Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Setting Sail

Posted February 22, 2006

The buzz about the Tall Ships festival and parade in Beaufort this coming summer reminded me of one of my first television adventures. It's been 20 years since the maiden voyage of the Elizabeth II, a replica of the 16th century ship that brought the first English settlers to Roanoke Island more than 400 years ago. Photographer Rick Armstrong and I joined Captain Horace Whitfield and crew for part of the trip out of Shallowbag Bay at Manteo into Pamlico Sound and eventually Beaufort. I remember quoting a poem about "the lusty winds of the Outer Banks" and the rich fragrance of juniper. Helmsman Don Wigent provided an interesting side story. Even though he is blind Don managed to steer the ship. Later I did a story about Don and his piano tuning business in the Greenville area. Awesome guy.
When the actual building of the commemorative ship began in 1981, Whitfield was a volunteer carpenter. "People see a vessel under sail, and it stirs something in them. The romance of sailing had a strong appeal for me," Whitfield said. "I wanted to live at the coast and learn more about boats and the water. When I first came, I told people I would be here long enough to build a boat and sail away."
You can enjoy some of that excitement by visiting the Elizabeth II Historic Park in Manteo and take a tour of the 69 foot, square-rigged sailing vessel representative of those used to transport Sir Walter Raleigh's first Colonists to the New World in 1585.

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