CSI team working on the Pappy's Lane shipwreck. Photo Coastal Studies Institute.
There is a tendency to think of shipwrecks as something ancient or at the very least a few hundred years old, but the work Dr. Nathan Richards, Program Head of Marine Heritage at the Coastal Studies Institute, and his team did in telling the story of the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck is as fascinating and historically important as any dive done in the deep sea.
Pappy’s Lane is a street on the north end of Rodanthe, and just off the end of the street there has been a rusting ship that is now nothing but a hull resting in the shallow waters of Pamlico Sound.
In the work area for what will be the Jug Handle when the bypass to the S Curves is built, NCDOT needed to have an archeological assessment of the wreck done and they asked Dr. Richards to take on the task.
What he discovered was a remarkable slice of American history.
There were a number of theories about what the ship had been originally, but for the most part the belief was it had been used to haul rocks to build NC12 when it was under construction.
As it turned out that was close, but not quite right, but what was most astonishing was the full history of wreck.
From the beginning of the examination of the ship, it was apparent it was not originally built as a barge. There was considerable evidence of modifications, and there was a design feature on the stern of the ship that had not been modified and was not typical at all for barge construction.
Richards and his team began the meticulous task of recording every inch of the wreck, then comparing that to blueprints of known ships. Dead end after dead end followed until they began looking at WWII ships.
The ship, as it turned out, was based on a landing craft design—the Landing Craft Infantry Mark 3-LCI (L)(3). The ship was large enough to move an entire company of troops to the shore, and was used extensively in the Pacific by the Marines.
However, after a number of bloody battles, it was apparent the lightly armed LCI needed close artillery support and the LCI frame was used to create the LCS Gunboat. According to Richards, the Gunboat was the most heavily armed ship of its size in WWII.
Further research from the team led them to discover when and where this particular ship was built. It was the USS LCS (L)(3)-123, built in 1944 by George Lawley & Son, the designer of the craft, at their Neponset, Massachusetts shipyard.
The ship served with distinction until the end of the war, but after hostilities ended, it was sold as surplus, and ended it’s days in Norfolk as a fuel barge. To handle fuel, bulkheads were installed, which was on of the most significant modifications. However, the stern was never modified from the original design, a key reference for the team.
When the ship ran aground in 1969, it was well passed its prime and not worth salvaging.