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Friday, July 15, 2011

No. 53 A Winner’s Cup and a Loser’s Lament



A picture of my grandfather, Charles
Hancock, called Ole' Pa by almost
everyone, at about the time he moved
from the Banks to the Island (1900).
The newcomers at Harkers Island who came from Shackleford Banks after the storms of the 1890s brought with them most of their customs and pastimes. Understandably, one of those was sailing. So it was that soon after thei
r arrival in 1900 there began an annual twenty mile race of sailskiffs from Shell Point along Core Sound, northward to Davis’ Island, and back to Shell Point. A Mormon missionary who served at the Island in the spring of 1903, recorded witnessing that event, and that it was won by the “Twilight,” a twenty-two foot, single masted sailskiff. He noted that the boat was captained by “one of the prominent men of Harkers Island, Charles Hancock.” That man was my grandfather. The trophy for winning the competition was a large silver cup that thereafter adorned the mantle of his home, and that his son, my father, fondly and vividly recalled .

According to my father, Ole’ Pa, as my grandfather was called, was interested in more than just mini regattas, and would frequently join in impromptu races with the other sail skiffs that, by then, lined the south shore of Harkers Island. But not all of his sailing ventures were so successful as the one witnessed by the visiting missionaries. According to my father, Ole’ Pa was one day maneuvering the Twilight in Back Sound when he encountered a small fleet of dories (round bottomed skiffs) that had been fishing to the "noth'ard." They were hurrying back towards "Town," as Beaufort was then called, and were making their way westward between the Island and Shackleford Banks. Itching for a challenge, he invited them to a race from there all the way to the Beaufort Bar where the dories would turn for home. He was not nearly so proud of how that one turned out.

In a favorable wind, the smoother bottoms of the dories made them swifter than the flat-bottomed skiffs used by most of the local sailors. But favorable winds were the exception rather than the rule for vessels that had a stated destination and an appointed time, and often had to “tack their way” around or even into a constant breeze. In this environment, the deeper skegs and centerboards of the flat-bottomed skiffs were far better able to negotiate the many turns needed to maneuver through the marshes, shoals and channels that separated the Island from "Town", as Beaufort was then called. Facing a strong southwester, Ole Pa knew he could easily outrun that day’s competition in spite of their having much larger sails and crews to man them.

A single masted sailskiff, similar to the one used by my grand-
father. This is a 17' model built by Heber Guthrie, and being
manned last summer by me along with my sons, Mike and Joel
But fate turned against him once he made his way to Wade’s Shore and the wide channel that headed straight to the Bar. The wind suddenly shifted to the northeast and gave the crew of the dory the only advantage it needed to quickly overtake the sailskiff that until that moment had them in its wake. Less than half a mile from the breaking waves that marked the entrance into the Bar, a dory seemed to “fly past him” as the crew shouted out hoots and jeers to the erstwhile leader. So intense was his humiliation that after that, according to my father, Ole’ Pa never again challenged anyone else to a boat race.

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