Past Times

Past Times: Sea captain was living the dream

Captain Josiah Bailey operated the “Diamond City” as a ferry between Harkers Island and Cape Lookout.
Captain Josiah Bailey operated the “Diamond City” as a ferry between Harkers Island and Cape Lookout. N&O FILE PHOTO

Who hasn’t dreamed of walking away from everyday responsibilities and sailing into the sunset? In 1966, writer Bob Simpson introduced N&O readers to someone who made that dream come true.

Down here where the sea breeze laden with salt meets the green of the marshes, there is a man who lives as he has always dreamed, his working day consisting of making leisurely cruises on his own sailboat through the sounds and bays of his adopted home.

Stocky and sunburned, with a salt-and-pepper beard, Capt. Josiah Bailey has thrown aside the rat race in which he used to live to become a man of independence. He now owns and operates his 55-foot sailing vessel, “Diamond City,” as a ferry between Harker’s Island and historic Cape Lookout. Today he lives with his first love, the sea.

It was not always so. Josiah, affectionately referred to as Capt. Ahab, came from a distinguished North Carolina family. His father was the esteemed Senator for North Carolina, Josiah Bailey, Sr., who served from 1930 until 1945 and was Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Josiah Jr. entered school at the University of North Carolina to study business administration, but even then his love of the sea was indicated in his electing to study oceanography under the internationally known scientist, Dr. Robert Coker. Later, Josiah was to conduct research studies of marketing conditions of the fisheries industry at the fisherman’s level. This study was made before the University’s Institute of Fisheries Research was established at Morehead City.

Bailey was a successful accountant, dabbled in town politics, and managed a Raleigh hotel, but the sea kept calling. So, in 1965, he chucked the eight-to-four routine and tried his sea legs with his Down East built “Diamond City.” The maiden voyage in May, 1965, proved to Bailey that this was his way of life.

He has found that hundreds of people from all over the world agreed with him and were seeking the type of vacation he could offer: The sun, the sea, a wild, untamed opportunity to commune with nature as it is.

“Diamond City,” capable of carrying 40 passengers, leaves Harker’s Island at 10 a.m. for a crossing of Back and Core sounds to where Barden’s Inlet drains into the bight of Cape Lookout. The passage takes about an hour. The rest of the time from 11 to 1 he spends sailing, then picks up those who are ready to return to the mainland. At 2 p.m. he is picking up another group bound for the Cape. After a 3-5 sail, “Diamond City” makes the final return trip from Cape Lookout.

Josiah says that people have a craving to see the Outer Banks in their natural state, and this is what Cape Lookout is. It is raw beach, the Outer Banks without any development, not even preservation. People get a thrill from seeing the Flotsam thrown up on the beach, from seeing the vast collection of sea life.

There is great variety. Almost any day “Diamond City” is escorted by schools of cavorting porpoises. On the beaches are lumbering horseshoe crabs, prehistoric creatures often up to two feet long, and always a tremendous variety of sea shells. The first weeks of May are mating time for loggerhead turtles, and there are any number of turtles wherever you look.

Josiah gives this bit of advice to those who would try the trip, and especially to campers who wish to stay on the beach: Wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers, any color as long as it is white. The sun can be merciless, reflecting off sand and water, and when there is no wind the insects ashore can make life miserable. Sun glasses and hats are necessities.

Extra long tent stakes are required, for there is nothing to make them from on the beach, no handy trees to tie to. When the wind blows, as it almost always does, short stakes will not hold in shifting sands.

Remember that it is raw, undeveloped beach. There are no picnic tables, no place to plug in a TV set. Just sand and sun and isolation. It is possible, however, to get snacks and fishing tackle at Les and Sally Moore’s place where “Diamond City” puts her passengers ashore. Les and Sally are the only permanent inhabitants of Core Banks, aside from working Coast Guard personnel. The N&O Aug. 7, 1966

Josiah Bailey’s vessel, the “Diamond City,” was named for a coastal whaling community that disappeared nearly a century before. In 2011, N&O reporter Jay Price profiled the original Diamond City.

Diamond City, named for the distinctive pattern painted on the lighthouse, was built mainly in the sound side of a massive sand dune to protect it from the sea and wind.

Life was a constant struggle, revolving around the seasons, the catch and the weather. As tough as the residents were, though, as the end of the 19th century approached, a startling number of forces lined up against them, said Jim Willis of Atlantic Beach, a retired federal fisheries biologist and chemist whose great-grandparents lived on Shackleford.

It’s unclear how many residents Diamond City had at its peak. Estimates range as high as 700, and many historians have used the number 500. But a detailed, family-by-family breakdown by Willis of the 1880 U.S. Census suggests that just 322 people were scattered along the island.

By the late 1890s, the islanders had cut down most of the trees on the island for firewood, feral livestock was eating the vegetation, and the rise of the petroleum industry was killing off the market for whales, which had become scarce anyway, Willis said.

Then in the late 1800s came several bad storms, the worst of them an August 1899 hurricane thought to be a Category 5 storm. Water from the ocean and sound overwashed the island. The storm was the last straw for the tough islanders.

“All that was left over there was the fishing, and that was hard, “ Willis said.

They began leaving in droves, some floating their tiny houses off with them and heading for places like Harkers Island or Morehead City to start over. The N&O Aug. 2, 2011

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