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Historic Charter Fishing Boat The Sea DusterBy John Mullen
July 24, 2017 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA) – There’s a history behind Earl Callaway’s effort to help Orange Beach retain an important piece of its nautical heritage: the vintage Walker charter fishing boat the Sea Duster.
“I tried to give it to ‘em one time and I had to buy it back to get it to ‘em this time,” Callaway said. “This is the second time I’ve owned it.”
Callaway, even though he sold the boat he had owned for 15 or so years, never gave up on his dream of it becoming part of the city’s folklore. On July 10 the city agreed to pay $6,500 for the classic 1935 custom-built boat.
Initially the Sea Duster was built for Rufus Walker Sr. and construction started in 1935 and finished in 1936.
“Joe Pierce from Bon Secour built it on Terry Cove right across the street from Sam’s,” he said. “It was built in 1935 out of black cypress. I had to cut a piece of wood out about 10 years ago. And when I cut it down here in the bilge, it smelled like that tree had just come down yesterday. You could still smell it.”
And even though the Sea Duster was a Walker boat, one of the two founding families of Orange Beach with the Callaways, Earl Callaway has had a lifelong love affair with the boat.
“Even when I was a kid I thought this was the prettiest boat in Orange Beach,” he said. “Other ones got newer and faster and stronger and what have you. But I’ve always loved the Sea Duster.”
What he doesn’t love is the name painted on the boat right now.
“I really don’t like look looking at Cecilia on there, to tell you the truth,” he said, standing at her wheel and shaking his head. “I don’t like the name Cecilia. It should be the Sea Duster.”
The colors on her are not to his liking, either.
“Theoretically that boat should have a white hull, green deck with green stripes instead of red,” he said. “I don’t know why they changed the name because everybody within 100 miles calls it the Sea Duster.”
It will be the Sea Duster again soon, Orange Beach City Administrator Ken Grimes said. “When the opportunity came along for the city to purchase a true piece of Orange Beach history, we jumped at the chance,” Grimes said. “Our mayor, Tony Kennon, and the entire city council have always been very supportive of any project that preserves our history and promotes the heritage of fishing.
“We appreciate the Callaway and Walker families and especially Earl Callaway who has taken ownership of the Sea Duster and kept it operating for many years. What a great way to keep a legacy going for all to enjoy.”
Callaway is happy the city will have a rare and historical vessel he hopes will be used to educate local children and fete visiting dignitaries.
“This is such is such a classic,” he said. “Cities have dolphins and pelicans and herons. I don’t know any of them that have their own city yacht. This is the real deal. It’s really the heritage.
“My hope for this thing is the city will let kids from school that make good grades spend the night on the boat or take ‘em for a boat ride. Or take the governor for a boat ride. Let the Boy Scouts spend the night on it.”
The Sea Duster got its name from an old-fashioned lure that looked like a household feather duster with a hook in it, Callaway said. It was used as a charter boat by a succession of Walkers before Callaway initially ended up with it after it was retired from fishing.
“I just played around on it,” he said. “I’ve spend many a night on it. I like sleeping on the boat. It rocks and the ropes squeak and it’s quite nice.”
Part of the history is tragic and that tragedy played a role in getting safety improvements for Perdido Pass.
“Rufus (Walker) Sr. had it built and he got killed on it,” Callaway said. “And that’s one reason why we have them rocks out there today. That pass was so dangerous. A wave got him, he fell and broke his neck and it killed him.
“Then they started putting the pressure on the legislators. They were tearing up boats hand over fist out there. You tried to shoot through the hole. And if it was too darn rough you had to go all the way to Pensacola to go in Pensacola Pass and come back that way.”
The first order of business, Callaway said, is to get the Sea Duster restored to the beautiful state he remembers.
“This thing can be beautiful again,” he said. “And it will be. That’s why I bought it. It used to really be pretty, pretty, pretty. And it can be again. All its going to take is some painting and sanding and that don’t take no talent.”
Callaway put the key into the Sea Duster’s ignition.
“Here’s the best part, I think,” giving the key a turn. “C’mon on honey.” And the old motor cranked and purred strongly. “Mechanically it’s it good shape,” a grinning Callaway said. “All it needs is some paint.”
Photos by R. Ken Cooper taken on July 16, 2017 where the Sea Duseter was docked on Nolte Creek in Magnolia Springs.