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Boats A Way of Life Along Currituck Sound

COROLLA N.C. (May 16, 2006) - The heritage of boating and the innovation and craftsmanship of local boat builders are a special part of the interpretive message of the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, located on Currituck Sound in Corolla.

With so much of the local environment dominated or influenced by water, boats were – and are – an important part of life here. Whether for fishing, hunting, transportation or recreation, boats upon Currituck Sound were purpose built, from the earliest dugout canoes of the Native Americans to more modern craft of today.

A Currituck skiff at work

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony on June 16 to launch the "Life by Water’s Rhythm" exhibit hall of the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, which features boats and boating in detail. The steady evolution of water-borne vessels is followed from the 1700s to 20th century, including the Currituck skiff, the namesake boat of the region.

"The Currituck skiff was so important because you could go anywhere in it," said Chandler Sawyer, a wildlife education specialist at the center. "It only takes a handful of inches to float one, so you can go in pretty shallow water."

Boats at a Currituck Sound landing

Later innovations like the outboard motor made affordable, if not always reliable, mechanized power available. A collection of 21 vintage outboard motors, including some rare examples by long-defunct manufacturers, is on display.

"The local saying was, ‘they’ll get you there, but they won’t get you back’," Currituck native Wilson Snowden said of the earliest outboard motors.

And when that happened?

"You’d have to use your shove pole."

While the reliability of outboard motors improved over time, the habit of keeping an old-fashioned shoving pole handy remains.

"A shoving pole nowadays, to me, is an insurance policy that you don’t leave home without!" Sawyer said. "But in the days before motors it was a vital transportation tool and I think that in certain situations it still is."

The boat builders of Currituck Sound were self-reliant and self-sufficient, as was the rest of the permanent population of the Outer Banks.

"We didn’t have fiberglass or aluminum boats in early times," Sawyer said, also pointing out the lack of boat dealers and maritime suppliers. "So, people had to make a boat if they wanted one."

Locals used materials at hand, which included Atlantic white cedar, known locally as "juniper," and cypress. Their intimate knowledge of the environment created ingenious boat designs that were capable of navigating the shallow sounds and were able to withstand temperamental weather.

The renown of some Currituck boat builders is legendary, like the stories told about Wilton Walker, born in 1889. During Prohibition, bootleggers came to him for fast motor boats to elude the law. Equally loyal customers were officers who needed his fast boats to catch the rumrunners.

The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education is one of three regional centers operated by N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, along with the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education near Brevard and the Centennial Campus Center for Wildlife Education in Raleigh.

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