The Wanchese Marine Industrial Park hopes to help the Outer Banks and nearby mainland towns set a course to a better future through Sail NC, an economic initiative that capitalizes on what the area has to offer to sports sailors.

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The Wanchese Marine Industrial Park hopes to help the Outer Banks and nearby mainland towns set a course to a better future through Sail NC, an economic initiative that capitalizes on what the area has to offer to sports sailors.

Economic group charts new course

By Jeff Hampton

The Virginian-Pilot

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WANCHESE – A wind gust jostled the Wanchese Marine Industrial Park headquarters as its director, Bob Peele, described why a new effort to attract the sailing industry here will succeed.

“We’ve got the wind,” Peele said. “There was enough wind for the Wright brothers – and you. That’s our line.”

On cue, another gust harmlessly rocked the small building set on pilings near an expansive marsh and Broad Creek. Peele only smiled.

The governing board over the park has launched Sail NC, an initiative intended to boost the economy of inland towns as well as the Outer Banks.

Plans include offering charter sailing enterprises where visitors can rent boats with experienced captains, if needed, to cross the sounds to Elizabeth City, Hertford and Edenton, among other destinations. Riverfront towns near the Outer Banks always seek to draw tourists for a day or two.

“That’s the thing that could help these other areas,” Peele said.

He will survey waterfront communities to catalogue amenities such as dockage and downtown proximity.

“It sounds like a fabulous idea,” Edenton Town Manager Anne-Marie Knighton said.

Edenton offers nine slips available free for two nights and a nearby historic district, she said.

Tour companies have come and gone; sailing charters would give those aboard more freedom and flexibility than a crowded cruise boat with a tight schedule, Peele said. The Caribbean offers similar excursions.

Harbor Road passes through the 53-acre industrial park set on a peninsula at the south end of Roanoke Island. Broad Creek and a 15-acre boat basin provide water access to 30 lots, all leased, with buildings ranging from 3,200 to 30,000 square feet. More than 300 employees work mostly in the boat-building and seafood industries. An authority guides the park for the N.C. Department of Commerce.

After catamaran builder Gunboat International came to the park two years ago, the authority realized the potential for expanding the shallow-draft sailing industry, Peele said. Sail NC was formed late last year and is awaiting nonprofit status.

Thanks to the group’s efforts, Manteo will host high-profile championship regattas this year and next on the Croatan Sound near the Dare County Regional Airport.

The A-Class Catamaran North American Championship Regatta is set for June 9-14 with 49 boats registered from across the United States and Canada. It will be the first regatta of this magnitude held on the Outer Banks, Peele said.

The sounds within the Outer Banks that are famous for kite boarding are perfect for the 18-foot, double-hull sailboats, said Peter Johnstone, owner of Gunboat and chairman of Sail NC. Johnstone is well-known in international sailing circles and plans to race in June.

“Everybody is excited about it,” he said. “Regattas like this can take over a town with economic activity.”

Johnstone estimated that 60 boats will enter, with crews and their families staying seven to 10 days. Last year, California drew fewer than 20 boats, he said, and Florida does not have the best wind in the summer. Sustained winds and warmer weather and water for eight to nine months are common on the Outer Banks, he said.

The authority also plans to establish a sailing training center.

In 2015, Manteo will also host the U.S. Optimist Dinghy Association National Championships, which are expected to attract 300 boats, Peele said. Families will stay for more than a week.

“This is not just an Outer Banks thing,” Peele said. “It’s a regional thing.”