Thursday, April 12, 2012

Camels in the Sea

Porpoises are a common off-shore sight just beyond the breakers, especially in the winter. Once in a great while we see a whale migrating by. We might even spot a seal now and then. But camels?

In 1827 the "North Carolina General Assembly House of Representatives Committee on Occacock Inlet" recommended using camels to to help carry vessels across Ocracoke Inlet.

Lest you think I am jesting, this is the exact wording of their report:

"If it should be too expensive to remove or deepen the shoals [in the inlet], the use of the contrivances to which the Hollanders have given the expressive name 'Camels,' will carry vessels over them with ease and safety."

As you will have no doubt figured out, a "camel" in this context is not a humped back ungulate. The ship's camel,  invented in 1690 by the Dutchman, Meeuwis Meindertsz Bakker, was designed to allow ships to navigate shallow water. Basically a large wooden box filled with water, a camel was positioned on each side of a sailing ship and secured to the hull. The water was then pumped out of the camel, which caused the camel to float, thus raising the ship and allowing it to pass over shoals.  You can see a diagram here: (Scroll down to about the middle of the page.)

To my knowledge, camels were never employed at Ocracoke Inlet, in spite of the committee's report, though maybe they were.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Rondthalers of Ocracoke Island. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous6:30 AM

    Nowadays we call them "floaties" . . . .

  2. Anonymous10:09 AM

    Philip, NC mainlander says this would have been a great April Fool's Day post!!!!

    Web cams showing a pretty day on tap, albeit it cool and windy, on the island. Miss being there this spring. Looks like I'll be going in the fall. Can't wait, but will have to do so this year.

  3. Anonymous1:46 PM

    You know there are camels with humps. Some have two humps then there is the single hump camel-- But what do you call a camel with no hump at all-- Humphrey.

    Oh I suppose I could have composed an Ogden Nash type poem for National Poetry Month but just mentioning Ogden Nash will do.

  4. Anonymous1:55 PM

    Okay for all u pirate fans look up on the internet -- The Tale of Custard the dragon by Ogden nash I think you will be tickled to read this verse. celebrate National poetry Month by finding a poem to make you smile.

  5. debbie s.2:02 PM

    'there once was a man from nantucket...'

    hmmm i guess not good enough prose for national poetry month, eh??? lololol

  6. Maria Cortez Gonzalez de Aguilar5:43 PM

    Commending success on continued sharing of data of historic proportions regarding flottage of vessels and ocean life continuing. Following blog is stimulating mind of person studying reading of English as a double communication source. Not realizing that Camels were apart of history as preceived by tourism character visits. Applaud continued notes of coolness by writer friend.

  7. Kevin5:51 PM

    I, too, have read Borges.

    I am amazed!

    Perplexed; but also amazed.

  8. Just for the record, Lachlan enjoyed the camel joke...and the Ogden Nash poem. Thanks a bunch!

  9. Kevin, I don't understand the Borges reference. I assume you mean Jorge Luis Borges, but I am not familiar with his work, and don't know what prompted the reference. Any insights you'd like to share?

  10. Anonymous2:43 AM

    Perhaps he - Kevin is referring to Victor Borge another wordsmith of sorts or out of sorts take your pick lol pun intended

  11. Anonymous4:49 AM

    Okay listen closely, Jimmy, the teacher asked, can You use the word, fascinate from the vocabulary list, in a sentence? Yes I can he responded. I have nine buttons on my shirt but I Can only fascinate.

  12. Anonymous4:51 AM

    OMG that is funny.

  13. Kevin5:45 PM

    Philip, you surmised the correct Borges. He wrote many an excellent "fiction" about seemingly real things, fictional essays, if you will. You can't tell if he is putting you on or not, and it doesn't really matter, because the ride is so much fun.

    Another comment on this page struck me that way. It was magnificent, but I could not help but think that somebody was having a little fun, Borges style.

    Which is just fine by me.

  14. Kevin, thanks for the comment. I will look for some Borges material.