September 22, 2014

Day at the Docks draws a big crowd
despite the downpours...WITH SLIDE SHOW


Hatteras Island's watermen are known for their hardiness and their perseverance.  They go to sea to catch fish in all kinds of weather -- hot or cold, windy or calm, rain or shine.

And so it seemed rather appropriate that this year, after several years of fair weather, the planners of Day at the Docks, the annual celebration of Hatteras watermen -- and the visitors to that event -- had to battle the elements on Saturday, Sept. 20.

And they did it just as well as the commercial and recreational men and women who fish for a living have.

Cloudbursts from early to late morning finally gave way to gray skies, humidity, and lots of puddles along the Hatteras village docks that lasted until late afternoon when the heavens again opened up with drenching downpours.

The village got 5.25 inches of rain in the 24 hours that began at 7 a.m. Saturday, but that didn't dampen the spirits of the dozens of folks who put on the event or the hundreds who came to celebrate.

Parked vehicles lined the shoulders of Highway 12 from the center of the village down past the docks and there were cars and trucks jammed into every available parking lot and patch of grass.

The event was bigger than ever with more tents, demonstrations, competitions, food, music, storytelling, and exhibits than ever before, and more people attended the event than ever before in the three or four drier hours of the afternoon.

What began in 2003 as a small blessing of the fleet for the village to give thanks after its recovery from Hurricane Isabel, which the year before devastated the village the village and cut a new inlet between Frisco and Hatteras, is now a full-blown happening.

It began and grew each year under the leadership of villager Lynne Foster and a  band of volunteers and it continues under the direction of Jon Kelmer and an army of volunteers.

The only disappointment was that the parade of workboats and blessing of the fleet, scheduled at 6 p.m., was a hurried and brief ceremony. However, the lawn dance, featuring the Cashmere Jungle Lords, went on as planned to end the day -- though it was moved inside to the Hatteras Civic Center.

Under the tents along the docks, local church groups sold food and baked goods -- everything from steamed shrimp to hot dogs and cupcakes to ice cream.

On the main stage, musicians from near and far entertained and storytellers told of Hatteras of days gone by.  Under the education tent you could learn about everything from the island's weather to its fisheries. The U.S. Coast Guard gave harbor and boat tours, and watermen competed in a "concrete marlin" and mullet tossing contests.

In one of the most popular events each year, 101 youngster competed in age categories in the kids' fishing contest.  They were fishing along the docks for the heaviest pinfish and the longest fish in the harbor and won trophies and prizes donated by local stores and tackle shops.

The overall grand prize winners were Ruby Shoemaker, 11, of Buxton for the heaviest pinfish, and Joey Gavetti, 6, of Buxton for the longest fish -- a 32-inch stingray.  Joe Kavanagh of Frisco won in the rare fish category for a gag grouper he caught. You can click here for a list of all the winners and volunteers and sponsors.

Once again, the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation raised money to help island cancer patients with its Chowder Cook-off.  People could purchase, for a donation, the opportunity to taste eight different clam and other seafood chowders and vote for their favorite.

This year's winner was the Mad Crabber restaurant in Avon, which won for both the best overall and the best traditional chowder.  Other restaurants that participated included Breakwater, Dinky's, Hatteras Sol Deli & Cafe, Pop's Raw Bar & Grill, Dirty Dick's Crab House, Frisco Sandwich Company, and Capt. Rolo's.

Large crowds gathered under another tent to watch two island chef's battle it out in the Seafood Throwdown.  This year's competitors were Seth Foutz of Ketch 55 Seafood Grill in Avon and Eric Gill of the Breakwater restaurant in Hatteras, who were given an hour to prepare dishes using a local seafood ingredient that was revealed only when the event began.

As emcees chronicled their every move, they worked feverishly to please the judges with their preparation of the mystery seafood -- king mackerel. It all smelled good and looked yummy, but the judges pronounced Seth Foutz the winner.

Before and after the throwdown, good cooks demonstrated how to pick blue crabs and various ways to cook seafood under the food tent.  And over at Hatteras Harbor Marina, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries exhibited examples of all the local catches on ice. 

While all of the competitions were happening, folks could browse for fishing-related arts and crafts, and kids enjoyed the crab races and making fish-print T-shirts.

The day's events always conclude with a blessing of the fleet, but the heavy rain that started about 4:30 changed the plans for a leisurely parade of workboats into the harbor and a blessing around Hatteras Harbor Marina, where many people usually gather to watch.

Instead about 10 boats, led by the three boats of the Albatross Fleet -- which includes Albatross I that was built in 1937 and is the oldest working boat in the harbor -- moved through the breakwater and out into the Pamlico Sound. 

There, from the Albatross 1, U.S. Coast Guardsman Mark Burgoa played his bagpipes while a wreath to commemorate all watermen who have died was placed in the water by the father of the late Richie Spears, who was both a fisherman and owner of the Hatterasman Drive-In.

Then the Rev. Dwight Burrus and Capt. David Wilson blessed the fleet with their words and prayers.

The boats, by then in torrential rains, hurried back into the harbor in near-zero visibility -- a somewhat disappointing but somehow fitting end to a day honoring our hardy and hard-working watermen.


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