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Events on Ocracoke May 17 to 23

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Backyard concerts at Coyote Den, 13 Cabana Dr., will be Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. starting May 18. Photo by Coyote

Live music and other events on Ocracoke Island, N.C., are slowly coming back.

Tuesday, May 18
Ocracoke Waterways Commission meets at 6 p.m. in the Ocracoke Community Center to discuss the NCDOT proposal to move South Dock. See story here. The meeting will be open to the public with masks as required by the state of North Carolina.  The meeting will also be broadcast via Facebook at Hyde County Public Information.
Zillie’s wine tasting; 6 pm. Reserve your spot on zillies.com or call 252-928-9036.
Coyote Den Backyard Concerts begin with Marcy & Lou, 13 Cabana Dr., parking available only along Back Road, though not at Ocracoke Coffee or the Flying Melon. 8 pm

Wednesday, May 19
DAJIO: Barefoot Wade, 7 to 10 p.m.
Coyote Den Backyard Concerts with Martin Garrish & Friends, 13 Cabana Dr., parking available only along Back Road, though not at Ocracoke Coffee or the Flying Melon. 8 pm

Thursday, May 20
DAJIO: Raygun Ruby (80s music), 7 to 10 pm
Community Store Porch: 30Three, 7 pm
The Breeze: Barefoot Wade, 8:30 pm

Friday, May 21
Ocracoke Tourism Development Authority meeting, 9 am; virtually on Facebook at Hyde County Public Information.
The Breeze: Dave McKenney, 9 pm

Saturday, May 22:
The Breeze: Dave McKenney, 9 pm

To help you, the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department needs help

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Donations and fundraisers for the OVFD help the company purchase new equipment like this pumper truck received in August 2019 and the latest training for the volunteer firefighters. Photo: C. Leinbach.

The cancellation of the Firemen’s Ball due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic was sad news.

This popular and fun event has been a much-needed high source of revenue for the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department (OVFD).

The last ball in 2019, which took place in the Berkley Barn, raised a record amount of more than $100,000. The average over the past several years has been closer to $70,000.

For perspective, Hyde County provides $17,250 per year to assist with the department’s fire protection services. The Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board (OTB) just approved the OVFD request for $83,000–$50,000 for the truck replacement fund and $33,000 towards operating costs.

Another source of revenue is donations received from individuals and businesses. Those along with T-shirt sales last year took in approximately $31,000.

Operating costs are ever increasing for fire departments and include equipment maintenance and when necessary, replacement. Personal protective equipment is approximately $3,000 per fire fighter.  Property and casualty insurance for all firefighters exceeds $20,000 per year. Then there is building maintenance, utility costs and truck fuel.

The continued quest for grants to support the OVFD is very labor intensive. Many grants received are from the Office of the State Fire Marshal. This year approximately $40,000 is being sought to replace some of the department’s aging self-contained breathing apparatus units, an important safety improvement.

The diligent work and efforts of the many volunteers of the OVFD and its adjunct OFPA have not gone unnoticed.

In March, the state fire marshal announced that the OVFD improved its fire district rating from a six to a five. The lower the number, the better the rating and a five for an all-volunteer department is phenomenal. The improved rating may have an impact on lowering insurance rates for businesses. Homeowners had already received a better rate when OVFD achieved a six rating.

The OVFD works closely with the Hyde County Emergency Services, providing first-responder and medical responder assistance and having its firefighters and trucks present at the airport for medevacs when people in emergency conditions are transported off-island by helicopter.

The fire station on Irvin Garrish Highway has demonstrated its importance since it opened in 2014, especially in the aftermath of the destructive Hurricane Dorian in 2019. It immediately became the emergency command center where federal, state, county and local officials held their meetings.

The fire trucks were moved across the street and the four station bays were filled with much-needed supplies for the island’s residents. Islanders had a central location for getting support and countless folks volunteered their time, resources, money and even their rental homes to assist in the crisis.

In normal times, the fire station serves other needs. It is where folks go to vote, where the Health Fair and other community events have taken place and where various meetings are held.

The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department is just that — all-volunteer, no paid staff. The OVFD welcomes new volunteers—to help fight fires and handle administrative work and building and grounds maintenance.

The OVFD will continue to have funding challenges.

A standard target is for all fire trucks to be less than 10 years old.  One of the pumper trucks is 20 years old and the ladder truck is at the ripe old age of 30. 

The OTB grant of $50,000 is extremely helpful but new fire trucks cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and involve a multi-year fundraising plan.

And the OVFD faces another high price tag.

New digital radio equipment will be needed over the next couple years to conform to upgraded standards. Individual and fire truck radios will need to be replaced at a cost approaching $200,000.

Many businesses and individuals—both on- and off-island–have donated money over the many years for the Firemen’s Ball. They should consider sending a donation this year and look forward to the next ball on May 28, 2022.

Those wishing to donate can make out a check to the Ocracoke Fire Protection Association (OFPA) and mail it to OFPA, P.O. Box 332, Ocracoke, NC 27960.

Editorial Board member Peter Vankevich is a member of the OVFD.

Heard on Ocracoke: Beleza

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Beleza performing at the 2019 Ocrafolk Festival. Photo by George Wood

By Peter Vankevich

“Beleza Tudo Beleza.”

“Beautiful, everything is beautiful” is a local greeting in Brazil’s Salvador, capital of the northeastern state of Bahia where Humberto Oliveira Sales, called “Berto,” grew up.

Beleza is also the name of his musical duo that includes his wife, Madeline Holly Sales.

For the past seven events, Beleza has been performing at the Ocrafolk Festival. This acclaimed festival which started in 2000, takes place on Ocracoke over the first weekend in June.

Sadly, as with almost all other music festivals, Ocrafolk was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the country causing hardship for musical performers and a disappointment for those who love live music. With safety measures in place, the show will be held on June 4 to 6 at the Ocracoke Berkley Manor complex with the return of Beleza along with a host of other performers and story tellers.

On stage, Berto dazzles the audience with his virtuoso guitar work, while Madeline’s amazing vocal ranges capture the rhythms of Latin culture as well as pure American jazz and blues, singing in Portuguese, Spanish and English. Their —I hesitate to use these days the word “infectious” — smiles quickly make the audience part of the show by clapping and singing along.

Madeline Holly Sales. Photo by George Wood

With her striking dark hair, brown eyes and masterful singing in Portuguese, one could think Madeline may also be from Brazil, but in fact, she was born in Durham, and grew up living in North Carolina, South Carolina and eventually Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I started the piano lessons from when I was five and it was classical training that continued up until high school in Charlottesville. My last piano teacher was French, Madame Duisit,” she fondly recalls. “I still remember her voice and her strong accent, ‘My dear Madeline, you must practice’.”

Both her parents were very musical and along with the four kids, on long car trips they all would sing and harmonize together.
“And so, I grew up singing at home, in church and school where I did a little bit of musical theater,” she said.
When it came for college, Madeline opted to major in sociology and not music at Duke University.
After graduating, she took a job for a few years with the Nature Conservancy in the Washington, D.C., area.
Then, in 2001, with an invite by a friend and kind of on a whim as she put it, she took a trip to Brazil to experience Carnival. These are multi-day festivals that take place throughout the country that traditionally begin the Friday afternoon before Ash Wednesday. That trip turned into a life-changing event, eventually meeting her husband-to-be, and discovering that music would be her life calling.

“As soon as I stepped there, I just said, ‘What? Why wasn’t I born here?’ and thought, ‘I’m just going to get more responsibility in life, so I’m going to give myself a year in Brazil, study music and live by the ocean,” she said.
After returning home, it took six months to get her affairs in order then she went back to Brazil for a new life. That one year turned into three in large part because she met Berto and began playing music with him.
The couple were to be part of a quartet, but when the drummer and bassist didn’t show up for the rehearsal, they realized the chemistry of just the two of them. When they decided to perform together as a duo, they had to come up with a name and Madeline just loved the Beleza greeting. So that’s what they became.

“While there, I studied harmony, Brazilian styles and even some Afro-Peruvian music and started performing more and more, especially after meeting Berto,” she said.
In Brazil, she sang so much that she injured her vocal cords which required medical treatment.
As she recuperated, she learned the importance of treating her voice as an instrument and she has studied and practiced voice training ever since. Now she also is teaching it.

Coyote’s Lou Castro plays with Beleza’s Humberto Sales. Photo by Peter Vankevich

Berto also grew up in a household of music lovers and recalls listening at a young age to his father’s vinyl records of Choro music, a genre sometimes described as the father of Samba and the grandfather of Bossa Nova. In addition to listening to the many variations of Brazilian music, his godparents who are from Spain, exposed him to Spanish classical music and somewhere around nine or 10 years old, he discovered Flamenco music that has become a life-long passion.

From age 10 onward, apart from school, his free time was spent with either one of Brazil’s two great passions, playing guitar or soccer.

“I would take my guitar to school and would play whenever the opportunity would arise,” he said. By middle school he was already performing Brazilian music such as samba, bossa nova and axé, along with Spanish classical and Flamenco. “In my hometown of Salvador, African influences in music are very strong and along the way I picked up playing percussion instruments.”

He found other musicians to jam with and they got interested in the rock and roll music from North America.

“My friends would say, ‘Hey, do you play Pink Floyd?’ and I’d say, ‘No, but give me the album and I’ll learn it,’” he said. “So, it was just learning everything by ear.”

But his heart was with Brazilian and Spanish music, and he opted to get formal training earning his degree in classical guitar and performance at the Universidade Federal da Bahia 1999.

It is this confluence of cultures that explains Beleza’s wide array of music–bossa nova, blues, soul, tango and Spanish flamenco — that one may hear at one of their performances or on their albums.

In the recording studio and sometimes on stage, it may be a Beleza and Friends performance, sometimes accompanied by drummer Matt Wyatt, Dave Berzonsky on bass, and percussionist Eric Gertner and others.

At the 2019 Ocrafolk Festival, they were joined by their good friend Vincent Zorn on Spanish guitar. A few days later, they did a performance interview at WOVV, Ocracoke’s community radio station and visited the Coyote Den in Ocracoke’s Community Square for a special concert with Marcy Brenner and Lou Castro. That performance was particularly notable for the virtuoso guitar jams of Lou and Berto.

Beleza performs live on WOVV, Ocracoke’s community radio station. Photo by Peter Vankevich

There is a lighter side to their music that is displayed in their album “Just for Fun.” I’m an avowed fan of
that great song “I wan’na Be Like You” immortalized by Louie Prima in the 1967 Disney film the “Jungle Book.” I did not think anyone could match it, but Madeline’s vocals make that song rock and one can sense that she is having a ball singing it.

In addition to public performing, they both are engaged in teaching with private lessons and conducting a variety of workshops. Madeline focuses on voice training, piano and workshops such as Creative Expression through Sound and Movement. Berto teaches a variety of classes such as Latin Guitar, Brazilian Rhythms and Guitar Playing Biomechanics.

This pandemic that continues to shake the world has caused so many lifestyle changes for all of us. For many in the music biz, making use of Zoom and other audio-visual formats have permitted musicians to continue to reach out to their fans.
For Beleza, well, “We’ve been as busy as we’ve ever been, especially with online teaching,” said Madeline.

To book Beleza for a performance, request a workshop or to take music lessons, contact them at http://www.belezamusic.com/

Methodist pastor to leave Ocracoke, pot luck today

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, Susie Fitch-Slater, pastor of the Ocracoke United Methodist Church, volunteers at the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Richard Taylor

After leading Ocracoke United Methodist Church for nearly two years, Susie Fitch-Slater will soon return to her home church, Bethany United Methodist Church in Wanchese.

Pastor Susie, as she is known to her congregation and friends, announced her relocation after last Sunday’s outdoor worship service at Books to Be Red, and in a subsequent email letter to church members.

Susie moved here in July 2019 with her husband Tom Slater, replacing Richard Bryant two months before Hurricane Dorian devastated the island Sept. 6.

Dorian flooded the 1923-built main church building on School Road as well as the parsonage on Howard Street, forcing Susie and Tom to retreat to their attic at the height of the storm.

The couple subsequently found rental housing, moving several times.

Pastor Ivey Belch immediately opened up his Life Saving Church on Lighthouse Road parish for joint Sunday services and other fellowship.

The two pastors became fast friends and began holding services in front of the closed Ocracoke School building, and later with joint services on the lawn of Books to Be Red.

Pastors Ivey Belch, left, and Susie Fitch-Slater in their daily Facebook devotions. Photo by Richard Taylor

Belch was instrumental in leading the island recovery following Dorian and founded the Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery Team of which Pastor Susie is a member.  

Soon after the COVID-19 shutdown in May 2020, Susie and Pastor Ivey began broadcasting 7 a.m. prayer services on Facebook and Zoom as “The Kingdom Alive,” and led joint Sunday morning worship services at the Life Saving Church. Susie also leads a Thursday evening online Women’s Bible Study. Their social media broadcasts continue to draw a worldwide audience.

Susie and Tom finally moved back into the raised parsonage late this spring. The Methodist Church has been raised but will not be ready for inside services until mid-summer.

In her letter, Susie said the two congregations will no longer hold joint services, though she will personally continue to participate in Ivey’s 11 a.m. worship until she leaves.

Methodist Sunday 10 a.m. services will now be on the church lawn until the sanctuary repairs are completed later this summer.

The church will hold an appreciation pot-luck dinner in the church’s recreation hall at 5 p.m. today for Christian Aid Ministry volunteers who have been helping with church repairs as well as rebuilding some homes damaged or destroyed by Dorian. A Mennonite choir will sing in the partially-reconstructed sanctuary after the meal, the first activity in the building since Dorian.

Inside the still-unfinished church sanctuary. Photo by Richard Taylor

“Don’t just come and bring a dessert and hear this group sing,” Pastor Susie said. “Come in fellowship. They’re absolutely beautiful.”

At the Methodist Church’s first choir practice in nearly two years Thursday night, Desiree Christa Ricker, the church’s choir director, was happy to have the congregation coming back together again.

“Our music ministry singing in harmony is something we’ve all missed,” she said. “This is really the first time everybody’s felt comfortable being together since COVID.”

Ricker put a positive spin on Fitch-Slater’s leaving.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for her to return home to be the first female pastor at a church that told her women can’t be pastors. For us, we were lucky to have her in the time that we did. I think that was the time she was meant to be here with us and to bring the community together in a way that we hadn’t before.”

Ricker said Pastor Susie will probably continue to be a spiritual mentor and friend to many on the island.

Desiree Christa Ricker is the Methodist Church’s choir director. Photo by Richard Taylor

“In some ways it seems right that as we enter into our next phase, we can have someone new come here that doesn’t have to carry the weight of the last two years,” she said.

During Friday morning’s 7 a.m. joint devotional on Facebook, Belch said, “What a blessing it’s been for me over these last 21 months to walk together with you Pastor Susie and to worship with you.

“What an honor we’ve had to do this together. I’m thankful for those opportunities.”

Reflecting on her relationship with Belch over the last two years, Susie replied, “I can Amen that!”

When sanctuary repairs are completed, the church’s new pastor (still to be named) will hold a consecration service, possibly in time for the church’s July 4 anniversary.

The Ocracoke United Methodist Church on School Road. Photo by Richard Taylor

N.C. lifts indoor most mask mandates, ends social distancing, mass gathering limits

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The Ocracoke Variety Store on Friday afternoon discontinued the mask mandate, though some patrons are choosing to still wear them. Photo: C. Leinbach

From our news services

While noting that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, Gov. Roy Cooper at 1:30 p.m. today lifted social distancing and indoor capacity limit restrictions and almost all of the mandatory mask requirements.

“That means in most settings, indoors or outdoors, the state of North Carolina will no longer require you to wear a mask or to be socially distant,” Cooper said in a press conference Friday afternoon.

He said the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services strongly recommends those not vaccinated to wear masks.

“With more people not wearing masks going forward, and COVID-19 and its more infectious variants spreading, there’s a real risk that unvaccinated people can get it,” Cooper said. “Please be responsible and wear a mask until you get vaccinated,” he said about those still not vaccinated.

The news came following yesterday’s guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that fully vaccinated individuals can safely do most activities without wearing a mask or the need to social distance from others.

Cooper said the indoor mask requirement will remain in effect, in accordance with CDC guidance, on public transportation and in childcare centers, schools, camps, prisons and certain health care settings, such as nursing homes.

During her remarks, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen indicated that “individual businesses may choose to require that their customers wear masks.” In response to a reporter’s question, Cooper said that municipal governments also may choose to continue to require indoor mask wearing.

Despite the relaxing of these restrictions, the virus is not gone, Cooper said.

To date, the state has administered over 7.7 million vaccine doses.

As of today, 51% of North Carolina’s adult population has received at least one dose of COVID vaccine and only 46% are fully vaccinated, Cooper said.

The governor previously stated that once two-thirds of North Carolina residents aged 18 and older have received at least one shot of COVID vaccine, the state could lift the indoor mask-wearing requirement.

Reiterating that the governor was now lifting the mask requirement with only about half of the state’s adults having received at least one dose, one reporter asked Cooper what changed in the state’s thinking.

“The CDC guidance is what’s changed,” Cooper said.

Hyde County today reported zero active COVID-19 cases, with 684 total cases since the pandemic began last year, 674 recovered and 10 deaths.

“Thankfully we may be turning the corner in this pandemic, but I encourage everyone to remain mindful of where we have been, so we do not go back,” said Health Director Luana Gibbs. “In other words, get your shot, wear your mask and socially distance yourself if you have not gotten your shot. Let’s do everything we can to have a healthy summer.”

For questions about the vaccine types, or to schedule appointments, please feel free to contact the Health Department at 252-926-4467 Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. 

Gas run on Ocracoke abated with stronger restrictions

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Gas at Jerniman’s on Ocracoke is restricted until tanks are refilled. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

Restricting the sale of gas to emergency vehicles only quashed a panic run on gas purchases this week at Jerniman’s gas station.

Jerniman’s on Tuesday experienced long lines as people dashed to the gas station before co-owner Drew Batts asked customers to limit their purchases to five gallons.

But the run continued as island visitors thought that once they left the island there wouldn’t be gas available.

“We went through 4,500 gallons from Tuesday to Wednesday when I shut it down,” he said Thursday night.

A wave of panic buying across the state was set off earlier in the week by the temporary shutdown over the weekend of the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies much of the fuel for the East Coast, after learning it was the victim of a cybersecurity attack.

Colonial’s 5,500-mile gas pipeline in the eastern United States is a primary fuel pipeline for North Carolina.  That shutdown led to fuel shortages throughout North Carolina, which Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday were “pretty much solely related to panic buying.”

As the pipeline began running again on Thursday, Cooper and other North Carolina officials urged patience while supplies get stabilized.

Batts on Wednesday put signs on the four pumps saying that gas was only for emergency vehicles. On Thursday, the station was quieter although vehicles intermittently rolled in and after seeing the signs on the pumps, rolled out.

Batts said that Beasley Enterprises out of Ahoskie brings 9,000 per visit, which is about every two weeks, and that Ocracoke is in the queue for another delivery, but he didn’t know when that would be.

“We’re waiting for confirmation,” he said.

Facebook posts on Thursday showed that gas is available on Hatteras in Buxton and Avon.

Batts said he hasn’t had any problems since he restricted the pumps.

“Everyone’s been great,” he said. “The tourists and locals did really well.”

As for diesel fuel, Batts said there’s plenty of that.

“There’s almost 4,000 gallons, but not that many diesel drivers,” he said.

Closed gas pumps at Jerniman’s on Ocracoke. Photo: C. Leinbach

Ocracoke Dolphin baseball back in swing

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Maren Donlon bats in the Hatteras tournament on May 8. Assistant Coach David Scott Esham coaches at first base.

Text and photos by Richard Taylor

For two perfect spring days last weekend, the excitement of Ocracoke Dolphin baseball before unmasked fans replaced memories of Hurricane Dorian, the loss of the main campus building and nearly a year of pandemic-necessitated remote learning, including the cancellation of almost all team athletic activities.

Middle School Coach Bill Cole put his eighth-grade son Nicholas on the mound against visiting Hatteras at the home game May 7.

Cole the younger held the hapless Hurricanes scoreless for five innings, with the Dolphins winning 14-0.

“I have five or six kids I’ve been working with and it was just his turn to pitch,” Cole said after the game. “He didn’t throw that many pitches. The game was called before we got to six innings (mercy rule), so he was able to finish it off.”

Nicholas Cole pitches a home field shutout against Hatteras May 7. Mau Guerrero defends at third base.

Cole praised his team’s work ethics and eagerness to play well.

“The kids all came prepared to play, followed directions well and had a very good day,” he said.

Nicholas’ impressive shutout was a perfect early Mother’s Day present for his mom, Ocracoke School Principal Leslie Cole.

“The most important thing through the (COVID-19) pandemic and everything is that the kids have an opportunity to play baseball again,” Bill Cole explained. “It’s great to see the fans coming out to support us and for everyone to enjoy outdoor activities again.”

Owing to pandemic restrictions, the team had only nine practices before their first game on May 5 when the squad beat the Hurricanes away in extra innings, 8-7.

“I typically like to have three to four weeks of practice, to do stretches and build up arm strength, to work on hitting and pitching and to get the kids into a good mental attitude,” Cole said.

That first game saw only nine players.

“And they played really hard,” he said. “We did some good things defensively.”

Cole praised infielder Danny Palacios-Badillo for a hard-hit, two-run scoring double and first baseman Uriel Guerrero for running down a Hatteras player between first and second. Both are eight-graders.

Dolphin middle school first-baseman Uriel Guerrero runs down a Hatteras player between first and second base.

John Kattenburg assists as a middle-school coach.

On Saturday, May 8, the Dolphin varsity squad played two games in the 2021 Cape Hatteras Sandlot Tournament in Buxton.

Powerhouse Bear Grass of Martin County crushed the Hurricanes in the morning opener, 18-3. The Dolphins then handed the host team another lopsided loss, 24-3 in the first afternoon game.

Walks, hits and Hatteras errors helped Ocracoke pile-up 14 runs in the third inning for a 23-5 win over the Hurricanes.

Freshman Maren Donlon, who moved up from middle school, contributed several hits to the varsity victory.

“Maren played awesome,” said head coach Jim McClain. “Having a female on a varsity team that’s typically male-dominated is great for the team. It’s also great for Maren.”

Noting that the team is playing better than ever, McClain was thrilled after the high-scoring victory over the Hurricanes.

“I don’t think this Ocracoke high school baseball program has ever had a victory over Hatteras,” he said. “We capitalized on all Hatteras’ mistakes and just had a big (third) inning.”

In the later championship game, Bear Grass pounded Ocracoke 11-1, but losing to the Bears did not bother McClain.

“Bear Grass is a dominant force, with a deep history of baseball,” he said. “They have a tremendous program. They’re always going to bring a game of a higher caliber, and that’s a good experience for us. We played a very good baseball game. Bear Grass just played a better game.”

Ocracoke had to change pitchers against Bear Grass several times as that game went on.

“What you saw with those pitching changes was governed by the state pitch count rules,” he said. “If a student athlete throws over a certain number of pitches in a day, then they are mandated to have a certain number of days rest.”

It’s all part of managing the team to have the best arms available.

Dylan Esham pitches against Bear Grass on May 8.

McClain singled out Chandler O’Neal for catching the two games against Hatteras and Bear Grass.

“That’s a hard day’s work and he made some tremendous plays with the shortstop Jackson Strange, especially with runners on first and third,” McClain said. “I have never seen those two kids throw a ball that hard and that well to make that out at home that ended one of the innings.”

Freshman Damon Esham carried most of the pitching responsibilities against Hatteras and his younger brother, Dylan, closed out that game pitching.

Following the game, Chandler O’Neal and the Esham brothers were named to the All-Tournament team. Senior Parker Gaskill won the John Jacobs Memorial Award (as voted on by coaches) — a ceremonial miniature wooden bat.

Senior Parker Gaskill receives the John Jacobs Memorial Award at the Hatteras game May 8.

McClain said his student athletes have learned to deal well with the rigors of traveling to away games.

“Kids on Ocracoke are unique,” he said. “When I first moved here and got involved in the baseball program, I was amazed that these kids would get on a bus at 10 in the morning, play a game at 5 in the afternoon and not get home until after midnight. They’re very used to it.”

On the bus, which McLain also drives, the team members further cement their bond.

“It adds a bit of camaraderie and esprit de corps to our group for having to take these extreme measures to play a competitive varsity sport here,” he said. “Every single player on this varsity team is a student athlete of high character. I’ve never had any issues with their behavior.”

The island has such well-developed school baseball programs because two recreation league teams feed players to the upper grades.

“We have over 70 kids playing baseball this spring on Ocracoke across high school, middle school and the two little league organizations,” he said. “That’s almost half of the entire student population.”

This dedicated coach somehow finds time to teach Ocracoke’s Little League 10- to 12-year-olds, the Oriels, in the Hatteras League. Local 8- to 10-year-old youngsters play as the Marlins. Their first games are Saturday (May 15) in Buxton.

Despite losing three seniors (Parker Gaskill, Dylan Esham and Christian Trejo), McLain is excited to have eight athletes moving up from middle school next spring.

“It’s going to be awesome,” he said.

The varsity Dolphins are 2-3 so far during this pandemic-shortened season. David Scott Esham and Jason Elicker assist McClain with coaching duties. Both teams practiced last spring but had no conference games due to the pandemic.

Quilts for Ocracoke

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This quilt of ‘Ocracoke Cracker’ blocks made by quilters all over the world and assembled by Lori Millsap of Winterville will be among 100 Millsap will bring to Ocracoke May 26 to give to islanders. Photo courtesy of Lori Millsap

“A quilt will warm your body and comfort your soul.”—Anonymous

By Kelley Shinn

Rebuilding after a natural disaster is akin to sewing a quilt—it isn’t a quick process. It’s one stitch at a time, and it takes a lot of stitches. 

Lori Millsap of Winterville, Pitt County, knows this all too well.  Having grown up in Tupelo, Mississippi, part of Tornado Alley, she knows first-hand the devastating effects of storms. 

That’s why Lori and her husband Dennis will visit Ocracoke on Wednesday, May 26, and from 4 to 6 p.m. and will be at at the Community Square Docks to distribute 100 quilts made by quilters from all over the world for the Ocracoke community, first-come, first-served.

Dennis is retired from the U.S. Air Force. As military families do, they moved a lot before settling in eastern North Carolina in 2004. 

In 1989, they were in South Carolina for Hurricane Hugo, with a newborn, one of two daughters.  Dennis was a child in Biloxi, Mississippi, when Hurricane Camille blew through, and Dennis’ sister, in Slidell, Louisiana, lost everything in Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

“It was natural for us to spend our ‘retirement’ volunteering with organizations that help after natural disasters,” Lori says. 

Dennis is now a disaster-response event leader for Eight Days of Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to disaster rebuilds.

Because of Ocracoke’s unique situation as a small island reliant upon a ferry system, the large sweeping services that Eight Days of Hope offers wasn’t possible after Hurricane Dorian devastated the island on Sept. 6, 2019, but Lori couldn’t sit by and do nothing while watching the suffering of a place that is dear to her heart. 

The couple spent their 20th anniversary on the island in 2006 and were so enamored with the village that they’ve been regular visitors ever since. 

Lori decided to make it a personal mission to provide a source of comfort to the island that has given her and Dennis so much comfort over the years—and soon after, Quilts for Ocracoke got its own hashtag.

Lori has been quilting for 30 years, ever since, she says, “We were a young family stationed in Alaska. I was attending graduate school studying mathematics and statistics, parenting two small children, and 5,000 miles away from my family, so I thought I needed a new hobby! Ha!”  Because of the travel associated with her husband’s career, Lori has had the opportunity to learn to quilt from teachers around the country and to participate in guilds in large quilting communities in Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina. 

In 2011, she started a professional longarm quilting business which she named Island Time Quilting. 

Lori Millsap on a ferry to Ocracoke in February 2020. Photo courtesy of Lori Millsap

She chose the name because she’d rather be on Ocracoke if she can’t be quilting.  She says the two are pretty much tied for her affection.

After Dorian, Lori dusted off her “mostly neglected blog” and gave a shout to her “Instagram community of quiltmakers and taught them a little about Ocracoke.”

“I chose the Ocracoke Cracker Quilt Block, a pattern that originated on the island, as the block for quilters to make to support and send to island residents,” Lori says, “and I volunteered to make 200 quilts over the next 20 months (until May 2021, when my husband and I hope to celebrate our 35th anniversary on the island).  Both recovery and quilting take time.”

Packages began to arrive at Island Time Quilting from all over the world, from England to Australia. 

Blocks came from quilters across America, some of whom had wonderful memories of vacationing on the island and many of whom had never heard of Ocracoke before. 

And North Carolina quilters really took care of their own. 

The Alamance Piecemakers Guild sent two finished Cracker quilts each month in 2019 and 2020 and extra blocks for other quilts that Lori was assembling. 

The Twin River Quilters in New Bern, still in recovery from Hurricane Florence in 2018, contributed over 500 blocks, and Lori’s own Greenville Quilters made blocks, finished quilts and provided support in many different ways.

Lori and Dennis first came to post-Dorian Ocracoke in February of 2020 to deliver 50 finished quilts, which she distributed door-to-door to islanders she’d heard about. They also helped a local family with a drywall project. 

Once the pandemic hit, their best-laid plans of delivering more quilts fell to the side, but Lori says that now she is “delighted to deliver a little hope and joy to the island that I love so dearly.”

They have enough supplies to be able to make 75 more and hope to deliver those in time for the two-year anniversary of Dorian this September. 

All are invited to come and greet Lori and Dennis, and if you haven’t received one already, get yourself a hug that lasts in the form of a quilt that will remind you on the darkest nights that you can get through hard things, one stitch at a time.

If you know of anyone who is elderly, or otherwise unable to make it to the docks that day, who could use an extra dose of joy, please email Lori at islandtimequilting@gmail.com, and special deliveries will happily be made. 

To view some of the beautiful and generous donations, check out Lori’s blog at islandtimequilting.com, @islandtimequilting on Instagram, or #quiltsforocracoke on Instagram. 

Jerniman’s asks customers to limit gas purchases after long lines threaten to drain Ocracoke’s gas supply

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Long lines were at Jerniman’s, Ocracoke’s only gas station, on Tuesday. Photo by Richard Taylor

By Connie Leinbach

“Can you just get five gallons, sir?” Drew Batts, co-owner of Jerniman’s, asked a customer Tuesday evening following a day of long lines at the only gas station on Ocracoke.

A wave of panic buying across the state was set off by the temporary shutdown over the weekend of the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies much of the fuel for the East Coast, after learning it was the victim of a cybersecurity attack.

Colonial’s 5,500-mile gas pipeline in the eastern United States is a primary fuel pipeline for North Carolina.

Batts said the gas pumps will close from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day to help conserve the supply.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday declared a state of emergency suspending vehicle fuel regulations to ensure adequate fuel supplies throughout the state” as prices jumped to nearly $3 per gallon.

The per gallon price of regular unleaded at Jerniman’s is $3.09, but that has been the price for several weeks.

Around 7:30 this evening, Batts began asking customers to limit their purchases to five gallons or fewer so that there’s enough gas for islanders, too.

He said Beasley Enterprises in Ahoskie, which owns the pumps, made a delivery of 9,000 gallons today.

“And we’ve already gone through 2,000 gallons,” Batts said. “This gas has to last until next delivery,” but that won’t be for another two to three weeks.

Batts, on the Ocracoke Island Facebook page went further and said that if gas starts running low they may require everyone to show current fuel gauge and proof of residency to get any gas at all.

“Please understand we don’t want to do any of this…and I don’t want to prevent anyone from being able to travel or enjoy our island,” he wrote, “but when it’s gone, it’s going to be gone until at least the end of the month.”

A sign on a gas pump at Jerniman’s on Ocracoke. Photo: C. Leinbach

Hyde County Manager Kris Noble said that county emergency services and sheriff deputies have adequate fuel.

The Ocracoke post office clerk Melissa Sharber said that the mail truck has gas and that they do not expect a disruption of mail service.

According to Observer news sources, many stations on the Outer Banks were reporting they’ve run out and others are limiting how much you can purchase at one time.

Any shortages seen at individual gas stations are a result of people panic buying, not the Colonial Pipeline shutdown itself, Tiffany Wright, a spokesperson for AAA Carolinas, told The Asheville Citizen Times.

“People hear something and panic,” Wright said, according to the newspaper. “It’s still early, but what I will say is that we do have ample supply even though the Colonial Pipeline is responsible for 45% of the fuel going to the East Coast.”

According to a Tweet by the FBI on Monday, a cybercrime group called DarkSide is behind the attack. The group makes money by encrypting victims’ files and threatening to publish them online unless a ransom is paid.

Richard Taylor contributed to this story.

Waterways Commission to discuss NCDOT proposal to move South Dock

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The stacking lanes at South Dock have been eroded so badly they can’t be used. Vehicles have to line up along N.C. 12. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

The Ocracoke Waterways Commission’s meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 18, will focus on one agenda item–the proposal by the NC Department of Transportation Division 1 to submit a South Ferry Dock relocation proposal to the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).

The meeting will be held in the Ocracoke Community Center and will be open to the public with facial masks as required by the state. It will also be broadcast live via the Hyde County Facebook page.

The STIP program is NCDOT’s 10-year transportation plan, which is updated every two years. It prioritizes transportation projects according to region and each region is given an allocation from which to fund them.

Of concern to islanders and officials has been the continued erosion at the South Dock ferry basin at the north end of the island and overwash along the north end of N.C. 12.

One proposal, Option A in the feasibility study, for relocating South Dock to south of the Pony Pens would cost about $87 million.

The Waterways Commission last fall received an NCDOT feasibility study for moving South Dock to a spot about a mile south of the pony pens.

According to the study, for Option A, a ferry ramp would extend approximately 9,000 feet from the existing NC 12 easement and beyond a nearby sand reef into the Pamlico Sound, and would require minimal to no dredging for ferry vehicles. It would cost about $87 million.

In Option B, the ferry ramp would extend into the Sound approximately 5,000 feet from the existing NC 12 easement to a point inshore of the outer sand reef and would require channel dredging to accommodate ferry vessel operations. It would cost about $52 million.

Both propose that N.C. 12 would end there. However, ferry crossing time from Hatteras would be about 90 minutes.

Other ideas in the study suggested moving the road, building a bridge in the Pamlico Sound or building a causeway over the area.

Other possibilities for dealing with N.C. 12 overwash.

During the April 20 waterways meeting, Catherine Peele, planning and development manager for the Ferry Division, had said the Ferry Division would submit the proposal to move the South Dock to the STIP.

“We hope to review how and why NCDOT got to this decision, how the process unfolds from here, and how our community can voice our perspective(s) on this proposal,” said Justin LeBlanc, chair of the commission, in a press release about the meeting.

He said the meeting will start with a short overview presentation and NCDOT officials will be available remotely to answer questions.

The STIP’s Division 1 consists of Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hertford, Hyde, Martin, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell and Washington counties.

Kris Noble, Hyde County manager, reported at the April meeting that Hyde County was among 25 coastal counties to receive a Resilient Communities grant. This is a planning grant that will create a process where Hyde can identify hazards and risks to the community.

The proposals in the feasibility study are possible long-term solutions, Noble said at the meeting, adding that Dare County also received a Resilient Communities grant to deal with the road problems on Hatteras. Hyde is part of the newly formed N.C. 12 Task Force.

Eventually, Noble said, she will seek community input and consensus on a sustainable solution for the highway, but in the short term, NC Department of Transportation will continue to add sandbags and scoop the sand back onto the dunes as needed.

“That’s DOT’s highway,” she said.

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