May 7, 2014

Hatteras Storytelling Festival is another winner


There were a wealth of stories told last weekend in Hatteras village at the second annual Hatteras Storytelling Festival.

About 170 people came to the Hatteras Civic Center from Friday through Sunday, May 2-4, to hear tales from the island and eastern North Carolina from those who wrote about them to those who lived them.

This year’s festival kicked off Friday evening with a Taste of the Village, where folks could sample food from Hatteras restaurants and shops.

The evening’s entertainment included Kevin Duffus, an award-winning filmmaker, author, and historian based in Raleigh, N.C., and Clyde Edgerton, an award-winning novelist, musician, storyteller, and professor of creative writing.

Duffus told the audience about his efforts to find historical truth about Outer Banks legends on such things as the infamous pirate Blackbeard, to shipwrecks and salvaging, to the mystery of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse’s Fresnel lens, which went missing during the Civil War.

Duffus eventually solved that mystery and what remains of the lens is on display at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras village.

Next up was Southern novelist Clyde Edgerton of Wilmington, N.C., who talked about family storytelling and entertained all with readings from his many novels.  He was joined by his daughter, Catherine, and Hatteras villager, Clifford Swain, for several foot-tapping gospel songs.

Saturday began with a presentation for preschool and elementary students at the Hatteras library and a presentation by Ben Cherry, aka Black Beard, at the Graveyard museum.

After lunch, the audience was just about rolling in the aisles at the stories and tall tales of Rodney Kemp of Morehead City, N.C., who is also known as “The Fish House Liar,” and is a well known storyteller, historian, and educator.

Hatteras village’s Clifford Swain was back on stage with his guitar and harmonica for some more of his great music and stories.

And taking the stage after dinner was Eastern North Carolina’s Bland Simpson, a renowned author, storyteller, pianist, and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He entertained with stories and music.
Saturday evening ended with a bluegrass concert with Nu-Blu of Siler City, N.C., and Hatteras Island’s own Banjo Island.

On the final day, Sunday, the afternoon began with a gospel music concert and then proceeded on to local stories from a panel led by James Charlet, Hatteras historian who currently serves as the historic site manager of the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site & Museum in Rodanthe.

The panel’s theme was the United States Life-Saving Service, which merged with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to become the U.S. Coast Guard. The stories and rescues from the past and present kept the audience spellbound.

First on this panel was Nevin Wescott, a Dare County native and great-grandson of Josiah Wescott, station keeper at Chicamacomico in 1888.  He shared his memories of his ancestors’ three generations of service in the Life-Saving Service and the U.S. Coast Guard at stations Ocracoke, Cape Hatteras, Nags Head, and Oregon Inlet. 

Local historian Danny Couch told the story of the schooner A. B. Goodman that wrecked in 1881 just over the dune line outside the Civic Center. The rescue was led by two of the heroes of the Life-Saving Service, B.B. Dailey and Pat Etheridge.

After Couch warmed up the crowd, Charlet told the story of one of the most famous and dramatic rescues – the rescue of the crew of the British tanker Mirlo, which was sunk by a German submarine on Aug. 16, 1910 just offshore from Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station.

The Mirlo was carrying a cargo of gasoline, which ignited the ocean into a ghastly inferno.  The station keeper at the time was Capt. John Allen Midgett, who led his crew out into the fiery Atlantic to rescue 42 survivors of the 52 men on board the tanker.

And, finally the story of the lifesavers came full circle as two young U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilots kept the audience on the edge of their seats for almost an hour with their story of the dramatic rescue of 14 sailors who survived the sinking of the tall ship HMS Bounty during Hurricane Sandy in late October of 2012.

Lt. Jane Pena was a co-pilot on duty the night of Saturday-Sunday, Oct 28-29.

She said the Coast Guard station in Elizabeth City, N.C., was aware that the HMS Bounty with 16 sailors on board was in trouble more than 90 miles off the coast of Hatteras. The three-masted sailing vessel had lost power and was taking on water in an area mariners call the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” for its infamously treacherous seas and shoals.

The crew was waiting until daylight to abandon ship. But with its pumps failing, they were forced to abandon ship early on Sunday morning in the darkness. Adrift in two life rafts they were powerless against the raging seas. Sandy’s winds were in excess of 60 knots and an HC-130J Hercules airplane from Air Station Elizabeth City was launched.

Pena said her crew was called about 3 a.m. and informed that the crew was abandoning ship. Elizabeth City launched rescue helicopter CG6012, piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Steve Cerveny, with co-pilot Pena, to begin rescue operations. Wearing night vision goggles, the helicopter raced to the scene amidst heavy rain and powerful winds. They had to fly low, at about 300 feet, to stay below the clouds and arrived on scene just after sunrise Monday morning.

It didn’t take long before they spotted a survivor in the water, adrift and alone. The survivor was wearing an insulated suit and co-pilot Lt. Jane Pena spotted the strobe lights attached to it. Before they could hoist the sailor to the safety of the helicopter’s cabin, the aircrew had to overcome the challenge of safely deploying their swimmer and rescue basket amidst Sandy’s fury.

The crew on the helicopter rescued the survivor in the water, and then a rescue swimmer was hoisted down to a lifeboat, and the crew lifted up five survivors off that boat before the aircraft had had to leave to get back to the base before fuel ran out.

By that time, Lt. Cmdr. Steve Bonn, the pilot of a second Coast Guard helicopter, had arrived on the scene.

He and his crew hoisted another nine survivors onto their helicopter.

Two sailors perished – a woman whose body was located the next day and the captain who was never found.

The two pilots’ detailed story of the rescue in the worst of conditions totally engaged the audience and kept them asking questions until the afternoon ended.

The third annual Hatteras Storytelling Festival will be Friday through Sunday, May 3-5, of next year. Links to ticket sales and accommodation packages—as well as more information on next year’s schedule of events and the performers—will be available on the event’s website,

For more information on the genesis of the festival, go to


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