Hurricane Belle

Early August in 1976 as a tropical system was approaching Hatteras, I lived in a flimsy mobile home in Salvo. By the 8th it had developed into a major hurricane with winds peaking at 120 mph. Hurricane Belle was the first storm since I’d moved to Hatteras Island that people were suddenly evacuating.

My good friends Johnny and Linda Hooper welcomed me into their brick home where I spent the night as the center passed within 60 miles offshore. The next day as Belle sped northward, winds shifted more westerly as huge swells poured ashore. Conditions were favorable for some great surf.

With a board and photography equipment in my Volkswagen bus, I headed to the lighthouse. The only spot to handle such a radical swell, it was tumultuous and defied my skill as a surfer. Not many were able to paddle out past the giant breaking waves. Discouraged surfers washed in on the beach and only watched. Not many were successful in making waves.

From the dunes I took a few pictures with a 650mm Century lens attached to a Nikon on a tripod.  The best ride I saw was when Terry Metts of Frisco, dropped in on what some would call a solid ten-footer. Tall and lanky, he was barely halfway down the face and it was still well over his head. He had the skill, stamina and the board to pull it off. Brian Jones also a Frisco surfer, lies prone on the face of the wave, hoping for the best, while another paddler punches through a thick lip. It was chaotic with constant, relentless swells.

Hunting Guides I Knew

Life has had a funny way of taking me to unexpected experiences. Back in the 70’s I was drifting from one job to another. They were diverse and interesting. So when my landlady’s husband, Raymond, asked me to help out at Gull Island Gunning Club, I signed on.

Over the years, quite a few locals had worked at the lodge, and Raymond Midgett was one of them. The club was owned by Norfolk businessman Alex Kotarides and operated out of Salvo. The island is about 5 miles to the southeast in Pamlico Sound and is a unique spot on the edge of a reef that drops off into deeper water. It was and still is a haven for all kinds of waterfowl.

For $5.25 I bought a hunting guide’s license at Charles Williams Store in Avon and became an official waterfowl hunting guide. Up to that point, my only hunting experience was stalking birds on Pea Island with my camera.

I had heard stories about the good old days of waterfowl hunting on Gull Island when Ed Hooper was the head guide. I never met Ed but knew his sons well. Burt Hooper was the eldest and took over guiding after his dad passed away. Burt’s next door neighbor was Raymond who helped with the chores of running the club. For about 5 years I learned the ropes from Burt and Raymond and developed a common bond with them.

This beautiful day in 1977, I rode Falcon, a Willy Austin built boat, with Burt on the engine box and Raymond at the helm. We were on our way to Gull Island with two brush-laden skiffs to build some shore blinds on the island.

Burt Hooper showed me the art of concealment in blind construction.

I rode with Raymond to and from the island countless times. We performed maintenance and stockpiled supplies for hunting trips lasting 3 to 4 days.

In 1979, Alex asked me to restore his decoys with new paint jobs. There were hundreds of them and it took me about 8 months to complete. The Herters decoys were made of balsa with pine heads. It was then that Burt showed me how to tie a bowline knot. There were two knots per decoy, one knot on the decoy end and another on the anchored end. After a few hundred decoys, I could do it without even looking.

For me it was gratifying to watch waterfowl pitch in to my paint jobs, especially around the sink box blinds. It was an effective combination.

Picking up all the decoys after a day’s hunt was done in orderly fashion. It took a while, especially in adverse conditions. Here Mark McCracken hands canvas goose decoys to Burt stacking them in the skiff. Beyond is a 24-foot workboat called the Anytime. It was built in Avon by Willy Austin and featured an air-cooled 4-cylinder Wisconsin engine. It’s flat bottom had a tunnel astern to tuck the prop neatly underneath. It could run in a foot of water, and had a beautifully shaped sheer profile!

Cap’m Raymond, as I affectionately called him, was a consummate story teller and loved to play his electric guitar. He passed away in 1988 at the age of 69.

Burt Hooper was a pillar in the Salvo community and passed away this year on March 7. He was 85. Burt and Raymond both had a lasting effect on my life and helped steer me where I am today.

 

 

 

No Shark Fishing

Back in the seventies shark fishing was relatively popular, but as time went on there was less and less of it. One thing for certain was that you could walk out on the Rodanthe pier and count on seeing some friends. They were usually fishing for king mackerel, cobia or red drum. Throw in an occasional Budweiser and everyone was happy.

The  steamy Summer day I snapped this picture in 1987 was no exception. Russell Warren on the left  was in good company with a shirtless CE Midgett. The other three guys I recognize, but don’t recall their names.

Even to this day, Russell can still be found at the end of the pier.

Larry and Jimmy

One of my first jobs on Hatteras Island was with John Luke’s construction crew. It consisted of a few local guys and a reputation for well-built beach cottages. Two people on that crew were Larry Midgett and Jimmy Hooper. Both grew up in Salvo when it was a much more rural town than it is today.

Much like their fathers and forefathers before them, they spent time fishing and hunting. One Fall day in 1975 they invited me to a Salvo creek to photograph a shark they had just caught on the Rodanthe pier.

It was the start of a friendship that I would keep even to this day.

Bridging the Gap

No matter how you look at it, the new bridge over Oregon Inlet is an engineering marvel. For the past few years, driving over the old Bonner Bridge, we witnessed the construction progress, going together like a humongous tinker toy.

Last Saturday, NCDOT opened the new thoroughfare just for pedestrian and bike traffic. It happened to coincide with 40° weather and a northeaster, making it somewhat more challenging.

The Bonner Bridge is well past it’s life span, so it’s out with the old, in with the new.

At 10:15 we began our walk on the north side, heading south, downwind. Dozens of folks had already begun the 2.8 mile trek.

With a 30 mile an hour breeze at their backs, bikers hardly even needed to peddle.

Everyone was bundled up.

Equipment was still in place.

Following a curve, the new road rises to the peak about 90 feet above the water.

The high point of the old Bonner Bridge is about 70 feet.

Hitting the uphill grade, I felt the wind intensify as if the bridge created a Venturi effect.

Facing into the wind from the rise, I saw more approaching troops braving the elements.

On top the wind seemed to accelerate even more, as tide boiled through the inlet.

Photo ops were everywhere and everyone became photographers.

This crew got the shot and then in a gust…

… almost got blown away.

Three quarters into the walk, the south end of the new bridge converges back toward the old bridge landing.

Looking back I could see hundreds of people still underway.

A cyclist coasted to the end of his downhill run.

Welcome to Hatteras Island, home of Highway 12, probably the most expensive road to maintain in the entire state.