Recently a long-time visitor to Ocracoke sent me an email. She had received an unexpected birthday gift from a friend. It was a vintage card game produced in 1984. According to the enclosed brochure, the game was created by two “world sailors” who, “after rounding Cape Hatteras in a 60′ schooner [LOA 77′]…found refuge from a storm in Silver Lake Harbor on Ocracoke Island.” The game was copyrighted by Tao Lee Stettler. Questions and inquiries were directed to a post office box at Ocracoke, but that box had long since been rented to someone else.

Beachcomber Game
Beachcomber Game

My correspondent was unable to uncover any more information about the game or its creator, and asked me if I could shed any light on the mystery.

I immediately remembered Ralph and Jennifer Stettler, a couple in their mid-30s and mid-20s who, in the 1980s, lived on their schooner that was docked in Silver Lake. The game was only a vague memory, but Ralph and Jennifer were a more vivid memory. I counted them among a group of colorful individuals who found their way to Ocracoke in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to the game’s brochure, during the couple’s stay on Ocracoke “they found the Outer Banks lifestyle so unique that they were inspired to capture that feeling, and the game of BEACHCOMBER came to life.”  “Once you have been to the Outer Banks,” it continued, “it is easy to see how all of the adventures of BEACHCOMBER could happen to you, and will!”

The brochure goes on to explain that “[t]his is a card game in the vein of Mille Bornes. One’s goal is to collect the most shells (similar to mileage cards).

Beachcomber Cards
Beachcomber Cards

“The quantity of shells one can pick up is based on the mode of transportation (foot, bike, 4×4), and there are various problems that can slow you down (soft sand, no reservation, hot sand).

Beachcomber Cards
Beachcomber Cards

You must be on vacation to collect shells (similar to the Go card), and there are things that can frustrate the vacation (hotel bill, food bill, beach gear bill, and gas bill); bills can be addressed with money or ‘super solutions.’”

Beachcomber Cards
Beachcomber Cards

Ralph and Jennifer arrived at Ocracoke, as they recounted, on their 60’ schooner Mistress, a sailing yacht with quite a history. The Mistress was built in 1930 by Eastern Shipbuilding Corporation of Shelbourne, Nova Scotia, for George Emlem Roosevelt (1887-1963). George was a cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt and a prominent banker, philanthropist, railroad financier, and yachtsman. The Mistress was designed by Charles Sherman Hoyt, a “master helmsman, tactician, designer [and] raconteur.”[1]

Ralph Stetler purchased the Mistress sometime after G. E. Roosevelt’s death. After obtaining degrees in Business Administration and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University, Ralph worked in real estate in San Diego in the early 1970s. In 1972 he developed a company in San Diego devoted to teaching sailing and matching prospective crew members to sailing vessels that needed crew. The Mistress was the flag ship of the company.

In 1977, when Ralph was 30 years old, he entered his 47-year-old schooner in the Transpacific Yacht Race, a premier blue water yacht race starting from San Pedro, California, and ending off Diamond Head in Hawaii, a distance of around 2,225 nautical miles. The Mistress’s elapsed time was just under thirteen days. Although the Mistress did not place, it must have been a memorable experience. Five other sailboats were dismasted in a single night of stormy weather.

Ralph remained two years in Hawaii where he met Jennifer Lucas. Together they sailed back to California, and then took the Mistress into the waters of Mexico and Central America, eventually passing through the Panama Canal.

In Panama they learned about molas, a traditional textile craft made from layers of bright colored fabric that are stitched and cut using applique techniques to create patterns and pictures. Originally created for blouses and skirts, they were made by the women of the Kuna tribe in the San Blas islands. Later, rectangular mola panels were created primarily for display and sold to tourists. Ralph and Jennifer purchased a number of molas and financed part of their travels by selling them in ports as they sailed into the Caribbean and up the east coast of the United States.

Mola
Mola

After the storm forced the Mistress into safe harbor in Silver Lake, Ralph and Jennifer discovered that Ocracoke Island life suited them just fine and they settled in for a while. Jennifer secured work in the village. Ralph, a self-described Taoist, hosted open-air philosophical discussions on the dock beside his sailboat. After several months, Ralph and Jennifer were married in a small ceremony in the Island Inn. Their first child, Tao Lee, was born during their two-year sojourn on the island. It was during this time that Ralph and Jennifer created their card game.

A number of islanders have beautiful and colorful molas by which to remember the Stettlers. Many also remember the green pennies that circulated among village shops and stores in the 1980s. Needing ballast for the Mistress, the skipper discovered that pennies were cheaper than lead. As a consequence, many pounds (and many dollars’ worth) of copper pennies were thrown into the bilge. It was a simple matter to scoop up a handful of corroded pennies whenever Ralph and Jennifer needed a little extra change.

Eventually, the Stettlers decided to seek other adventures. With help from experienced sailor and Ocracoke islander, Al Scarborough, they took the Mistress, with a draft of almost ten feet, through the tricky and sometimes treacherous channels of Ocracoke Inlet without incident and up to Solomons Island, Maryland. The boat was by then more than a half century old and in need of some repair, but a bilge pump kept the leaks in check during the journey.  For the next several years the Stettlers operated a waterfront restaurant in Maryland.

In 1987 Ralph sold the Mistress. He and Jennifer moved to Washington state where their second child, Ellen, was born. Jennifer pursued a degree in Spanish and Physical Education while working evenings. Ralph worked as a consultant and operated a small business in both the United States and Canada.

Ralph died in 2006. As mentioned in his obituary, he was passionate about life and knowledgeable in a variety of often complex subjects. He loved chess, a variety of music, traveling, blue water sailing, other hobbies, and above all, his children. It was said that “those who sailed with him as captain” would not forget him, and that “he had a way of doing things that was just somehow different than how anyone else would do it.”

As of this writing Jennifer continues to live in Washington state, but with many fond memories of adventures aboard the schooner Mistress, and of two formative years on Ocracoke Island.

You can read more about the history of the Mistress and its current life at the following web sites:

https://schoonermistress.wordpress.com/

http://www.unlikelyboatbuilder.com/2014/04/setting-sail.html

[1]https://books.google.com/books?id=G18gySekEdYC&pg=PA64&lpg=PA64&dq=Sherman+Hoyt+yacht+designer&source=bl&ots=YnGShhnj8o&sig=5cYmQEP8T13UrVNT8W8D5eq-OD4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4DtgU5WhCsbMsQS9vYCIDQ&ved=0CEIQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=Sherman%20Hoyt%20yacht%20designer&f=false

 

 

 

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Almost any time a group of musicians gets together to play sea shanties someone will break out with “The Drunken Sailor.” It is one of the best-known shanties.

Bob Bob Zentz Playing a Sea Shanty on his Concertina
Bob Bob Zentz Playing a Sea Shanty on his Concertina

Here is the refrain…and three popular verses:

What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
Earl-eye in the morning!

Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning!

Put him in a longboat ‘til he’s sober
Put him in a longboat ‘til he’s sober
Put him in a longboat ‘til he’s sober
Earl-eye in the morning!

Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning!

Shave his belly with a rusty razor
Shave his belly with a rusty razor
Shave his belly with a rusty razor
Earl-eye in the morning!

Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning!

Give ‘im a hair of the dog that bit him
Give ‘im a hair of the dog that bit him
Give ‘im a hair of the dog that bit him
Earl-eye in the morning!

Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Hooray and up she rises
Earl-eye in the morning!

 

According to Wikipedia, “The shanty was sung to accompany certain work tasks aboard sailing ships, especially those that required a bright walking pace. It is believed to originate in the early 19th century or before, during a period when ships’ crews, especially those of military vessels, were large enough to permit hauling a rope whilst simply marching along the deck.”

The earliest mention of this song dates to 1841, but many researchers believe it is as old as 1820, or even earlier. The verses suggest various ways to punish a drunken sailor. Many verses are simply created on the spot as the song is performed. One particularly intriguing verse is “Give ‘im a hair of the dog that bit him,” usually attributed to Burl Ives in his 1956 LP “Down to the Sea in Ships.”

I was aware that the “hair of a dog that bit him” refers to an alcoholic drink taken to cure a hangover, but I wondered where that expression originated. Then, not long ago, I read this passage in “The Adventures of John Nicol [b. in Edinburgh, 1755], Mariner, During Thirty Years at Sea”:

“I was on shore for a good while at Wampoa [Pazhou Island, China], making candles, for our voyage home…. After the candles were made, I [proceeded] to repair the cooper work, and screen sand and dry it, to pack the tea-boxes for our voyage home. One day, a boy was meddling rather freely with the articles belonging to me. Neptune [Nicol’s dog] bit him. I was extremely sorry for it, and…dressed the boy’s hurt, which was not severe. I gave the boy a few cass [small brass coins] who went away quite pleased. In a short time after, I saw him coming back, and his father leading him. I looked for squalls; but the father only asked a few hairs out from under Neptune’s fore leg, close to the body; he would take them from no other part, and stuck them all over the wound. He went away content. I had often heard, when a person had been tipsy the evening before, people tell him to take a hair of the dog that bit him, but never saw it in the literal sense before.”

A little research led me to “Four Thousand Years of Concepts Relating to Rabies in Animals and Humans, Its Prevention and Its Cure,” published by the National Institutes of Health, where I learned that “the first edition of Medicina Curiosa, the first English-language journal wholly dedicated to medicine [published on 17 June, 1684], describes post-exposure prevention [of rabies]…after a [dog] bite [was] based…on applying hair of the biting dog (‘hair of the dog’) to the wound.”

Another NIH article notes that ‘[t]he widespread practice of using dog hair to heal wounds and to avoid rabies infection…has…been reported in studies carried out in [Spain and] other European countries: Albania , Italy and Portugal.

The NIH rightly describes this “’hair of the dog’ cure” as “fanciful” and “ineffective.”

Likewise, reputable health care practitioners describe drinking alcohol to cure a headache as “completely ineffective,” and “causing dehydration which may make some hangovers worse.”

Nevertheless, sea shanty enthusiasts continue to sing with gusto “What shall we do with the drunken sailor? Give ‘im a hair from the dog that bit him…give ‘im a hair from the dog that bit him! Earl-eye in the morning!”

Ocracoke Native, Edgar Howard, with his Banjo
Ocracoke Native, Edgar Howard, with his Banjo

It would be much better to “put him in a longboat ‘til he’s sober.”

 

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The following article (author unknown, but with the explanation,“information and photos supplied by George Tichenor”) is copied from Junior Natural History magazine, February, 1956.

 

Off the coast of North Carolina is Ocracoke Island; a spot rich in history, heroism and legend. It is a sixteen-mile strip of the Carolina Outer Banks. Pamlico Sound separates it from the mainland. The Inland Waterway between New York and Florida down which so many small craft sail makes it an anchorage. A quarter-mile oval of blue water gives it a beautiful harbor.

At the southern end of the island is the village of Ocracoke. Here live some five hundred and fifty healthy ruggedly individualistic people – mostly related, descendants of the original seven families who settled the island. Although closely related through marriage, they produce strong stock and live to ripe old age. Nearly every family has a relative in the home of at least seventy-five! All appear healthy. No doctor lives on the island, only a nurse. The sea provides the main diet – fish.

Ocracoke is not a town of comforts and convenient luxuries as most of us know them. There are no sidewalks. No street lights shine on the sandy lanes. There is only one paved road. It was built by the Navy when they occupied the island [during WW II]. It is a mile long and nine feet wide; just wide enough for one car at a time to travel its length.

The island has its cars. Many people own one; but few bother to register it unless it is taken on the mainland. This isn’t due to lack of money, for no one seems poor.

Life in the village of Ocracoke is quiet and free. It is not controlled by a mayor (there is a civic cub instead). It has no jail, no sheriff, no crime —and no problem children. Even the speech of its people is different – so different a native southerner finds it hard to follow! As Mr. Tichenor described it: “the speaker starts with a drawl seems to think better of it and attempts to swallow his words too late!”

Children on Ocracoke live a wonderful life. Although they share from childhood in the work of the adults, they enjoy everything and have a sense of belonging in the scheme of things. Boys of all sizes ride their domesticated horses bareback. Their steeds come from the band of beautiful wild thoroughbred Arabian horses that roam the sand dunes of the island. Occasionally a sale of captured horses is held. Buyers come over from the mainland for the event. Teenage boys often get up at six in the morning and ride herd until perhaps two-thirty in the afternoon to make the sale worth-while.

Ocracoke, 1956
Ocracoke, 1956

Boys and men seem to be the riders; but everyone dances. They do it often and take it seriously. Several nights a week men, women and children gather in the local school house and solemnly feed quarters to a brilliant, garishly-colored juke box.  Then, without a reel caller, they dance their square dances. No one seems to run the affair; no one collects the money; all enjoy themselves in a solemnly-gay sort of way.

The biggest occasion for all on the island is a three-day Fourth-of-July celebration. There are speeches by the local minister, prizes for the winning bathing beauty, rescue drills by the coast guard, penning and roping of “wild bulls.” There are floats and masquerading and drills by the “only mounted boy scout troop in America!” There is even an “imported’ policeman from the mainland to direct traffic – which goes as it wishes anyway!

A great event of each day is the arrival of two boats from the mainland. The one reaching the northern tip of the island [Frazier Peele’s four-car private ferry] brings passengers, trucks and private cars. Often passengers disembark in six inches or so of sea water and wade to drier sands. They then have sixteen miles of shore line to travel to reach the village. Driving or walking the tide or wet sand can bog them down. Those coming on the mail-and-passenger ferry [the mailboat Aleta] at the southern tip of the island fare better. But they too may be delayed by the tide and condition of the beach. In fact, all events on the island are regulated by the tide. It even put a wedding reception before a wedding!

Ocracoke, 1956, Waiting for the Mailboat
Ocracoke, 1956, Waiting for the Mailboat

Many young [men] go to college on the mainland; many others serve in the armed forces. But practically all of them return to the island to live. They become fishermen or join the coast guard. The sea and its traditions have left its mark everywhere.

The long strip of the Outer Banks upon which the historic village of Ocracoke is located is rich in legend history, and bravery. Its wild, lonely, flat beaches hold hundreds of partially buried hulks and bits of wreckage from ships; victims of storms, accidents or human violence. The famous “ghost” ship, the Carroll A. Deering left its bow on Ocracoke Island. The ship was found stranded on Diamond shoals just off the Cape Hatteras coast guard station in 1921. Food was still in the galley pots; but no living soul was on board, only the ship’s cat. What a tale it could have told! Later on the bow drifted to Ocracoke’s beach.

The ill-fated English settlers of Raleigh’s expedition landed on Ocracoke Island before going to settle on Roanoke Island in 1585. Later, settlers stayed and played an important part in the Revolution, bringing in valuable material to Washington through the blockade. Many ancestors of these brave people became coast guardsmen.

Our National Park Service is helping to preserve for future generations the history and color of the place At Cape Hatteras, within the national seashore recreational area, is a Maritime Museum.

Ocracoke Island and the rest of the strip of the Outer Banks didn’t exist some 20,000 years ago. During the last glacial period the sea level was about fifty feet lower than it is today; the shore line was about twenty-five lower than at present. Pamlico and the other sounds were sand flats. Winds gradually shifted the sand and built up dunes and ridges which started the formation of the Outer Banks. When the huge continental ice sheet melted, the sea came in and flooded the sand levels and made the Sounds. Winds still continue their building-up and tearing-down work with the sand dunes.

At Cape Hatteras the sands underwater are gigantic dunes two hundred feet high. They are so high they almost rise above the waters for twelve miles from Cape Hatteras Point straight out to sea. If you stood on the Point on a stormy day you could see these turbulent waters “come together in an awesome display of savage fury.” Flowing from the Gulf Stream of the Caribbean they cascade into huge foamy sprays. This action continually builds up the underwater dunes of Diamond shoals, the barrier that means death to any ship caught within it.

To the north of Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks is Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, supervised by our Fish and Wildlife Service. Here, migrating waterfowl find refuge. Several thousand winter on the island; goose, brant and all species of ducks of the North Carolina coast. Many whistling swans stay for the winter. Loons, grebes, herons, egrets, gulls, terns, vultures, bald eagles, morning doves and others can be seen.

As so often happens, the isolated uniquely independent little village of Ocracoke is about to feel the effects of “civilization.” A road [NC12] connecting it with the mainland, is to be built. With it will come many changes that no amount of historic background and stamina can withstand. What will it do to the free-living, closely knit, picturesque sea dwellers of the island? What will be the fate of the beautiful wild horses that claim this stretch of sand and sea as their own? Only Time will tell.

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