For nearly 30 years Ocracoke Preservation Society has been working to preserve island culture, documents, artifacts, stories, and historic properties. The economic recession of the last few years has impacted Ocracoke and the Preservation Society. In early 2011 the executive committee began new fund raising programs to help ensure that OPS continues its mission. You can help by making a donation today. Every contribution, small or large, will go towards preserving our unique island heritage. To donate, please click here, or on the photo above.

Continue reading to learn more about OPS history, and our current programs.

The invitation read “You are cordially invited to a FREE CLAM CHOWDER SUPPER on Friday, March 25 [1983] at 6:30 p.m. in the Methodist Church Rec. Hall.”

There’s no question about it. Offer free clam chowder, especially the traditional Ocracoke variety prepared by Clinton Gaskill (1906-1999), Ocracoke native, commercial fisherman and popular cook, and be prepared for an enthusiastic response. About 50 people came out that night to formally organize what would become the Ocracoke Preservation Society.

Several weeks prior to that evening a handful of citizens, Anita Fletcher, Linda Scarborough, David and Sherrill Senseney, and Philip and Julia Howard met in the Senseney’s living room to talk about forming an organization to preserve our island’s rich and colorful heritage.

Since the establishment of a World War II Navy base on the island, and the rapid changes following the war, particularly the construction of a hard surface road from the village to Hatteras Inlet, and the institution of state operated ferries across the inlet, many of the defining characteristics of Ocracoke seemed threatened.

History and stories were in danger of being forgotten. There was no central location for the storage and preservation of significant historic documents (e.g. deeds, wills, and maps). Important and noteworthy artifacts were scattered among various families, many in far away places. And, perhaps most troubling, a number of classic island homes were being demolished to make room for modern motels and other businesses, as well as private residences.

The goals of those first few islanders were ambitious. And they knew they would need the help, cooperation, and energy of the entire community.

After dinner at the organizational meeting on March 25 the committee presented their proposed by-laws. As summarized in the society’s first newsletter in April of 1983 “the purpose of the organization shall be to encourage, assist and participate in identification, preservation, and restoration of significant Ocracoke Island structures, buildings, districts, and objects of local interest; to facilitate and encourage public participation in preservation programs and activities;  to purchase, accept, hold, and administer gifts of money, securities, and other property; [and] to operate as a non-profit organization….”

The original officers of the Ocracoke Preservation Society were:

  • President, David Esham
  • Vice President, Calvin O’Neal
  • Secretary, Anita Fletcher
  • Treasurer, Linda Scarborough
  • Education Director, David Senseney
  • Member at Large, Blanche Styron
  • Publicity Director, Kay Riddick
  • Trustees (who “shall meet with the Executive Committee to discuss and have equal vote in determining the acquisition of any real estate or building or any object with value of $100 or more”), Ernest Cutler, Alex Eley, Elsie Garrish, Philip Howard, Ronald O’Neal, Jr;, John Ivey Wells, Larry Williams, and Belle Willis.

Eager to get started, the executive committee met on March 29 to begin planning activities. The most popular idea at the general meeting was to create an Ocracoke Museum. Since this was not immediately possible, the committee decided to sponsor “Ocracoke History Days” on July 2, 3, & 4. Larry Williams was appointed to direct this activity, assisted by Calvin O’Neal.

Larry and Calvin presented the following list of suggested exhibits to a meeting held on April 5:

  • Coast Guard
  • Shipwrecks and Ship Models
  • Hurricanes and Weather
  • Fishing and Hunting
  • Quilting, Crocheting, Knitting, etc.
  • World War I and World War II
  • Maps, Deeds, and Wills
  • Horse, Cattle, and Sheep Penning
  • Miscellaneous Antiques
  • Lectures and Slides
  • Midwifery, Cures, and Ocracoke Medicines
  • Music
  • Church Happenings
  • Early Travel and Hotels

With the help of dozens of residents an impressive array of artifacts, photographs, and documents were collected, organized, and made ready for display at Berkley Castle. For three days in July the Castle became a temporary museum visited by hundreds of islanders and visitors. It was such a success that a similar event was organized and held the following year.

In 1988 a developer purchased the historic David and Alice Wahab Williams house and property on the corner of NC Highway 12 and British Cemetery Road. When island residents learned of the plan to demolish the house in order to make room for a modern brick motel, members of the Preservation Society saw their opportunity to at least save an historic home and, at the same time, establish their long-hoped-for museum.

In negotiations with the National Park Service, the Preservation Society was successful in obtaining a long term lease on property near the Visitors Center and public docks. In 1989 the David and Alice Williams house was donated to the Society, moved to its present location and restored.

Moving the Capt. David & Alice Williams House:

This traditional two-story house was built by David Williams (1858-1938), the first Chief of the U.S. Coast Guard station in Ocracoke village, around the turn of the twentieth century. The property was purchased by David Williams for $10.00 from William Howard Wahab, father of Captain Dave’s wife, Alice Wahab (1865-1953). Alice’s brother, James Hatton Wahab (1861-1913), served in the US Life Saving Service (the predecessor of the US Coast Guard) at Cedar Hammock, just north of Hatteras Inlet.

The David and Alice Williams house is a substantial four-square house with a deep hip roof, exterior chimneys, sawnwork eave brackets, and a hipped front porch with original boxed posts, sawnwork spandrels, two-over-two sashes, one-story rear ell with recessed porch, and a central hall floor plan. It is a contributing structure in the Ocracoke Historic District.

The OPS Museum, Gift Shop, & Library:

Soon after acquisition, the ground floor rooms of the Williams house were converted to the OPS museum which opened its doors to the public in June of 1992.  The house and surrounding Ocracoke Historic District are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Three rooms on the ground floor are furnished in a fashion typical of island homes of the early twentieth century. The parlor includes an antique pump organ, easy chair, cast iron wood stove, and storage cabinets. This room is also used for rotating displays. At the time of this writing the parlor contains photographs, artifacts, and historical information about Muzel Bryant (1904-2008) and her family, the only multi-generational post-Civil War black family to call Ocracoke home.

An antique bed, often covered with a hand stitched quilt, is the focal point of the downstairs bedroom. A child’s cradle, infant clothes, wash stand with pitcher and bowl, dresser, cabinets, portrait photographs, and various small artifacts provide a glimpse into island life several generations ago.

The OPS Bedroom:

In the rear ell, the Williams house kitchen reminds visitors of daily life before Ocracoke had a municipal water system. A cast iron pitcher pump, at one time connected to the fresh water cistern, has a prominent place beside the porcelain sink. A three burner kerosene stove with removable oven and primitive toaster sits against one wall. An early refrigerator stands on the opposite wall. Shelves adorned with period kitchen utensils and other items round out the displays. Fragments of popular linoleum designs cover portions of the wooden floor.

The OPS Kitchen:

Other rooms and the hallway on the ground floor are used for rotating displays. These have included photography exhibits, maritime history exhibits, WWII displays, seashell and carved bird collections, and a video celebrating Ocracoke Island’s unique brogue.

A small gift shop is housed in another downstairs room. There visitors can purchase numerous books documenting island history and culture, audio CDs of Ocracoke musicians, local cookbooks, art, prints, and note cards, as well as quilt squares and other items related to island life. The museum is open most of the year, 10 am – 4 pm (Monday through Friday), and 11 am – 4 pm (Saturday).

The second floor of the Williams house contains a research library and administrative offices. The research library has a growing number of historical, genealogical, photographic, and other resources relevant to Ocracoke history. Here you can find out how to square dance Ocracoke style, learn more about the island’s historic 1823 lighthouse, British Cemetery, wild ponies, hurricanes, and the World War II Naval Base on Ocracoke. You might even be able to track down your ancestors if you have island roots. The research library is not open to the general public, but these materials may be viewed by prior appointment.

The OPS Research Library:

The Ocracoke Preservation Society supports a number of special committees.

The Historic District Committee’s mission is to preserve the area that has been officially identified as the Ocracoke Historic District by the United States Department of the Interior.  This area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.  It has state-wide significance in the areas of Exploration/Settlement and Social History as well as Architecture.

When placed on the National Register, Ocracoke village historic district contained 391 resources:  232 contributing buildings, 15 contributing cemeteries, four contributing structures (the lighthouse and three resource networks: the cisterns, the picket fences, and the docks), 139 non-contributing buildings, and one non-contributing structure (a pool cabana).  The period of significance (1823-1959) extends from the earliest still existing resource (the lighthouse) to the year that Ocracoke entered the modern era.  The district spreads across approximately 200 acres (roughly half of the total area) of the village and is mostly concentrated around Silver Lake Harbor.

The Ocracoke Preservation Society Historic District House Award Plaque has been awarded annually since 1989.  A contributing structure in the Historic District is recognized for maintaining the architectural features that allowed the structure to be originally identified for placement in the Historic District.

The Society’s annual Save an Old House Award has been given to the following individuals:

  • Blanche Howard Jolliff, the Stacy Howard House, 1989
  • John Thomas & Mildred O’Neal, the Ivey & Eliza O’Neal House, 1990
  • James Barrie & Ellen Gaskill, Albert Styron’s Store, 1991
  • Keith & Isabella McDermott, the John Wilson McWilliams House, 1992
  • Fannie Pearl Fulcher, the Amasa Fulcher House, 1993
  • Jerry & Pam Sheets, the Horatio Jones Williams House, 1994
  • Ruby Garrish, the Simpson-Basnett Garrish House, 1995
  • Cape Hatteras National Park Service, the Ocracoke Lightkeeper’s Quarters, 1996
  • Andy & Mary Anderson, the Albert Styron House, 1997
  • Myra Edwards Wahab, the James Hatton Wahab House, 1998
  • Alton Ballance, the Isaac O’Neal House, 1999
  • Timothy Midgett, the Bragg-Tolson House, 2000
  • Isabella Morris, the Eliza & William I. O’Neal House, 2001
  • William Nathan & Janet Spencer, the Esther & Andrew Spencer House, 2002
  • Robert & Debbie Kornegay, the Preston & Bertha Garrish House, 2003
  • Lynn Russell, the John N. Midgette House, 2004
  • Philip Howard, the Bragg-Howard House, 2005
  • Robert Temple & Sundae Horn, the William & Lillian Jackson House, 2006
  • Michael & Paula Schramel, the James Henry Garrish House, 2007
  • John R. Mitchell, Jr., the Tilman W. O’Neal House, 2008
  • David Senseney (owner), James & Susan Paul (leasees), the Community Store, 2008 (Special award for restoration of public space inside & outside)
  • David Senseney, the Sound Front Inn/Chase-Bragg-Boos House, 2009
  • Tom & Carol Pahl, the Uriah Garrish House/Ocracoke Restoration Company, 2010

The Ocracoke Preservation Society also assists property owners in preserving land and historic buildings to protect Ocracoke’s natural resources and areas that have historic, cultural and recreational importance.

OPS offers the following preservation options to interested landowners:

  • Landowners may choose to donate property directly to OPS. This property may be given with or without specific restrictions, and donors may receive a charitable tax deduction on their income tax. Property may be historic or non-historic real estate and will be protected as designated by donors and the OPS mission guidelines.
  • Landowners may choose to place conservation easements on property and ask OPS to act as the land trust agent for that property. Valuable natural areas or scenic views, historic, or non-historic may be protected using tax incentives and a range of conservation techniques.
  • Landowners may choose a bequest to OPS as part of their will and estate planning. Bequests qualify as charitable deductions in computing inheritance taxes and ensure the preservation of land and real property for future generations.
  • Landowners may choose to negotiate with OPS for the direct sale of real estate. This would allow the seller to qualify for income tax deductions and, in turn, allow OPS to keep and maintain or use real estate for re-sale in accordance with the OPS mission.

OPS also funds and manages a number of specific projects.

The Collections Committee identifies, documents, maintains, and cares for all artifacts under its care, whether presently on public display or not.

The Building Committee sees to the ongoing maintenance and repair of the Williams house, outbuildings, fences, and other structures.

There is also a Save an Old Boat Committee which is working on preserving and repairing the historic island fishing boat “Blanche.”

Each summer, primarily in June, July, and August, OPS hosts weekly “Porch Talks” that highlight Ocracoke’s unique culture and heritage. Porch talks are held in the museum’s back yard or on one of the porches. Topics of interest have included the 1957 Ocracoke Mounted Boy Scout Troop, Traveling on the Mailboat Aleta, Shipwrecks and the US Life Saving Service, Ocracoke Island Fig Trees & Fig Preserves, Storytelling, Ocracoke Island Square Dance, and much more.

Other special events that OPS has sponsored or supported include the island’s annual July 4th celebrations, the Ocracoke Music & Storytelling Festival every June, and the OcraFolk School in October.

Four times every year OPS publishes their newsletter, “The Mullet Wrapper.”

During the summer of 2009, the Ocracoke Preservation Society received a generous bequest from the Geraldine Beveridge Estate. This bequest directed that the funds be used for “the preservation of buildings and the preservation and promotion of the history and heritage of Ocracoke Island.”  OPS determined that the best use of this bequest would be to identify endangered historically significant property, option or purchase it, and place protective covenants on the property to ensure the continuance of the historic integrity of the property. The property would then be offered for sale.

In 2010 the Society was successful in purchasing the Emma and Simon O’Neal house. Built circa 1900, the house is located at 458 Lighthouse Road, within the historic district of Ocracoke. The home is within sight of the Ocracoke Lighthouse and within walking distance of Pamlico Sound, Springer’s Point Nature Preserve and Teach’s Hole where the Pirate Blackbeard was killed in 1718.

The Emma & Simon O’Neal House:

As part of the Ocracoke National Register Historic District, the house qualifies for state and federal tax benefits.

The Emma and Simon O’Neal Home had been in the O’Neal/Gaskins family for over 100 years. The Gaskins sisters have memories of the lighthouse beaming into their bedroom window and spending many a summer evening sitting on the front porch. The home was originally built for their grandparents at the time of their marriage. The land was given to them by Emma’s family, Elijah and Elizabeth Styron.

The Emma and Simon O’Neal home is a fine example of the Ocracoke “story and a jump” style architecture with two bedrooms on the second floor and a living room and one bedroom on the first floor. The kitchen, bath and a utility room are located in a rear addition to the original house. The house has 1,056 square feet of living space.

This frame house features a steep gabled roof with an open hipped porch, turned posts and cedar shake covering. The O’Neal home has its original staircase, wooden two over two sash windows, the original corbelled chimney and original interior beadboard walls and ceilings.

The home sits on a large lot consisting of 8,963 square foot with an abundance of native vegetation including cedar and pine trees.

The house is in need of new plumbing, electrical and basic systems as well as raised footings and some TLC.

Be sure to visit the OPS museum when you are on the island. You can make a contribution anytime to help ensure the continuation of the valuable work being done by the Society. To donate, please click here, or on the photo at the top of the page.


Welcome back to another edition of our island newsletter!

Some of you may have heard about the fire scare we had last month.  A bottle rocket set off a blazing marsh fire just north of Jackson Dunes on June 8.  The wind was exceptionally strong and pushed the flames to the edge of a stand of tinder-dry cedar trees.  It was only by the quick action of local fishermen (who used their net stake pump to draw water from a nearby ditch), the Volunteer Fire Department (who responded immediately), and scores of worried citizens who struggled with hoses and shovels, that the fire was contained before it jumped the road and engulfed homes and more trees.

Everyone was concerned because the dry brush was fueling the fire and the gusty wind was driving it rapidly towards the village.  Residents and business owners were warned to gather valuables together in the event that the fire became an uncontrollable inferno.  And we all breathed a communal sigh of relief when the fire was finally reduced to smoke and charred vegetation.

Post-fire Marsh Scene:
Post Fire Marsh

One benefit of the conflagration was the passage of an island ordinance prohibiting fire crackers, bottle rockets, and other individual fireworks.  The ordinance calls for criminal and civil penalties so please remember to leave your fireworks at home from now on.  None of us can afford to let our beautiful village fall victim to reckless negligence.

The fire erupted late in the afternoon, during one of the final performances of the OcraFolk Music & Storytelling Festival.  In spite of the distraction the festival was a huge success.

For some time I have been chronicling local island history in these pages.  One of the most colorful characters to be associated with Ocracoke is Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard the Pirate.  I will recount some of his history and stories in a later newsletter, but right now I want to share some thoughts about Blackbeard’s quartermaster, William Howard.

As many of you know, William Howard was the fourth colonial owner of Ocracoke Island (and the first owner to make his home here).  Family legend suggests that William Howard of Ocracoke is the very same William Howard, quartermaster to Blackbeard.  At least that’s what some of the family think.  Others are not so sure.  Dora Adele Padgett, herself the great-great-great-great granddaughter of William, in her book, William Howard Last Colonial Owner of Ocracoke Island, discounts this theory.  She writes:

“And what of the old tales that William Howard, Blackbeard’s Quartermaster, was the same person as William Howard, who in 1759, 40 years later, purchased the Island of Ocracoke?  Evidence points to the fact that in 1718 William Howard Quartermaster, was an experienced ruffian, a seasoned villain and a seafaring man of wide experience.  He is described in the Virginia Court indictment against him as ‘a vagrant seaman, who did associate himself with wicked and dissolute persons.’  In 1718, William Howard who later lived on Ocracoke was a youth of about 18 years of age, hardly the seasoned villain of wide experience who had been Blackbeard’s quartermaster.”

For a different view consider the following.  After my father’s death in March I was going through his papers and discovered a ten-page type-written document entitled “History of the Life of Frank Treat Fulcher.”  Frank Treat, as everyone on the island called him, was a colorful character.  He was a folk artist who carved a number of boat models, as well as the last supper scene that can be seen in the vestibule of the Methodist Church.  His rendition of the Coast Guard vessel EAGLE is on display in the Maritime Room in the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum.  He left the island as a youth and eventually landed a job in Norfolk as a policeman.  Later in life he became a Methodist minister, explaining this change in occupation with the memorable statement, “I figured if I couldn’t beat the Hell out of people, I’d try preaching the Hell out of ’em.”

Frank Treat Fulcher (1878-1971)
Frank Treat Fulcher

According to Frank Treat’s autobiography he was “born January 25, 1878, on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.”  His father was in the Life Saving Service; his maternal grandfather was a merchant sea captain.  He writes, “At ten years of age my mother let me sail with a friend of hers, a Mrs. Rose, who was Captain….of the schooner EMILINE and I was seaman 3rd class.”  This was in 1888.  That is 170 years after Blackbeard was killed.  And boys were still leaving home to become sailors at ten years old!  Frank Treat “sailed to the various ports of Eastern Carolina” and rose to the rank of seaman first-class.  He recounts rescuing the first mate, who seems to have had a habit of falling overboard, more than once.  From the EMILINE he moved on to the schooner BESSIE where he learned both to cook and to “cuss a blue streak.”  He was not yet eleven years old.

Before Frank Treat turned thirteen years old he had sailed aboard the schooner ROBERT F. BRATTON which almost sank in the Atlantic Ocean on a trip from Charleston, SC to New Bern, NC.  In his own words, “Frank Treat is now twelve years old and is a salty old seaman.”  He met a Captain John Day and sailed on the CARRIE FARSON and then Captain John Beverage who convinced him to sail on board the “UNITY R. DYER, a two topmaster.”  Frank Treat reports “We were in several storms.  Once we were blown off the coast in a hurricane.  It took us fourteen days to sail back.  We lost our deck load and we came near sinking from open seams in the deck.  That was really the worst time I had ever seen.” In October of 1893 Frank Treat’s ship, the DAVIDSON “went ashore about three miles south of Cape Henry and was a total loss.”   ” I was pulled ashore through the breakers on a line,” he recounts.

After chronicling several more shipwrecks Frank Treat tells of his time aboard the Barkentine HENRY NORWELL, “the hardest ship of all.  The Captain was the toughest and the most ungodly man I had ever seen.”  Although Frank “fared much better than the rest of the crew, because I was a better wheel man and I could steer the ship better, by the wind…….we could not endure this hardship any longer, so we all jumped ship [in Brunswick, Georgia].”

After this adventure, Frank Treat signed up as mate on the Russian ship PAULINE bound for Hamburg, Germany.  He was seventeen years old, “in the possession of two good fists….and “could take care of myself.”  As he relates the story, “I helped shanghai the crew and when they discovered where they were, there was trouble in the air, but by this time I had become quite a man, so I talked them out of mutiny.  Fifty-seven days crossing the Atlantic.”  Others would recall that he ruled his crew with “fist, marlin spikes, and boot toes.”

From Hamburg, Frank Treat made a voyage on the “full-rigged ship ACHILLES” to Sydney, Australia.  It took them 120 days via Cape Good Hope, and 143 days to return (by way of Cape Horn) to Rotterdam, Holland.   Off the coast of New Zealand “a storm….carried us 69 degrees south of the Equator, down in the Antarctic ice drifts.  Man Alive!  It was below zero.”

In 1896, when Frank was 18 years old, he was quartermaster on the steamer, NEPTUNE, which left Rotterdam for Baltimore, Maryland.

Judith Levine, in her book, Harmful to Minors, in reference to the influential French historian Philippe Aries, points out that “Until the mid-1700’s….at seven, a person might be sent off to become a scullery maid or a shoemaker’s apprentice; by fourteen, he could be a soldier or a king, a spouse and a parent; by forty, more than likely, he’d be dead.”

No one can be sure at the present time if William Howard of Ocracoke was the same person as William Howard the pirate.  Family members are researching the archives for new clues.  But one thing is certain in my mind.  In 1718 a young man still in his teens was no doubt capable of the seafaring experience necessary for serving as quartermaster of any vessel, let alone a pirate ship.  If you have any doubt, just look at the record of Frank Treat Fulcher.

Until next time, all the best to you from the entire staff of Village Craftsmen.


Welcome to another edition of Village Craftsmen’s on-line newsletter!

For those of you who missed last month’s posting you might want to see some of our  January snow pictures.  As beautiful as it was, it didn’t last long.  In a few days the weather turned mild again and the melting snow left only fond memories. Ocracokers were quick to return to their regular winter-time routines. 

This January Amy Howard organized a revival of one of our newer island traditions, the community auction. 
It was designed primarily for local residents, not only as a form of ultimate recycling, but also as an opportunity to visit with neighbors, catch up on local news,….and raise money for some good causes.

For weeks she collected boxes and pickup truck loads of assorted knick-knacks, kitchen items, appliances, furniture, clothes, toys, tools, and clothes.  On Saturday, January 26 the Community Center was overflowing with merchandise and people.  A preview was organized for the morning hours, and sandwiches, drinks, and desserts were sold.  The bidding started at 2 pm and lasted past dinner time. Auction
When the final tally was done, over $3,600.00 was made and donated to the Ocracoke Fire Department, Ocracoke Preservation Society, and Ocracoke Girl Scouts.

But a community auction is only a once-a-year event.  What else keeps us busy during the cold and dark days of winter?  Every summer, one of the most common questions visitors ask of us locals is “What do you do during the off-season?” 

There are many advantages to living on this beautiful strip of sand.  One of them is getting to know all of the other talented and interesting folks who call Ocracoke home.  And often it includes fun times and mini-adventures.  This winter I had the good fortune to accompany Captain Rob Temple of the Schooner Windfall on his annual trip down the Intracoastal Waterway to his winter headquarters in Flamingo Florida.  Rob was kind enough to make room for me, and to chronicle the trip. I share his account with you below. 


Every November when the tourists have mostly gone and the scent of wood smoke fills the air, I fill the Windfall with erstwhile pirates and point the bowsprit toward South Florida. Without any womenfolk aboard to keep us in line we have a tendency to resemble pirates in some ways — eating and drinking stuff that ain’t good for us, lots of political incorrectness and off-color humor, not much bathing or shaving. What follows is a brief account of what it was like to have Philip Howard aboard for the most recent trip south.
Aaahhrrr — Philip Howard. No sooner had he stepped aboard me schooner in Savannah than his pirate ancestry began to show through. He stood his trick at the helm with a steady hand and a roving eye — always on the lookout for a prize (perhaps no more than a glimpse of a scantily-clad lass on a passing vessel but the instinct was there all the same).

Although Philip had often talked about making the annual voyage south on the schooner Windfall, his innate lust for gold had always kept him firmly rooted to his cash register at the Village Craftsmen. Once a couple of years ago he’d managed to pry himself loose long enough to join the passage from Ocracoke to Savannah, but since that time, although he’d continued to show interest in future voyages, he always backed off from specific departure dates until I finally stopped mentioning the matter to him.

I was therefore surprised and pleased to receive a message shortly after departing Ocracoke last fall that Philip wished to join the cruise at Savannah. Aboard at the time were only myself and me old swashbuckling quartermaster Jim Tomkins, a semi-retired shipwright from the Buffalo area. This was good since Tomkins and Philip had been shipmates on Philip’s earlier voyage and had proven compatible in their liberal political leanings. I was somewhat relieved that me old shipmate Bob Geh was not along on this passage as he tends to inhabit the other end of the political spectrum — out there with Jesse Helms and Attila the Hun — and there’d have been little sleep for me with the constant dueling on deck.

Windfall Deck

Due to a late-season hurricane offshore (Olga) which, while posing no direct threat to land was generating large swells and breakers around inlets, I followed ye old “chicken o’ the sea” approach and plotted me course down the Intracoastal Waterway. There wasn’t much sailing to be done on this route. There’s mostly motoring at six knots waiting for drawbridges and watching birds. Each time I make this trip I’m shocked and distressed anew at the revolting development along the waterway. One mile-long stretch of shoreline on Edisto Island where I once counted five bald eagles was recently clear-cut and was being bulldozed for a golf course. Looks like today’s pirates are plundering not the sea but the land.

Our first day out of Savannah was spent winding through the Georgia salt marsh — a beautiful part of the world so long as you’re not in a hurry. The waterway in these parts twists and turns like a drunken eel and quite often the compass will show that we’re actually heading northeast or northwest as we work our way gradually southward.

After two days of this we fetched up at Fernandina, Florida where Tomkins’s skilled Irish nose sniffed out an authentic pub for dinner. We all feasted on shepherd’s pie washed down with mugs of draft stout. Aaaahhrr!

Irish joke: Q: What’s Irish and sits in the back yard?

A: Patty O’Furniture.

The next day we stopped at St. Augustine. Concern was mounting about Philip. While he was doing as well as any of us in developing the pirate skills of overeating, oversleeping, lounging on deck and spinning yarns, he repeatedly failed to consume his fair share of the daily grog ration. We considered making him walk the plank, but just as Governor Spotswood had done with his ancestor in 1718, we granted him a reprieve and in St. Augustine we introduced him to some of Florida’s finest taverns to catch up on some shoreside drinking practice.

The next evening found us at New Smyrna Beach where we went to dinner with me old shipmate Bill Maden and his wife Pat. The fried shellfish and beer made a memorable impression on the skipper in the form of a major gout attack that had me gimping around the deck like Long John Silver himself for the rest of the voyage.

Below New Smyrna, the waterway offers good sailing down the Indian River and we gave the engine a rest for most of the day as we barreled along under a full press of canvass all the way to Melbourne where Jim’s son J.T. joined our crew. Finding himself the junior member at 46, J.T. didn’t seem to know what to make of us old geezers at first but it didn’t take him long to adapt. The next day offered more good sailing down to Peck Lake, a serene anchorage surrounded by mangroves where we dinghied ashore and took a walk on the beach.

The morning we left Peck Lake we began a two-day ordeal of motoring through South Florida’s most densely populated stretch from Palm Beach through Miami. We had to pass through twenty drawbridges each day, most of which only opened at half-hour intervals which required a lot of waiting. By the end of the second day we had emerged from the sprawl of canalside mansions with screened swimming pools and manicured lawns and anchored at Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne. Ahead of us lay a day and a half of smooth sailing through the clear blue-green waters of the Florida Keys. As we raced along before a fresh northerly breeze, the vessel functioned like a true pirate ship. Every man knew his duty and performed it with little discussion.

Windfall Rigging

A few miles out of Flamingo a pod of dolphins met us and escorted us to the channel entrance as they have every year as far back as I can remember. After docking up at Windfall’s winter berth, we swabbed the decks and generally tried to make the vessel look as little as possible like pirates had been aboard for the past two weeks.

As for Philip: all in all he made definite strides toward getting in touch with his pirate roots, but it may take him another voyage to earn his full approval rating of “aaahhrrr.”

Windfall in Silver Lake


Next time you visit the island, be sure to scout out the Schooner Windfall and consider spending part of a relaxing afternoon or evening enjoying a unique view of Ocracoke from aboard a traditional schooner, sailing in Blackbeard’s wake.  I think you’ll be glad you did!

Hoping to see you all before too many more months pass.

Philip and crew at Village Craftsmen