A Gift for Ocracoke

By Molly Harrison | Tuesday, March 27, 2012
The Wilma Lee has found a new home in Ocracoke's Silver Lake

This week a most unusual boat will sail into Ocracoke's harbor - a gorgeous 72-year-old, fully restored, 47-foot, sloop-rigged skipjack. Known as the Wilma Lee, this Chesapeake Bay vessel has found a new home on Ocracoke Island and it's going to make quite a statement in Silver Lake.

Incredibly, the Wilma Lee was a gift to the people of Ocracoke. In February, Herb and Liz Carden of Kinsale, Va., donated the boat to a nonprofit cultural arts group known as Ocracoke Alive.

Here's how that came about: A few years ago, a group of Ocracoke islanders had some discussions about the possibility of building a historic sailing vessel that would teach people about Ocracoke's fishing heritage. That project never came to fruition, but it did provide a connection with Herb Carden, owner of the Wilma Lee. Carden discussed selling the boat to Ocracoke Alive, but the nonprofit group was not in a position to buy. Then, all of a sudden in February 2012, says Tom Pahl, treasurer of Ocracoke Alive, Carden called Ocracoke Alive and offered to donate the boat. After much deliberation, Ocracoke Alive decided to accept.

The Cardens have restored several historic vessels, but the Wilma Lee was the largest and most impressive. They wanted the Wilma Lee to be "used for educational purposes to all the young and old who might have the privilege to sail on her," and to "inspire young people to learn a love of boats and boating."

The skipjack does relate to Ocracoke's past, as the type of boat has natural ties to Ocrcaoke's seafaring history. Skipjacks were designed for oyster dredging in the Chesapeake Bay in the 1800s, but they were used In the North Carolina sounds in the early 20th century. Oystermen and fishermen in the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds typically used schooners, but some began to use the skipjack in the early 20th century because of the skipjack's shallow draft. A few skipjacks were built in Hyde County in the early 1900s.

Ocracoke Alive will use the vessel to generate money for its cultural arts programs. They will lease the Wilma Lee to local Capt. Rob Temple, who currently runs charters on Windfall II. The money Ocracoke Alive makes on the lease will be used to support the Ocrafolk Festival and Ocrafolk School and to put on other programs as well - so in essence the gift of the Wilma Lee is a gift for the entire island.

Capt. Temple and Pahl and several crewmembers sailed the Wilma Lee from Kinsale, Va., to the Outer Banks earlier this week. The boat had a layover in Shallowbag Bay in Manteo due to weather conditions and were expected to make it to Ocracoke by Wednesday or Thursday.

At this point, the vessel is undergoing rigorous Coast Guard certification for use as a passenger vessel. Ocracoke Alive hopes that the boat will be ready for sailing tours out of Silver Lake by the summer. Ocracoke Alive is discussing other plans for the boat as well, including free onboard excursions for school children, dockside talks for visitors about Ocracoke seafaring traditions and other programs.

I like this story not only because it supports cultural arts on Ocracoke Island, but also because it supports the theory of attracting what you want. The people of Ocracoke talked about wanting a boat for educational purposes - and they got one! Ocracoke Alive was looking for ways to make money - and they got one!

Next time you're in Ocracoke, look for the Wilma Lee. And if you decide to take a sailing tour aboard her, you can feel good that your dollars are going beyond just a good time on the water.

The Wilma Lee is a fitting gift for Ocracoke, as the people here have a strong sense of their history and a desire to both preserve and enhance their culture.

"Ocracoke is a fun place to be," says Pahl. "There's a lot of consciousness about the art, history, storytelling, culture and community. It's what makes Ocracoke Ocracoke."

And that's why we love it! I can't wait to see the boat there.

I've got a couple of events to tell you about this week. It's kind of a slow week around here, but rest assured that the Banks will be gearing up for next week for all the Easter week visitors.

If you can get to Rodanthe on Thursday morning, head to Chicamacomico Life Saving Station in Rodanthe for a special off-season Beach Apparatus Drill. This is a re-enactment of old-time lifesaving techniques and it's very interesting. And actually fun because it's held on the beach by the lifesaving station. Usually it's held in summer, so it's a sweltering event on the dunes with not a tree in sight. So enjoy this rare chance to see the event on a nice spring day!...

If you're in the mood to celebrate spring a little early, there are several Easter egg hunts this week. Personally, my kids got way too much candy at the St. Patrick's Day parade and I'm still trying to sneak that out of the house. But these should be fun events, all put on by Dare County Parks and Rec: the Spring Fling and Egg Hunt at the Manteo Youth Center on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. (Thursday is a half-day of school), the Easter Eggstravaganza at Family Rec Park in KDH on Saturday at 1:30 pm., and an Easter Egg Hunt at COA-Roanoke Island on Saturday at 10 a.m...

Want to do some good works? The N.C. Coastal Federation needs help with Spring Cleaning in their rain garden and at their office in Manteo on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. Stop by and help If you can. * Outer Banks Relay for Life Teams are having a Yard, Craft and Bake Sale at Outer Banks Brewing Station in KDH on Saturday from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. All proceeds go to Relay for Life for cancer research. * On Sunday, there's a Benefit for Stephanie Motz at Mexicali Brewz in KDH. Motz is a local teacher and coach who is recovering from a brain tumor. * There's more listed in our By Day listings...

Got some good nightlife going on this week, too. Restaurants are opening back up and they're filling the bars with bands. Check it all out here -- and you'll be glad (we hope) to know that our Nightlife listings are now arranged by day instead of by the entire week. So they're much easier to read. Enjoy!...

Be sure to enter our Weekly Facebook Giveaway this week! We're giving away a free wild horse tour from Bob's Wild Horse Tours plus a $25 gift certificate for lunch at Route 12. Good luck!

Outer Banks This Week Giveaway

This week you have a chance to register to win a free Corolla Wild Horse Tour plus a $25 gift certificate to the Route 12 Steak & Seafood Restaurant.

For more information about Corolla Wild Horse Tours, check out their website.

For more information about Route 12 Steak & Seafood Restaurant, check out their website.

Last Week's Winner

Congratulations to Patricia Starkey!!!

You won a free admission to The Elizabethan Gardens plus a $50 gift certificate to the Brine & Bottle beer and wine bar!

Outer Banks This Week Giveaway Winner

For more information about Elizabethan Gardens, check out their website.

For more information about Brine & Bottle, check out their website.

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of OuterBanksThisWeek.com. 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. When not working she practices and teaches yoga and spends as much time as possible outside and in or on the water with her husband and two children.