Friday, April 21, 2017

April Newsletter

In April, 1996, Ocracoke resident Calvin Wilkerson entered the World Submarine Invitational, a human-powered submarine race in San Diego, CA, pitting design teams from around the world.

Calvin's quirky submarine, using paint rollers to force water through 42 condoms, and dubbed the "Condomed Nautilus," competed against MIT, the University of Massachusetts, the University of California, and the U.S. Naval Academy, among other notable institutions.

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the entertaining story of Calvin Wilkerson and his Condomed Nautilus. You can read it here:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bus to Norfolk

The first bus service connecting Ocracoke island and points north, including Norfolk, Virginia, was established in the late 1930s or early 1940s. 

Van Henry O'Neal (right) and the Ocracoke Bus, ca. 1940

This is what Earl O'Neal writes in his book O'Neals of Ocracoke Island, their Ancestors and Descendants: "This bus was owned by Stanley Wahab to support his Wahab Village Hotel and other enterprises. It was operated by Van Henry O'Neal. Much of the time he picked people up at their homes, transported them to Hatteras Inlet Coast Guard Station [on the north end of Ocracoke], then carried the passengers on a small boat without the vehicle, to Oden's Dock in Cape Hatteras. From there you rode with the Midgetts, Anderson, Stockton or their dad to Manteo, NC, where they met the Trailways bus to Norfolk VA.... [T]here were no roads, only sand tracks, or if you were lucky and the tide was down, you got a smooth ride on the back of the beach along the edge of the ocean." 

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lifeboat Man

In the mid-1800s the term "Lifeboat Man" (a sailor qualified to take charge of a lifeboat or life raft) was introduced into our vocabulary by the United States Life-Saving Service. Below is a photo of Ocracoke native George O'Neal's (1890-1968) "Certificate of Efficiency to Lifeboat Man."

Image courtesy Chester Lynn

The certificate reads, "This is to certify that George F. O'Neal having proved to the satisfaction of the undersigned officer, designated by the Secretary of Commerce, that he has been trained in all the operations connected with launching lifeboats and the use of oars; that he is acquainted with the practical handling of the boats themselves; and, further, that he is capable of understanding and answering the orders relative to lifeboat service, is hereby rated an efficient Lifeboat Man."

The certificate was issued October 27, 1916 in the port of Wilmington, Delaware.  

During the first half of the 20th century most young Ocracoke men moved to the northeast to work on dredges and tugboats on the Delaware River. Hence the certificate was issued in that state. 

Current information re. US Coast Guard requirements for Lifeboat Man is available here.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sand Dollar

As I was walking along the beach a few days ago I noticed this beautiful and intact sand dollar that had just washed up.

Sand dollars are a type of flattened, burrowing sea urchins in the phylum of Echinodermata and order of Clypeasteroida. When alive they are covered in silky hairs called cilia. Sand dollars are fairly closely related to starfish. 

Sand dollars are rather common on our beaches. "The Legend of the Sand Dollar," which pairs various features of this echinoderm with the Easter story, is often sold along with sand dollars in coastal gift shops.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:  

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Ocracoke Brogue

Much has been written about the Ocracoke Brogue. On this blog I occasionally post examples of words, phrases, or grammar that are unique to the island.

Linguists Walt Wolfram and Jeff Reaser have been documenting the Ocracoke Brogue for some time. Although outside influences weaken and threaten this unique dialect, it persists into the 21st century. In addition, Wolfram and Reaser have preserved recordings of many Ocracoke natives. They also return to the island regularly to share their research with locals and visitors.

Just this month sociolinguistics students from NC State University accompanied Wolfram and Reaser to the Ocracoke School to present their findings, and interact with local students. Interestingly, one of the NC State student linguists was Ocracoke native, Katie O'Neal.

Katie O'Neal, photo courtesy Ocracoke Observer

You can read about their recent visit here:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:   

Friday, April 14, 2017

Nags Headland

In November, 2016, I published a post about the origin of the Outer Banks name Nags Head. Although it is certain that the name does not derive from the activity of "wreckers" (unscrupulous bankers who would lure sailing vessels close to shore by tying lanterns around horses' heads or necks), I was uncertain where the name came from.

Recently I had an email from author Kevin Duffus (Looking Glass Productions), with this explanation:

"Contrary to the various urban legends, the name was first applied to the sand dune that is today Jockey’s Ridge. I discovered this some years ago and received David Stick’s endorsement that I was correct.... The 'Nags Head' was an abbreviation for 'Nags Headland' which appeared on a 1794 sea chart published by a Capt. N. Holland. On it you can clearly see the dune so identified. It was considered a headland because it was used as a navigational feature for coasting vessels."

"A headland (or simply head) is a coastal landform, a point of land usually high and often with a sheer drop, that extends out into a body of water. It is a type of promontory." (

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Charlie Mason

One of the Outer Banks' most celebrated pogey (or menhaden) boats was the Charlie Mason, a trawler which regularly supplied the Fish Meal Company in West Beaufort, NC, with menhaden.

On January 1, 1948, the Charlie Mason, was fishing offshore of Ocracoke when the weather deteriorated. After getting the nets tangled in the propeller, the captain called the US Coast Guard for assistance. Shortly after getting a hawser secured to the stricken vessel, the line broke, and the vessel came ashore on Ocracoke's beach.

Hatteras Islander, Charles Stowe, was among the Coast Guard crew who responded to the wreck. He penned a ballad, The Charlie Mason Pogey Boat, that tells the story of re-floating the trawler. Ocracoke native and musician, Martin Garrish, regularly performs this song.

You can listen to Charles Stowe sing the song on YouTube:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link: