There is always a “backstory,” and for the Day at the Docks, a three day festival taking place in Hatteras Village on September 17-19, the backstory is a testament to the resilience and strong sense of community that characterize the people of Hatteras Island. Day at the Docks started as a small gathering on the anniversary of the day Highway 12 reopened after Hurricane Isabel severed it in 2003, cutting off Hatteras Village from the rest of the island for two months.
Lynne Foster, one of those who helped found the festival, remembers gathering in the Methodist Church for music, food and fellowship the night before Highway 12 was to reopen. The next year, 2004, it seemed appropriate to add a Blessing of the Fleet to the informal celebration that commemorated the anniversary.
Lynne’s husband, Ernie Foster, who continues his family tradition of charter fishing for guests eager to pursue large game fish and enjoy a true Hatteras Island experience, was one of many fishermen who worked to keep the Hatteras economy going during the bleak days of isolation. She remembers the effort it took to fetch and carry guests from approved access points, making sure to get them dropped off by dark. “The National Guard and the Dare County Emergency Management Services were very helpful,” says Lynne. “Our guys knocked themselves out to keep the local economy going, so a blessing seemed appropriate.”
The following year, 2005, the Day at the Docks festival was added to the anniversary celebration. “It was small initially,” says Lynne, “but our mission has remained the same from then until now: to educate people about the importance of local seafood and the need to sustain the environment that nurtures it. The festival brings people down to the docks to meet the fishermen, see boats in the harbor, learn about the skills necessary to earn a living from the sea, listen to nautical music, eat freshly prepared seafood and realize that these are all worth preserving.”
Now that Day at the Docks has grown into a full scale festival with a 5K Dock Dash Fun Run, chowder cook off, demonstrations, children’s activities, entertainment and three separate tents featuring seafood, education and community, as well as the Blessing of the Fleet, the number of volunteers and events has increased exponentially. One of the favorite events is the Seafood Throwdown, now in its fourth year, that challenges two chefs to take ingredients that are not known until the competition begins at 12 noon on Saturday, September 19. Susan West and Barbara Garrity-Blake, co-managers of Coastal Voices, an Outer Banks oral history project, work to coordinate the throwdown and see it as a fun way to promote consumer education. “We’re especially happy to have Taylor Rawl from the Mad Crabber Restaurant in Avon and for the first time an Ocracoke chef, Eduardo Chavez, of Eduardo’s Taco Stand,” says Susan. The dishes will be scored on taste, use of the whole fish, originality and presentation.” In addition to fresh seafood ingredients provided by Jeffrey’s Seafood in Hatteras, the Conetoe Family Life Center in Edgecombe County provides fresh produce from their youth-led community gardens.
Susan is especially proud of Talk of the Villages, the festival’s kick-off event at the Hatteras Island Civic Center. “This is our third Talk of the Villages,” says Susan. “We have had people on the panel from Louisiana, Texas, and Alaska. The issues facing commercial fishing and the sustainability of local seafood are not restricted to our small island.”
This year my husband and I and several neighbors from our Buxton neighborhood will be on hand to enjoy the fun and learn from the Hatteras Islanders whose lives have been linked with the sea and its bounty for generations. And we’ll surely attend the Blessing of the Fleet, the event that started it all.