Angel Ellis Khoury is a local author, based in Manteo. Angel wrote this article for the Village Realty newsletter in 2008, but you can still visit the Elizabeth II today at Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo. All
Boat; No Float
The Improbable Adventures of the Elizabeth II
Angel Ellis Khoury
Since the Elizabeth II was christened and launched
25 years ago, the representative 16th century ship built and berthed
in Manteo has sailed to some 20 ports.
But at least for some, her construction on the shores of Shallowbag Bay
was a lot like building a boat in the basement.
All boat; no float.
the waters surrounding Roanoke Island were too shallow for the 69-foot vessel
to do more than make a big splash when she was launched. But hurray for American ingenuity, not to
mention the Army Corps of Engineers.
months after hull planking had begun at the George Washington Creef Boathouse
on the Manteo waterfront, Manteo’s mayor found out just how many people watch
CBS Evening News. On May 12, 1983, Dan
Rather did what he must have thought was a humorous piece about “a boat that
would cost more to get out of the harbor than to build.” The cards, calls, and letters began coming
in, from Cottonwood Alabama; Elmira, New York; Carmel, Maine; and Camden,
Arkansas among others, all with solutions to Manteo’s predicament.
the US Army Corps of Engineers had neglected over the years to maintain the
channel. The newscaster pointed out that
until monies could be found, the boat indeed could not float, at least not very
far from her proposed launching site. Governor Jim Hunt pledged to find state
funds if federal funds were not forthcoming.
“Hopefully, these army engineers
can be persuaded to dig out your channel for you. Army engineers are notoriously pleased to be
digging or blasting or damming something,” wrote R. W. Scott, who lived far
from the ocean out in Arkansas. If not,
he suggested attaching balloons to the ship.
Other creative suggestions included Styrofoam and fiberglass pontoons,
derricks “like on oil platforms,” balloons under the boat or dirigibles above
the boat, and other bizarre floatation devices, all of which, their inventors
suggested, would be cheaper than dredging, and “just as effective.”
Everhart, president of Associated Naval Architects, Inc., of Portsmouth,
Virginia, addressed his remarks to the editor of The Virginian-Pilot. “For
years people have had a good laugh over the man who built a boat in his cellar
and then had to tear down his house to get it out,” he wrote. “The analogy between this and the publicized
predicament of Manteo’s Elizabeth II
is obvious [but] the newsman has been had.
Those who have the smarts and skills to build a replica of a 16th
century ship will know how to float her out of the harbor.”
suggestion included waiting for a spring tide, launching it onto the deck of a
barge and then relaunching it into deeper water, and then there were the
popular pontoons. Finally, the naval
architect wrote, “I’m sure the Manteo boatbuilders…those crafty Carolinians
must be laughing all over the place.”
of 1983, things indeed were looking dim.
There was enough water to launch the boat and sail her the few hundred
yards to her berth in Dough’s Creek, but Governor Hunt was determined she would
not be bottlenecked in Shallowbag Bay.
Meetings ensued: Senator Jesse
Helms, the Secretary of the Army, all to no avail. Governor Hunt, true to his word, found state
funds, but then there was the small problem of dredge spoil, or more
specifically, where to put it.
Cove was in the early stages of development, and it seemed the perfect
spot. But citing hydrology concerns, the
developers declined to take the spoil.
Minds were changed, the dredge began work, and now Ballast Point is the
most expensive real estate in Pirate’s Cove.
At last, it
was launch day. With throngs of people
lining the shore and more watching from boats anchored out in Shallowbag Bay,
the Elizabeth II made a ladylike
splash on a clear, bright day, November 22, 1983. Governor Hunt was there to see his dream
launched, a floating ambassador spreading the word about North Carolina’s
history and Roanoke Island’s heritage as the first English settlement in
America. The Elizabeth II’s maiden voyage occurred
two years later, as part of America’s 400th Anniversary Celebration,
when she traveled to Beaufort and New Bern.
In the ensuing 25 years, she has visited ports large and small: Bath, Belhaven, Columbia, Edenton, Elizabeth
City, Engelhard, Hatteras, Jamestown, Little Washington, Morehead City,
Norfolk, Ocracoke, Southport, Swan Quarter, Wanchese, Wilmington, Winton, and
Wrightsville Beach. Nearly 1.5 million
visitors have walked her decks and imagined what a three-month ocean crossing
would have been like four centuries ago. Dwight
Gregory and fellow members of Friends of Elizabeth
II constructed a 5-foot scale model launched on Saturday, November 22,
2008, as part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Elizabeth II’s launching. Certainly, the little EII didn’t need any pontoons or dirigibles for her maiden voyage in
Shallowbag Bay. Twenty-five years later,
the water’s still deep and the channel is wide. For
information, call Roanoke Island Festival Park, 252/475-1500, or visit www.roanokeisland.com.Adapted from Manteo: A Roanoke Island Town by Angel Ellis Khoury.
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