September 17, 2012

Day at the Docks 2012 draws larger crowd
than ever to honor island watermen


In 2003, when Lynne and Ernie Foster organized the first-ever Day at the Docks, it was just a small, community-based event celebrating the “spirit of Hatteras” in the wake of Hurricane Isabel and honoring the fishing heritage that is central to the village.

Day at the Docks has grown quite a bit since then, attracting more and more people each year, becoming one of the most popular events on Hatteras Island.

Anticipation was at an all-time high for this year’s Day at the Docks, which took place Saturday, Sept. 15, and it didn’t disappoint.

The weather was perfect—bright, sunny, and not too hot—and the hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors who attended this year’s celebration were met with an expanded lineup of speakers, performers, activities, and contests.

It was the biggest and best Day at the Docks yet.

The festivities kicked off at 10 a.m. on the main stage, just across from The Albratross Fleet, with opening statements and an official welcome from county commissioners Allen Burrus and Warren Judge, and local poet Johnnie Baum, and it was full-steam ahead from there.

The main stage boasted a variety of entertainment all day, and many of the performers were new to Day at the Docks. Local author Susan West and cultural anthropologist Barbara-Garrity Blake read selections from their book, “Fish House Opera.” They were followed by David Cecelski, a professor of American Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University, who talked about the cultural significance of traditional shanties.

He was joined onstage by Bob Zentz, a troubadour-style musician from Norfolk, Va., who sang a shanty while Cecelski elaborated on their purpose and their importance to early mariners.

According to Foster, the pair had not planned to perform together—they didn’t even know each other prior to Saturday. It just seemed like a good idea, and it ended up working out really well.

Zentz took the stage alone after Cecelski finished, delivering the one-man, multi-instrument, maritime-inspired show that has made him a Day at the Docks favorite.

He was followed by poet Dave Densmore, a life-long commercial fisherman from Alaska, whose ballad-style poems about his life on the ocean speak to truth about what it really means to be a fisherman.

In addition to what was available on the main stage, visitors could find entertainment up and down the waterfront.

All the activities that folks who attend Day at the Dock have come to know and love returned, including the children’s crab races, the mullet toss, the concrete marlin and concrete sailfish competitions, the fish-print T-shirt station, the survival suit races, and the kids’ fishing tournament.

As always, food was one of the main focuses of the event.

On the porch beside the Albatross Fleet office, local chefs and restaurateurs showed off their skills. Sharon Peele, from the Hatteras Harbor Deli, did a shrimp cooking demonstration. Dwight Callahan from Dinky’s cooked grouper with a garlic basil and roasted red pepper parmesan crust, and Dan and Don Oden, from the Breakwater, fried up some fresh, local bluefish.

As always, one of the most popular events of the day was the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation’s annual chowder cook-off.

This year, 16 restaurants and businesses entered, and the chowders were more creative than ever. They ranged from traditional Hatteras-style clam chowder to an unusual—and delicious—Thai seafood chowder.

In the end, Breakwater Restaurant won first place with its creamy corn, crab, fish, and chorizo chowder. Café Pamlico came in second with a Pamlico Sound seafood and Currituck corn chowder, and Saltwater Grill’s pumpkin and fish chowder took third.

The chowder cook-off has always been one of the biggest draws of Day at the Docks, but this year, an exciting new event—the seafood throwdown—may have won the prize for biggest crowd.

The seafood throwdown was the last big event of the day, and it pitted the executive chefs from two local restaurants against each other in an “Iron Chef”-style cooking competition.

Forrest Paddock from Café Pamlico and Seth Foutz from Ketch55, each with one sous chef, went head to head in this year’s inaugural bout.

They had one hour to plan, prepare, and serve a dish—based on a “mystery ingredient” that could not be revealed until the clock started ticking—to a panel of three judges.
The Cape Hatteras Secondary School marching band entertained the audience while the stage was set-up, and just before their time started, Jeffrey Aiken of Jeffrey’s Seafood in Hatteras, showed up to reveal the mystery ingredient: cobia.

The rest of the ingredients for the dish were sourced from the Conetoe Family Life Center’s community garden. The garden, which started as a project to inspire and educate the youth of rural Conetoe—a town with a population of 365 people in Edgecombe County—has grown into a full-fledged vegetable farm. The income from the sales of the produce went to a scholarship fund, and in the spring of 2012, the first set of the program’s alumni graduated from college.

The contestants were judged on taste, presentation, use of the whole fish, and originality.

After the judges deliberated, Foutz’s Thai-style cobia trio of pan-roasted cobia served over rice noodles, cobia ceviche, and cobia sashimi edged out Paddock’s honey-glazed lemon, rosemary, smoked paprika cobia served over garlic and hot chili collard greens.

After the throwdown, awards were handed out for the children’s fishing contest, always a popular event.

In this seventh children’s fishing contest, 103 youngsters competed for prizes donated by local businesses and for bragging rights. There were 9-and-under and 10-and-over categories.  Two of the winners – Zeke Willis of Buxton and Harper Hubbard of Williamsburg, Va. – were just 4 years old.

The grand-prize winner for the heaviest pinfish was Jahfar Christ, 13, of Frisco for a fish that weighed four-tenths of a pound and for the longest fish was Haley Rosell, 8, of Hatteras who caught a 14-inch puppy drum.

Click here to see all of the winners of the contest and the businesses that donated prizes.

It was almost 5 p.m. by the time all the awards were handed out on the stage under the tent, and it was time for boats to start lining up for the working boat parade and blessing of the fleet.

This event was the genesis of Day at the Docks when it was first held in 2004, a year after Hurricane Isabel cut a new inlet between Frisco and Hatteras, isolating Hatteras village.  It has been held every year since then at the end of Day at the Docks.  In fact, Day at the Docks was cancelled last year after Hurricane Irene, but there was still a parade and blessing of the fleet.

Almost 40 boats participated in the working boat parade this year – everything from large, expensive charter boats to well-worked commercial vessels to skiffs.  As usual, the Miss Hatteras brought a crowd of folks and the participants in the blessing to Hatteras Harbor Marina.  And this year two – not just one – Coast Guard boats were the last in the parade.

As always, the parade was led by the Albatross I, which was built by the late Ernal Foster in 1937 and is the oldest working boat in the harbor.  The younger Albatross II and Albatross III also participated.  The fleet, now run by Ernal’s son, Ernie and his wife Lynne, will celebrate its 75th anniversary this month.

The boats lined up outside the Hatteras Harbor breakwater under blue skies with puffy white clouds in a stiff northeast wind, gusting to about 20 mph.  As the sun was setting, the air on the water was chilly, and many folks were putting on their sweatshirts.

By the time, the parade headed back into the harbor, the line of boats stretched to the west all the way to the ferry channel.

One by one, the boats re-entered the harbor as the folks on land cheered and waved at them.

The site of the blessing, as usual, was Hatteras Harbor Marina, where a community choir was singing hymns and patriotic songs.

Two island poets – Johnnie Baum and Dale Farrow – recited poetry they had written about the island’s watermen.

Then three ministers offered prayers for the watermen who have died this year – including Bernice Ballance, Harry Gaskill, and Gary Wade Midgett -- and for the safety of those who still fish the seas. 

Offering their prayers were the Rev. Ken Davenport, pastor of the United Methodist churches in Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras; the Rev. Dr. Azariah J. Jeyakumar, known as just Pastor Jey, of the Hatteras Assembly of God Church, and Rev. Dwight Burrus of Hatteras, a native son.

The wreath to honor the watermen was brought to the dock by Dan Oden and his family and handed over to Michael Peele and friends and family on an old, traditional shad boat for its return to the sea.

On the landing, a representative of North Carolina’s Division of Marine Fisheries presented commercial fishing licenses to two members of the next generation of island watermen.  They are Wheeler Ballance and John Canning, both 11 and the sons of watermen. Wheeler is the son of Todd and Mary Ellon Ballance and John is the son of John and Lee Ann Quidley Canning.

The two young watermen then climbed aboard the shad boat to join the Peele family and the pastors in taking the wreath outside the breakwater and placing it on the water as the sun was setting over Pamlico Sound.

“When the winds blow and the seas are hard, may they find Your guiding hand,” implored Pastor Ken Davenport.  “Bless this fleet.  May You see them home safely.”


For a related story on a new Day at the Docks event, go to

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