in speed which would have been faced farther ashore from the Gulf Stream or a much longer course to miss it entirely on the far ocean side. The ship was headed for Cuba and it was stormy, as she passed Currituck Light before navigation became difficult due to both current and heavy fog. The skipper was closer to shore than he thought when the ship came to a shuddering halt. She was aground and at the mercy of the powerful, pounding waves.
Thirty six crew members braved the cold and rough seas and made it ashore safely. The other ninety eight perished as the ship was torn apart. There was a lifesaving station only two miles away yet it was closed at that time of year due to funding limits. Perhaps had it been open, more could have been saved but if Commander Ryan had made a better decision on his course all would have likely made it to Cuba safely.
Nature added an epitaph to the tragedy when another steamship, the Metropolis, followed a similar course only two months later and came to a similar fate almost twenty three miles due north of the Huron wreck. Sometimes we just never learn.
Today, the wreckage of the Huron is still visible from the surface and it is home to a variety of aquatic life. Divers like to dive there and fishing in the area is good. There is a historical marker on the roadway directly ashore off Baden Street and the State of North Carolina has made the site a historic shipwreck site. Hopefully, it will remind others of the power and might of the sea and how it must always be taken seriously.