NCCAT Writer’s Conference-Day Two
There is a feeling of silence that started as Captain Temple killed the motor. Suddenly the hum from beneath the feet, the one you ignored or hadn’t noticed, was gone and in its place a sliding, quiet nothing. The gaff-rigged schooner Windfall was now underway of its own accord. Next was heaving the halliards against the weight of the gaff, the pull of the wind and the
eventual snap of the sail as it caught full. All the while Captain Temple measuring time and effort with his halliard shanty. Temple is an endless source of seamanship, rumgagging and local nostalgia. Looking out from the bow of the schooner it would seem as if the expanse of the Pamlico Sound swallows you over. Nearly bald, full grey beard, and a sometimes present brogue, Captain Temple’s age has been swallowed by a long life at sea. Eyes squinted from a life in the sun, he is the “old tar” in one of his poems, shanties, or rumgagger tales. Yet, a tough life made in the Atlantic has also kept him young and nothing about the man rings less than true. While the Outer Banks move steadily south-west and may some day leave Ocracoke exposed to become swallowed, Captain Temple and the people who call this island home will live long after it is gone. In the end it is the people as much as the place that make a story which is remembered and Ocracoke is home to plenty of both. The Windfall is mated
by Captain Temple’s oldest son who was running late for the season ending basketball game. He regaled a tale of his scoring the first point of the game against the last time Ocracoke had faced the same team. In the days of another local, games were finished with sometimes only 3 players on the court due to fouls or injury. Emmett has discovered that not much has changed. A school of 150 kids and 5 kids in his class Emmett has an appreciation for things that few of us share anymore. Between spending his childhood aboard the Windfall and cruising to Florida, or right here at home in Ocracoke, Emmett is all that is best in youth. Captain Temple is impressed that young Emmett can put up with a father that plays at pirate and forces him to work. Yet he does just that and seems that much stronger a young man for it. His father then is the same character in maturity. Emmett spins a yarn of canoeing around the island on a “flood day” (snow days are not all that often and they will cancel school for a good Nor’easter). Captain Temple tells of watching his cars fill past the doors as the storm surge and rain from then Tropical Storm Alex became a washout here in the middle of the Atlantic. As a local rumgagger and defacto historian of culture he is as quick to relate the brutal end of Edward Teach and immeasurable amounts of seamanship as he is little tales about how he empties the expensive Anguilla rum bottles used by Charles Godwin on his art (recently featured in The Lovely Bones) in a sort-of pirate version of a milkman service. There are also several good pirate jokes (“Two pirates walked into a bar. Ow.”). For more on Captain Rob Temple or his works on shanties, tales, and songs visit his website at http://www.schoonerwindfall.com/. From there you can follow his blog and stay up to date on release of stories like “A Pirate’s Christmas” (now on iTunes). You should. His sincerity and passion ring as true as if you sat together at dinner. Captain Temple is just one of an island full of such people. Then there are the places.
Springer’s Point is part of the North Carolina Land Trust. Well before that it was the site of fishing and shellfish collection for the Woodland Algonkian Indians. In the 1700’s the shoals and protection of the accompanying bay would become the now infamous Teach’s Hole, a favorite anchorage of the then governor’s friend, Edward Teach-Blackbeard. In 1718 Lt. Maynard fought his epic battle with Blackbeard where Maynard suffered major losses at the hand of the wily and local Blackbeard. However, in the end Maynard would win and Blackbeard would find himself compromised by cutlass steel some 20 times and five bullet wounds. It could be said, as in days of old rumgagger tales, “it was then when things started to go badly.” Legend says that Teach’s body did another 7 laps around his
boat–in the middle of November, one angry guy to be sure. As late as the War of 1812,
the English were still attacking the place in regards to Spanish Privateers. One can imagine the local rolled with the events much as they might when seeing their car slowly fill with saltwater or choosing to teach English in remote northern Japan–‘and stuff like ‘at’ you take in and move on. It was in 1715 that the locals established Pilot Town, a series of huts, and the first English settlement, grouped together where pilots stayed to help guide ships through the Ocracoke Inlet. In fact, there is a piece of soil still owned by Great Britain to this very day. It may not be as big as the piece of land in the Springer’s Point Reserve (now fondly “cat ridge”). There the old spinstress of the island heaved cat food out the back door of her trailer to her some 90-now-feral cats but it is history all the same and one part of such a large endearing story that is Ocracoke. An island full of story tellers and artists, as well as those who live by the sea, it truly is one of the places Tom Wolfe would have “rolled up [his] sleeves and dug in for the story underneath.” Look for the page on Ocracoke at the end of the week here at “the notes” or coming soon to hard copy publication. In the meantime, keep following along here on the blog
Day 2 slide show below: