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Ocracoke: where things get blown off course

Beached boat near Southpoint. Photo by P. Vankevich.

Beached boat near Southpoint. Photo by P. Vankevich.

By Peter Vankevich

Islanders are used to having the strange and unusual appear on Ocracoke.

Rare seashells, birds, fish and even a black bear on occasion have made appearances. During the bad weather turbulence in early May, a skiff appeared on the beach between the South Point and the airport. It had no identifiable marking and the washed out color was yellow. Speculation arose. Was it a boat possibly carrying refugees? Did the color indicate a particular country of origin? 

The boat remained on the beach for only a few days. The National Park Service removed it due to safety concerns, according to Head Ranger Ed Fuller.

It was there long enough, however, for someone to mark it with a large pirate flag and a much smaller American flag.

Islander John Ivey Wells was one of those who did see it, and, based on the rigging in the interior, he suspected that it was a working boat for a larger entity. He pointed out how the stern was cut down to pull things over it easily, and there was a block and tackle chain and a heavy rope on board. He suspected that it was probably used for construction and or possibly for hauling crab or fish pots.

One thing we do know is that it came from the south. Attached to it were lots of gooseneck barnacles (Olepas anatifera).

Gooseneck barnacles. Photo by P. Vankevich

Goose neck barnacles. Photo by P. Vankevich

These filter-feeding crustaceans live in tropical and subtropical seas worldwide and can be found,  attached by their flexible stalks to floating timber, the hulls of ships, piers, pilings, seaweed and various sorts of flotsam. They can be found in areas well beyond their normal distribution range, on marine debris carried by the Gulf Stream.

John Ivey has seen them on Ocracoke many times in the past on objects that have come up from the Caribbean. When Sargasso seaweed comes to shore, gooseneck barnacles are on them as well, he said.

In the days before it was realized that birds migrate, it was thought that Barnacle Geese, Branta leucopsis, developed from this crustacean, since these geese were never seen to nest. 

This connection was prompted by the similarities in color and shape. Because they were often found on driftwood, it was assumed that the barnacles were latched onto branches before they fell in the water.

The Welsh monk Giraldus Cambrensis made this claim in his “Topographia Hiberniae,” an account on Ireland and it people written around 1188. Since barnacle geese were believed to be “neither flesh, nor born of flesh,” they were allowed to be eaten on days when eating meat was forbidden by religion.

This boat was reconfigured for some kind of work.  Photo by P. Vankevich

This boat was reconfigured for some kind of work. Photo by P. Vankevich

 

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