Category Archives: Piers

Down Under Down

Over the years I’ve seen restaurants here come and go. Some fail faster than others, and it’s not an easy business to achieve success. It’s about quality, quantity and customer satisfaction, among other things.

One of the most successful restaurants in our town was started at a location where several other restaurants had come and gone. The Rodanthe pier complex had reincarnations of restaurants in the same building with names like Cross Currents, Under Currents, JL Seagull and Down Under. There were others prior whose names have escaped me.

Undoubtedly the most successful was the Down Under, founded by Skip and Sheila Skiperdene. The name was coined by Australian ex-pat surfer Skip, who married Sheila a North Carolinian, and they began the Aussie-themed restaurant. It took a year or so to catch on, but with planning and hospitality it became hugely popular. Most summer evenings had dozens of patrons lined up outside the front door waiting to be seated. This went on for about ten years, when personal circumstances ended the epic run of Down Under circa 1999.

This 1989 aerial photograph shows the pier complex, including the restaurant building under the arrow. The proximity to the ocean made a dramatic venue for diners, but also contributed to it’s demise.

An aspiring restauranteur then bought the trademarked name and stepped in to continue to operate the business. Something however was missing and the restaurant was not quite the same. A few years later, things really went south when Hurricane Isabel pummeled the property.

After continuous battering from high seas, storm surge from Hurricane Isabel finally took it out in 2003. This photograph taken by my wife, was probably the last shot ever taken from the upper deck of the restaurant. It was a harrowing experience.

An aerial image shows the newly built Gallery restaurant circa late 1980’s. It featured local art, and a home-grown herb garden. The Gallery made national news when a man died from eating bad tuna there, ending that venture.

The Gallery was sold to a new owner and renamed Waves Edge. They employed local chefs preparing great meals. This 1991 photo was taken during their hey-day. It was popular with locals and visitors alike. That lasted until personal issues forced another sale, this time it was changed to Blue Water Grill, featuring an upstairs wine bar.

The new Down Under owner wanting to sustain the business, bought the building in Waves that had previous lives as The GalleryWaves Edge, and Blue Water Grill.

The new Down Under struggled for several years and eventually landed in foreclosure. It sat vacant and unmaintained a few years until it was bought by an adjacent property owner then demolished on June 27, 2017.

Going, going… pretty much gone!

Down Under is history. And it all began with Skip.

Holiday Weekend

This morning my rain gauge showed 2 ½ inches of overnight rainfall. Despite that, with Memorial Day here, we’ve officially begun our high season for tourism. The rain from Tropical Depression Bonnie, will likely continue off and on over the next few days. Today is a washout, but yesterday was gorgeous with pleasant ocean breezes. We peddled bikes to the Rodanthe Pier to check things out before the downpour.

EastOut on the pier, folks were enjoying the sunny sea breeze.

South                                 Looking south, it didn’t look like a typical Memorial Day Weekend.

North                                 With rain in the forecast, beach goers weren’t packed in as they’d normally be.

EndThe end of the pier isn’t out nearly as far as it used to be. It’s been destroyed continuously by storms and rebuilt multiple times.

WestIn the Summer, there’s nothing like hanging out at the pier. Many of the same people return year after year, building memories along the way.

NWI noticed the dramatic sky shaping up, courtesy of Tropical Depression Bonnie. The clouds are always beautiful, yet at the same time so ominous.


Years ago, the thing that impressed me about Hatteras Island was how temperate the winters could be. The first few years after I moved here, I don’t think it ever went below freezing. I learned that the water surrounding the island acts as a heat sink and tends to keep temperatures more moderate, compared to those to the north and inland.

This year has not been one of those winters. The cold fronts have been colder, stormier and more frequent.

north pierA series of storms took its toll on the Rodanthe Pier. Last week I could see that the end of the pier would soon collapse into the sea.

viewersAn hour after I made this shot, the pier became 75 feet shorter. The next day, the owners retrieved some of the timbers washed in on the beach and are resolved to rebuild it.

marshIn the meantime, temperatures have plummeted and the Pamlico Sound froze overnight. The ice sculpted on the shoreline was a sight to behold. There were icicles on the marsh of all different shapes and sizes.

ice flowsThe sound was solid ice for hundreds of yards off shore.

ringneckWhen the waters freeze, the ducks come in wherever they can find open water. At a pond near my house, I found a variety including this Ring-Necked Duck.

grebeA Pie-Billed Grebe was among the group.

ruddyThere were about 50 Ruddy Ducks.

canvasbackI was excited to see this Canvasback. It’s a sure sign that winter is far from over, and that it’ll only get colder.


The Paddle Out

Nothing can pay tribute, to a surfer who has passed away, more than a ceremonial paddle out. It is surfing’s honorable sendoff. We put the word out to do this for Robin and didn’t know what kind of turn out to expect.

On October 5th at noon, participants began arriving at the Rodanthe Pier for an informal covered dish beach party. By about 1:00 there were well over 150 people on site to pay their respects. We began paddling out at 1:15. It looked like about 80 people, aged 8 and up, on surfboards, a few kayaks and boogie boards.

It was slick calm, warm and sunny, ideal conditions for Robin’s memorial.

The photographs shown here are a compilation of several contributing photographers:

Amberly Dyer, April Contestable, Bev Martin, Jim and Marcy Martin, Ben Tran, Denise and Mike Halminski


under pier

big gun

Kelly Schoolcraft and Russell Blackwood were on hand to pay their respects

scooter So were Jay and Scooter.

under pier


crabs There was plenty to eat, especially when Eric came in hoisting a bushel of steamed crabs.

15 minutes left


Chandra Rutledge made three beautiful leis for the occasion.



Denise was my co-conspirator for this great event.


Beverly Bull gave me some bird of paradise flowers to throw out on the sea, along with Chandra’s orchid lei.


cousins Our special guests were Robin’s cousins, Rob and Jean Marie from Delaware. They were accompanied by their spouses, Jeff (left) and Bev (center). There were many great stories shared by them.

charlie & betz

Charlie and Betz Mullen had it made in the shade..

jo & buddy Jo and Buddy Brothers did too.

Eric A

Eric Anglin was ready to go out.

going out Let the paddle out begin!

going out 

sponge & co



big tom



GoPro YouTube video: courtesy of Brett Butler






richard Richard Byrd was paddling Robin’s ten foot Gary Propper model vintage Hobie.

Eric Eric and I thought it would be nice to extend the paddle out to the shipwreck and secure the lei to a buoy.


Selby Gaskins Jr. and crew watched from the pier.

boys Colin and Ben Tran witnessed their first Paddle Out.

Processed with VSCOcam with x6 preset Twelve year old Ben made this remarkable interpretation of the ceremony.

petals There were petals out on the water.

to the wreck We paddled out to the wreck.

April April had her old Dewey Weber.

Jon Jon Brown brought out his Redman shaped Hatteras Glass.

Benji Robin’s old buddy Benji Stansky watched from the pier.

gals on pier Jan Deblieu, Susan West, Marcia Lyons and Beverly Bull celebrate on the end of the pier.


Allen Jones had his studio set up.


At eight years old, Mia Phillips made the entire paddle out to the shipwreck.


Eleven year old Johnny Contestable also made it out to the wreck.

mike & jan

Here I am with Robin’s favorite Natty Bo and writer Jan Deblieu.

gals & ron There were shots to be had.

Robin Gerald

Allen Jones made this striking portrait of Robin with his “Propper” in 1998.

1967 Robin had this photograph on his wall  for as long as I’ve known him. It was taken at the north side of Indian River Inlet in 1967. He would have just graduated from high school.

Aloha, Robin!

Fishing with BJ

When I moved to the island decades ago, some of the first people I met were transplants from Michigan. Tim and Karen Merritt were a young married couple that had relocated to Salvo a couple of years prior to my arrival. Along with them was Tim’s long time friend, Brian Huff. They grew up with each other. Better known as BJ, he was different than many of my newfound friends in that he didn’t surf. He loved walking the beach, enjoying the place, its people, and he truly loved fishing. We became close friends.

1972 was a good year for drum fishing on the Hatteras Island Fishing Pier in Rodanthe. As a matter of fact, it was the same year that Elvin Hooper set the world record with a 90 pounder. In this photo taken by a pier employee, Tim Merritt (left) and BJ Huff (right) display their big drum, also known as channel bass. They were in excess of 50 pounds each. The pier was longer then, and the best fishing was in the worst weather.

A few years later in 1975, the locals were catching some sizable sharks, mostly late at night. It took BJ over an hour to land this hammerhead. There were some appreciative onlookers that night. They posed with BJ for this photograph. From left to right: Bruce Midgett, Larry Midgett, BJ, Butch Luke, Tim Merritt and Jimmy Hooper. The shark was cleaned and all the meat packaged. Our freezer was stocked, that is until we tried eating it. It was full of cartilage and unpalatable. As much as we didn’t want to waste any, it all had to be thrown out.

New Inlet up on Pea Island was one of our favorite spots. I used to walk out on the old bridge, and hang strings with chicken necks over the side. I always brought home a good catch of hard crabs. At one point, BJ learned where the deep holes and channels were located. He would cast sting ray grubs on to the edges and catch flounders or speckled trout. I took this photo of him casting in 1975.

BJ enjoyed fishing the waters of Pamlico Sound. Our friend Gary Bishop had a boat and took us out at Hatteras to a spot called the cobia stake. It was named for a channel marker piling near the inlet. In this photo taken around 1976, BJ reels in a nice cobia. Gary caught two. By the time we made it back home, it was getting dark. We went to the pier at Rodanthe to weigh and clean them, when I took this photograph below.

BJ and I were roommates for about 2 years. We lived in a trailer in Salvo rented from Barbara Midgett for $200 a month. It had 3 bedrooms. One for each of us, and one for my darkroom. During that time, our lives were relatively carefree. All we worried about was making enough to feed ourselves and pay the rent. BJ also had the pressure of making payments for his nice GMC pickup truck. Most of us drove vehicles that had tendencies to break down. BJ was always kind enough to let us use his dependable truck in a pinch.

March of ’78 was a cold one. We kept warm by chopping wood gathered on the beach. There were plenty of oak planks washing in back then. Note BJ’s 16 foot wooden skiff in the background. He bought the boat from Les Hooper.

Inside was warm and cozy, even when the electricity went off. We had no TV, only a KLH turntable to spin a meager record collection. We listened to jazz and blues, mostly. The parlor stove was given to me by my Aunt Jo. She had just moved out of an old house, in San Marino California, where General Patton was born. That stove was a very functional piece of history. We used a cinder block to replace the missing rear legs. The stove eventually cracked and fell apart. To replace it, BJ bought a big pot bellied stove from Les Hooper.

BJ did a lot of beach-combing. Most of the time, he’d bring home some seashells or driftwood. Sometimes the bluefish would be running, pursuing bait and other fish. One day he caught this nice trout without a fishing rod, picking it up with his bare hands, right off the beach. Photograph below was taken in 1977.

Another day in 1977, BJ found something very unusual. We had no idea what it was, and used it as a bookend for over a year. As I recall, it also made a good door stop.

My girlfriend at the time was a college student, and very curiously took it to be examined at the Smithsonian in Washington. It turned out to be a 10 to 20 thousand year old molar from a wooly mammoth, a significant find indeed.

Around 1980, BJ and I were building a saltbox in Buxton Woods for friends, Jim and Marcia Lyons. During construction the fishing got good, so Jim and BJ left for a short time and returned with a stringer of gray trout. We always ate well.

In 1980, I had been working for Alex Kotarides a few years. He owned a large bakery in Norfolk, but had an estate in Salvo. I did waterfowl hunting guide work for him in the winter. Other times, I worked odd jobs for Alex, including construction of the new house, raising ducks and geese, then a stint at commercial fishing that Spring. I got BJ to help me.

We used 3000 yards of gill net, plus had access to Alex’s small fleet of boats. We fished half the nets in shallow water near Gull Island. The other half we set in deeper water past the reef. We had good results, out catching the locals nearly every day. In this shot taken by BJ, I had just pulled in a nice red drum from the deeper water. It was a beautiful sight to behold, glowing in the submerged net below. We were fishing in a 23 foot Sea Ox at the time.

Other times we fished from a 21 foot wooden boat, called Falcon, built by Willy Austin in Avon. It had an inboard 4-cylinder Ford Pinto engine set up for marine use. It was a nice handling boat with a full keel. We loaded up with fish for a month before retiring the rig when the bull nosed skates migrated through Pamlico Sound.

That was the last fishing I did with BJ. He went on to live in Avon working construction, got a girlfriend, married her and they had a baby boy. They moved back to Michigan, and split up after a while.

I didn’t see BJ for years. He remarried, had a daughter and moved to Charlotte. He came back briefly, perhaps 20 years ago. He did some exceptional restoration work for us at the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, then returned to Charlotte.

After a prolonged absence from the island, BJ suddenly showed up at my gallery door one day just a few years ago. Expecting a gallery customer, I must have had an expression of un-recognition on my face, only to hear him say, “BJ”. I knew then, it was my good friend again.

I could tell that he missed Hatteras Island, yet still felt a close connection. He returned several more times, looking up lots of old friends. He seemed to rediscover himself. It was great to see him again. He returned Spring of 2011 and spent the weekend with me.

Back in Charlotte, he kept in touch by telephone. A pain in his shoulder caused him to see a doctor. It was cancer. I spoke to him a few more times before Hurricane Irene. The storm made our phone service go down. BJ tried to call again, but was unable to get through. I didn’t speak with BJ again. He passed away on September 6, a week after the storm. He was 61 and will be missed by many.

Thanks for the memories, BJ!