October 3, 2011 Facebook TwitterMore...

Dramatic rescue of Hatteras waterman follows annual blessing of the fleet


This past weekend was one of blessings for Hatteras Island watermen.

On Friday evening, Sept. 30, Hatteras islanders came together for the annual blessing of the fleet.

Prayers were offered for the watermen who have lost their lives on the seas and for the watermen who continue to go to sea, making a living much as generations of islanders have done before them.

And, on Saturday morning, Oct. 1, one of the watermen who participated in the blessing was saved from certain death by his fellow commercial fishermen.

“Tall” Bill Van Druten of Frisco, who has fished commercially out of Hatteras for years on his boat, Net Results, paraded into the harbor in Hatteras village, along with 29 other watermen on their boats, for the blessing.

The next morning, Van Druten left the dock early in Net Results to go drop-netting for Spanish mackerel in the ocean.

Drop-netting is a commercial fishing method that involves setting a net off a large, hydraulic reel.  The net stretches behind the boat and is anchored with a buoy.  The fishermen waits a time for the “set” – for fishing swimming through the net to be trapped in it. Then the net is reeled back in, and the fish are picked out of it.

Van Druten was fishing by himself, but luckily some of his fellow watermen were nearby on the sunny, cool morning.

It’s customary to for the commercial fishermen to talk on the radio while they fish, exchanging information about the catch, the weather, or whatever.

A few folks apparently noticed that Van Druten hadn’t been on the radio in a while. Jeremy O’Neal was also out fishing, aboard Miss Megan with his mate Cory Sisler, and he was within sight of Van Druten’s Net Results.

O’Neal noticed that the boat seemed to be drifting aimlessly, and when no one could reach Van Druten, the younger captain went to investigate.

He and his mate found Van Druten totally wrapped up in the net on the big hydraulic reel. His body had apparently passed through the reel numerous times before the buoy stopped the rotation.

Paul Dunn and his mate Latane Saunders on the Shannon D also arrived to help.

The Coast Guard was called and a boat was launched from Station Hatteras Inlet with emergency medical personnel aboard.

The first responders did not want to move Van Druten, and one of the mates drove Net Results back to the Coast Guard Station, where they were met by a medical helicopter.

Van Druten was taken first to Outer Banks Hospital and then on to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, where he remains in the trauma unit in remarkably good condition.

According to postings by his son, Brian, and his daughter, Kristin Gray, Van Druten has no bone fractures and apparently no internal injuries.  

The family reports that he has a spinal contusion and damaged muscles and ligaments.  His limbs are bruised and swollen, but he was able to move both of his arms some last night.

Today, his daughter-in-law Kelley Van Druten, said he was in pretty good spirits but “grouchy” because all he had been give to eat or drink were ice chips.

The fact that the terrible accident at sea could well have been fatal and that Van Druten’s remarkable rescue came just hours after the blessing of the fleet did not go unnoticed this weekend on the island.

His fellow watermen and friends all marveled that he was not more seriously injured and then remarked about the blessing the evening before.

The danger that the men and women who go to sea to fish face each time they leave the safety of the harbor is something that they and their loved ones accept and take quite seriously.

The annual Blessing of the Fleet is always a reverent and well attended event.  In the past several years, it has happened at the end of the Day at the Docks, a celebration of Hatteras Island watermen.

This year the Day at the Docks was cancelled after Hurricane Irene, but the blessing went on anyway, just a few weeks later, with a smaller crowd and fewer boats in the parade.

After 4 p.m., 30 boats left Hatteras Harbor, proceeded through the breakwater, and lined up behind Albatross I, which is the oldest boat still operating in the fleet. Aboard the boats were family and friends of the watermen – and many of their dogs!

Built in 1937 by the late Ernal Foster, Albatross I is now captained by his son, Ernie.

At 5 p.m., the boats re-entered the harbor, followed by the U.S. Coast Guard’s 47-foot motor lifeboat from Station Hatteras Inlet with a large contingent of Coast Guardsmen aboard. Its placement in the boat parade honors their responsibility for the safety and security of the island’s fishing boats.

The ceremony was at the Hatteras Harbor fuel dock and was led by four island pastors – the Rev. Cory Oliver, pastor of Buxton, Hatteras, and Frisco United Methodist churches; the Rev. Roger Dill of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Avon; the Rev. James Bliss, pastor of Clarks Bethel-Fairhaven in the tri-villages of northern Hatteras, and the Rev. Dwight Burrus of Hatteras village.

Island poets Johnny Baum and Dale Farrow read works they had written for the occasion, before the pastors offered prayers and words of comfort and hope to the watermen, and Chuck Conlogue, music minister at Little Grove United Methodist Church, played “Eternal Father,” the Navy hymn.

County Commissioners Warren Judge and Allen Burrus offered brief comments about the island’s recovery from Hurricane Irene.

After Pastor Cory Oliver delivered the prayer for the watermen that concluded the service, Dan and April Oden, along with their young daughters, Clara and Alice, came by boat to deliver the memorial wreath to the traditional, old Hatteras shad boat that takes the wreath out into open waters.  

This year it was composed of huge sunflowers and was made by Susie Austin and donated by her and her daughter, Dawn, in memory of Hamilton Gray, their son and grandson, and in honor of Hatteras Island watermen.

Michael Peele's traditional shad boat was run this year by commercial fisherman, Todd Balance, who was accompanied by his wife, Mary Ellon and their son, Wheeler.  Second-grader Clara passed the wreath to 10-year-old Wheeler.

The preachers boarded the shad boat and slowly and quietly left the harbor headed for the open waters of the sound, where the wreath was placed in the water with prayers for those who have "crossed the bar" for the final time.  

The boats maintained a respectful silence as the shad boat departed.

CLICK HERE FOR SLIDE SHOW (IPad, IPhone and other non-flash compatible device users)

 Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.