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Where did the Fergus Ark wind up?

Ben Steelman

Since 1978, the former Fergus Ark has been tied up at The Boat Marina and Boat Yard in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where it is used as a floating office and marine supply store. A marina employee confirmed the ex-Ark is still afloat and still in use.

Wilmington old-timers will remember the Fergus Ark as a floating seafood restaurant anchored from 1952 to 1965 at the foot of Princess Street on the downtown riverfront. (The author ate there with his parents as a small boy and vividly remembers that the restrooms were labeled “Buoys” and “Gulls.”)

According to historian Jan Davidson of the Cape Fear Museum, the vessel was originally built on the Cape Fear River sometime in the 1920s (a Boat Marine website says 1922) and began service as the Gen. Frederick C. Hodgkins. It was built of concrete reinforced with steel bars. With 10,000 feet of deck space and a 24-foot beam, the 150-foot vessel offered plenty of room for diners.

Fergus Ark

The Fergus Ark is towed from downtown by the tugboat Comet in January 1966. Photo by Joe Nesbitt from the StarNews Archives at New Hanover County Public Library

During a checkered career, the Hodgkins reportedly served as a banana boat and a floating casino. During World War II, the U.S. Coast Guard used it as a floating barracks. In 1946 it became office space for the U.S. Maritime Commission.

In 1951, local fish merchant Eldridge Fergus acquired the boat and turned it into the Fergus Ark, which soon became a favorite with tourists.

In 1955, it was hit by a Navy submarine paying a courtesy call. More notoriously, on Oct. 2, 1961, it was struck by the fantail of the USS North Carolina as the battleship was being maneuvered into its new mooring on Eagles Island on the west bank of the Cape Fear River.

The incident remains controversial. Cape Fear River pilots and their supporters claim that Fergus had failed to move the Ark as he had promised. Fergus, in turn sued the Battleship North Carolina Memorial Commission for $25,000 in damages. That lawsuit was eventually settled in 1965 for a smaller sum.

Here is a photo of the former Fergus Ark, now docked at a Florida marina. Courtesy Christopher M. Smith

Here is a photo of the former Fergus Ark, now docked at a Florida marina. Courtesy Christopher M. Smith

In February 1965, Fergus announced that he was closing the Ark. Its mooring was to be renovated for an expanded Coast Guard facility. It was towed away in January 1966. (Fergus subsequently opened a chain of landbound Fergus Ark restaurants; one on Carolina Beach Road remained open for many years.)

The old Ark was acquired by Tampa, Fla., businessman Lee R. Bass, who renovated it and reopened it as Lee’s Riverboat restaurant on the Tampa waterfront. In 1974, developer A.P. Quails bought the vessel and moved it to Fort Walton Beach, where it became the  U.S. Showboat.

Jim Tucker bought it in 1978 at moved it to the marina. Known as “The Boat,” it survived three hurricanes at its current location, including Hurricane Opal in 1995, when it was swamped by an 8-foot storm surge.

According to James M. Tucker, the former Ark is the latest known surviving concrete ship still afloat.


User-contributed question by:
Jimmy Fergus

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One Response to “ Where did the Fergus Ark wind up?”

  1. On January 31, 2016 at 7:20 pm Kim blanchard wrote:

    I grew up in wilmington…ate at Fergus ark restaurants as a child…..my late grandfather, Captain Ed Orrell, owned Cape Fear Towing Co…..the tugboat in the photo was one of his….I’m sure that either my dad or one of my uncle’s was running the boat, while other family members could be the ones you see on deck…..would love to see the picture better…thanks for the post!!

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