March 21, 2017
The Ocracoke Water Tank
Caper....or...That’s No Swimmin’ Hole – A
By Michael Mincher
When I was in college I was fortunate enough to have
discovered Ocracoke Island through a roommate.
His family owned a small Bed and Breakfast on Ocracoke and he would let
me come and live there and help around the B & B, and we would
sailing, kayaking, and windsurfing lessons to our guests. I
two summers in the salt, sand, and
sun of Ocracoke Island. I was fascinated
with the culture and history of the small fishing village turned
tourist Mecca. I was also fortunate enough to have the
opportunity to work with and for Nat Jackson for a period of time.
Since he was
one of Ocracoke’s most colorful characters, I heard much
lore and was
afforded what I feel was an inside look at the island’s
dingbatters are not privy to.
That was my connection to some of the local boys. We
worked together, (hard I might add as we matched each other shovel-full
shovel-full of gravel, sand and concrete). We spent that second summer
Corky’s Harborside Motel leveling and raising it.
the cool sand and shade beneath
that building was a reprieve from the baking sun and green-heads that
summer. Nat Jackson would say, “That
green-head bit me so hard, I think he had a cigar in his
mouth!” Nonetheless, I tried to fit in, and if I
couldn’t BE one of the local boys, at least I could be with
particular Friday night in the Summer of 1993 (best I can remember),
dingbatter, two local boys who shall remain nameless (that reason will
more apparent shortly) and I got a case of cheap beer and headed to the
gazebo to see what we could stir up and get into.
The night started out innocently enough. We were boys
beer on Friday
night. But we were boys….and bored boys
at that. So at some point we climbed up
on the roof of the school which was fairly uneventful. From
we could see the radio antenna at
the firehouse so we decided to climb that.
Something must have been running in our blood that night that wanted to
reach for the sky; I don’t know. Anyway,
the antenna proved, at least, to be a little more exciting.
was safe, I reckon; we weren’t looking to
do any harm or anything; we were just looking for stuff to
When out of nowhere, one of the locals said,
“I know how to get on top of that water tower.”
I should probably add an aside, here, saying that I
had passed up a chance to climb a water tower when I was younger, the
water tower my father and his brothers had climbed when they were
boys. So there was some latent need inside me to
achieve this great literal and figurative pinnacle of
achievements. I was IN!
So there we were, standing at the base of this, what was it? 220 ft?
water tower with the bottom rung of the ladder about 20 feet in the
air. There was no fence around it or
anything. It was kind of inviting,
actually. So helping my partners in crime,
we scaled the National Park Service fence to
ladder which we
could see hanging on the side of a building.
Within half an hour there we were, the remnants of a case of warm Pabst
Blue Ribbon in hand, sitting on top of the Ocracoke Island Water Tower!
As another aside here, Ocracoke should really build a
platform up there and charge $5 a head to go and take a look.
is really a spectacular view. Shrimp boats on the water, the
merriment pouring off of screened porches, the twinkle of distant
Hatteras, and the shape of the lights of the houses and atop the masts
residents of Silver Lake. It was an
experience of a lifetime and to this day I am grateful for
But then….. someone reached over and opened
the hatch on the top of the water tower.
Yes, just an old hinged hatch with no lock or anything, with a ladder
dropping down into the deep dark abyss.
About as fast as that, our clothes were off and we were swimming 220
in the air in the Ocracoke Water Supply.
There was never a thought of whether what we were
doing was right or wrong; it was simply that once the first of us dove
and the laughter started echoing around the inside of that chamber,
each of our
presences became compulsory. Maybe a
little scary, but what I remember most was how much chlorine was in
there! It smelled like a public pool anyway. That
really it. A couple of laps, some
laughter, just a really high, dark swimmin’ hole.
climbed out, finished our warm beer and
climbed down. We returned the ladder and
headed out to Howard’s Pub.
I’m pretty sure, in retrospect, that was our biggest
mistake. Straight to the bar where, who
knows…but I only embellish this point saying that Donna the
Buffalo was playing.
I don’t actually remember who was playing; what I do remember
we’d have had the right to remain silent…..we
wouldn’t have had the
ability. “Loose lips sink ships” and all
those aphorisms come to mind since I’m pretty sure everyone
that night found out what we had just done.
Honestly, it never occurred to me that what we had
done was wrong. Well, I was wrong about
that. Approximately a week later, after
work, sitting in my favorite spot at the bar at Howard’s Pub
to the wait
station so I could hassle the waitresses (insert shameless plug for
1990’s Howard’s Pub waitresses here, woo hoo!), the
at the bar rang and
it got handed to me. Dramatic music, duh
duh duh! It was Gene Jackson…1) Nat’s
Nephew and 2) Chief? Sheriff? Only? Police Officer back then.
Gene asked, “Michael, could you come over
here and talk to me a minute?” I couldn’t
exactly say no and couldn’t exactly say I couldn’t
as I climbed off my
barstool and walked the 150 yards across the road to his
“Michael, did you do something that started
out funny and kind of got out of hand?”
I imagine he tried me first because he knew how much information he
gotten out of my, now, partners in crime. Not exactly the shining
moment in the
display of intelligence of a graduating senior from the University of
Carolina at Wilmington’s Business Program, I
My idiotic self told the whole story. I remember Gene going
the details with
me saying how he would hate to have to climb up there and get
fingerprints. I wish I would have called
him on that one, but I didn’t. So the
jig was up. I had just confessed. He sent me on my
way. I thought it was over; the town, however, did
not. Another week went by and Wayne Self
and I were on our way home from work and Gene pulled up next to us in
cruiser. We said our hellos and Gene
asked me if I was ready to “do this
With saddened face, I said, “I guess; let me go home and take
and I’ll be down there.” So that is what
I did. I went to the house, got cleaned
up, grabbed a book and rode my bicycle down to the jail, locked my bike
front, and went inside to get arrested.
I must say that, if you are going to get arrested, that is a pretty
way to do it. I mean, where was I going
to go; the next ferry didn’t leave for an hour.
The other guys had already been there and gotten
bonded out. They charged us with Class I
Felony Contamination of the Water Supply.
I mean full terrorist charges, good Lord! Nat Jackson made an
appeal to the magistrate
on my behalf that I be released on my own recognizance, but Ocracoke
none of that. Wayne Self actually put up
his home as collateral to get me out. I
should say that that was on the promise of me returning and standing
summer was coming to a close and it was time for me to go attend my
semester at UNCW. The boys and I got a
lawyer. I think one of us got a different lawyer; some of those details
The long and the short of it is that the lawyer said,
“Boys, I don’t really think you are guilty of
of the Water Supply,
but I think you are guilty of Disorderly Conduct” (a
misdemeanor). We accepted that and pleaded to whatever the
punishment was…a $250 fine and 40 hours of community
service. The guys had not been very happy with me as
the only evidence that the prosecution had was my confession.
Apparently Gene never climbed up there to get
fingerprints. I had considered standing
trial and citing youthful exuberance and the fact that We Did Not
the Water Supply. There had been some
talk of urination, but let me make this clear right now…We
Too! C’mon! So, nonetheless, we all
Disorderly Conduct. The guys even paid
my fine for me, if I remember correctly, since I left the courtroom to
and graduate from college. My partners
in crime had to serve out their community service at the base of the
tower working for the Ocracoke Sanitary District, a return to the scene
crime, so to speak.
I returned in January after I graduated, and in
between crawling underneath the Variety Store to pour new footers
Calvin Wilkerson, I did my 40 hours community service painting the
the jail. I would like to formally
apologize to my partners in crime for my confession then, and for
up again now. I only left their names
out since I did not the first time. Philip
Howard felt that enough time had gone by and wanted the story
preserved. I just want to thank my youthful friends for
one of the most memorable nights of my life.
Oh, back at the time there was some talk of t-shirts
being made and maybe there was even a cardboard sign made by the
waitresses of Howard’s Pub that said, “Ocracoke
We Tower Above the