ORAL HISTORY: Concrete Ships at Kiptopeke

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

February 24,  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. 



[Grace]:  Don’t forget to tell them what you did at Kiptopeke. The ships!  The concrete ships!

I put them there.  We had them towed up from Beaumount, Texas, both of them.  And I had several that were already up there in ‘Squito Creek off Newport News.  And anyway, they brought them all to Newport News anchorage and I had to go over there and bring them to Kiptopeke.  I towed them with my tanker, my oil tanker.

That was called the “Kiptopeke” wasn’t it?  The oil tanker’s name?

Yeah.  Well me and another tug, we towed them on over there and put them in their place.  Where they were supposed to be.  In fact, what we done, we put them over there and I remember the last one we brought over, it was kind of getting dark, so we made it fast to the last upper end and we tied up alongside the ships, caught a nap.  Said next morning we’ll sink it when it’s daylight.  Got up the next morning and I start easing down and I saw the ship was gone!  She drifted away and the wire cable I used to make her fast to the other ship, was laying down there in the water.  Oh my goodness, that ship is out there and in the shipping lane and it’s a dead ship and concrete, oh boy!  So we sailed along.  We checked along the shore first and we found her up on the beach.  Up toward Cape Charles.  So we hooked on her and brought her back.

[Grace]:  He said furniture and everything was still on those ships.

Yeah, a lot of things, tools —

[Grace]:  Did you say they had a party on one of them?

Oh yeah.  That was the first one up.  They had that fixed up so you could have parties on that.  That was Chandler and all that gang.  . . . They had plenty of booze.  That was a boozin’ gang.

[Grace]:  Tell them about the hurricane and what happened during the hurricane at Kiptopeke.

Oh that was Hurricane Hazel.  I was on the Pocahontas and we were coming across and they called me from Little Creek and told me tie up when you get to Kiptopeke.  The storm just hit Cape Henry.  So I went in there and tied up the number 2 bridge and unloaded.  Just about the time I got unloaded, that wind struck.  I put out nine 9″ dual lines to hold the bow and that broke everyone of them just like a shoe string.

Good grief!

I blew right around and I blew up on the beach.  I tried to get out, I was going to try to get out through that hole, but it’s a good thing I didn’t because that would have blew me against the concrete for sure.  So what I done, I wound up on the beach.  And I said, oh me, here I am stuck.  I won’t be able to get me off here.  But they got railroad tugs over that night about midnight and got her back out.  But anytime you touch bottom you have to take her to the shipyard.  So that night I took her on up to the shipyard.  Hauled her out, not a bit of damage at all, just a paint that was scraped off where she was riding on the bottom.  So they cleaned her up and we were back out the next day.  That was the Pocahontas.


[Grace]:  I don’t see how he knew where he was going without radar.

Oh, we went for years without radar.

I guess you had it after World War II, maybe.

Yeah, it was after World War II.  Seems to me it was about 1948 that we got radar.  The service had them before we got them.  I know we had one captain on the boat, Captain Morgan, he wouldn’t even trust it.  He wouldn’t even look at it.  Les Morgan.  He was just used to sailing.

So how did you do it?  When you were fogged in or something like that, did you just go by compass and time?

Compass and time, that was your main thing.  You had buoys out there.  One buoy had a whistle, it was a whistle buoy, and it went up and down and when it came down it went “whoooo” and you could hear it.  And another one, I think it had a bell and that was at Horseshoe Crossing.  And then as you approached Little Creek there was another bell.  And then Little Creek had a jetty and that had a whistle on that.  But you head for these sounds.

[Grace]:  They had to go just by sounds, can you believe that?

By time and sound.  And you run say, 35 minutes from Plantation to Middle Ground, and you want to be looking for your Middle Ground.  It all depends on your tide.  Because about 5 to 10 minute difference in your running time due to the tides.  A fair tide you would be there sooner than you would a head tide.

Did you have depth finders on it?

No, we didn’t have no such things.  We weren’t that modern!

This concludes Part 3. CLICK HERE for Part 2 and CLICK HERE for Part 1.



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