N.C. shrimper fleeing storm finds safety in Beaufort County, after breaking down at sea

N.C.-based shrimp-trawler breaks down fleeing Hurricane Florence. Finds safe harbor at S.C. dock

Captain Scott Dudley based in Smyrna N.C., left his home port in Oriental, N.C. to flee from Hurricane Florence in order to protect his shrimp-trawler.
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Captain Scott Dudley based in Smyrna N.C., left his home port in Oriental, N.C. to flee from Hurricane Florence in order to protect his shrimp-trawler.

St. Helena Island — slammed by Hurricane Matthew two years ago — this time served as a peaceful safe harbor for a North Carolina shrimper fleeing Hurricane Florence.

But not before a rescue at sea.

Shrimper Scott Dudley of Smyrna, North Carolina, might have felt like Noah when the whole thing began a week ago Saturday, Sept. 8.

People laughed when he eased his 83-foot wood-hulled trawler, the Miss Nicole, out of the Fulcher’s Seafood dock in Oriental, North Carolina.

“The man at the dock told me I was crazy,” he rumbled Friday in a deep voice bouncing off the smooth waters of Village Creek, seeming to dance in this sunshine.

It was only about five hours after Hurricane Florence made landfall. Dudley pointed to green, yellow and orange swirls on a small television screen in his wheel house. It was the all-too-familiar radar image of Hurricane Florence. He was pointing to the location of his home. It was being reported that the hurricane already had dumped more than 20 inches on Oriental, almost ground zero for the wrath of Hurricane Florence.

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Dudley did not yet know what the damage would be to Oriental, a beautiful “inner banks” fishing village on the Neuse River off the Pamlico Sound.

But he had heard that his house was in good shape.

“There are a lot of trees down,” he said. “The siding was ripped off the house of my friend who called me.”

His wife, who he named his boat for, had fled north.

Dudley was several miles off St. Helena Island in the Atlantic Ocean when his trawler broke down Tuesday. He was headed to Darien, Georgia, but a blower went bad on the engine.

The Reaves family of Beaufort got a call. Cameron Reaves took their red-trimmed, 68-foot trawler Palmetto Pride out to tow the Miss Nicole to the dock at their Sea Eagle Seafood at Village Creek.

Craig Reaves said that’s part of the fisherman’s code. You always reach out to help a fellow shrimper in trouble.

“You kind of work by code on these boats,” Dudley said. “I wouldn’t leave my worst enemy out there.”

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In this case, Dudley ended up in familiar territory. He shrimped out of Port Royal for 15 years. He’s been in North Carolina for 14 years.

By Friday, he had the blower part in hand, and planned to shrimp local waters for a while. The rain and low-pressure system should push a lot of shrimp out of the inland waters to make for a big harvest. He didn’t yet know if the dock back home survived.

Craig Reaves is famous around here for riding out hurricanes in his trawler.

Dudley survived Hurricane Hugo in 1989, living in Awendaw above Charleston, again right around ground zero for a devastating storm.

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After that mighty blow, he said, “I lived in a tent for about six months.”

His father was caretaker at Camp Sewee, where he rode out the storm in a recreation building. He survived clinging to the rafters, Dudley said.

“He was pushing against a wall when the water pushed it over and here comes the cat surfing in on a ping-pong table until it jumped off and landed on him with all fours,” Dudley said.

On that scary September night, Dudley learned that “you don’t mess with Mother Nature.”

And this time, for the first time in more than a quarter century of shrimping, Dudley owned the boat.

He said he bought it two years ago for $40,000 and has put $300,000 in it, fixing about everything in it.

“I put $95,000 in the hull of it, last time we pulled it up,” he said.

“I got no insurance,” he said. “You can’t really get insurance on a wooden boat like this.”

About fleeing the hurricane, he said, “I just know what it’ll do, and I didn’t want to lose what I got.”

He said it’s different when boats are paid for and owners have other people running them.

“The boat don’t owe ‘em nothing,” he said.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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