Yachts anchor all across Beaufort Channel on the closing Sunday of the annual North Carolina Seafood Festival in Morehead City. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters alike watch from their cockpits as the procession begins. Sometimes the parade of commercial fishing boats is 50 strong, with those skippers having run from as far away as Maine to attend. Songs are sung. Prayers are offered. When the blessing of the fleet ends, some yachtsmen gently lay wreaths in the current.
This happens just offshore from The Carolina Sounder, the statue shown at right by Douglas Alvord. The North Carolina Fisheries Association commissioned it about 20 years ago.
“There was controversy building back then about commercial fishing nets,” recalls association president Jerry Schill. “We wanted something that showed history and tradition.”
Today, the association takes part in the annual seafood fest, which will be September 30 through October 2 this year. The association puts a commercial trawler on display so anyone can step aboard, meet the captain and learn how fishermen are working to reduce bycatch in their nets. Guests can sample some Carolina shrimp to whet their appetites before returning ashore, where more tasty seafood than seems imaginable is available, along with rides and live music.
Dockmaster Mike Pollard walks over from across the street at Morehead City Yacht Basin, which takes transients during the festival. He loves the family-friendly fun, and lots of other people do too. His marina welcomes 30 to 40 transients up to 175 feet LOA on festival weekend. Slips are first-come, first-served.
“I would say if you call by August or September, you’ll be OK,” he says. “Sometimes we get boat clubs that bring 10 or 11 boats. For them, the earlier the better.”
If you dock there and walk over, you can stop at The Carolina Sounder for a keepsake photo — adding your own artistic take on Morehead City’s history and tradition.
What to Do
This year is the 30th anniversary of the North Carolina Seafood Festival. More than 200,000 people are expected to attend the festivities.
What to Eat
Your options at the seafood fest go far beyond peel-and-eat shrimp. If you want to try something out of the ordinary, look for sea urchin on a stick, marinated eel or charcoal mullet.
The artist who created The Carolina Sounder sculpture is also a painter. He has created canvases featuring everything from Maine lobster boats to historical portraits of the harbor in New Bern, North Carolina.
Morehead City is home to the annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, which began in 1957. Some of North America’s biggest marlin have been caught here, including the record-holding 831-pounder that was landed in 2000.
Water Toys for Rent
If you don’t carry toys on your boat, you can rent everything from kayaks to scuba gear along the waterfront in Morehead City.