On Brown Creek, a tributary of Lower Broad, you will find friendly little Ensign Marina. The owner, Nick Santoro, has written a book, The Whortonsville Yacht and Tractor Club, which, while ostensibly a novel, reads like a lightly-fictionalized memoir of his time in Oriental. It tells the story of a man who leaves a big northern city for a simpler lifestyle, makes it through the culture shock of settling in Oriental, and goes on to integrate into the somewhat raffish Pamlico County society. Along the way he starts a successful business and marries a local girl.
The protagonist, Walter Smithwick, decides to move south from New York City after surviving a harrowing subway fire. An avid sailor, he wants to live on the water. He starts looking in Florida, but it's not that different from New York. Georgia, South Carolina - tidal flows too strong for small boat sailing. Wilmington - closer to what he is looking for, but the currents, tides and heavy traffic of the Cape Fear River don't look good. Beaufort - now that looks more like it. Walter makes Beaufort his center of exploration, and soon hits on Oriental. It seems really nice, but how will the locals take to a transplanted yankee? Well, soon he realizes that half the population of Oriental is transplanted yankees, and everyone is friendly, yankee or not.
So Walter ends up living at the motel in Oriental while searching for a property to buy. One of the first he looks at is in Vandemere, the old "Vandemere Yacht Basin" that is now in decay. That deal doesn't pan out, but the idea is planted of owning a marina. Walter eventually obtains a property in the old town of Whortonsville, and after going through the process of getting a permit from the state, builds a marina. In the meantime, he purchases a stout coastal cruiser up north and brings it home to Whortonsville with a crew of roudy, hard-drinking friends. And yes, he spies a winsome lass working at the sail loft, courts her and wins her hand.
So what about the "Tractor" in the book's name? Walter finds that a riding lawnmower is just not the ticket for keeping the marshy, boggy acres around his marina neat. He needs a tractor with a bush-hog. And he finds one, an old 1955 Chalmers. It gets the job done, and makes him a little less the outsider yankee, and more the local guy. As one of his newfound friends puts it, "I know more tractor owners than blow-boat owners". So when the time comes to name the marina, Walter decides on "Whortonsville Yacht and Tractor Club" as a name that doesn't sound too high-falutin' and hoity-toity.
In between running a marina, getting married and joining the local society, Walter does boat delivery jobs, grows Christmas trees, charters his boat to the local sailing camp, anything he can to make a living in rural Pamlico County. And he prospers - he never looks back on his days as an advertising executive in New York City.
So that's Nick's story, and he's sticking to it. I don't know where the truth ends and the fiction begins, but I do know that The Whortonsville Yacht and Tractor Club is a good read, and I'm hoping we get another book from Nick's hand in the future.
Reviewed by Paul M. Clayton
The Whortonsville Yacht and Tractor Club is available in print or digital at Amazon.com.