Hope floats of refloating sailboat

Published 12:37 am Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In better days, The Margaret (above) competed in the 2006 Pepsi Americas’ Sail off Beaufort. The Margaret (below) heels to starboard at the spot on Plum Point where Hurricane Irene placed her Aug. 27. (WDN Photo/Keith Mason Jr.)

If you have been around Bath Creek since Hurricane Irene, you might have noticed a large sailboat beached on Plum Point. That boat is Captain David “Bucko” Edwards’ 66-foot, cutter-rigged sloop Margaret. It’s 107 years old.

At its age, the vessel is a piece of history. It was built in 1904 by Nat Herreshoff, a famous boat-maker whose boats won the America’s Cup six times.

During World War II, it was drafted into the Navy for use as a submarine spotter and based in Nantucket, Mass. It was almost lost in a storm while on duty. Despite an extensive search, no sign of it was found until it — badly damaged — sailed into Ocracoke two weeks later. It survived and was repaired.

A more-recent claim to fame came when Margaret participated in the 2006 Pepsi Americas’ Sail off Beaufort. It was one of the oldest ships there, and, as it turned out, the fastest. Margaret proved its mettle by being the first boat to finish the race. According to Edwards, it outpaced the competition by two hours, but it was not listed as the official winner — that would have required him to host the next race, a challenge he did not want.

Margaret is everything to Edwards.

“I was smitten from the first time I saw her. It was a love affair. … I had to have her,” Edwards said. “I’d walk through hell for that boat.”

It’s easy to understand why Edwards, 71, cares so much for Margaret. He bought it when he was 30 years old, and it has been his home, his hobby and his transportation for the past 41 years. He has been living on it, traveling on it and racing it as far north as Maine and as far south as Guyana and Ecuador in South America. Edwards has always used Washington as a home base, but the boat really became a fixture after he and his wife, Sharon, moved here in 1987.

You may have seen Margaret docked at Havens Wharf or Bath Harbor Marina. Pictures of it docked at Havens Wharf have been used in magazines, brochures and on the covers of phonebooks for Washington — even on coffee mugs distributed by the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce. Some have gone so far as to call the boat “Washington’s movable landmark.”

Now, Margaret is a landlocked landmark in desperate need of help. During Hurricane Irene, the vessel broke its anchor chain and drifted onto Plum Point, where it was left high and dry when the waters receded.

Unfortunately, the positioning of the boat makes getting it off land and back into the water a difficult and expensive task — one Edwards cannot afford.

In 2000, Edwards was diagnosed with prostate cancer and thought he was going to die from it.

“They told me not to buy any green bananas,” Edwards said with a dark-humored chuckle.

He had no health insurance and was not eligible for Medicare, so all of his medical bills had to come out-of-pocket. He had expensive and unsuccessful surgery, but, finally, after long rounds of radiation treatment, the cancer went into remission in 2004. Since then, he’s been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, possibly from the radiation.

When asked which one was harder, maintaining a 107-year-old boat or fighting cancer, he replied, “Well, one is a labor of love. The other is a fight to survive.”

Battling cancer has depleted the Edwardses’ savings. As a result, he has no way to save Margaret on his own. Edwards is raising money to help rescue his beloved boat, and he hopes to get it off Plum Point and back in the water where it belongs soon.

“I’ve got to get her back in the water. She’s done so much for me. I have to do this one last thing for her,” he said.

For more information about Margaret or to make a donation by credit card, visit www.savethemargaret.com. Donations may be mailed to Historic Bath Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 238, Bath, NC 27808.

Please indicate that the donation is for Margaret on the memo line. Donations to this organization are tax-deductible.