Village Craftsmen Ocracoke Newsletter
Hauled Mail, More
(reprint from a February 1, 1948 article in the
Raleigh News &
Observer, by Charles S. Killebrew)
Every morning of the year about 10 o'clock there can be seen chugging
into the docks of Atlantic, N.C., an insignificant-looking little boat
about 40 feet long, and painted white and orange. To anyone who doesn't
know, it appears to be just another of the fishing boats which ply the
waters of the Core and Pamlico sounds, but to the people who live in
that area, it means mail and freight from Ocracoke, situated on the
Outer Banks and accessible only by boat or airplane.
The little craft, christened the Aleta, has been in use for well over 20 years.
The small craft is met each day by groups of persons who have gathered
on the docks out of pure curiosity or because they might be expecting
freight from the banks. Also perhaps they are expecting a friend
because the mail boat also carries passengers.
The Aleta makes connections with commercial bus lines both on arrival
and departure from the mainland, and its drivers are on hand to take
care of the passengers' baggage at the docks.
When the boat docks, a door in the side of the engine room opens, and
Captain George F. O'Neal begins putting the baggage, mail and freight
ashore. Captain O'Neal is a man of 58 years, small stature, and with a
brogue so thick you can cut it with a knife. His hair is snow white,
and his face is browned from the wind and sun.
Th mail boat make a round trip to the mainland each day with the first
leg beginning from Silver Lake on Ocracoke Island at 6 o'clock in the
morning, and the return trip starting as soon after 1 o'clock in the
afternoon as the mail arrives.
As soon as the mail is aboard, Captain O'Neal "gets her under way" and
that is all you see of him until the boat docks at Ocracoke in Silver
Lake, the natural boat basin on the island.
The engine room is on the same deck with the passengers' cabin, but
captain O'Neal closes the door to the engine room and all that is heard
from the room is the incessant roar of the powerful diesel engine which
pushes the boat.
Captain O'Neal says that he has carried almost everything in the
freight line. "Why only last week," he says, "I carried three sheep to
Atlantic from Ocracoke. I just tied them to the rail on top of
the passengers' cabin and they didn't bother anybody," he continued.
The passengers' cabin is small and seats 10 or 12 persons comfortably.
O'Neal says that the only restriction on the number of passengers he
can carry is that there must be a life vest for each person aboard. He
said that on one trip he had 60 women aboard. "They were all over
everything," he grinned.
The mail route, one of the few left in the country today, is a star
route and is secured by sealed bid for the government contract. The
contract is for four years. O'Neal's contract expires this year.
The Aleta makes two mail and passenger stops to and from the
mainland.The first stop going towards Ocracoke is at Cedar Island,
which boasts two post offices and a total of 280 inhabitants.
The second stop is Portsmouth Island, on which 15 persons live. In each
case the mailman brings the mail to the Aleta by skiff. If there are
any passengers to embark, the postman brings them also.
According to O'Neal, the mail boat goes every day of the year, and he
misses only two or three trips each year, these being because of storms.
He is very proud of the fact that he has never had to be towed in by
the Coast Guard, and strange as it may seem, on several occasions he
has towed in Coast Guard boats.
When asked if the two four-hour, 30-mile trips each day became
monotonous, Captain O'Neal just smiled and showed a twinkle in hi eye
which seemed to say that no one becomes tired of the sea when they love
it as much as he.