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|Photographed in 1917-1918
U.S. Navy photo NH 100238-A
|Naval Historical Center
|Boatswain Claude E. Tellaferro, USNRF
The catching of menhaden for commercial purposes in Carteret County dates back to the 1800's. The industry grew to the point where it was not unusual for fifty to sixty menhaden boats to be fishing out of Beaufort and Morehead City in the fall season. Through the years, there have been boats of varied design and size plying our waters in search of this elusive fish. As with humans, each has a personal history, some more unique than others. One such vessel was the Pilgrim.
Pilgrim was originally a sailing yacht, built in 1893 at Wilmington, Delaware, by Pusey & Jones Shipbuilding Co. for a syndicate from Boston, Massachusetts. At the time, her sole purpose for existence was to compete against other United States interests in hopes of representing this country in defense of the America's Cup. Pilgrim's hull was made of steel and her statistics were as follows: 124 feet overall length, 85.28 feet waterline length, 23 feet beam, 22.5 feet draft, and a sail area of 10,261 feet. She carried a fin that was bolted separately to the bottom of the vessel. At the base of the fin was a cigar-shaped bulb containing sixteen tons of lead.
Pilgrim was in contention with three other sailing vessels (Colonia, Jubilee, and Vigilant) to determine the contender to represent the United States in the grandest of all sailing races. Under sponsorship of the New York Yacht Club the four vessels raced against each other on September 7, 9, and 11, 1893, off Sandy Hook. Vigilant was the ultimate winner and she subsequently defeated the British entry, Valkyrie, during October 1893 to win the coveted America's Cup.
Pilgrim proved to be fast on some points of sailing, but her canoe-shaped body, of small displacement, combined with her deep and flexible fin that buckled when she was on the wind, made her unreliable for competitive racing. Though she sailed well on a straight line, Pilgrim did not always mind her helm, due to the length of her fin.
After the America's Cup trials, Pilgrim was sold to L. G. Burnham, Esquire, of Boston, who had her converted into a steam yacht. The fin was removed and a keel and skeg installed, thus changing her draft to 6.7 feet. In addition, a low level cabin was added to the after part of the vessel. After serving as Mr. Burnam's personal yacht, the Pilgrim was listed in 1907 under the ownership of Boston Floating Hospital. The next two years, she was owned by Wendell H. Wyman, apparently as a private yacht. During 1910 and 1911, Pilgrim was listed as a fishing vessel, with Boston continuing as her homeport.
Two years later, Beaufort became home for the Pilgrim. It is not known what circumstances occurred to cause this classic sailing vessel to be in Carteret County; however, in 1913 she was owned by Hugh C. Jones of Beaufort and was being used for menhaden fishing.
The vessel was modified to include an open fish hole, crows nest for fish spotting, a gaff to raise and lower the bail net and striker boat, and a set of davits was installed to hold the purse boats. Through all these changes, Pilgrim continued to retain a lot of her original characteristics, with two masts, rigging, sails, and the same classic hull design. Undoubtedly, she made a striking appearance for all to see and definitely was easily identifiable from the rest of the menhaden fleet.
Pilgrim continued in the menhaden fishing trade under the ownership of Beaufort Fish Scrap & Oil Company from 1916 through 1926, with a break of several years to serve Uncle Sam during World War I. The vessel was acquired from her owner by the U. S. Navy and commissioned on July 18, 1917. She was fitted out for patrol duty, identified as SP (Section Patrol) 1204, and assigned to the 5th Naval District, where she operated from Pamlico Sound through Onslow Bay. Her speed was listed as 6.9 knots. She was armed with 2 one-pound guns and carried a complement of twenty-seven men. The vessel was decommissioned by the U. S. Navy on January 7, 1919, and returned to Beaufort Fish Scrap & Oil Company.
Newport Fisheries Company owned the Pilgrim from 1927 to 1933. The late William G. (Captain Glady) Oglesby, Morehead City, was engineer and later captain of the vessel during part of this time period. Other local men who served as captain of the Pilgrim during her menhaden fishing career included Harry Parkin, Bob Lewis, Jack Parkin, and John Pake, who was probably her last captain.
The captains of the menhaden vessels operating out of Beaufort - Morehead City strived to catch as many fish as possible each time they went out and at the end of the fishing season wanted their boat to be recognized as "high boat". There were many boats for the Pilgrim to compete against, including the W. M. Webb, Colonel, Captain, Elizabeth, Chas. S. Wallace III, W. A. McIntosh, Deutchland, The Boys, Leland Mills, and W. A. Mace. Though it is not known if the Pilgrim was "high boat" during one or more seasons, she undoubtedly served her different captains, crew, and owners well, providing gainful employment to a number of people in our county through many years of service.
Predominately, the boats spent most of their time fishing in the waters surrounding Carteret County, steaming north to the Cape Hatteras area and south to Cape Fear. However, it was not unusual for some of them to spend part or all of a fishing season outside North Carolina waters. During the 1920's and 1930's one of the popular spots was Mayport, Florida. During at least one of these seasons, the Pilgrim was known to have fished out of Mayport.
In 1934, F. S. Dickinson, Rutherford, New Jersey, owned the Pilgrim, with Beaufort continuing to be homeport. For the reporting year ending June 30, 1935, Pilgrim was listed as being abandoned. Mr. Van Wye, who at the time owned property on the west end of Harkers Island at Harkers Point, had her towed from Beaufort to his property where she became a breakwater. Cement was poured into the vessel to keep her from moving. Ms. Martha Salter, Ms. Audrey Parker, and David Yeomans remember, as children growing up on Harkers Island, the good times they had playing on the deck of the Pilgrim and jumping off her to go for a swim.
The passage of time and adverse weather conditions, coupled with a daily bath of salt spray, has taken a great toll on the Pilgrim. But, even after all these many years, a bare skeleton of her hull still remains at Harkers Point today, continuing to remind us of a once stately and classic boat that indeed had a very unique and rewarding career.
P. O. Box 2027
Beaufort, N. C. 28516
(1) Merchant Vessels of United States, 1893 - 1935
(2) American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. V, 1970
(3) The Lawson History of the America's Cup, pages 138 - 150
(4) Unsung Heroes of the Surf, by Sonny Williamson, page 71
(5) Carteret County News-Times, April 12, 1996, page 1B
(6) Lloyd's Register of American Yachts
(7) Manning's Yacht Register
(8) Conversations with Ms. Audrey Parker, Beaufort, Ms. Martha Salter, Harkers Island, Mr. David Yeomans, Harkers Island, Capt. Julian Willis,
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