Coast Guard delivers a daily dose to Ocracoke

By on January 31, 2013

Story and photos by Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert

Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Preiser, a boatswain mate at Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet, carries a box of medicine and pharmaceutical supplies off the ferry pier on Ocracoke Island.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Preiser carries a box of medicine and supplies off the Ocracoke ferry pier.

When a boat crew from Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet got under way Monday, it wasn’t for search and rescue, drug interdiction, marine safety, or defense readiness — missions typically associated with the Coast Guard.

But the day’s mission was no less important — to deliver much needed medicine and pharmaceutical supplies to the island of Ocracoke.

Located on the southern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island is only accessible by water. But recent shoaling and the encroachment of sandbars have closed off ferry access from its nearest neighbor, Hatteras Island.

“The shoaling and channels here shift a lot, but this has been excessive shoaling, which has shut the ferries down,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Preiser, a boatswain’s mate from Station Hatteras Inlet and the coxswain during the medical run. “At low tide I was reading three feet of water in the shallowest spot of the channel, and the ferries need at least four feet to run.”

The trip to the Ocracoke Island Ferry Terminal took 15 minutes, and when they arrived, they were greeted by Cheryl Ballance, the administrative director of Ocracoke Health Center.

“Since the ferries can’t run, we had to come up with an alternative,” said Ballance. “It was an extreme hardship for people who couldn’t get their medication refilled, like their blood pressure medicine or diabetes medicine.”

Ballance received the medication and passed Preiser an identical container containing lab specimens and blood work destined for a medical diagnostic lab.

“It would be really difficult if we couldn’t get our lab specimens off because the lab specimens help us write new prescriptions and make diagnoses,” said Ballance. “The Coast Guard has always come through!”

The medical delivery endeavor was proposed by Steve Evans, owner and head pharmacist at Beach Pharmacy on Hatteras, who reached out to the officer-in-charge of Station Hatteras Inlet for help. After making a few phone calls, the plan was approved and the daily delivery trips commenced.

The southern ferry terminals to the North Carolina mainland remain open. But using the Coast Guard’s shallow-draft small boats significantly reduces delivery times and enables the Coast Guard to monitor the depth of the channel during each transit.

Cover photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Preiser, a boatswain mate at Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet, navigates a 24-foot Special Purpose Craft – Shallow Water between Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island, Monday, Jan. 28.

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