Bound for Wilmington harbor, her foremast rigged tightly against rough seas, the heavily loaded four-masted schooner Sallie Marvil penetrated hard to starboard. In a vicious current, she slipped dangerously close to the bubbling Frying Pan Shoals. Disoriented by the storm, the ship ran out of supplies and was in urgent need of repairs. At the helm, the captain, a former master of many oceans, backed off when a rogue wave suddenly lifted the bowsprit 20 feet above an iron gray sea, freeing it with a shattering blow. in the gaping hollow below. On the distant horizon, framed by a dark and impending November wind, the massive dunes of Bald Head Island rose above a heavy, steaming surf.
It was the winter of 1900. The port of Wilmington was a thriving maritime trade center, trading a wide range of goods ranging from naval stores, cotton and tobacco to lumber, fertilizer and petroleum.
Despite the proximity to the Atlantic Cemetery, the skill of the captain brought the Sallie Marvil safely in the Cape Fear River. She was limping in Wilmington, her holds filled with barrels of Caribbean molasses. After unloading her cargo, she would load up naval supplies (tar, pitch and turpentine derived from neighboring longleaf pine forests) for export to the shipbuilding trade in London – a 30-day journey through the Atlantic.
When a ship is in port, supplies are readily available and provisions are plentiful for an upcoming voyage. However, spending long periods at sea can quickly deplete these reserves. By the time the Sallie Marvil Arriving in Wilmington, her food, fresh water and other essentials for her crew of five officers and 20 sailors were not only down, they were gone.
Once he was safe in port and the necessary unloading and loading operations were underway, the captain could begin restocking his ship – an exercise that has been done for centuries by a shipchandler.
A shipchandler specializes in supplying the products necessary for a ship and its crew. This list may include groceries, potable water, fuel, maps, boating supplies, rope, canvas, tools, and spare mechanical parts.
In 1900, the shipchandler that would have supplied the Sallie Marvil was Oscar Andrew Durant, founder of the original company which, under his son, Oscar Earl Durant, would later become the OE Durant company. It is still in business, 120 years later.
Oscar Andrew Durant operated both fittings up to his dock at 2 S. Water Street. and a ferry crossing the Cape Fear River to where the USS North Carolina is docked today. Brunswick County farmers used the Durant Ferry to bring grain, eggs, fresh produce and dairy products to Wilmington markets. Many of these products were purchased by Durant and resold to ships in port.
The Water Street building, which housed the Durant company in the 1970s, still stands and is known as the Brooks Building on the Wilmington Riverwalk.
From its headquarters over the next century, the company would supply ships ranging from sailboats to steam Liberty ships to modern diesel freighters.
The ports of Wilmington, Morehead City and Sunny Point were all strategic loading and navigation points during World War II, the conflicts between Korea and Vietnam, and the current hostilities in the Gulf. OE Durant provided provisions to ships in every war period.
Although no longer in the Durant family, the company still bears the original name. Newer technologies and capabilities have allowed the company to expand beyond essential commodities to specialized services such as repair and maintenance, refueling, tug, barge and boat services. row boats.
Nolan Ferrer, CEO of OE Durant, explains the Liner Service.
“When a vessel arrives at the Port of Wilmington, it must be secured to a permanent structure such as a wharf or jetty to hold it in place for loading or unloading and to prevent it from slipping in the channel,” he said. “The ship is secured by heavy lines called hawsers, which are attached to the ship near the bow and stern on what is called a bit, and on the quay by what is called a bollard. You could think of them as giant metal mushrooms. It works like this: the hawser, which has an eye on the end of the shore, is transmitted from the ship to the dock and the “eye” of the hawser is placed by a lineman above the bollard. Slack is taken from the vessel with a winch and the line is sealed, thus securing the vessel.
But often the quay is too far from the ship, especially in oil terminals. This is where the liners come in.
“The ship lowers the hawser onto the deck of the line boat, which waits in the river below, and the line boat then steers the line up to the dock where it is attached to the shore side bollard,” says Ferrer. . “Depending on the number of hawsers used, the scene is repeated in different places until the captain is satisfied that the vessel is safe. It may sound simple, but with the wind and the current and a moving ship, it is highly technical and dangerous work. Our two-line boats, the Wildu II and the Captain Henry Ray, are on call 24 hours a day and our captains of liners are approved by the US Coast Guard.
Unlike the early days of the business where large amounts of merchandise were kept in inventory, current inventory only covers the most critical and hard-to-find items. Most orders are secured quickly through just-in-time supply chains, with deliveries made while the ship is in port.
“Most of the east coast shipchandlers were established businesses that were started and operated by maritime families,” says Debi Prince, who recently retired from his longtime role as vice president and general manager of OE Durant. “Current technology and international trade have radically redefined sea freight transport. Ships are faster, have become highly automated, and require smaller crews. As a result, the fittings business has become more diversified and specialized.
Some of these diversifications serve as new profit lines. For example, Durant offers marine transportation and management services such as tug rental and inland barge towing to maritime interests along the river.
While ships typically order general maritime supplies, bunkers receive odd requests, such as arranging for the ashes of a deceased captain to be distributed at sea.
The life of a chandler is rarely boring. For example, at an oil terminal in Wilmington, a foreign stowaway attempting to enter the United States illegally hid in a ship’s chain locker, where a friendly crew member brought him food. and water during the trip. Upon arrival, the chandler and the mate went to inspect the anchor chain in the locker. When they opened the door, the stowaway jumped up with an unsheathed dagger, hit the second and walked towards the gangway. The crew boarded him before he could escape, authorities were called, and the indigent stowaway was eventually deported.
In another case at a cement wharf in Wilmington, the seller was asked to remove cartons from an arriving ship for temporary storage in their warehouse. While he was unloading the boxes. US Customs officers with dogs arrived for a random inspection and found illegal drugs in the boxes. The seller was exonerated but had serious explanations to give.
When a ship arrives from a foreign port, it must be inspected and cleared by federal agents before anyone can board. Those who have to deal with the ship must wait at the bridge.
At a bulk salt terminal in Wilmington, the seller noticed a spooky sight as he waited for a ship to clear – a hearse was parked on the quay. Soon the crew members carried a strange large bag along the gangway to the waiting hearse. The bag contained the remains of the second officer, who had perished during a long voyage at sea.
The old freighter did not have a mortuary, and much to the dismay of the seller who had a delivery of fresh vegetables, the unfortunate gentleman had been stored in the walk-in refrigerator in the kitchen.
It may sound strange in our modern age of air travel, but most of the world’s cargo is still transported by sea. With the increasing demands for efficiency, modern container ships have turned into mastodons of the sea.
In 1900, a typical schooner like the Sallie Marvil was 130 feet long and could carry some 200 tons of cargo under its crew of five officers and 20 sailors. The largest modern container ships, known as the Ultra Large Container Ship (ULCS) class, are over 1,200 feet long and can carry some 20,000 20-foot containers with even less crew and arrive at their destination. in a fraction of the time.
The Cape Fear River has been a vital factor in the development and economic growth of Wilmington. OE Durant is just one of the many interesting companies operating there.