a boat is not just a boat. For the best of them, a boat is a story —
with a couple of meaty characters and a good ending.
the freshly restored Deepwater, a newcomer at the Manteo waterfront
docks, the story spans from the post-World War II era in Manteo through
the halcyon days of Outer Banks charter fishing out of Oregon Inlet,
with legendary Capt. Lee Perry at the helm.
And then the story stops. But it doesn’t end.
took conservation heavy-hitter John Wilson IV, a member of one of those
rarified 400-year-old Manteo families, and his partner, architect Billy
Parker, to rescue the decaying Deepwater from certain inglorious demise.
just remarkable that a 63-year-old boat is as good as new,” Wilson says
during a recent spin in Roanoke Sound. “Better than new. It will be
around for another 63 years. And it will help us remember Lee Perry.”
its polished mahogany trim and atypical stern, the vessel stands out,
even amongst a few unusual neighbors moored nearby in Dough’s Creek,
such as the Elizabeth II, the representative 16th-century sailing
vessel owned by Roanoke Island Festival Park.
grandfather, with the help of renowned Outer Banks boatbuilders Warren
O’Neal and Roy Etheridge, had built the Deepwater as a “picnic boat”
more than 50 years ago to tool around in Shallowbag Bay with his wife
and three children. There would be cold fried chicken and pimento
cheese sandwiches and potato salad to share, with chocolate layer cake
it outgrew its mission, Deepwater was sold to a man in Kitty Hawk, who
added a flying bridge and used the boat for fishing trips during the
dawn of the charter fishing industry in Oregon Inlet. Perry, a colorful
charter captain and native Kitty Hawk waterman, bought it in 1966. For
25 more years, Perry ran it in all kinds of weather, fished in all
kinds of conditions and entertained all kinds of people with outrageous
fish tales and hot-tempered rants that cooled as quickly as they
“There’s not a person who doesn’t have a story about Lee,” Wilson says affectionately.
Wilson, a former mayor of Manteo, learned that the boat had been
salvaged for its engine, he bought it for $5,000 and paid $6,000 more
for a barn in which to store it.
and I bought the boat in 1991 when it was to be abandoned because it
was too old, too slow and too outdated to be used for used for a
charter boat business,” Wilson says.
sat in storage until two years ago, when Parker spurred Wilson to make
a decision. “It wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t insisted that we do
this,” Wilson says.
historically valuable things is more than a hobby to the men. In 1980,
Wilson and Parker founded the nonprofit Outer Banks Conservationists,
which is best known for its restoration and management of the Currituck
Beach Light Station.
Deepwater still has its original juniper hull, crafted from wood taken
from the Great Dismal Swamp. The unusual stern is pre-Carolina flair;
it’s more of a blending of Harker’s Island and northern influences. The
boat, which draws three feet and is 39 feet long and 13 feet wide,
includes a lower cabin with a v-berth and a head with a shower that was
converted from the original galley.
took 18 months for Wanchese boatbuilder Wade Davis to restore the
vessel. Davis is the son of renowned yacht builder Buddy Davis, another
one-of-a-kind Outer Banks character who was instrumental in making
Outer Banks boatbuilding a mega-million-dollar industry. He died in
2011 at age 62.
enjoying lunch one day at Annie’s Great Gut Deli at Thicket Lump
Marina, Wilson had a fateful conversation with Wade Davis about the
grown up on the docks in Wanchese, Davis, 45, was familiar with the
Deepwater from the Lee Perry days. But it was “bad-looking” after being
stored for 22 years, he recalls.
barn was dry as a daggone bone, which is not the best thing for a
boat,” Davis says. “Fuzzy stuff covered the inside of the boat.”
around with his pocketknife, Davis realized that things weren’t as bad
as they appeared. “I said ‘Gosh, John, the boat isn’t rotten!’” Davis
recounts. “It was more or less like it was before.”
determining that the vessel was salvageable – even capable of being
restored to near-new condition – Davis became more impressed with the
craftsmanship of the construction. Joinery was remarkably tight. Only
small sections of the cabin, mostly the windows, needed replacement, he
was done right,” Davis says. “The poorer the fit, the more the boat
would have leaked. You’d have had a lot more water damage.”
had provided photographs of the original boat so Davis could bring the
cabin back to its traditional lines. As he worked, he attracted a lot
of attention – not for his work, but for locals’ memories of the
Deepwater’s charter fishing years.
“Oh, gosh, everybody says that thing was an icon here,” Davis says. “The captain was very charismatic.”
reason Perry was so memorable – besides his flash temper – was for his
speech impediment resulting from a cleft palate he had had repaired as
a child. Some people thought he was mentally impaired, Davis says, but
“there was nothing dumb about Lee Perry.” The repair work he did on the
boat, he says, was “impeccable.”
satisfying to complete the work and see it looking pretty, Davis says,
but it’s not like he won’t be working on it again. “Boats are like kids
– they always come back,” Davis says. “They always need something. That
thing’s good to go. It will outlive most of us.”
Hawk fisherman Charles Perry, 69, grew up with Lee Perry, who was his
first cousin, and remembers him fondly. Perry says that his cousin
loved to fish with a passion.
excited him as much as anyone could get excited,” Perry recalls. “The
last blue marlin he saw was just as exciting as the first blue marlin
he saw, I promise you.”
a lisp, he talked a lot, but it took people awhile to understand him.
Perry says he remembers hearing about people spending all day with his
cousin on charter trips, and confessing later that they didn’t
understand one word he had said the entire time.
he would get so charged up that he forgot he was holding the microphone
button down on the radio. “He’d talk nonstop for three or four
minutes,” Perry recalls. “All of us would be laughing. He was hilarious
. . . We’d sit up on the bridge and listen and laugh and laugh.”
people didn’t laugh at Perry, who was also known for his generosity and
kindness. It just that he was so animated, everyone enjoyed his
line he used outlived him, Perry says. His cousin had a habit of eating
soda crackers while on the boat, he says. When he hooked a blue marlin,
he would exclaim so enthusiastically that he would spit the crackers as
he yelled. Over the years, the expression “Soda crackers all over the
bridge” became synonymous in Outer Banks fishing circles with catching
a blue marlin.
says he was recently on a fishing trip in Costa Rica when he heard a
voice crackling excitedly over the radio: “Soda crackers all over the
“When I heard that on the radio out there, I’d like to die,” Perry says, laughing at the memory.
time years ago, he was at a remote area of Hawaii, when he came upon a
local captain at a marina. “I introduced myself,” Perry recalls. “He
says, ‘You any kin to Lee Perry?’ This was in 1975. People already knew
stories about Lee Perry. Every day, there was an adventure.”
they don’t fish, Wilson and Parker thought it more appropriate to take
the Deepwater back to its picnic days, Wilson says, and to leave the
charter fishing days to retellings of the Lee Perry escapades. For the
time being, the Deepwater will remain at the Manteo waterfront, quietly
memorializing generations of Outer Bankers and their stories.
says that just like fixing up an old house, it took a lot more work and
money to restore the Deepwater than it would have taken to build it
got a great eye,” Davis says. “Not everybody has the vision to see
something when they’re looking at an old rotten boat. All that – it’s
all his dream. I did what he asked me to do.”
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. For more news, features, and
information about the coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)