The Water Street building, which housed the Durant business
through the 1970s, still stands and is known as the Brooks Building
on the Wilmington Riverwalk.
From its headquarters building over the next century, the
company would supply vessels from sailing ships to steam-powered
Liberty ships to modern diesel cargo ships.
The Ports of Wilmington, Morehead City and Sunny Point were
all strategic loading and sailing points during World War II, the
Korea and Vietnam conflicts, and the current Gulf hostilities. O.E.
Durant supplied provisions to ships in each war period.
Although no longer owned by the Durant family, the business still
bears the original name. Newer technologies and
capabilities have allowed the company to expand
beyond essential commodities to specialized
services like repair and maintenance, fueling, tug,
barge, and line boat services.
Nolan Ferrer, O.E. Durant’s general
manager, explains the line boat service.
“When a ship arrives at the Port of Wilmington,
it must be secured to a permanent structure such
as a wharf or pier to hold it in place for loading or
discharge and to keep it from slipping away back
into the channel,” he says. “The ship is secured
by heavy lines called hawsers, which are attached
onboard the ship near the bow and stern on what
is called a bit, and on the wharf by what is called
a bollard. You might think of these as giant metal
mushrooms. It works like this: the hawser, which
has an eye on the shore end, is passed down from
the ship to the dock and the ‘eye’ of the hawser is
placed by a line handler over the bollard. Slack is
taken up on the ship with a winch and the line is
made tight thereby securing the ship.”
But often the wharf is too far from the ship,
especially at tanker terminals. That is where the
line boats come in.
“The ship lowers the hawser to the deck of the
line boat, which is waiting in the river below,
and the line boat then runs the hawser over to
the wharf where it is secured to the shore side
bollard,” Ferrer says. “Depending on the number
of hawsers used, the scene is repeated at different
locations until the captain is satisfied that the ship
is secure. It may sound simple, but with wind and
current and a moving ship, it is a highly technical
and dangerous job. Our two line boats, the Wildu
II and the Captain Henry Ray, are on call 24 hours
a day, and our line boat captains are U.S. Coast
N 1900, the ship chandler who would have supplied the Sallie
Marvil was Oscar Andrew Durant, founder of the original
firm that under his son, Oscar Earl Durant, would later
become the O.E. Durant Company. It is still in operation,
120 years later.
Oscar Andrew Durant operated both a chandlery to his dock at
2 S. Water Street. and a ferry across the Cape Fear River about where
the USS North Carolina is berthed today. Farmers from Brunswick
County used Durant’s ferry to bring grains, eggs, fresh produce, and
dairy products to Wilmington markets. Many of those products
were purchased by Durant and resold to vessels in port.
O.E. DURANT, INC.
The crane on a tanker docked at the Port of Wilmington lifts a pallet of supplies from
the O.E. Durant boat.