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Day at the Docks, Then and Now – Remembering the Roots of a New Hatteras Village Tradition

Friday 15 September 2017 at 10:07 pm.

BY CATHERINE KOZAK


It was one of those bone-chilling days, drizzly and gray. A stiff 20-knot wind whipped the faces of the crowd in Hatteras that had gathered at sunset at Village Marina. But everyone wore big smiles, waving and cheering as boats coming through Hatteras Harbor chugged past them.

This was a celebration – of resiliency, of community and of watermen. One year earlier, on Sept. 18 2003, Hatteras village was devastated by Hurricane Isabel. The storm slashed a 1,700-foot wide inlet through the east end of the village, cutting it off from the rest of the island for nearly two months. Watermen were the lifeline to the outside world, and they took on the role with kindness, dedication and unfailing generosity.

“We had to show that we had survived because of the watermen,” recalls Lynne Foster, one of the organizers. “They were the only suppliers – because they were able to get off the island.”

All of Hatteras Island pitched in to help the villagers, she says, but the watermen were at the front lines. Fishermen kept fish and money coming into the village, fishhouses kept operating, and charter captains and boat owners ferried people and supplies back and forth.  With the first year anniversary, Foster says, it was important for the community to celebrate not only its survival, but also its fishing village heritage.

This weekend, the Day at the Docks again honors that community spirit, as the village marks the 14th anniversary of Isabel. But the event that began as a modest gathering has taken on a life of its own, seemingly building alongside the village as it built itself back.

The first Day at the Docks in 2004 did not have that catchy alliterative name. It was called the Blessing of the Hatteras Fleet. By necessity, it was kept simple, and it wasn’t only because of the wounds from Isabel.
As the Hatteras Village Civic Association was making plans to mark the one-year anniversary of Isabel, Hurricane Alex, barely a Category 2 storm, swept through on August 3.  Residents were caught off-guard when the wind shifted to the northwest and tides surged 4 to 6 feet from Ocracoke to Buxton. Nearly 700 vehicles were lost, and high water and winds again damaged homes and businesses that had barely recovered from Isabel.  

In a column in the Sept. 2004 Island Breeze written by Irene Nolan, who edited that publication before launching the Island Free Press, she details how numerous businesses damaged in Isabel suffered more flooding in Alex: Sandy Bay Gallery, Oden’s Dock, Beach Pharmacy, among others.  A few that escaped Isabel’s wrath were slammed by Alex, such as Sea Weeds, a garden shop in Frisco.

“The week after Alex,” Nolan wrote, “owner Becky Marlin had a sign hanging on the fence of the garden shop that said, ‘Sea Weeds Garden Shop has a fine selection of plants – most of them DEAD.’”

Nolan, who died in March at age 70, was a good friend of mine, and we often rode together on the boat that transported people from Frisco to the village when the road was being repaired.  Always the consummate newswoman, Nolan, who lived in Frisco, was also a devoted member of the island community, and she was often moved by the acts of kindness, as well as the resourcefulness, she observed during the months after Isabel.

Her part in the recovery was her reporting, and she took note in that September column of the little victories that buoyed people:  The 50-year-old Adirondack chair at the Sea Gull Motel swept away by Isabel that was swept back to the nearly the same spot by Alex. The CDs that were washed into the marsh during Isabel that were swept back into the owners’ yards during Alex.

A small notice, separated from her column, announced the Sept. 18 celebration of “the spirit of Hatteras.”

Civic association organizers, it said, “wanted to keep the celebration simple and include all islanders.” The event, held at the Community Building in Hatteras village, started at 6:30 p.m. and included dessert and tea, a blessing of the fleet and music.

“God bless you going out and coming in,” the voice of Rev. Charles Moseley crackled through radios of the 23 boats that paraded that evening through Hatteras Harbor past the marina.

After the blessing, everyone went to the community building to feast on dozens of desserts that people brought to share and to dance to the Ocracoke Rockers band.  I remember hearing no one complain about the evening’s chilly drizzle.  People greeted each other warmly, checked how each other fared, and before long, they were sharing a laugh.  

It was evident from the enthusiasm of the crowd huddled earlier on the marina’s store porch, as they hooted and applauded each passing vessel, that there was heartfelt pride in the watermen.

Ernie Foster, Lynne’s husband and the owner of the Albatross Fleet, says that about 20 commercial boats were working then,  as well as“very limited” charter fishing operations. If the charter customers could get to the village, charter captains were permitted to take people fishing. Smaller boats would often bring people to the charters from Frisco and Buxton, and sometimes even Engelhard. And special ferries picked up fish catch so it could be transported to the markets.

“Part of it was a sense of normalcy,” recalls Foster in a recent interview,“and the notion that we’re getting back, regaining our footing.”

By the second anniversary of Isabel in 2005, the event had blossomed officially into the Day at the Docks. Expanded into a full-blown event, it featured porch talks, story-telling, demonstrations and music, all focused on celebration of the village’s fishing traditions and heritage. There were six sponsors, including the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, which provided a $5,000 grant.

Again, the event was nearly ruined by a hurricane. Hurricane Ophelia, although a weak storm, threatened to flood the village. But it veered east at the last minute, saving the village the mess it had experienced in Alex. Instead, the village was greeted that day with blistering sun.

With food booths and information booths, the 2005 event was a precursor to the Day at the Docks taking hold as an annual, island-wide celebration, leading to its current expanded two-day event, starting today (Friday.)  

“Now people are asking us, ‘How can we help?,” says Lynne Foster, who has stepped back from organizing.  “It’s amazing, really, how many people want to be part of this event.”

Foster says she is excited about the new offerings, including islander Daniel Pullen’s photography show of watermen, which is expected to become a traveling state-wide program. But she is also thrilled that one of the originals, the kids’ fishing contest, has one of the biggest and most popular events.

To the Fosters, the Day at the Docks succeeds because it is an authentic, grassroots celebration, rooted in Hatteras’ fishing village heritage. It is a way to pay homage to what matters to a community that has overcome and persevered by coming together.

“The piece that I most hope evolves from this is that we see the water is for everyone,” Ernie Foster says.

“Sport fishing is part of our lives. Commercial fishing is part of our lives. That’s what we want people to get out of Day at the Docks.”

One comment

Karen Wilson

I love Day at the Docks and all it represents. My favorite part is the blessing of the fleet. So sorry I can’t be there this year. Have fun 😎

Karen Wilson - 16-09-’17 13:58




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