All Boat No Float

All Boat No Float

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.             After all, 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.             A few 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.             In fact, 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.”             E. S. 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.”             His 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.”             By October 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.             Pirate’s 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   Adapted from Manteo:  A Roanoke Island Town by Angel Ellis Khoury.

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Dated: July 15th 2014
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About Mike: Mike Siers is in the top 1% in the Nations top Privately owned Real Estate company, Howard Hanna. W...

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