It was clear skies and smooth sailing for Day at the Dock’s Saturday event, as attendees were treated to brilliant sunny weather that lingered all day long.
The annual festival, which originated in 2004, has grown continually over the years, and 2017’s Saturday event spanned from the Village Marina in Hatteras village all the way to Odens Dock, with booths and activities located every step of the way.
Day at the Docks is a celebration of local watermen and the “Spirit of Hatteras” after the village recovered from Hurricane Isabel in
2003, thanks in no small part to the local commercial and charter fishermen. ”People talk about small fishermen, and there’s no such thing,” said Capt. Ernie Foster at the event. “They are independent watermen.”
The event has grown in scale over the past 13 years, and many visitors report that they now build their vacation around the annual Day at the Docks celebration.
“We get a lot of families who seem to schedule their vacations for this time of year, just for Day at the Docks,” said Jennifer Price at the National Park Service booth, “So we see a lot of familiar faces now.”
While this year’s event had the mainstay activities that crowds have come to know and love – such as the annual crab races, the concrete marlin tournament, and the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation Chowder Cook-off, there were a few differences and additions that set 2017’s DATD apart.
On Friday, locals and visitors gathered at the Hatteras Community Building for the “Talk of the Villages: Reflections on Fishing as a Living” session, which unveiled the first-ever viewing of a photo documentary about the commercial fishing industry by award-winning local photographer Daniel Pullen. It was a stirring event, according to attendees, that brought memories to a number of locals whose families were documented in the images.
On Saturday, the annual Seafood Throwdown had to be adjusted as scheduled contender Chef Tom Armstrong of Vinnie’s Steakhouse in Raleigh had to bow out due to Irma-related family issues. Instead, Chef Jay Pierce, author of the cookbook “Shrimp” and executive chef at Traveled Farmer in Greensboro, provided a demonstration of the classic southern dish, Shrimp and Grits.
“The more you add to shrimp and grits, the more you take away from the flavor,” he told the audience. “Shrimp and grits should be all about the shrimp and the grits… and the pork fat.”
After the demonstration, Chef Pierce also changed the traditional Seafood Throwdown format by providing plenty of free samples to the crowd and the panel of judges.
“After three or four years, I haven’t been able to sample anything, so this disruption [is] a wonderful thing,” said longtime emcee for the event, Bob Barris.
Of course, there were ample opportunities for attendees to shops, dine, and watch demonstrations, and a number of local and national organizations set up stations to provide information, activities, and plenty of food. The Fish Print T-Shirt station was especially popular with young visitors, who created wearable works of art using rays, starfish, crabs, and a variety of different fish species. “I’m not sure how many different types of fish we have for the shirts – but the local kids here know the names of all of them,” said one volunteer at the station.
The US Coast Guard has walk-on tours available of one of their 47’ foot long rescue vessels, as well as a new “wet trainer” station, which had a variety of leaks that kids could try to plug in a variety of inventive ways. With warm temps that hovered close to 80 degrees, the station was very popular with young visitors who wanted to splash around.
Multiple vessels were stationed along the Hatteras waterfront, with captains providing information on everything from the perfect way to clean fish, to identifying the different species of the seasons. Young local Chandler Wills answered any watermen-related question for $1 on board a commercial fishing vessel that was loaded down with nets and equipment. When asked what the strangest question of the day was so far, he pointed up and replied “[Someone asked] if I ever got to swing off those nets. I haven’t.”
Saturday’s Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation Chowder Cook-off brought big crowds and a selection of primarily Hatteras village-based restaurants that went head to head for the coveted annual title of Best Chowder on the Island. This year’s first place winner was Hatteras Sol Waterside Grill, while second place went to The Wreck Tiki Bar and Food, and third place went to Lighthouse Sports Bar.
The annual Concrete Marlin Competition also reeled in plenty of spectators, with kids and adult contestants racing to reel in and gaffe a symbolic concrete marlin. Young anglers Cody and Johnny in the 13 and under division wowed the crowd with a lightning-fast time of 23.81 seconds, although all of the experienced participants were able to land the “marlin” in roughly 30 seconds or less.
Saturday’s event capped off with the annual Blessing of the Fleet, and while it’s hard to tell how this year’s attendance measures up to previous years, many locals agreed that the crowds seemed to be larger than ever.
“From where we started, we have certainly come a long way,” said Captain Ernie Foster, “and [Day at the Docks] remains a great community celebration of our independent watermen.”
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