Castle Island, Pamlico River in the fog. Boats moored up-current are near the location of the ship's graveyard.

Fog of Time

Castle Island is only a stone’s throw from the Washington waterfront. It’s a few acres of sand in the middle of the Pamlico River named for the crenelated chimneys of lime kilns that once occupied the island. The chimneys resembled medieval towers. The kilns rendered lime from oyster shells to make cement.

History is piled on Castle Island like oyster shells. There was a shipyard once and a sawmill, Union troops and an artillery battery. Much later there was a whorehouse.

Through the years old boats were left to rot on the shore or burnt to the waterline for their metal fittings. The hulls settled into the mud like time. They piled up like cordwood upstream of the island, a ship’s graveyard. The bones of an oyster shell barge jostled a sharpie schooner, a motorized fishing boat from the early 20th Century, a bugeye schooner, and a barge or ferry boat. In all, 11 vessels were researched by the Eastern Carolina University’s Maritime Studies staff in 1998 and 1999.

Castle Island, Pamlico River in the fog. Boats moored up-current are near the location of the ship's graveyard.
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Castle Island, Pamlico River in the fog. Boats moored up-current are near the location of the ship’s graveyard.

Then Hurricane Floyd struck in 2000. The Pamlico River rose 24-feet above flood stage. Houses, buildings, farms, even small towns were swept away. The river spilled onto the 500-year floodplain. And the current scoured the ship’s graveyard.

The remnants of vessels up current of the island are gone now. They may have been carried downstream or broken up and shot downriver by the force of the flood. Whatever more we may have learned from them is lost.

Sloop Rebecca aground on the banks of the Pamlico River opposite Washington, NC after Hurricane Dorian.
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Boats are still being lost to hurricanes. The sloop Rebecca aground after Hurricane Dorian.

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