The Dredge Arrives
When I went out for my usual early morning stroll with my trusty sidekick, Mariah, we arrived at the dock just in time to witness the arrival of a rather unusual fleet of vessels in Silver Lake.
It turned out to be none other than the dredge Richmond and her entourage of tugs, barges and pipelines. Everyone around the waterfront was asking the same question: “W.T.F?”
My best guess (and hope) was that it's here to dredge the Hatteras Inlet ferry channel.
“So,” everyone asked, “Why is it here and not up there?”
Since we hadn't run across anyone with a clue by mid-afternoon, Mariah and I decided it was time to go directly to the source. We launched our 10' inflatable dinghy and rowed out to the dredge. Loud diesels were running and a gang of men were pounding and pulling on large rusty components. It wasn't looking promising for an orderly interview, but when I drew the dinghy up alongside and grabbed hold of one of the myriad truck tires attached to the dredge, a large man broke from the crowd and came to greet us. I was soon shaking hands with DeWayne Ward who, it turns out, has been working on the vessel for the past 13 years. Before that he was a commercial fisherman in Brunswick County. When I explained that I was a reporter from Ocracoke's equivalent of the New York Times, he invited me aboard.
He explained that, although the company headquarters for Cotrell Contracting Corporation is in Chesapeake, Virginia, 95% of the 22 crew members are, like DeWayne himself, from Brunswick County, N.C. When I asked him what was going on, he explained that the dredge is in Ocracoke for three projects: Big Foot Slough Channel (out by the Lehigh and “Bird Island”), the “Ditch” (for you dingbatters unfamiliar with Ocracoke that's the narrow entrance to Silver Lake between the Meekers' point and the NCCAT property) and last but not least (drum roll, please....) the Hatteras Inlet ferry channel!
When I asked him how long he expected all this to take, he shrugged and threw up his hands. Who knows what the weather will allow? (It is, after all, near the peak of hurricane season!) And before they can dredge Big Foot Slough, they need a green light from environmentalists to ensure that no bird nests on the spoil island will be damaged.
As we were talking, DeWayne beckoned the captain over and introduced me as “the mayor.” Captain Michael Pickett turned out to be every bit as hospitable as De Wayne. “Are you hungry?” he asked, “Come on down to the galley and have a cheeseburger!” He then conducted us on a tour of the vessel.
Built the year after I graduated from high school, this ancient craft is 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and draws 6'3”. It has huge pumps and dredge motors but no self propulsion. It has to be pushed or pulled by the tugboats that always accompany it.
In the galley were large displays of cheeseburgers and freshly fried chicken. I regretted that we'd recently eaten lunch, but Capt. Pickett managed to persuade Mariah to accept an ice cream sandwich from the galley freezer. He began working on dredges as a deck hand in 1996 and rose through the ranks.
De Wayne told me he has worked on the dredge as far north as New Jersey but that they were currently on their way north from Florida where they did a project in the St. John's River. Next was a dredging job at King's Bay Submarine Basin in Georgia and most recently the Cooper River in Charleston.
In all my years of putzing up and down the Intracoastal Waterway, I've passed scores of these dredges but this is the first time I've ever really seen one. These funky old vessels are full of hard-working men who are doing a job this island seriously needs. If you run into any of them ashore, please make them welcome.