October 21, 2017
The Albatross Fleet Celebrating 80 Years of Endurance
By SARAH ALLMAN
is early morning, and just over the horizon and rising with the sun
come the notable red and white striped outriggers of the Albatross
80 years ago in 1937, the Albatross was the first boat built in North
Carolina for the express purpose of Offshore charter boat fishing. All
these years later, this fleet proudly maintains its unique round stern
design, which has been meticulously updated and taken care of since
first being launched.
The enduring nature of the fleet is remarkable in a place threatened by
constant change and development, namely Hatteras village.
As a young man, Ernal Foster grew up around the docks in Hatteras
village with his family, who like most other families in the village,
made a living in commercial fishing. After enjoying a brief stint in
the Coast Guard on Long Island, Ernal was forced to return to his tiny
island during the depression. Ernal never lost hope, however, and a
dream began to swell in his heart.
With his remaining savings, Ernal designed and had Milton Willis of
Marshallberg build his boat with the intention of taking people
offshore and teaching them how to fish, hoping they would pay him to do
it. Though many considered the idea a delusion, a lot of business began
coming in from sportsmen from the north and mid-west who owned hunting
clubs on the island.
Though charter trips came to a startling halt during
WWII, it boomed immediately after and the remaining two boats of the
fleet were built in 1948 and 1953 to support the influx of more and
It was in these years after the war that the Albatross II gained its
fame for catching the world record marlin in the summer of 1962 at 810
Captain Bill, Ernal’s brother and co-captain of the fleet, also set the standard for the catch and release of marlin.
Ernal’s son, Ernie, has been around the boats his whole life.
he was old enough to go to college, he even chose a career in education
so that he could fish in the summers. He began running the finances of
the family’s charter fishing business in 1977 and assumed control of
the operation at his father’s death in 1996.
The fleet currently sits comfortably in its own private docks at
Foster’s Quay, complete with private fish-cleaning facilities, and
recognizable by the red and white striped outriggers.
Custom built by Ernal Foster specifically for the waters off Hatteras,
these round stern boats are made with Atlantic white cedar and
coated in fiber glass. Ernie says they have endured for so long that he
doesn’t dare change them.
The fleet has endures because it is well-maintained by its captains: Ernie Foster, Bryan Mattingly, and Mike Scott.
All of the captains have been around boats for years and are
well-versed in the art of boat maintenance. Bryan, who started as a
mate and has worked with the boats for over 20 years, is the primary
Though the captains are not related, Ernie says the business is a
family. Indeed, even customers become like family during their offshore
trips which is probably why multiple generations of families come back
to fish on the fleet. “Our customers become friends, rather than it
being just a business transaction,” Ernie says.
As for his favorite thing about the business of charter fishing,
Captain Ernie says it is meeting so many people from different places,
despite growing up on an isolated island. People now come to
Hatteras from all over the world to fish. "It is as though the
world comes to Hatteras!"
Most of all, though, he enjoys being so closely connected to untamed
nature. When out in the open-ocean where the current can be swift,
seafarers face “forces beyond their control. With all of these
unknowns, you have great expectations, and I’m driven by that.”
In 80 years, the fleet has taken over 10,000 trips.
Named for the infamous bird in the Samuel Taylor Coleridge
poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” it seems that the boats have
had good luck all these years as they have never been severely damaged
in a storm. After all, despite its reputation as a bad luck
charm, the albatross is a good omen for fishermen as long as they
don’t kill it!
To commemorate this remarkable 80th birthday, the Albatross Fleet will
be honoring the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation with a women’s
offshore fishing tournament – The brand new Albatross Fall Female
Female Anglers are welcome to come fish with friends on the Albatross
II and III and enjoy an onboard picnic breakfast and lunch, which were
donated by local businesses. The cost is $250 per person with 100% of
the monies going to the HICF's newly formed endowment fund managed by
the Outer Banks Community Foundation. As the Albatross Fleet
states, "What better way for us to celebrate our longevity than to
offer a long term future for an organization that has helped many
island families? And we’re going to have fun doing it!".
The Albatross Fleet was the first charter business in Hatteras to hire
a female mate despite the myth that women brought back luck to a
boat. Since then, it is not unusual for females to work as mates
and even as captains and now there are several serving those functions
among the Hatteras Inlet fleet.
You can learn more about Ernie and his father in Hatteras Blues: A Story from the Edge of America by Tom Carlson.
For information on the upcoming fishing tournament, visit https://www.facebook.com/albatrossfleet/.