Heritage needs salvage

CorrespondentJanuary 12, 2012 

— A gale force northwester was singing overhead when I looked up to see Ruth knifing through the open waters of wind tossed Bogue Sound.

An old timer, Ruth's keel, laid in the tiny village of Atlantic about 82 years ago, has been a familiar sight throughout Carolina's waters. After half a century of fishing, her hull was abandoned in Pelletier Creek. John McCallum, Taylor Boat Works, salvaged her, rebuilding Ruth as his family cruiser for exploring the waters from Norfolk to Southport. John later sold her, and one night, under new ownership, its operator confused a barge's running lights as channel markers.

It was requested that the Taylor Boat Works crew again restore this example of Carolina's heritage, to again ply the nearby brine.

North Carolina has failed to fully acknowledge its rich Maritime history to the extent other states have. The moniker "Tar Heel State" wasn't derived from whisky stills or fast cars; the label came from the state's timber and fishing resources. Pitch, resin, shingles, barrel staves, timber, whale oil and a thriving menhaden industry, plus thousands of barrels of salt herring, dried mullet and seafood, find their way to the industrial markets of the nation.

Today's historians have a great fascination for the story of a shipwrecked pirate, but fail to acknowledge that Carolina's true coastal heritage is based on local watermen and their activities.

North Carolina DOT is asking for billions of dollars in funding over the next 10 years to upgrade the transportation system, including building, rebuilding or repairing over one 150 bridges. Consider also, that many of today's bridge designs hinder watercraft access. Is there any valid reason that, as bridges are upgraded they not be sufficiently elevated to allow for enhanced small boat traffic, and, why not, while the equipment is on site, install boat ramps using these publicly financed right of ways? Such improved access would enhance boat, tackle and fishing license sales, and maybe even encourage small boat manufacturing.

Why couldn't we set aside a percentage of the unclaimed highway fuel tax as consumed by boats to establish a grant program for the purpose of historic restoration of Carolina built boats that are over half a century old?

Gold plated yachts with uniformed crews race past my shoreline cottage almost daily in their eagerness to be first to line up at the docks of wintertime Florida and the Bahamas. Fancy pleasure boats splitting the water in sprays of white foam are commonplace, but the craft that catch my approving eye are the working tugboats nursing along a string of laden barges up or down the neighboring Inland Waterway. There is nothing more glamorous than the working boat, be it a commercial fishing boat, a ferry, tug or ocean going freighter. The cargo ships, decks heaped high with multi-colored shipping containers arrive in port, urged along the narrow channels by a couple of small but powerful tugs, a pilot boat guiding them on.

But it's the working fisherman, nets spread, who rolls and tosses in a white capped sea, surrounded by flights of eager sea-birds, that catches my eye. A profession that requires skill, hard labor, in a grand gamble to find if it's still possible for a waterman to make his mortgage payments.

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