August is nearly gone and Labor Day is fast approaching.  Summertime on Ocracoke has been pleasant this year.  There have been many people here and business has been good, but I have also made time for swimming, walks on the beach, clamming and a little boating.  When I get away from my business I often think of my earliest summers spent on the island.

One of the fondest memories of my childhood visits to Ocracoke was “floundering.”  In those days we used Coleman lanterns as we walked in the shallow Pamlico Sound after dark.  We were looking for the faint outline of these flat fish as they bedded down for the night in the sandy bottom not far from the shoreline.

Initially I accompanied my father and my uncles.  Eventually, as I got older,  I went with my friends, Wayne, Stanley and Lewis.  These adventures would last late into the night and I would come home tired and hungry but, with any luck, also with a mess of flounder for the next day’s supper.

I’m not sure why, but I had not been floundering for several years.  So, at the end of July this year, when Al suggested that several of us make an evening of floundering I was eager to go.  The day before Al had been out in his boat fishing.  The sound was exceptionally clear this time of year and when he drifted over Howard’s Reef he was surprised to see such a large number of flounder on the bottom.  It was the perfect opportunity for an evening’s outing.

No longer are Coleman lanterns the preferred equipment, however.  Years ago someone discovered that an underwater light is much more effective for seeing the bottom clearly.  Nowadays we take homemade contraptions that consist of PVC pipe fitted with a socket and a 12 volt light bulb on one end.  (Don’t worry! It’s low voltage so we don’t electrocute ourselves.)  The fancier rigs also have a peanut butter jar with screw top lid mounted on the end to protect the bulb.  The jar lid or another disk at the base of the bulb prevents the light from shining back and blinding the modern-day hunter-gatherer.  Wires with alligator clips on the end run back through the pipe and fasten onto a car battery that floats in a wooden box or in a large styrofoam block.

Late in the afternoon we began to gather the equipment.  By seven o’clock we had nearly everything we needed except the ice and colas to mix our evening refreshments.  And the batteries!  It didn’t take long to disconnect and remove the battery from my pick-up truck.  Into my bike basket it went and in moments I was on my way to the dock.

There were five of us–Al, Dave, Frank, Ed and I.  The sun was low on the horizon as we motored out the ditch past the Coast Guard Station and turned towards the “back of the island.”

Before long we had found an ideal spot.  The water was barely two feet deep and we were somewhat protected from the wind that was blowing a bit more than we had hoped.  It wasn’t dark yet.  In fact, the sun was a huge orange orb hovering just above the western horizon.  In moments it was melting into Pamlico Sound as we set our anchor, poured our drinks and relaxed to watch the last light fade from view.

We were in no hurry.  After all, this was Ocracoke and we had all night to look for flounder.  It was the ideal time to visit and reminisce and tell stories.

Al remembered the night back around 1959.  It was just before dark.  The new road to Hatteras Inlet was barely two years old and Julius Bryant, brother to Muzel, wanted a ride “down below” (or north of the village) so he could go floundering.  Al drove him to a spot near the pony pen and let him off.  Julius had his lantern, his gig and a long cord to hold his catch.

It was a Saturday night so Al turned around and headed back to the school recreation hall for the weekly square dance.  By midnight everyone was drenched in sweat and both exhilarated and exhausted at once.  As the evening’s fun was coming to a close Julius walked in the door with a glum look on his face.  “How’d it go, buck?”  Al inquired.  “Did you catch a mess of flounder?”  Julius shook his head.  “Not too good, bucky.  I forgot to bring matches to light my lantern.”

Back then the last ferry to Hatteras Inlet was at 4:00 p.m. so the road was empty.  No one came by to give poor Julius a ride.  He had walked all the way back to the village empty-handed, in the dark.  From then on he always remembered to carry matches when he went floundering!

Misfortune, mistakes and misadventures are what tales are made of.  Al’s story reminded me of a conversation I had only days earlier with a local fisherman.  He had taken his wife and a friend with him out to Hog Shoal for an afternoon of clamming.  In the course of their labor another boat came by with more friends, and his wife decided she wanted to take their boat for a “scud” (an Ocracoke term for a short ride) instead of clamming.

She took off with the other boat while her husband and friend continued clamming on the shoal.  She was having such a good time that she went back to their dock on Silver Lake for a little refreshment.  Before long she was asleep in a lawn chair and forgot all about her husband and friend!  They had to hail another boat to pick them up and take them and their clams back home.  Unlike Julius they didn’t have the option of walking home!

We all laughed til we almost fell out of the boat thinking of the stranded clammers.

By then the sun had dipped below the horizon and we set out to stalk our prey.  The water was warm, the sea breeze soft and light.  Ed and I ventured forth, he with the gig, I with the light.  The sandy bottom showed signs of abandoned flounder beds–shallow holes here and there–but no flounder were to be seen.  In short order the boat and our companions were nothing more than specks of light in the distance.

Tiny bait fish and shrimp swirled around our ankles at times and occasionally we spotted gar fish or other small critters.  Blue crabs were ready with their sturdy claws upraised when we passed by, but they quickly scurried away.  Several times we disturbed large sting rays but they, too, were as anxious to avoid a confrontation with us as we were to stay away from them.

On into the night we trudged, slowly passing our light from side to side in front of us, the better to see the bottom.  Ed and I traded tasks, but we were no more successful than earlier in the evening.

It was time to turn our attentions toward the boat.  Throughout the night we would occasionally call out to our friends so we wouldn’t venture too far apart.  Slowly, we made our way back together.  Suddenly I spotted the outline of a large flounder in front of us.  Ed was ready with the gig and in a flash the fish was pinned to the bottom.  But it didn’t flop about as I had expected.  When I reached down to slide my hand under the fish I realized that we had inadvertently stumbled into a gill net!  The flounder had apparently been struggling for quite a while and had almost extricated itself.  When I grabbed hold of the fish it slipped free of the net.  By then its fate was sealed, however.  He was ours!

But a hollow victory it was.  As it turned out this was the only flounder any of us caught that night, and we felt like we had stolen it from a local commercial fisherman.  Al was fond of reminding us of our misadventure as we put our gear away and settled back for a few minutes to enjoy the night sky before we headed home.

The stars were strewn across the heavens like diamonds on black velvet.  The big dipper and Cassiopeia, as well as several other well-known constellations, stood out with exceptional clarity.  The Milky Way, that grand swath of stellar abundance which marks our own galaxy’s presence, stretched across the sky in awesome beauty.  If that were not enough, an errant speck of galactic debris found its way into the upper atmosphere and streaked between the fixed stars with a short-lived but spectacular trail of light.

By now it was past midnight and we were ready to return home.  As we motored down the channel we were treated to yet another of nature’s blessings.  The water that was churned up by the propeller and the bow of the boat cutting into the waves stirred up the microscopic phosphorescent plankton that normally rests undisturbed and dormant in the warm summer waters.  We were mesmerized by the thousands of tiny neon-green sparkles that somersaulted past one another through the waves.

Back at the dock we unloaded our equipment and our one large flounder before heading home for a welcome night’s rest.

Once in bed I quickly drifted off to sleep with pleasant memories of one more night of floundering and anticipation of another delicious meal of fresh Ocracoke fish.

Lest you think that all we do on the island is go to the beach and fish, be sure to visit the rest of our web site.  I have been busy adding many new items in the month of August.  You can go directly to “What’s New” to see what has been added.  And don’t forget to keep us in mind when you need that special gift.  We keep a large inventory year-round and we ship daily.

Until next time, all of us at Village Craftsmen send you our wishes for a terrific Fall and if we don’t see you in the next few months we will be looking forward to your visit next year.



These past two weeks have been delightful. Saturday, Feb 26 was the perfect beach day–warm, sunny and calm.  It was so perfect I just had to take a dip.  When I jumped in I remembered it was February! But my self-imposed rule is to dive completely under the waves at least three times before I can “count” it as really swimming.  It was cold some but as soon as I stepped out of the surf  I just enjoyed letting the sun dry me off.

A month ago I mentioned the Ocracoke term “buck” which is used for “pal” or “friend.”  I am told that the 18th century English meaning of the term, “dashing fellow,” is probably related to the Old Norse word “bokki” designating a male colleague and that it came into use in the English language in the 14th century with the original meaning of  “fellow.” O-cockers have retained the essential meaning of this unusual word for over 250 years.  To my knowledge, Ocracoke is the only place in the US where this term has survived.

Recently I had a note from a friend inquiring about the address of another Island resident.  I didn’t know the person’s PO Box number so I told him just to address the letter to her at Ocracoke, NC  27960.   The Post Office clerks know everyone who lives here,  I explained (I didn’t tell him that he didn’t even need a last name since she has an uncommon first name!).  I received this e-mail response:  “After living this crazy beat-the-clock crowded New York mile a minute, it is difficult to grasp this notion of writing a person’s name and town on an envelope without a PO Box and/or street and having that letter delivered.  🙂   Once again a reminder of why exactly Ocracoke is one of the good earth’s special places.”  I couldn’t agree more!

I walk on the beach nearly every day.  In addition to the many dolphins around this time of year, pelicans are often gliding gracefully over the surf, one wingtip only a fraction of an inch in front of a breaking wave. Sanderlings are always a treat to see as they skitter back and forth playing tag with the incoming waves. Willets winter here as well and are particularly striking when they take to flight because of their distinctive black-and-white color pattern.  Lately, American Bitterns have been fairly common feeding in the low, marshy areas alongside the highway.

On Friday I was lucky enough to find this beautiful Scotch Bonnet that had just washed up in  the incoming tide.

Scotch Bonnet

The Scotch Bonnet is the official North Carolina Seashell and, although I find them occasionaly, especially after storms and hurricanes, it is always a delight to see one (especially a shell as beautiful as this one) sitting serenely at the water’s edge.

In our last installment I mentioned Joe Bell who is buried in “Uncle Dan’s and Aunt Sabra’s” yard.  Joe Bell moved to Ocracoke from Washington, NC sometime near the turn of the last century.  According to the story told on the island, he came here to mend a broken heart.  It was said that he never fully recovered after an unsuccessful romance.  Although he resettled here, many miles from home across the Pamlico Sound (at that time only the mail boat made regular daily trips to the mainland), he never forgot the woman he loved.

In his yard, not far from where he is buried, Joe Bell planted small red and yellow flowers, “gaillardias.”  Because they grow so well in sandy soil and tolerate direct sunlight they adapted readily to the island and quickly spread to neighboring yards and then throughout the village.  They bloom from early April through December or even later if the weather is warm.  Islanders came to refer to them as “Joe Bell” flowers.  He often wore these flowers in his lapel and distributed them liberally to friends.

After the National Park Service purchased their land on Ocracoke and constructed the continuous row of barrier dunes on the ocean side of what is now Highway 12 “Joe Bells,” as well as various other plants, shrubs and trees  gradually took root between the dunes and the sound.  By the 1970’s these bright, cheery flowers had migrated to the northern end of the island.  Since then I have noticed many clusters of gaillardias along the length of Hatteras Island and north of Oregon Inlet as well.

On your next trip down the Outer Banks notice the “Joe Bells” along your route and remember a man who found Ocracoke after a difficult time in his life, but who continued to celebrate the world around him.  The beauty and tenancity of these flowers are testimony to life and love and the human spirit. They are among my favorite flowers.

Ocracoke Joe Bell Flower

Ocracoke Lighthouse with Joe Bell flowers

Take care and we look forward to sharing more news of our island again soon.

Please let us know if there is anything you would like us to include in this newsletter or if you have any suggestions for ways to improve it.  Just click here to send us a message.

Philip and the entire staff of Village Craftsmen


Greetings from Ocracoke Island.  It is still winter, of course, but we’ve had several days of balmy, almost Spring-like weather.  Then it turned a bit colder again.   Walks on the beach will be even more pleasant as it starts to warm up.  Dolphins continue to be plentiful.  David Ried, a local boat builder, told me that he was out on the beach several days ago when some fishermen were trying to launch their dory in the surf.  Apparently there were so many dolphin circling about, including quite a few juveniles, feeding on a school of trout that it was almost impossible to get the boat into the water.  David suggested that the fishermen might want to make a deal with their competitors.  If the dolphin would help round up the fish, they would get a cut of the take!

Our dance evening two weeks ago was a big success.  About two dozen of us danced to the music of David Tweedy, Michael Hilton, Keven Hardy and Mark, a visiting mandolin player. We learned some new contra dances and had fun remembering the traditional Ocracoke “square dance.”  We will get together again on the 17th.  If you are on the island then come join us!

BJ is hosting a Valentine’s party and dance at her house tonight.  We are looking forward to a fun evening.

In our last posting I shared a few Ocracoke words and expressions.  Another very common term used on the island is “some.”  It takes the place of “very” but comes after the adjective.
For example, an O-cocker is much more likely to say  “It sure is pretty some today” than to say “It is very pretty today.”  “Some” can be used with almost any adjective, but common expressions are “hot some,” “old some,” “windy some,” “hard some,” etc.  One grandmother was heard to remark that her grandson was “oaky some” when he came inside after climbing the trees in the yard.

My great-grandfather, James W.  Howard, was keeper of the Life Saving Station at Hatteras Inlet around the turn of the last century.  When you cross the inlet on the ferry look over to the north point of Ocracoke.  You will see a series of pilings.  Sometimes they are surrounded by water; at other times the beach has built out and sand has filled in around them.  These are the remnants of that station which washed away in the 1950’s after extensive damage from hurricanes and other storms.  Photographs of the station can be seen in the book “The Story of Ocracoke.”

Pictured below are some of my great-grandfather’s original hand-written shipwreck reports from 1883-1894.  These were salvaged decades ago from an abandoned store on the island by Bill March from Virginia.  He graciously presented them to me a few years ago.  Following the photos is a transcript of one of the reports. (Thanks to Ellen Marie Fulcher Cloud for transcibing these exactly as written.)

April 8, 1889

NELLY POTTER, 2 masted schooner 99.00 ton out of New Bern, NC  20 years old.  Official # 18,328.   W. WAHAB Master and friends from Washington to New York –  crew of six, cargo of lumber, value of vessel $3,000, cargo $2,000 wrecked near Hatteras Wash, 6 miles NNE of station.  Sunk – drug ashore about 7 miles from shore, about 1:30AM, sevear gale, full tide.  Discovered about 5 AM Monday 8th by DAVID WILLIAMS, lookout.  Arrived at wreck 10 AM, returned to station 12 PM.  Brought 4 men ashore in Supply Boat.  One trip that day.  6 lives saved all belonged to Ocracoke, NC.

APRIL 8TH 1889

Lookout spied schooner, seemed to be ashore on reef in Pamlico Sound near Hatteras Swash.  distance 6 miles NNE.  About the time we were spying the schooner her mainmast fell.  Keeper, crew tuck supply boat as she has sails as it wer impossible to row against such terrific gale.  Left station 5 AM.  We battle hard almost has to give it up several times as the sea was breaking over. Every sea almost sunk the boat with two men bailing with buckets, but after very hard struggle we wer able to get to the wreck schooner which was sunk, both mast gone, sea breaking right over her, every sea.  We anchored under lee of schooner to free our boat.  About that time Capt. Burrus, keeper of Durant Station come to the rescue in very large sail boat, with 10 men.  Capt. Burrus said that he did not think I cold reach the schooner from my station, as I had to beat to the windward.  But wee soon got along side, tuck off the wreck crew, 6 men. All they wear wer drench with water as the see smashed ovr thm.  I tuck four of the crew ashore at my station.  Capt. Burrus tuck 2 men with him.  Al that we cold do at presant as storm was dangerous.  April 9 keeper, crew left station 6 AM to schooner Nelly Potter to save her material, which we did.  Work hard all day all cold do until Capt. of schooner cold hear from owners and if should want us he wold set colors – returned station 4:30 PM.

April 12, 1889       James W. Howard

These historical records, as well as oral traditions, can offer us only a glimpse of what life was like on the island over a century ago.  But it is enough to give us respect for the men and women who braved hardship, severe weather and poverty to build full, rich and meaningful lives, and who passed down their culture and traditions so that we can benefit from them today.

Coming soon: Photos of my great-grandparents, other relatives and island scenes from the past.

I also had a request to include rental information here.  Click on the “Ocracoke Island” link on the left and look for links to our island realtors.  In the future I will be suggesting several other rental homes for those of you who might like an older, basic house with lots of character.

Thank you for visiting with us again.  We hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day and we are looking forward to seeing you when you are next on the island.

Philip and the entire staff of Village Craftsmen