"Our Arctic Water Adventure"
By Lt. Dara Brooks, P

 

They say it’s a small world and the older you get, the more you travel, the smaller it gets. Who knew we’d run into a Power Squadron member while on our December road trip. Leaving Michigan we headed to suburban Atlanta and a night with my relatives. From there the weather only got better as we crossed the Florida border and spent a week recharging our batteries and basking in 85 degree weather. Things really got interesting as we headed Northeast and into North Carolina.

While exploring the little downtown area of New Bern, North Carolina, birthplace of Pepsi Cola we made our way to the water. What we found was a lone sign stuck in the ground announcing “Tugboat Tours, $20pp, 2hrs.” We didn’t care that it was close to freezing and ice cold, the sun was bright, we were on vacation and it was a great chance to see the area from the water. And did I say no crowds too.


Our skipper was Randy, a life long water rat. Wearing comfortable Dockers, a loose fitting Aztec design colorful shirt, medium weight jacket, murky green colored hole less knockoff Crocks and no socks, he was elated to take us out on his home away from home, the water. He was around fifty something, with skin and a personality weathered from long exposure to the direct sun, beaten by brackish water, the elements and years of basic water living. Randy was a transplant to this small community. He’d cut his teeth around the waters of Kelly’s Island, Ohio. His first boat was built from two inner tubes, four slats from an old style bed and a lawn chair. Long hours floating around the waters translated eventually into helping run the ferry from the island to the mainland. By aged twenty-one he’d migrated away from the area.

With a captain’s license under his belt he hires himself out to run boats to various locations for their owners, gives tours from his small tugboat the Kandy Bar and operates a water taxi using a Carolina Skiff with a partner. Our arctic adventure took us along the Trent River where we passed under a bridge and along Brice’s Creek taking in the local terrain. We saw small yacht clubs, private clubs and residences ranging from trailers to the well off. We docked momentarily to enjoy the local cuisine. Merchant’s was the local hangout, a mini grocery with a small grill in the back selling hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fish, onion rings and fries. It was a great place to people watch and warm up.

 

But by far the most interesting thing about our tour was Randy. A bachelor, his years on the water had prepared him well for his lifestyle. A homemade pontoon house boat 14’ wide by 44’ long, tip to tip. He built this to see if he could run it up the Mississippi and into Missouri. The tugboat we toured on was originally the dingy for the pontoon and his trip. The pontoon is capable of storing its own energy through the use of solar panels. It has electricity, a sewage system, and battery banks, makes all its own water and has all the comforts of home. Floating just off the downtown area with a handful of other year round water residents it has a full size tub, living room, kitchen, washer, drier and bedroom. It is powered by a 90 horse Evinrude E-Tec direct injected two stroke outboard.


You can’t help but notice it sitting over there amongst the sailboats, this strange, shipping container looking barge with a bridge and outboard. Closer examination yields the 26” pontoon cylinders in the center and the 32” pontoon cylinders on the outside. He spoke of needing to make the inners larger. He marveled in his own ingenuity and rushed around it a couple of times creating wake just to show us how stable it was. A creative answer to a simple life on the water is more like it. He talked our ears off about current events and everything under the sun. He had some definite opinions on the quality of the boat manufacturers in the area and took us through all the local marinas pointing out the good, the bad and the snobs. Four hours later and frozen to the bone we docked back in downtown happy as clams, another great adventure under our belts.