Skipjack Wilma Lee. Photo courtesy of Ocracoke Alive.

By Connie Leinbach

Ocracoke Alive this week received an additional boost to its coffers with the sale of the skipjack Wilma Lee for $60,000 to the Annapolis Maritime Museum, Annapolis, Maryland, said Tom Pahl, who is chair of Ocracoke Alive’s subcommittee for the Wilma Lee.

The historic boat, originally from the Chesapeake Bay waters and used for oyster harvesting, is en route to its new home, he said.

“We did a lot of work to maintain and improve the boat, but the Annapolis Maritime Museum has more resources,” Pahl said. “They have a dock and a waterfront and will do much the same with it as we did.

He said the group, which produces the Ocrafolk Festival, the Latino Festival de Ocracoke, community theater and other arts programming, is considering what to do with the money.

“Since Ocracoke Alive’s mission is arts and culture, perhaps something with maritime history,” he said.

With a 65-foot mast and nearly 75 feet in length, the Wilma Lee, built in 1940, was moored and sailed out of its slip in the Community Square, often for sunset trips, since 2012.

That year Herb and Liz Carden of Sandy Point, Virginia, donated the boat to Ocracoke Alive, Inc. so that it may be “…used for educational purposes to all the young and old who might have the privilege to sail on her,” and to inspire in young people the love of boats and boating.

Skipjacks, while associated with the Chesapeake Bay primarily for oyster dredging, by the early 1900s eventually made their way south into the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Carolina watermen also used these boats, which they often called “oyster sloops,” for harvesting she-crabs and hauling cargo.

During the Wilma Lee’s tenure on the island, overall cash return from sailing trips fell short of expectations.

Pahl said Ocracoke Alive is grateful for all of the public support through the boat’s various adventures.

“Sometimes it was good adventures; sometimes not-so-good adventures,” he said.

In addition, the boat captain, Rob Temple, informed Ocracoke Alive that he no longer wished to continue.  Ocracoke Alive tried to cultivate another skilled captain but that didn’t work out.

For the last month or so, the Wilma Lee was in dry dock in Wanchese, Dare County, where it underwent inspections while the sale was negotiated, Pahl said. 

He said the prior owners were notified of Ocracoke Alive’s intent and the organization received a supportive letter from them.

Pahl, who along with numerous other volunteers, did a lot of work on the boat, and whose grilled shrimp often accompanied fundraising cruises, was happy the boat is going to a good home.

“They didn’t actually own any boats until the acquisition of the Wilma Lee,” he said. “It’s nice to see the boat back in the Chesapeake Bay.”


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