Sailing Stories, Part II


A Sailboat, A Pistol & An Accident 

That night I called my friend Warren Pierce to see if he would go with me in my row boat with motor to the Air Station Elizabeth City Coast Guard Base to retrieve my sailboat. We left in the morning. We landed on a sandy beach which enclosed a lagoon just before reaching the base. This beach had been made when the area was dredged for a seaplanes ramp during WWII. Warren was searching the area and found unspent brass shells for some type of weapon, and since he was a hunter, he was more interested in this find than I was. We continued the rest of the way to the base by boat. While I was preparing the sailboat to undertake the trip home, Warren was looking around the area and found a Vary Pistol and flares the size of shotgun shells and Roman Candles. We got underway, later near Cobbs Point and what we called the Black Buoy, which was the green channel marker on pilings. Warren pulled out the Vary Pistol and a shotgun size flare and wanted to fire it. I told him the Coast Guard might see it, so he waited until we got clearly around the point where the C.G. probably would not see it go off. When visibly around the point Warren fired one of the shotgun size charges with enthusiasm successfully. We got to my house next to the Pasquotank River about a mile later. I was busy taking care of tying up the boats and believe I was standing in the water when Warren hollered “Hey Richard look!”  He fired one of the long flares and it exploded in the Vary Pistol. He was bleeding where his hand used to be.  I ran up the river bank to get my Mother. Thankfully, our next door neighbor, Sam McCaskill, had been home for lunch with his truck from the furniture company, heard the blast and ran down to Warren. I think he used a belt to apply a tourniquet to Warren’s arm, put him in the truck and took him to Albemarle Hospital. Warren had to have his left arm amputated.

This event made the front page of the The Daily Advance on Monday, May 28, 1956. 

Several weeks later my Brother-in-law Willis M. Brice, II was at my house when my Father George F. Walter, Jr. was home for lunch. My Father mentioned to Willis, “Why don’t you take Richard out and show him how to sail that boat.” I had been sailing with Willis before with his friends and his boat. They liked to heel a sailboat over so far that the water would come over the side making for an exciting sail. My job would be to bail any water. Anyway, Willis and I took my sailboat out for “training”. A U.S. Coast Guard small cutter happened to be out on the river at the time. Willis and I were sailing along when the C.G. boat applied full throttle – Willis and I looked when that happened. Next thing the wind had caught the sail just like in the first and second capsizing and turned my sailboat over once again. The Coast Guard saw us capsize and came to rescue us! The Guardsmen pulled us up onto the cutter. I had to sign some papers, and they towed the sailboat maybe three fourths of a mile to my house. 

I now thought that there was a design flaw in this boat. 

I attended Elizabeth City High School and since my grades in English II and Algebra II were suffering, I had to attend Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia, if I wanted to advance to the 11th grade. I attended from July 24th to August 4th, 1956. There seemed like a lot of chaos at the time with the July 25th sinking of the Italian liner “SS Andrea Doria” (1,660 people saved) and on June 30th a UAL DC-7 and TWA L-1049 collided midair over the Grand Canyon with the loss of 128 lives.

My Father sold the sailboat in my absence, which was okay with me.

Richard Walter