Today– part eight of my special series “`The Shrimp Capital of the World’– Charles Farrell’s Photographs of Southport, N.C., 1938.”
More than two decades ago, I interviewed Capt. Leslie Day’s brother, Gordon Day, for a research project on the Second World War. We mostly talked about the war, but he also had a great story about how the family earned enough money to build their shrimp boat, the Empress, in 1930.
At the beginning of the war, the U.S. Navy commandeered Gordon Day’s fishing boat (a sister to the Empress, I believe), promising to let him stay with the boat if he enlisted right away. At that time, German submarines were sinking merchant ships in the waters off the North Carolina coast and the country’s coastal defenses against those attacks was very weak.
Gordon Day was given a day or two of training, a pistol and a radio and sent to sea.
Based at the naval section base in Morehead City, Mr. Day and his boat patrolled for enemy submarines at night on the far edge of Cape Lookout Shoals, more than 20 miles at sea.
Every night he and his mate left the dock at Morehead City, went out Beaufort Inlet and headed to the end of Cape Lookout Shoals. Along the way, they passed the wrecked hulls of several freighters that German submarines had already sent to the bottom.
Even all those years later, I could still hear the fear in his voice when he talked about those nights in the Atlantic– but he did it.
In addition to remembering the war, Gordan Day also talked about growing up in the Promise Land, the neighborhood of fishing people in Morehead City where his family moved after they left Cedar Island.
One of the things that he told me was that his father, Benjamin Howard Day (whom I featured in my last post), built the Empress with the profits that the family made from scalloping in the 1920s.
In the 1920s state fishery regulators opened Bogue Sound to bay scallop harvesting for several weeks every November.
Benjamin Day and his sons Leslie, Gordon and Leland harvested the scallops in the eelgrass beds that used to be so abundant in Bogue Sound.
Sometimes they harvested the scallops with rakes and sometimes they harvested them with a dredge.
“They didn’t pay much for them, but you could catch so many that you were making good money,” Gordon Day told me that day I visited him at his home in Morehead City.
When they brought their scallops ashore, the Days and the neighborhood women gathered and shucked them in one of the local backyards. They sold the scallops for $1.50 to $2.00 a gallon.
In that way, the Empress was built out of scallops.
Next time– part 9– “A Fair Little Tow of Shrimp”