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SMN Fred Carstens
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Birth: unknown, Germany
Death: Dec. 12, 1890
Marin County
California, USA

Two Life Savers Killed

The Life-Boat Capsizes and Fatally Injures Two of the Crew

A dispatch was received by Lieutenant Finley of the Signal Service from the Point Reyes Life-Saving Station yesterday as follows:

"At 10 A.M. yesterday, after coming in from practice and landing the boat on the beach, a heavy breaker came in suddenly and turned her over with all hands, seriously injuring two men, Andrew Anderson and Fred Carstens. They died one hour and ten minutes after the accident."

The despatch was forwarded over the Government telegraph line by W.L. Lock, lighthouse keeper at Point Reyes, yesterday morning.

published Daily Alta California
December 14, 1890

Rough Weather Causes Fatal Accident
Two Men Crushed By Their Own Boat

Last Friday morning the Government Life Saving Station was the scene of a catastrophe whereby two young life savers lost their lives. Captain Loch, who is in charge here had the life boat out and the usual crew, six men, pulled out for practice. After cruising around for awhile they concluded to return and reached the beach in safety. The men had just successfully beached the boat, three on the starboard side and three on the gunwale, when a huge breaker came rolling in, catching the stern of the boat and overturning it on the port side, in doing so, Captain Loch was able to extricate himself with only a bruised leg. Not so with Carstens and Anderson, who were beneath the waist of the boat. Carstens was the first to be extricated, who was laid on the sand and attention was then paid to Anderson. After much difficulty he was pulled out insensible, with the blood pouring from his mouth. Both men died in two hours from time of then release. A doctor was sent for, but death took place before he arrived. Carstens was a native of Germany; Anderson belongs to Sweden and has a father living in San Francisco.

published Sausalito News
December 19, 1890

Laid to Rest
The funeral services of Andrew Anderson and Fred Carstens, the victims of the unfortunate accident at the Life Saving Station last week, was held at that place last Sunday. The sermon was preached by Rev. C.F. Coy from the text: "If a man die, shall he live again." The sermon was replete with noble thought and tender feeling.

published Sausalito News
December 19, 1890

Editor's Opinion
The accident by which two able seamen lost their lives last Friday week at Point Reyes Life Saving Station seems from the information gleaned to have been the result, either of gross carelessness, or ignorant stupidity. The sum and substance seems to be that the boat was fairly beached, with three men each on port and starboard sides; a huge breaker rolled in, striking the stern of the boat, which canted around and turned over on the port side. The position of the port side men was obvious; two received injuries from which death was a relief. The day was fine and the sea moderately calm for this usually angry spot. Our surprise is that men, whose especial duty it is to study all chances of accidents, should be so caught. Is there no truck, or life boat carriage; or is this the orthodox way of hauling in a life boat in the present progressive age of appliances. Stranger still no inquest was held and no official investigation into the circumstances under which these men lost their lives. Who knows, except those interested, whether any blame for the accident rested on those in command of the boat. There might be nothing to bush up and possibly there might be. Who signed the certificate of death? Not the Corner.

published Sausalito News
December 26, 1890

As a follow up to that last article...In 1927, the LSS was relocated from the relentless raw elements along the Great Beach where this tragedy occurred, to the more protected Drakes Bay on the inside of Chimney Rock; coordinates 38.048977, -122.988689. This relocation was safer for the seamen as a special pier and marine railway was built for the launch and return haul.

Birth and Death
I cannot locate information regarding date of birth for Seaman Carstens, although, according to the article, I presume he was in his early 20's, which would put his birth 1865ish.

Place of death back then was considered "Point Reyes Proper," which is modern day "Point Reyes National Seashore." The little township of Point Reyes Station is 25 miles away from "the point."

In my estimation, the accident took place near coordinates 38.036134,-122.994547, give or take a quarter-mile.

Information from personal research

It seems Seaman Carstens was only employed at the Life Saving Station for five months before the tragic accident.

Per local newspaper articles at the time;

The Point Reyes Life Saving Station (aka LSS) structure was completed mid-November, 1889.

The life boat was delivered in April, 1890. The revenue cutter Richard Rush with Captain Tuttle arrived in Drakes Bay with the boat and other appointments for the LSS. (The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service was the maritime law enforcement at the time.) It took 12 marines from the Rush and a local rancher's full contingent of laborers to transport the large and heavy boat to the LSS.

In early April, 1890, Captain William Loch took up his official post as the Keeper at the LSS. The schooner Jennie Griffin transported Captain Loch, his family and household goods to Drakes Bay.

On June 27, 1890, a crew of seven men and a Japanese cook finally arrived. The station was now fully equipped with men and means and ready for effective work.

On July 4, 1890, there was a small notation in the local newspaper, "Where, oh! where is that crew for the Life Saving Station?"

Apparently, the news of the crew's arrival, was not reported until July 10.

On October 4, 1890, an article entitled "Disgusted Lifeboatmen" reported the life-saving crew had deserted the LSS. "They claim that Captain Locke, who is in charge, treated them too harshly, that he made each man pay $5 a month to a cook (who is the captain's sister-in-law) and $18 a month for board and poor board at that. At the Beach Station here it is said the men receive good living, and it only costs them about $12 a month each." I do not know how long the strike lasted, although in May, 1891, three crew quit again due to Captain Loch's harsh and abusive treatment. It was reported at the time that there had been three changes of crews at the station, since the Captain took charge. Captain Loch was transferred to Cape Arago Station on April 18, 1892.

Quote from National Park Service

In 1890, alone on the long stretch of empty beach, the Point Reyes Life-Saving Station opened with a crew of eight and a seasoned keeper on a lonely stretch of Great Beach known for its notorious pounding surf and bad weather. Their positions were poorly paid, difficult and full of danger. The surfmen patrolled the beaches of Point Reyes with an ever-vigilant eye, looking for shipwrecks and their desperate crews. They walked the beaches day and night, with the fog chilling them to the bone and the wind blasting sand at the unprotected skin of their faces.

When a wreck was found, the surfmen did what they did best, they saved lives. A shipwrecked mariner you could be assured that the surfmen's presence gave you close to a 99% chance of survival. Equipped with a surf boat and breeches buoys, a keeper would determine the best way to aid those in distress. Using a surfboat with the eight surfmen rowing and the keeper steering, the crew of the lifesaving station would take the imperiled mariners back to shore. But there were times when the boat could not safely reach a wreck. In those instances the breeches buoy and Lyle gun were used. Using a small cannon called a Lyle gun, a line would be shot to the wreck. The breeches buoy which was a life preserver ring with an oversize pair of canvas legs would then be sent to the wreck to remove crew and passengers one at a time.

In the early years of lifesaving at Point Reyes, the surfmen knew of danger. But it was not the isolation of the beach or the vast open ocean that they feared. It was the unrelenting, pounding surf that lay between. Strong surf could keep a rescue operation at bay for hours or capsize a surfboat, taking a man's life in a cold sea. In the first three years of operation, three surfman lost their lives while they honed their lifesaving skills in drills.

. . . . there is no question of the surfman's bravery. Even with all these tragedies, the lives and vessel saved far outnumbered those lost by the duty bound. In the 80 years of life saving at Point Reyes, countless vessels, their crews and passengers and millions of dollars worth of ships and cargo were saved.

* * * * *

The German born Fred Carstens immigrated to America and took a low paying, highly dangerous job to save lives along one of the most dangerous maritime corridors on the Pacific coast. His intention was honorable and his short time in maritime service was demanding in body, spirit and soul.

If one has visited the Point Reyes National Seashore, they know it is an experience like no other. It is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place in North America. A deceivingly beautiful place. The weather combined with pounding and unrelenting strong surf and rip currents is perilous. One can imagine what it was like in the 1890's.

Seaman Carstens experienced Point Reyes in all it's precarious glory and died in service to others.

bio by Colletta

* * * *

The unofficial motto of the U.S. Life-Saving Service was; "You have to go out; you don't have to come back."

Native of Germany

Point Reyes Life Saving Station

Historic Life-saving Service and G Ranch Cemetery
Marin County
California, USA
Maintained by: Colletta
Originally Created by: Terry Eckhart
Record added: Oct 30, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 43727921
SMN Fred Carstens
Added by: Terry Eckhart
SMN Fred Carstens
Added by: Terry Eckhart
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- J
 Added: Jun. 11, 2010

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