On Memorial Day, Bob Leavitt chartered the Miss Oregon Inlet for a surprise evening cruise with his girlfriend, Debbie Hickey. The couple enjoys kayaking near the inlet, but Bob wanted them to experience the water from a different perch. He loves the Miss Oregon Inlet for its proximity to the new bridge being constructed to replace the Bonner Bridge that spans Oregon Inlet, an engineering masterpiece whose progress he enjoys charting. The first challenge of the evening was getting Debbie on board, which meant inventing a story to get her to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. “Guys are terrible liars,” Bob says. When they stopped at the fishing center, Debbie, who thought they were going to dinner, was reluctant to get out of the car. “We’re going on this boat now?” she exclaimed. Bob talked up the calm water, brilliant sun and balmy weather, and Debbie agreed to go. A serene cruise wasn’t all Bob had planned, however. To the accompaniment of Captain Randy Frees’s tongue-in-cheek rendition of Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” Bob proposed to Debbie. She said yes.
This story is one of many happy stories set against the backdrop of the beautiful Miss Oregon Inlet. The 65-foot, red and white headboat is available for private charters and can be customized for nearly any occasion. So far, the boat has hosted marriage proposals, bachelor parties, a wedding reception and even a christening. The Miss Oregon Inlet, which can hold 49 people, offers competitive group rates, giving $5 off each ticket for groups of 10 or more. The boat gives significant discounts to other groups too: $3 off for veterans, active military, senior citizens and holders of the America the Beautiful pass.
Throughout the summer and into the fall, the Miss Oregon Inlet gives back to the community. This season, she will welcome diverse groups for headboat fishing trips. In June, the boat is donating a fishing trip to Camp Save A Life Together, or S.A.L.T. The free camp, which runs three sessions each summer, is run by the Dare County Sheriff’s Office. It’s open to children ages 8 to 14 and is led by school resource officers. The camp’s focus is on high-energy outdoor activities, the kind that require leaving cell phones and electronic devices behind. The aim is that kids will learn they can disconnect and still have fun. Tim Shearin, who handles camp registration, says that when kids catch even a small fish, “You can’t wipe the grins off their faces.” Shearin and others with the camp are grateful for the vast community support they receive in the Outer Banks and are particularly excited about their Miss Oregon Inlet trip.
The boat will host another group of thrill-seekers in July when Special Olympics Dare County comes aboard. Kathleen Morgan, Local Program Coordinator for the organization, is enthusiastic about this adventure because few of the group’s athletes have ever been on a boat. “The headboat holds 49 people, but there are 75 athletes, so I’m going to stress to them that they need to sign up quickly,” she says. The current group of athletes ranges in age from 8 to 73 and is “a very happy mix of people.” Kathleen is moved by the boat owners’ generosity, and her athletes are excited to be able to wet a line and be out in the water on a real headboat.
On August 7, the boat will host the Third Annual Miss Oregon Inlet Youth Fishing Tournament. This event, open to kids from 6 to 14, started on a whim, according to one of the boat’s owners, Melodye Cannady. Participants pay $35 a head and are provided with bait, tackle, ice, snacks, water, a hot-dog lunch and t-shirts. All proceeds benefit CrossTrails Outfitters, a Christian non-profit that takes kids on outdoor adventures and teaches them life skills. Melodye’s son, Buddy Callaway, who coaches football at Manteo High School, recruits high-school football players to volunteer as mates for the day. Mates returning this year are Will Brown, Ian Johnson, Jake Brown, Wesley Mitchum and James Gilreath. Because the tournament involves so many volunteers and supports a good cause, Melodye sees it as more of a community project than a competition. Last year, the participants caught more than 500 fish at the catch-and-release event, and the grand prize was a kayak.
Fall events on the boat include the annual North Carolina Lions Club V.I.P. Fishing Tourney, held on October 17, for the visually impaired. Miss Oregon Inlet has been part of this popular event for more than 35 years. Gwen White, the organizer, shared, “There are so many touching memories. Many of these folks have never come to the ocean before and know nothing about the sounds, the smells or any of it.” The boat also provides a complimentary fishing trip for veterans on November 10 as part of Outer Banks Veterans Week.
Captain Randy Frees, affectionately known as Cap’n Randy, is the glue that holds all these activities together. He loves working on the water and working with kids, says Melodye, and he is central to the success of the youth fishing tourney and the many field trips that take place on the boat. He loves greeting everyone who comes aboard, knowing he will help them catch fish and, more importantly, help them make lasting memories. He is not only a skilled captain but also a media personality, appearing on Captain Marty’s fishing report on Saturday mornings on Beach 104 FM and also giving live fishing reports from the Miss Oregon Inlet. These occur a couple of mornings a week and appear on the boat’s Facebook page and on OuterBanksThisWeek.com. The enthusiasm Cap’n Randy shows for the daily catch is genuine and infectious. As the charismatic and persuasive captain says, “If you’re not aboard the Miss Oregon Inlet, fishin’, you’re wishin’ you were.”
A new kind of trip may be coming. Melodye and the newly engaged Bob Leavitt, a property manager on the Outer Banks, have a different kind of proposal in the works. They are interested in working with PCL Construction, the company building the new bridge over Oregon Inlet, to offer an educational cruise that would show visitors, locals and schoolchildren how the bridge is being built and why its construction is critical to the Outer Banks economy. “This bridge is one of those things people need to put down their phones to appreciate properly,” says Bob. Both he and Melodye think the bridge is that important and that wondrous.
The Miss Oregon Inlet is the pride of the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. She is kept in excellent condition, handles well, burns little fuel and, best of all, is only 10 minutes from departure to putting lines in the water. “I’ll use an expression the old-timer boat-builders used to use: ‘It’s good enough for who it’s built for,’” Melodye says with a chuckle. She adds, “Why spend your time riding when you could be fishing?”
And, when it’s fishing for a great cause, it’s even more meaningful.