September 19, 2016
Brief shower didn't dampen annual Day at the Docks festivities


Despite a few minutes’ of afternoon showers, which sent patrons ducking into vendor or demonstration tents along the Hatteras village harbor, attendees were treated to a sunny Day at the Docks festival on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Now in its 12th year, the annual Day at the Docks celebration has become a favorite for locals and visitors alike and combines a wealth of competitions, demonstrations, exhibits, and vendors that are all connected with Hatteras Island’s working watermen or the community in general.

Captain Ernie Foster of the Albatross Fleet, who along with his wife, Lynne, has been involved with the festival since its beginning, was delighted with Saturday’s turnout.

“It has become what my wife and I hoped it would be – a community and island-wide event,” says Foster. “And it has stayed true to its original purpose, which was to recognize and support our local watermen,”

Day at the Docks technically started in 2004, roughly a year after Hurricane Isabel tore through Hatteras village, causing massive damage to homes, businesses, and the local fishing industry.

“That year we had a ‘Blessing of the Fleet' as a way to pull ourselves together and to show we were thankful to survive the most catastrophic event in my lifetime,” says Foster, who has spent decades luring sport fishermen to Hatteras Island and whose family quite literally ‘fostered’ the local charter fishing business.

“From there, we put together a working committee, and the [present day] Day at the Docks is the result,” he adds.

And as the swarms of people who meandered from harbor-front demonstrations to the massive tents on nearby lawns and in parking lots can attest, the festival has morphed into an island-wide celebration of a variety of organizations, vendors, and people who are all tied to the fishing traditions.

“What I like is that it’s an ‘everybody’ event now,” says Foster. “There are so many different individuals and groups that are taking a piece [of the event], and making it better.”

The end result of this collaboration is a maze of activity where any given locale along the waterfront presents an opportunity to join in the fun.

The annual Seafood Throwdown – a favorite component of Day at the Docks that’s now in its fifth year – is held just a couple hundreds yards away from the Kids’ Fishing Tournament, while a local cooking demonstration is held just steps away from the concrete marlin contest.

All of the coinciding events draw big crowds, with folks taking their time drifting from one activity to another, in order to properly check out local fundraising booths or educational exhibits along the way. Meanwhile, musicians in another tent keep folks entertained.

The sheer number of local organizations represented was stunning for 2016’s installment and included local churches that manned food and bake sale stands, community organizations such as Radio Hatteras 101.5 and 99.9 FM, the Girl Scouts -- which now has a Daisy group available for local Hatteras Island kids -- the Hatteras Library, and favorite local non-profits like Hatteras Island Meals and the Hatteras Island Youth Education Fund – just to name a few.

Many non-profit organizations held enticing raffles to boost fundraising for their specific organization – like a stand-up paddle board offered by the Hatteras Island Youth Education Fund and a Yeti Cooler stuffed with goodies as well as a getaway at Watermen’s Retreat offered by Hatteras Island Meals.

All of the organizations within the Education Tent, the Community Tent, and stationed along the outskirts seemingly agreed that Day at the Docks was the perfect venue to get the word out.

“A lot of people don’t know that we’re here and that we play great music!” said a volunteer at the Radio Hatteras booth. “This helps us get the word out that we have great programming, but we also have updates on weather, storms, and other information that’s important to Hatteras Island.”

“This particular event celebrates and tells the story of working watermen,” said David Hallac, the National Park Service's Superintendent for the Outer Banks Group, who helped man a booth that was stocked with info and exhibits on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. “We recognize the great importance of this maritime heritage, and we want to educate the public on what we do as a part of this [community.]”

And while everyone had a chance to learn something new, a number of the exhibits and activities seemed to be geared towards the youngest visitors and island residents.

Rich Bandy, meteorologist-in-charge for the NOAA National Weather Forecast Office in Morehead City, and his colleague David Glenn were also manning a booth on Saturday, and helped orchestrate the Hurricane Awareness Town Hall the day before, which was attended by both the public and local school students.

“It was important to us to reach out to the school kids here about safety, knowing when to evacuate, and [overall] awareness… and the sixth and seventh graders asked some really great questions,” Bandy said. “…And today, we have an opportunity to talk to a lot of different people about what we do, and to share information. It is a really great event.”  

Evan Ferguson, the Cape Hatteras Secondary School Teacher of the Year for 2015-2016 and the school's foods and nutritional teacher, echoed this sentiment of how Day at the Docks was a great opportunity to get younger residents on board with the community of  local watermen.

During the festival, she spearheaded a live demonstration of how to make a ridiculously tasty wahoo salad with the help of two of her students – Delaney and Avery Johnson.

“Avery wants to go into a health-related career, while Delaney wants to go into a culinary career, so this is a perfect fit,” she said after the crowd-pleasing demo, where attendees lined up for free samples.

“Our goal is to keep the tradition alive, so our kids can have a future [on the island] as well,” said Ferguson.

And while local organizations reached out to the kids through coloring books and kid-friendly competitions, the kids in turn were enthralled by the long roster of events that grabbed attention – including and especially the crab races, which were orchestrated by Dan Oden of Oden’s Dock, and were emceed by Rick Caton of the charter boat Free Agent.

Sporting a pink bicycle helmet with Mohawk-like tendrils sprouting out of the side, Caton garnered a big audience for the four crab races held throughout the day that pitted crabs against each other in an intricate Kentucky Derby worthy “race track.”

“Every year we figure out a different way to set up [the track], and every year it’s a little better,” said Oden.

While all contestants walked away with a prize - which included seaworthy temporary tattoos – Caton did an excellent job of drawing a crowd and accentuating the importance of the event – all while wearing an “Official Crab Race Announcer” sign, as well as the Mohawk bike helmet.

“All of the crabs here are thoroughbred crabs – they have trained for years!” he said, making the growing crowd crack up in the process. “…And it looks like we have some great contenders here – and no pretenders!”

The kids also had a blast climbing aboard a U.S. Coast Guard 47-foot Motor Lifeboat to take control, explore the engine room, and “push all the buttons,” according to Chet Ceren, Petty Officer 3rd Class, who led tours of the vessel.

“We’re basically here to teach people what we do,” said Officer Ceren. “We’re active in the community. We coach little league, we help with hurricane clean-ups… and we want to give people a general understanding of the [role of the] U.S. Coast Guard.”

And while young attendees were consistently well entertained throughout Day at the Docks, adults were certainly not forgotten.

Neon green signs that read “Cold Beer” lead to a vendor stand manned by the Hatteras Village Volunteer Fire Department, while the itinerary of time-tested and food-related events kept every attendee’s mouth watering throughout the day.

The annual Hatteras Island Chowder Cook-off – an event that raises funds for the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation – had another banner year with local restaurants going head-to-head in a chowder cook-off that delighted the crowds of public judges. After securing a $6 ticket, visitors got to taste all of the chowders in the competition before putting their vote into one of the locked boxes that represented each competitor in attendance.

The chowder cook-off is a heated competition to be sure, but for most folks who buy a ticket and therefore become a judge, it’s all about sampling a half dozen chowder varieties without ever leaving a single tent.

“Mmmm… We plan our whole vacation, and our whole year around this!” said one vacationer from Virginia, who had several small cups of chowder in hand.

Hatteras Sol Waterside Grill won first place this year.  Second place went to The Wreck and third to Dinky's Waterfront Restaurant.

In addition to the chowder cook-off, the annual Seafood Throwdown has become a immensely popular component of Day at the Docks – an honor that’s due to both the two world-class chefs who compete, the trio of exceptional judges, and the thoroughly entertaining emcee, Bob Barris, who has hosted the show for all five years, and who gives out the coveted “seafood tiara” to the winner, along with other prizes and accolades.

This year’s roster of judges was especially impressive, and included renowned chef Keith Rhodes of TV’s “Top Chef” and Wilmington’s Catch Restaurant, Tom Armstrong of Vinnie’s Steak House in Raleigh, and Jack Thigpen of North Carolina Sea Grant.

The surprise fish, which was provided by Jeffrey’s Seafood, was equally unusual – and was a “ladyfish” or a “poor man’s tarpon,” as it’s called in Florida.

Cleaned with a spoon, the star ingredient fish itself was unique enough to get all three judges out of their seats to see how expert fish cleaner, Jim Lyons, broke down the whole fish into edible, albeit small, pieces.

This year's throwdown pitted Scott Surratt, the executive chef at Café Pamlico in Buxton against Ross Tolson, chef at Owens Restaurant in Nags Head. The judges declared Surratt the winner.

In addition to the heated competitions and activities or demos along the docks, there were also harbor or marsh tours available for visitors who took full advantage of the roster of vessels found along the docks.

Jennifer Scott, who manned the harbor tours provided by the Albatross Fleet, explained that these small tours served as an opportunity to both raise money for the local chapter of North Carolina Watermen United and introduce a new layer of the Hatteras Island waterfront scene to newcomers.

“We did it last year for the first time,” she said, “and it’s a nice chance to see the area for people who have never experienced it before.”

The day cumulated – as it has since the first Day at the Docks – with the Blessing of the Fleet, during which more than 30 vessels made a procession from the main channel to the Hatteras Harbor area. Once the formal blessing was completed, the laying of the wreath in remembrance of deceased watermen  took place in the Pamlico Sound.

And despite a little rain intervention, the day ended on a great note, and the crowds alone were proof that this post-Isabel event has grown into an attraction all its own -- a fact that was further illustrated by the number of media outlets that followed and filmed the different activities throughout the day.

In fact, producer- reporter for UNC-TV, Rick Sullivan, documented the event for an upcoming episode of “North Carolina Weekend,” which will likely air in 2017, just before the 13th annual Day at the Docks.

 “The large layout makes it difficult to tell, but I think it’s our biggest event ever,” says Ernie Foster. “I’ve talked to several couples who stumbled upon [Day at the Docks], and who came back year after year, and I think that’s very special.”

“The number of people who dedicate so much time and effort to this – it inspires me to see it,” says Foster. “It has grown to include watermen from up and down the coast, and it’s fully embraced by all of us.”

“I’m enjoying the day,” he adds. “This is special for everyone on Hatteras Island.”


comments powered by Disqus