THE CAPTAIN AND THE BOATHOUSE FIRE
By Dalton Burrus
The Captain insisted he had been in dories before I was born is a part of the story of .............
Back in July of 1950 I was a second class boatswain's mate assigned to Hatteras Inlet Lifeboat Station on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina. The shoreline near the main station building had migrated up so close to it that the building was at risk of washing into the sea. The District Office decided to renovate the boathouse (built around 1940) and move the crew there. Work was almost finished - a new galley, mess room, office and sleeping quarters. We were making plans to move in very soon.
One morning the rowing team comprised of myself and three other men left for Ocracoke Station where we would practice with five of their men in preparation for the pulling boat race competition coming up in August. When we arrived about 0800 the Chief informed us that the boathouse at Hatteras Inlet was on fire. We picked up a P-500 pump, put it in back of our truck, and immediately headed back to our station. When we arrived the boathouse was engulfed in flames. There was no chance of saving anything. Our 36-foot motor lifeboat and 26-foot motor surfboat were destroyed along with the entire building.
The District Office in Norfolk was notified of the disaster, and they dispatched a Captain in a seaplane to investigate. The seaplane landed about 1,000 yards from the site. Another man and I rowed our 19-foot dory out to pick up the plane passengers. We came alongside the plane, and the Captain was standing in the doorway. I warned him to be careful because the dory was tricky. He informed me that he had been in dories before I was born. He then stepped out onto the gunnel, the dory capsized and all three of us were dumped in the water.
After we got him back ashore and into some dry clothing the Captain inspected the damage. At the close of his inspection he ordered us to get the place cleaned up. He said he'd be back in two weeks, he didn't want to see any evidence of the boathouse, and he wanted grass growing on the site. When he returned we had everything cleaned up and all the debris buried but no grass growing.
After I left the station the shoreline continued to migrate up to it and the boat basin filled in with sand. The station was moved across the inlet to Hatteras Island in the early 50's. Finally, in a hurricane in November of 1955 the station building fell into the sea. Today on the ferry ride from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island some old pilings are still visible offshore from the eastern end of Ocracoke Island. They are all that's left of the old station.
LCDR Dalton L. Burrus is a retired Coast Guardsman who lives in Chesapeake, Virginia.
This story was submitted by Richard Chenery III who has written extensively about North Carolina Lifeboat Stations.
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