The decay and ultimate demise of a wooden fishing boat is a sad spectacle, although fishermen themselves generally are not very sentimental about their boats. Fishermen value a boat as long as it can do the work that it was built for. When it can’t, a boat has no value and is often stripped of its hardware and craned ashore where it can be taken to the dump. In the past, a fisherman might abandon a boat in a marsh or even burn it.
I first photographed the Linda in 1985. In that photo (below), she was tied up at the dock of Luther L. Smith & Son fish house in the Down East town of Atlantic in North Carolina. She was built by Ambrose Fulcher of Atlantic in 1939 as a runboat for the long-haul fishing trade, but she also shrimped (as can be seen by her shrimp nets), clammed and crabbed. She was a versatile boat.
Linda (at dock) in Atlantic NC in 1985 (all photos © Lawrence Earley).
Twenty years later (2005), I photographed Linda again at the Smith fish house. In the photograph she is obviously near the end of her working career.
Linda in 2005
I photographed Linda from 2005 until 2011 as she literally went to pieces. Her bilge pump failed in 2007 and in 2011, she was destroyed by Hurricane Irene.
Linda in 2006
Linda in 2008
Linda in 2010
Battered by the sea and by storms, wooden fishing boats have only a limited lease on life. Linda had unusually long and useful life on the water—a workboat built in 1939 is lucky to have lasted as long as she did. But she will be remembered. Like all old workboats, Linda played an important role by linking people, families and communities in a web of stories and memories. The stories and memories associated with a boat are like family tales told around the dinner table and passed down from one generation to another. They are as important to community life as family stories are to family life.
Linda destroyed by hurricane in 2011
I try to visit with my friends in Atlantic and other communities Down East as often as I can. They’ve put up with a lot from me as I was working on my book, The Workboats of Core Sound: Stories and Photographs of a Changing World (available in Oct. 2013). I’d sit with them or go out on their fishing boats and ask things like, “I know you’ve told me already, but how does the back net work in your long-haul rig?”
I dropped over to see Buster Salter and his wife Carol in early June. He was home on an off week from his job on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry. Buster was a long-haul fisherman when I first came to Atlantic, and he invited me to go fishing with him once or twice to try to understand how his pretty boats danced with each other as they netted fish.
Buster and Carol Salter
A couple of years ago I was delighted to hear Buster recite from memory Robert Frost’s “The Path Not Taken.” He says that he prints out poems from the Internet, and then memorizes them a few lines at a time while piloting the ferry. He’s memorized some poetry by Robert Frost, Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Cullen Bryant among others. If my memory serves, when Marvin Robinson died some years ago, Buster recited Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” at his funeral. “Sunset and evening star, / And one clear call for me! / And may there be no moaning of the / bar, / When I put out to sea.” Carole told me about a long William Cullen Bryant poem he memorized: “It was about a thousand words!” she said.
It’s embarrassing that the first thing that springs to mind when I think of poetry I’ve memorized is a bit of doggerel I learned in 8th grade: “Abu Ben Adam (may his tribe increase) / Woke up one morning from a deep dream of peace.” Which, of course, we amended to “Woke up one morning in a deep pot of grease.” Where are the lines from Virgil I memorized? Where are the sonnets from Shakespeare?
Danny Mason was busy with the geese and chickens and black ducks in his backyard pen when I was in Sea Level recently. Used to be Danny and Buster both started long-haul fishing in May and finished up in October, but these days with the price of fuel so high and the chances of catching fish so low Danny does other things in May, even into June. Like repairing the gate on his pen. Like painting his boats and tarring his nets. But he was finished now and anxious to begin fishing this spring. Best of all, he has a crew ready to go.
That was a Thursday, but he would wait until Monday to fish because of a tropical storm brewing off the coast. When I went to get lunch at the grill in Atlantic later that day, the wind was driving the white tops across Core Sound. The boats’ rigging in Atlantic Harbor sang in the blasts.