Published: July 2006
Joel K. Bourne, Jr.

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

By far the best thing about this assignment was being back in Carteret County, North Carolina, where I spent much of my youth, married the love of my life, and began my journalism career as a staff writer for a free weekly called the Maritimes. It was the brainchild of two towering mavens of local journalism, publisher Sarah Credle and editor Janis Williams, who kept me busy covering everything from the Strange Seafood Festival to beached whales to ghost stories about Blackbeard himself.

Much has changed since the mid-1980s, when Beaufort was a wild sailor's town, Morehead City a wild fisherman's town, and Atlantic Beach an odd mix of bikers, surfers, and beach-music fans. The Maritimes is no longer with us, and the mock Spanish Pirate Invasion of Beaufort—the biggest water-balloon fight known to man—has long since shut down. But when I took my family to Tony's Sanitary Seafood Market in Morehead City one night and watched my children marvel at the giant clam shell in the lobby and eat their weight in hush puppies—just as I had as a child—the threads seemed to connect like the translucent currents of the Gulf Stream offshore, giving me hope that some things will never change.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

At a conference on the findings of archaeologists and other researchers studying the wreck that nearly everyone believed was Queen Anne's Revenge, I listened to a panel of the nation's top marine archaeologists discuss the mounting threats to the wreck and the need to fully excavate it before a hurricane blows it out of the water. The problem is funding, with the North Carolina General Assembly reluctant to commit the necessary resources to fully recover and restore the oldest shipwreck yet found off its shores. With ever urgent needs for education and infrastructure, it's easy to dismiss such endeavors as a luxury. Yet for the price of a new interchange, the state could recover a dramatic piece of its history for the education of generations to come. What better way to get students fired-up about the early 18th century or the colonial struggles of the Old North State than to let them touch a cannon once under the command of Blackbeard himself? I sincerely hope the state's leaders wise up before it's too late.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

One late spring day when the Carolina countryside was blossoming in its characteristic splendor, I drove from Atlantic Beach to Bath along the farm roads that lead to the ferries that cross the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers. As the last ferry churned its way over the tea-colored waters of the Pamlico, I fell into a conversation with a local commercial fisherman. We chatted about Blackbeard's lost treasure, the weather, and the health of the fishery, and after a while I asked him what—in his professional waterman's opinion—made the North Carolina coast so attractive for pirates and smugglers. I thought the question innocuous enough, even though I knew bales of marijuana still occasionally wash up on these shores. The fisherman looked at me as if I was a fresh recruit for the Drug Enforcement Agency. After a pregnant pause he finally replied, "I wouldn't know," and sauntered back to his truck.