Get to Know a Local: Captain Jay Cudworth, Paradise Dolphin Cruises

By Molly Harrison | Tuesday, June 20, 2023

All across the Outer Banks are people doing their best to make a living while still finding time to enjoy this wonderful place they call home. In this edition of Get to Know a Local, you’ll meet one of them, Captain Jay Cudworth of Wanchese.

All summer long, Cudworth operates the Kokomo for Paradise Dolphin Cruises, which is owned by Safe Harbor Outer Banks in Wanchese. The business was originally started by Cudworth’s first cousin, Crockett Farrow, and his wife, Ginger. They bought Kokomo, a 40-foot catamaran, in Alabama, brought it to the Outer Banks and operated Paradise Dolphin Cruises for many years, building the business into TripAdvisor’s top-rated dolphin tour in the state for eight years running.

Photo: Captain Jay Cudworth with a young passenger onboard the Kokomo.

Paradise Dolphin Tours offers four two-hour dolphin trips daily plus sunset cruises, and the boat’s home base at Safe Harbor marina in Wanchese is very close to the best dolphin-watching areas in the sounds. As Cudworth and the passengers search the water for bottlenose dolphins (and 98 percent of the time they find them), Cudworth talks about the dolphins, local scenery, environment and wildlife. His friendly personality and knowledge of the area ensure that his passengers always learn something new and have a great time.

“I am blessed to live where I was born and raised,” he says. “I love sharing this special place with special people and sharing my knowledge and love of the Outer Banks.”

Keep reading to learn more about this tried-and-true Outer Banks native and his life on Roanoke Island.

How long have you lived on the Outer Banks and how did you end up here?

I’ve lived here all my life – 59 years. My family on both sides has been here for many generations.

What did you do before you were in this business?

I started out as a mate on fishing boats when I was a teenager. Eventually, I decided I didn’t want to do that my whole life. That’s when I got into real estate. I am broker in charge at Kingdom Real Estate in Kitty Hawk. But I love working on water. This is my happy place.

How did you get into this line of work?

With working on a boat and being on the water, it started when I got my first boat at age 12 and went on from there. With real estate, I met a man in church, Bob DeGrabrielle, developer of Corolla, and ended up working for him.

Photo: The Kokomo on dolphin patrol in the Roanoke Sound. 

What motivates you to work hard in your line of work?

I’ve always liked a little competition, from catching the biggest fish to shooting the most ducks to finding the largest pod of dolphins.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

I like watching children get excited when they see the dolphins for the first time and seeing their parents smiling.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Sometimes the weather can stop the show. People get disappointed having to miss the cruise.

Photo: Capt. Jay Cudworth finds bottlenose dolphins on 98 percent of his trips.

What’s your favorite Outer Banks town or village and why?

Wanchese on the island of Roanoke. I love the people and the history. It’s the place I call home.

What is your favorite thing about living on the Outer Banks?

The diverse beauty of the area, and the seafood for dinner year round.

What is your favorite season on the Outer Banks and why?

The fall when we natives can relax because the pace is a bit slower.

What’s one thing you wish more Outer Banks visitors knew?

The rich history of the Outer Banks.

What do you do for fun?

I like to go fishing with my 7-year-old granddaughter. Watching her pull in fish is the best!

Capt. Jay's granddaughter, Jocelyn, with the smile of success.

What do you do in the off-season?

I like to duck hunt.

What’s your favorite beach access?

Coquina Beach in Cape Hatteras National Seashore just south of Nags Head

Describe your perfect day off.

I take Sundays off to rest and reflect and, yes, go fishing with my granddaughter.

Do you see more sunrises or sunsets?

Sunsets on the Kokomo, of course!

Where do you go on vacation?

I like the mountains of North Carolina. Black Mountain is very nice.

For a celebratory dinner, would you rather order take-out, go out to eat or cook something at home?

I like to cook at home. I’m a great cook!

What is your favorite local seafood?

Soft crabs and shrimp

Do you have any pet projects or is there a local nonprofit that you’re passionate about?

I strive to help the people that I encounter every day with a kind word and a helping hand. A smile works too!

What’s one item on your bucket list?

To marry my college sweetheart on the Kokomo. I met her at Methodist College (now Methodist University) many decades ago, but we lost touch and I had not seen her in almost 40 years. I knew she was from Mechanicsville, Virginia, though. Every time a customer gets on the boat, I ask them where they’re from, and each time someone said they were from Mechanicsville, I asked if they knew her. Sometimes they did. One lady said, “Yes, we know her,” and texted her right then. Then she showed up on my boat on June 3 of this year, and we are now in love. I know, it’s crazy, but true! The Kokomo has been so good to me.

Photo: The moment Capt. Jay reunited with Sharon, his college sweetheart, after 39 years.

Paradise Dolphin Cruises

708 Harbor Road, Wanchese
(252) 573-0547

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks.