The Cape Hatteras Years...
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was the beacon that called me home as a child. I couldn't wait to get to Cape Hatteras and see my lighthouse. Its tall, formidable structure and black & white stripes drew me closer as a symbol of strength and safety from harms way. It was constant and relentless like the tides that brought forth the most beautiful blue green ocean at my foot prints in the sand. The sound of the surf soothed my soul, the fresnel light of the lighthouse was my night light, and the marine life and shore birds were my simple but profound joys. The sandy shoals and its waves provided me with hours of fun on my boogie board riding to shore over and over. Saltwater enters yours soul, one wave at a time until it captivates you. The wild, raw nature of the Outer Banks allowed me to feel free as a child.
I became captivated by life where nature abounds. Pelicans diving forcefully, only to emerge with their gullets filled with enormous amounts of tiny shiners, bunkers and whatever else was swimming in the bait fish schools. Blue crabs, whelks, flounder, clams feeding and growing in the protected nursery grasses of the Pamlico Sound. Puppy drum, blues and mackerel foraging on mullets as the Fall winds drove the schools closer to shore where surf fisherman salivated at their dream catch. All of this raw, natural beauty entered my soul and was encoded in my DNA. How it would emerge as I matured was still a mystery.
The Chesapeake Bay Years...
Tilghman Island, Maryland was my first and most memorable introduction to the Chesapeake Way of Life. I worked as a server at The Bridge Restaurant to pay my way through college. However, not being 'local', I was given the option of cleaning soft crabs or washing dishes as my pledge or perhaps penance, prior to earning the right to become a server. Being a lover of nature and the outdoors, I chose cleaning soft crabs. I also hoped, taking on this local chore would help me earn my welcome and acceptance badge as I was from 'off.'
It was after cleaning a modest 1,873 soft crabs that I was finally admitted to the island and its service of delectable seafood to its tourists that came by boats and over the bridge. However, I thoroughly enjoyed tending to the soft crab sheds, talking with the passerby's and our dining customers. Blue crabs fascinated me, both in their sheer beauty and tenacity, and also in their ability to create a heavenly meal whether steamed & seasoned or picked and made into a mouth watering crab cake!
In addition, to waiting tables and tending the soft crab shed, I also signed up for 'trotlining', a method of catching hard crabs. It was a 4:30 a.m. wake up call to go harvest crabs with Capt. Rob Harrison in his crabbing skiff named Tom Cat. Yoohoo's and powdered sugar donuts were the mainstay breakfast. Alewives were our bait tied onto the trotline. And, a wire dip net was my tool for separating the claws of the blue crab from its bait as it was brought out of the water. Blue crab after blue crab filled the basket to the brim...all I could think about was steaming them and enjoying their succulent meat.
Whether it was trotlining for blue crabs, tending to the shedding bins, fishing for rockfish, watching Skipjack's ply the Bay's waters or standing in a corn field as the Canadian geese flooded them in the Fall, my life in the Chesapeake was rich. At the time, I started black and white photography of as many of the working boats on the Bay as possible-- I always seemed to have a story that went with the photos.
Tributaries of the Bay and wandering marshes, painted blue crabs and ancient blue herons, striped rockfish and plump oysters, honking geese and long necked white swans, wooden deadrise skiffs and sailing skipjacks...all of these things became quietly but deeply encoded in my DNA as a teenager. But the story of how they would inspire me was developing.
Boats of the Bay and Boats of Pleasure... Fresh out of college, green as a grasshopper and in need of a job, I answered an ad in the Baltimore Sun for an advertising rep with a National Boating Magazine. I had sailed, boated and it sounded like a fun job! And it was...I worked next to the building where they built Trumpy's, the old wooden classics of the 1920's-1950's.
My 'job' afforded me the opportunity to get to know just about every boat built and the people within the industry crafting, selling and restoring them. Every sales call involved traveling around tributaries of the bay, crossing bridges and landing at boatyards and marinas, walking the docks to my destination.
With every hull explored and the good fortune to meet every boat builder on the East Coast, another passion was encoded into my DNA. Wood, fiberglass, sailcloth, burgees, compass roses and dreams of far off islands and cultures reached by vessels called boats...The Chapters are being written.
The Bahamas Years...
One day while walking down Severn Ave in Eastport on my way back to work, I stopped a lady who was carrying loose pieces of art on watercolor paper. The art was colorful and seemingly from a tropical island. I was captivated by the art and at a mere $25 per piece, I bought three right there on the sidewalk. She did not know the artist or the locale of the art.
As life has many interesting coincidences, the art was by a Bahamian artist William Johnson and the art was of the Abaco chain of islands in the Bahamas. However, I did not discover this until I began traveling to the Bahamas a few years later. I came to meet the artist and travel throughout the Abacos and other island chains...Lucky Duck.
The chain of 700 islands is affectionately called the Family islands of the Bahamas or the Out Islands. And I am in love with these people, its culture and the island life. The people are as beautiful as the crystal clear turquoise waters where conch and giant starfish can be seen in twenty feet of water. Cruisers make their way to the Bahamas as the weather turns colder and can be seen anchored in and around many of the islands. That too became my dream along with flying into every island and putting my pilot's license to good use.
The Out Islands remain much as they were in the 1950's and so this piece of history and the Island Life spread like a rising flood tide into every nook and cranny of my soul.
The Southern Outer Banks Years...
The Southern Outer Banks is a cross between the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Bahamas. It is unspoiled with strings of pearls as barrier islands inhabited by wild ponies. The ocean water at the Cape is turquoise and crystal clear much like the Bahamas. At the edge of the Gulfstream, life abounds in the ocean with dolphins, every species of saltwater fish, blue marlins and even whales. Life is also rich in the air with the flight of pelicans, oyster catchers, osprey, skimmers, terns, herons and ibis.
Just off of Beaufort, NC, there are sights of ponies on Carrot Island and dolphins frolicking in Taylor's Creek... mahi mahi and tuna being caught by sport fisherman and brought to dock in Morehead... Down East plump greentail shrimp channel netted and puppy drum fished are common life. The deepening and lasting effects of saltwater have made their every deepening imprint on my soul and my imagination.
And even though, I live the coastal life, I can't seem to get enough of it. Not only is my exterior life a dream but I also wanted to turn that beauty into things for my home. And, for other people who shared my passion for this rich coastal life.