Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The "Rose Buddies" of Elizabeth City, NC

On “crab watch” across Albemarle Sound to Elizabeth City, NC

We lucked out on our return crossing of Albemarle Sound today. No major wave action or high winds to make it fearsome; just more crab pot floats concentrated in one body of water than we’d ever seen. It was an obstacle course of the worst kind and we had to keep all four eyes (or eight eyes including sunglasses) open all the time.

Was Goodyear Blimp born here?
Blimp City
As we headed into the Pasquotank River (related to the Piankatank?) to Elizabeth City, we noticed a huge structure to port. A huge blimp next to it reminded us that we had read in the cruisers’ guide about this “blimp factory” being here since WWII days. It seems that the blimps of that era greatly reduced the number of German U-boat sinkings along the NC coast. Now all blimps except for the Goodyear one are manufactured here.

Elizabeth City Legends
We had read so much about the welcome mat that Elizabeth City lays out for cruisers and were anxious to experience it. I’m happy to report that the “Rose Buddies” legend of hospitality continues.

Although Elizabeth City was founded in 1793, it wasn’t that important economically until the Dismal Swamp Canal was completed in 1805. That’s when the area planters and lumber companies got their link to the port of Norfolk, and commerce thrived. It's a city on the cusp of their Renaissance to to speak. LOTS of old commercial storefronts and historic homes. There's a humongous walking tour if you're gung-ho. Pete and I were only mini gung because it was kinda hot today, so we only walked around a small bit of the town, plus visited the Museum of the Albemarle--that includes a cool exhibit about the nearby Coast Guard aviation base (largest in the US). They've had their hands full lately overseeing the oil leak in the Gulf.

Nearly another 100 years later in 1983, the complimentary (as in free) city docks were built and cruisers (who love anything free) began to arrive. Two long time residents, Fred Fearing and Joe Kramer (may they rest in peace) started hosting free wine and cheese parties for visiting cruisers and giving roses to the “First Mates.”

Dave Thomas and his wife are "Rose Buddies."
Dave Thomas, a friend of both Fearing and Kramer, is now the “Senior Rose Buddy.” He and his wife now come by when the Elizabeth City Area Visitors Bureau lets him know that 5 or more boats have arrived. Dave warmly welcomes everyone and briefs cruisers on what to expect on the Dismal Swamp Canal. At least he did tonight since all of us were heading north. Dave's been offering this volunteer sevice since 1986! Talk about devoted!!!!

The ex-mayor, Steve Atkinson, also gave us heads-up on the local restaurants, wine tastings, free concerts and classid movie nights, Saturday farmers market, and Museum of the Arbemarle (also free though they accept donations). He's quite an ambassador for the city too. Elizabeth City Convention & Visitors Bureau Director, Charlotte Underwood, warmly welcomed all of us as well.

Roses are still given to the wonderful first mates at the end of this party. Small town hospitality never felt so warm and genuine. I asked Dave if he’ll hand the Rose Buddy baton to anyone some day, and he assured me that there’s someone in the wings.

This was only the second Rose Buddy party this year since they only hold it when 5 or more boats are in the slips. Guess we’re on the front end of the snow bird parade north. Hope you can be so lucky.

Southern NC Hospitality
Cruisers will also meet the very super-friendly Sam, a WWII vet (not many still with us) who has unofficially appointed himself dockmaster. He stops by every afternoon around 2 to greet the cruisers. I asked him if he'd be staying for the "party," but he said "No, I go visit an elderly lady in a nearby nursing home every day from 4 to 4:30 because no relatives visit her." That's the kind of folks who live in Elizabeth City.

After the Rose Buddy wine and cheese, we headed to a yummy dinner at Cypress Creek Grill.

Elizabeth City deserves this self-proclaimed nickname, "Harbor of Hospitality." Sometime ya just gotta toot your own horn.

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