skipjack Wilma Lee, a restored 47-foot, 20-ton, sloop-rigged,
centerboard sailboat will soon become a new educational and cultural
attraction on Ocracoke Island. The 70-year-old boat has been donated to
the non-profit organization Ocracoke Alive Inc, which is dedicated to
promoting arts and culture on the island.
of only a few remaining Chesapeake Bay skipjacks, the Wilma Lee is
listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The donor and
restorer of the boat, Herb Carden, of Sandy Point, Va., had been
looking for a new home for his boat for some time when he began talking
with Ocracoke Alive last fall.
along with master shipwright John Morganthaler, has completed more than
20 boat restoration projects, but the Wilma Lee is the one he shows
with the most pride.
goal for rebuilding the Wilma Lee was to do exactly what I have done.
That is to see it donated by Liz [Carden's wife] and me, where it will
be used to educate the history of its past," Carden said. "I trust that
all of you in control of Wilma Lee will make sure that she is used for
educational purposes to all the young and old who might have the
privilege to sail on her," he added.
of Carden's special hopes for the Wilma Lee is that it will inspire
young people to learn a love of boats and boating.
skipjacks are historically associated with the Chesapeake Bay oystering
industry, they eventually made their way south into the Albemarle and
Pamlico sounds. And in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, North
Carolina boatbuilders were copying the famous design.
were a single-purpose boat, designed and built for oyster dredging,
though Carolina watermen also used them for harvesting she-crabs and
hauling lumber and cargo. They are hard-working boats with massive
sails intended to generate the power necessary to drag a heavy dredge
and to work in low wind.
Alive president David Tweedie said of the gift, "We are overwhelmed by
Mr. Carden's generosity. This is a very valuable gift, but it is also a
huge responsibility for Ocracoke Alive."
Alive is an Ocracoke-based non-profit organization that is best known
for the production of the Ocrafolk Festival and the Ocrafolk School.
Tweedie said that Ocracoke Alive will do everything possible to carry
out Mr. Carden's hopes for his boat, "to make The Wilma Lee's presence
in Ocracoke an educational and cultural attraction that will draw
tourism to the island and to the Ocracoke waterfront."
to Ocracoke Alive treasurer Tom Pahl, "It will cost about $15,000 to
$20,000 a year just to keep the boat in the water. Plus it will be
necessary to plan for repair and maintenance
contingencies that will no doubt come up in the future. It is a boat,
after all, and a wooden boat at that."
explained that Ocracoke Alive agreed to accept the boat only after an
exhaustive study of costs and potential income.
only way we are able to accept this gift is if the boat can generate
its own income," Pahl said.
that end, Ocracoke Alive will lease the boat to local sailboat captain
Rob Temple. Temple has been sailing the passenger schooners Windfall
and Windfall II continuously out of Ocracoke for almost 20 years. The
lease agreement will require that a percentage of the Wilma Lee's
income be returned to Ocracoke Alive to support and promote educational
and cultural programming connected to the Wilma Lee, as well as other
Ocracoke Alive events and programs.
Wilma Lee's activities will include free programs for the Ocracoke
School and off-island school groups, plus a regular schedule of free
dockside events, such as historic talks, storytelling, and boat tours,
allowing curious visitors to learn about the long history of wooden
boats and commercial fishing in and around the waters of Ocracoke.
hope is that this boat will draw people of all ages and interests to
the waterfront, in much the same way that the Elizabeth II brings folks
to Manteo," Tweedie said. "We want this to benefit everyone – we want
visitors to have a memorable experience, we want to advance the notion
of Ocracoke as a destination for those with a taste for maritime
history, and we want to bring more people down to the waterfront."
Wilma Lee was built in 1940 on the Maryland shore. It is one of the
younger boats in the fleet of around 32 skipjacks still afloat. Over
the years, about 800 of these boats sailed the oyster-laden waters
along the Maryland, Virginia, and Carolina shores. The last remaining
North Carolina-built skipjack was built in Rose Bay (Hyde County) in
1915. Named the Ada Mae, it's now used for educational purposes as part
of Carolina Coastal Classrooms in New Bern, N.C.
skipjack Wilma Lee is expected to make its debut entrance into Ocracoke
harbor around the Easter holiday. For more information about the Wilma
Lee and Ocracoke Alive, go to www.ocracokealive.org.