April 28, 2010

Portsmouth Village Homecoming

For me, the most intriguing town on the Outer Banks is the village of Portsmouth. Situated on the northeast tip of Portsmouth Island, it played a significant role in local maritime history for well over one hundred years. It’s geographic location next to Ocracoke Inlet was important in making it a major port of commerce when wooden ships still sailed the seas. Deep draft ocean going vessels could offload goods there, and smaller boats would come from inland river towns to pick it up. From the 1750’s to the 1850’s, Portsmouth was a thriving seaport. According to an 1860 census, the town had a population of 685 residents.

But by then, things were beginning to change. A series of storms opened other inlets, and at the same time Ocracoke Inlet began to shoal. Shipping routes changed, commerce dropped off, and gradually the town dwindled to only a few people. With the death of Henry Pigott in 1971, the last man to live at Portsmouth, the last two residents, Elma Dixon and Marion Babb reluctantly left the island.

Today the 250 acre historic district of Portsmouth Village is a part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The remains of the town have been left intact and maintained.

Since 1992, the Friends of Portsmouth Island have sponsored a homecoming every 2 years. I went in 2008, and looked forward to this April 24, 2010 event. Again I was not disappointed. Here are a few things that caught my eye.

Descendants of village residents pose for a photographer in front of the Dixon/Salter house.

The Robert Wallace house.

The Dixon family cemetery.

The post office opens every other year for this event, including canceling postage stamps.

Ocracoke fisherman Gene Ballance demonstrates the art of net mending.

James Gaskill wears a device once used for fire-lighting waterfowl. He is also a commercial fisherman from Ocracoke.

At the old Coast Guard Station, Dave Frum explains the beach apparatus method for rescuing shipwreck survivors.

The Methodist Church was always a focal point of the community and still is.

88 year old Rudy Carter and Mil Hayes ring the bell to begin a church service. Rudy is a descendent of Henry Pigott, the last man to live at Portsmouth.

Get to the church on time if you want to get a seat.

Born in 1921, Dot Willis affectionally known as “Miss Dot”, is the last surviving resident that was born at Portsmouth Village. The light coming in the translucent windows of the church was very nice so I took the opportunity to speak with her, and make this available light portrait.

Back in the day, the flat-bottomed skiff was a preferred mode of transportation. These guys were fastening the bottom planks in a boat building demonstration.

Roy Willis from Stacy, NC was showing his waterfowl carvings.

Roy made and hunted over these green winged teal decoys last season.

The main tent provides seating for up to 500 people.

Then there’s the covered dish dinner with plenty for everyone. And the mosquitoes weren’t even that bad. If you go in 2012, I’ll see you there.

Group shot of attendees at the 2010 homecoming.


April 21, 2010

Buxton Woods Boat Works

In the early 70’s, there was a small migration of people that transplanted to Hatteras Island. They came because they enjoyed the island for what it was and what it provided. The surf, the fishing, the serenity were just some of the things to savor. The kicker was to somehow find a way to make a living. Some went into commercial fishing, restaurants, real estate or construction.

Mike Scott went into the boat building business. At his Buxton Woods Boat Works he made dories for the commercial fishermen to haul seine from the beach. He also did a lot of boat repair jobs. As he got busier, he hired Richard Ryder to help.  Richard was also a transplant, and like everyone else was looking for ways to make ends meet. He and Mike were not only good friends, but also excellent craftsman.

This 1977 photo shows a Mike Scott dory in use. Here Dennis Midgett on the left, and Pete Smith haul net in the stern to make another “set”.

With more repair jobs still coming in, Mike asked me if I wanted to help them out for a few months, so I began sometime in February of ’82. We restored two old shad boats that had been converted from sail to mechanical power. One of them belonged to Lee Peele, standing here on the right. It turned out to be a complete overhaul and it was a beautiful boat. Mike Scott stands proudly on the left.


This shad boat belonged to another Hatteras fisherman, Mark McCracken. We replaced some rotten planks and gave it an epoxy treatment.


Then Mike got two orders to build boats. One was a 24 foot, flat bottomed net skiff for a longhaul rig. The skiff took only a few weeks to finish, and was simple in design. For me, it was a perfect introduction to boatbuilding. It taught me a lot about “dressing” rough cut lumber, working with power tools and epoxy techniques. The lumber came from a small sawmill in Camden, operated by Mose White. Note the shad boat in the shop.


The other boat ordered was a 39 foot dead-rise, commercial fishing boat, designed after the Albatross II. Based in Hatteras Village, the Albatross Fleet has been around for years. They are tried and true, built in Marshallburg, NC.

Beautifully designed as very seaworthy displacement hulls, they are unlike the more modern, over the top, planing hulls. All the Albatross boats have rounded sterns, but this new one would have a square stern with rounded corners. It was made for “Big Bill” Foster, and would take over 6 months to construct.

The original Albatross was built in 1937.


The keel and bow stem are the backbone and were cut from yellow pine , then the heart cypress bottom frames were fastened to the keel… then the side frames installed.

The planks made from atlantic white cedar, are bent and fastened into place.


Richard Ryder applies epoxy to the finished hull.


Once outside the unpainted Mamacita is ready for a cabin.

Years later in 2007, Mamacita is still an active fishing boat.

Today Mike Scott is a boat captain and runs charters on the Albatross lll.

Richard Ryder went on to work for Hinckley Yachts in Maine, then began his own business called Union River Boat Company.

I left Buxton Woods Boat Works in September of 1982 to dredge oysters on the Chesapeake for the next 2 winters. See earlier post on Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks.