Wilma Lee
This project is
supported by a grant
from the
Ocracoke Alive thanks them for their support of cultural happenings in the Ocracoke community!
Thanks to everyone who helped in our fundraiser to support repairs on the Skipjack Wilma Lee after it was damaged by hurricane Arthur.  We met our goal of $20,000! Many thanks to the Outer Banks Community Foundation for a grant of $5000, to Susan and Ed Norvell for their matching contributions of over $5000, and to all of the participants who helped us meet our goal! The Wilma Lee is now back in the Ocracoke harbor and is being readied for the 2015 season. Read below for more information on the 2014 Arthur adventure.

At the end of 2014, the Wilma Lee was back in Ocracoke harbor!

2014 Wilma Lee Hurricane Arthur Adventure
Wilma Lee damaged in Hurricane Arthur
This 4th of July was most unusual, bringing with it not the expected tourists, parade, sand castle contest, and Community Square party, but instead a Category 2 Hurricane Arthur barreling up the coast.  On the night of July 3rd and early in the morning of July 4th, Ocracoke Island took a direct hit from Hurricane Arthur. The storm brought winds upwards of 100 mph for several hours and also packed tornado-type winds as well. The eye of the storm passed over the village of Ocracoke at around 1:00 AM on July 4th. The island suffered damage in the form of downed trees, broken windows, roofing, siding and trim torn from houses and buildings, road overwash, and over 40 utility poles snapped or dislodged.

The most dramatic damage for Ocracoke Alive was to the Skipjack Wilma Lee tied up at NPS docks.  No one was there to watch, so we can only look at the results and speculate as to exactly what happened. The damage report is as follows:
  • Broken 40 ft wood boom
  • Damage to the port and starboard rails
  • Damage to the starboard railing
  • Damage to the mainsail
  • Structural separation at the stem
The Wilma Lee will be taken to a boatyard and hauled out for inspections and repairs.  We are currently assessing and estimating the costs, but it is clear that because of a high deductible and a provision that excludes sail damage during a named storm, that we will need close to $20,000 that we currently do not have.

We hope to repair the vessel so that it is able to take passengers for motoring trips and minimal sailing with use of the jib sail so that we can make the most of the remainder of the 2014 season while we wait for the creation of a new mainsail.  In the meantime, we will continue our summertime educational Dockside talks once the Wilma Lee returns to her berth at the Community Square Docks.  Mid-August we have another meeting with Andy Mink of NC Learn to look at the educational programming that we are developing for the Wilma Lee.
(Please note that sailing trips are temporarily suspended until repairs are made to the Skipjack Wilma Lee)
The Wilma Lee makes several trips out every week of the sailing season. You can be aboard for a sunset cruise or special events cruise. Contact Captain Rob or Sundae at the Black Schooner Shop  just at the end of the dock in the Community Square, by calling 252-928-SAIL, by emailing to or by visiting the website

To download the Skipjack Wilma Lee Brochure, click here.
One of only a few remaining Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks, the Wilma Lee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2002, the previous owner, Mr. Herb Carden, of Sandy Point, Virginia, along with Master Shipwright John Morganthaler began a multi-year project to restore the Wilma Lee. And in the spring of 2012, Carden and his wife Liz donated the Wilma Lee to our non-profit organization, Ocracoke Alive, so that, according to Carden, she might be "...used for educational purposes to all the young and old who might have the privilege to sail on her." One of Carden's special hopes for the Wilma Lee is that it will inspire young people to learn a love of boats and boating.

Though skipjacks are historically associated with the Chesapeake Bay oystering industry, they eventually made their way south, into the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. By the early 1900's, North Carolina boat builders were copying the famous design. Skipjacks are a single purpose boat, designed and built for oyster dredging, though Carolina watermen also used these boats, which they often called "oyster sloops" for harvesting she-crabs and hauling cargo. They are hard working boats with massive sails intended to generate the power necessary to drag heavy dredges and to work in low wind.

The Wilma Lee was built in 1940 on the Maryland shore by the well known boatbuilder Bronza Parks. It is one of the younger boats in the extant fleet of around thirty skipjacks. Over the years, about 800 of these boats had sailed the oyster-laden waters along the Maryland, Virginia and Carolina shores, though today only six are still used for oyster dredging.
The Wilma Lee is 47 feet on the deck, almost 75 feet overall, including the bowsprit and the davit. She is sloop-rigged with a centerboard, 16 feet at the beam, displacing 20 tons. Her mast rises nearly 65 feet above the water line. She is a shallow draft boat, built with 2 1/2" thick plank on frame construction. With the center board down, she draws around six feet of water and half that with the centerboard up. Her boom is almost 45 feet long, making for a sail area, including the jib, of over 1,700 square feet of canvas.

To employ the Wilma Lee as a centerpiece in a broad educational and cultural program which will bring attention to Ocracoke's maritime traditions, both past and present.

To make the Wilma Lee available as a community resource and magnet attraction and to contribute to the ongoing Community Square revitalization.
To share and pass on to younger generations a love of boats and boating, especially the unparalleled beauty and romance of sailing boats.
To maintain the Wilma Lee in top condition in order that she is always ready to sail and always available as a museum quality example of this fast disappearing maritime legacy.

Of our Key Goals, the educational component is the one which will be the most visible and the most beneficial to the community. Our project seeks to broaden the Ocracoke tourist base by developing the necessary materials to promote and produce two types of educational attractions. The first, directed to summer tourism, will be free hour-long dockside talks, presented two or three times a week, which will cover a range of topics including the skipjack in maritime history, local lore, the history of oystering and more.

The second, directed to building off-season activities in Ocracoke, will be a series of on-board half day and full day school programs made available to North Carolina school districts and which will be designed to supplement the NC Common Core and Extended Content Standards.

Our prospective audience ranges from casual tourists dropping in on a free dockside talk to onboard classroom events for school-age children, to serious researchers looking to learn more about Ocracoke's maritime traditions.

While our current plan is substantially supported by the income derived from our lease agreement, we have had considerable discussion about the longer term prospects for the Wilma Lee and Ocracoke Alive. We have spent some time looking at other organizations similar to ours, with boat-based programs, among them the Ada Mae, which is docked in New Bern, NC. Some of those organizations support all of their programming by sponsors, grants and donations. We see that model as a likely long term future for the Wilma Lee.

We must, however, keep our eye on the short term for now, because of the immediate costs and the liabilities of owning a wooden boat. Ocracoke Alive took a significant risk by agreeing to take ownership of the Wilma Lee and we must be pro-active in fundraising and grant writing for both ongoing maintenance and program development.

You can help with donations of all sizes and manner (Donation link at the top left of page). We, of course, need money, and at this particular juncture, we have discovered that our sails need to be replaced at a cost of around $9,000. This was unanticipated, as they look good, but have begun to tear under stress. Donations can also include anything from giving time to our regular maintenance tasks, to helping us in networking and even simply sharing a story or an idea.

Please consider being a part of this exciting project.

David Tweedie, President, Ocracoke Alive 252-921-0260
Tom Pahl, Treasurer, Ocracoke Alive 860-933-0259