Placed just off the side of Highway 12, the banner announcing the Day at the Docks catches the attention of people cruising into Hatteras village. For newcomers to the area, the large red and blue banner inspires curiosity, but, for those within the community, it evokes a sense of pride.
Day at the Docks is an annual fall festival that celebrates the spirit of Hatteras — a community deeply rooted in its fishing heritage and dedicated to the preservation of the local fishing industry.
Lynne Foster, the founder of Day at the Docks, created the event to honor the commercial and charter fisherman who support and enrich the community — rain or shine.
Foster drew inspiration for the event after enduring the devastating effects of Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which isolated Hatteras village from the remainder of the island for two months. During this time, among the first people able to return to work and stimulate the stagnant economy were the watermen.
After two months of seclusion, Hatteras and Ocracoke villagers gathered to celebrate their survival with desserts and a musical gala. Foster realized that she “wanted to extend the celebration by finding a way to welcome other people and, at the same time, to recognize that the anchors of our community are our fishermen.”
Over the years, Foster organized the event as it grew beyond its small, community-gathering origins, and it now attracts hundreds of visitors from at least 17 states outside of North Carolina.
Despite the vast expansion of the festival, Foster always kept the focus upon the fishing industry, which gained respect and recognition throughout many fishing communities.
For the past eight years, Foster organized the festival and cultivated a revered event that truly encompasses the spirit of Hatteras village. But this year, she passed the torch on to the next generation, which she believes will offer a fresh point of view.
Jon Kelmer, a member of the Hatteras Village Civic Association and former charter boat captain, has maintained a strong connection to the fishing community ever since he was 11 years old and began working at the Hatteras Harbor. He gladly accepted the task of organizing the event this year.
Kelmer has planned several local events in the past and said that he wanted to be more involved in the community. He also hopes that his involvement may encourage the younger people in the community to “be more civically-minded and to want the village to prosper in the years to come.”
Kelmer shares Foster’s vision for Day at the Docks and plans to keep the festival focused on the fishing industry and the heritage of the Hatteras Island watermen.
The ninth annual Day at the Docks begins on Friday, Sept. 20, with events sponsored by local businesses, and ends on Saturday, Sept. 21, after the Blessing of the Fleet and a nighttime lawn dance with live music.
On Friday, Sept. 20, at 2 p.m. at the Hatteras Community Building, The Island Free Press will host a presentation by The National Weather Service in Newport, N.C. Meteorologists John Cole and David Glenn will talk about the agency, forecasting, hurricanes, and the planned improvements in forecasting storm surge. And they will answer your questions.
On Saturday, Kelmer has planned a day full of music, seafood cooking demonstrations, and competitions on the Hatteras village working waterfront.
While walking by the commercial fishing and charter boats docked on the waterfront, festivalgoers may watch a fish-cleaning demonstration by Steve Bailey or cheer on a blue crab racing toward the finish line.
Many of the traditional events and activities will be returning this year, including the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation’s Chowder Cook-off, survival suit races, fish-print T-shirt making, the mullet toss, the kid’s fishing competition, and the concrete marlin competition.
The Seafood Throw-down, featuring two dueling chefs and one secret ingredient, will also make a comeback this year. It was a real crowd pleaser last year.
You can take a tour of the Coast Guard’s rollover boat or kids can practice repairing the “wet-trainer” that simulates sea conditions. Both the Coast Guard demonstration and the education tent will be set up all day.
A new event sponsored by the North Carolina Coastal Federation will be making its debut this year. This event features a boat ride from Oden’s Dock to a nearby wetland restoration site where festivalgoers may lend a hand in preserving the shoreline.
As the day begins to wind down, the annual parade of working boats can be followed down to the Hatteras Harbor Marina, where the Blessing of the Fleet will be performed.
The festivities will end Saturday evening with a lawn dance from 8 until 11 p.m., featuring Lady J and the Jives, at the Hatteras Community Building.
For the complete schedule of this year’s events, click here.