Bridegroom Goes Overboard From Ferryboat

Pocahontas ferryboat steamed between Cape Charles and

Pocahontas ferryboat steamed between Cape Charles and Norfolk, captained by Bill Evans.

February 17,  2014

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Cape Charles Historical Society has for more than a decade been recording oral histories of the area’s earlier days.  In 2006, Bill and Jan Neville interviewed the late Capt. Bill Evans. A grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities enabled 15 interviews to be transcribed, and the Historical Society has made this one available for readers of the Wave.  All the transcriptions may be read at the Cape Charles Museum.)

Excerpts from a March 31, 2006, interview by Bill and Jan Neville of Ferryboat Capt. Bill Evans and his wife, Grace. 



I do remember being outside . . . and my boat had broke down and couldn’t get out and I had to wait for her to get straightened out.  But I was concerned then about those submarines coming in when we were laying out there right off the Capes.  We were dead in the water, just laying there.

Were you anchored or were you just drifting?

We were drifting.  Those anchors, you might get them overboard, but you’d never get them back!  We never did drop anchor.

I bought a foghorn that it said it came off one of the ferries.  It was in a wooden box and it had a handle along the side there.  And I asked you if they really used them on the ferries.

That was in emergency.  In case you lost your steam out there in the fog and had to have a foghorn, then you used that.

They said you kept it right up there under the pilot house.

That was one of the requirements.  You had to carry a foghorn and kerosene sidelights and all of that.  That was mandatory.  In fact, the Coast Guard when you had your inspections, we had a yearly inspection and then we had a quarterly inspection.  That was one of the first things they would call for is your emergency equipment.

I don’t know how this guy in Lewes ended up with it.  But then again, the ferries left Kiptopeke and went to Lewes, right?  And you moved, did you go to Lewes or –

I went to Cape May.  Me and Mr. Chandler and Parker Drummond.  Nolan Chandler, he went up there as superintendent, but he was superintendent down here.  So they hired him and me and Parker Drummond.  I went up there, of course, as captain and he went up there as forward engineer.

Yeah, I went up there as captain, good salary, too.

(Grace) They offered him a job on the bridge.

Yeah.  But I told the head of the Bridge-Tunnel, I just couldn’t see myself waving traffic through that tunnel!  So we wound up in Cape May.

Getting back to World War II.  I remember you telling me about some skirmishes on the boat, maybe it wasn’t during the war.  Some sailors and some woman was involved and they got to fighting and they had to call the cops.  Does that ring a bell?

Yeah, that does ring a bell.  It was Dance Night.  See, you had dances on there Wednesday nights and Saturday nights.  And these two got fighting over this woman.  This one woman danced with this man and the other man was her boyfriend and they wound up fighting.  So before I got back to Little Creek, I called the police and they met us at the docks and picked them up.


So this dance night thing, you’d load on at Little Creek and you’d ride all the way to Cape Charles?

Yeah, it was just a regular run.  They’d come on at Little Creek and they’d have a band.  And of course the band would play music and they had a big dance floor.  And they used to have a ball.  No famous bands, but they had a girl that sang.  Well known and she sang on the radio, too.

(Grace)  I can’t remember her name either.  Why don’t you finish that story?

That was the singer. She came up to me in the wheelhouse and said she split her dress and wanted to know if I would sew it up for her. [laughter] It was a big split. So, I got my needle and thread out.  I was a gentleman.

(Grace) Tell them about the married couple that came on board.

That was another time.  We were running out of Cape Charles then and this married couple came on there and had their best man with them.  He gets out and goes up to the saloon to get some sandwiches for them and comes on back down.  And when he gets back down to the car he sees that his best man is wrapped up with his wife!  So he takes his sandwiches and throws them right in the window at them and he goes back up top deck, takes his clothes off and jumped overboard.

No kidding.  Sounds like the wrong person went overboard, sounds like to me!  Did he drown?

Well, yeah.  I was sitting in my room and didn’t know anything about it and the mate come up and he says, they tell me a man jumped overboard.  Just as calm as if it happened every day.  So I jumped up and started to investigate. Come to find out, a group up on the top deck said, yeah, we saw a boy jump overboard, he come up here and took his clothes off.  I said, why in the world didn’t you stop him?  They said, “Stop him?  We thought he was supposed to be doing that!”  So he jumped overboard.  That was about 1943.

(Grace) You looked for him.

Oh yeah, we looked for him.   Finally I called the Coast Guard and they came out there.  That’s when we left and I came back in because we had a load of traffic on us.

Where did it happen?  In the middle of the bay somewhere?

I don’t know if you know where Plantation Light is, it was right on the outside of that.  It was summertime, it was warm weather.

(Grace)  I wonder why he took his clothes off?

Maybe he thought he could swim ashore or something.  But he jumped off the side.  But I don’t think anyone has ever jumped off a boat with it underway and made it.  The wheels are turning and it’s a suction.  He finally came up a few days later  — washed ashore.

This concludes Part 2. Click here for Part 1. Next: The concrete ships at Kiptopeke.



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