NLIKE the company’s early days when large quanti-ties
of goods were kept in stock, current inventories
only cover the most critical, hard-to-find items. Most
orders are quickly obtained through just-in-time
supply chains, with deliveries made while the vessel is in port.
“Most East Coast ship chandlers were established businesses that
were started and operated by maritime families,” says Debi Prince,
who recently retired from her longtime position as vice president
and general manager
at O.E. Durant.
trade have radically
Ships are faster, have
become highly auto-mated,
smaller crews. As a
result, the chandlery
business has become
more diversified and
Some of those
serve as new profit
lines. For instance,
Durant offers marine
such as tugboat leasing and inland barge towing to marine interests
along the river.
While ships usually order general marine supplies, chandlers get
some strange requests, like arranging for a deceased captain’s ashes
to be broadcast at sea.
A chandler’s life is rarely dull. For example, at a Wilmington
tanker terminal a foreign stowaway trying to enter the U.S. illegally
had hidden away in a ship’s chain locker, where he was brought
food and water during the voyage by a sympathetic crew member.
At arrival, the chandler and chief mate went to inspect the anchor
chain in the locker. When they opened the door, the stowaway
leaped out with a drawn dagger, took a swipe at the mate, and made
for the gangway. The crew tackled him before he could make his
escape, authorities were called, and the indigent stowaway was
In another case at a Wilmington cement dock, the chandler was
asked to take boxes off an arriving ship for temporary storage in his
warehouse. As he was off-loading the boxes. U.S. Customs agents
with dogs arrived for a random inspection and found illicit drugs
in the boxes. The chandler was exonerated but had some serious
explaining to do.
When a ship arrives from a foreign port it must be inspected and
cleared by federal agents before anyone can go onboard. Those who
have business with the ship must wait at the gangway.
O.E. DURANT, INC.
O.E. Durant’s boats feature a flat bow for pushing barges and a large deck in the stern for
WBM november 2020
At a bulk salt
terminal in Wilm-ington,
noticed a chilling
sight as he waited for
a ship to clear — a
hearse was parked on
the dock. Soon, crew
members carried a
large, strange bag
down the gangway
to the waiting hearse.
The bag contained
the remains of the
second mate, who had
perished during a long
The old cargo ship
had no morgue, and
much to the dismay
of the chandler who
had a delivery of
fresh vegetables, the unfortunate gentleman had been stored in the
galley’s walk-in refrigerator.
It may sound strange in our modern age of air travel, but most
cargo around the world is still transported by sea. With the increas-ing
demands of efficiency, modern container ships have morphed
into behemoths of the sea.
In 1900, a typical schooner like the Sallie Marvil was 130 feet
in length and could haul some 200 tons of cargo under her crew
of five officers and 20 seamen. The largest modern-day container
ships, known as the ULCS (Ultra Large Container Ship) Class, are
more like 1,200 feet in length and can carry some 20,000 20-foot
containers with even less crew and arrive at their destination in a
fraction of the time.
The Cape Fear River has been a vital factor in the development
and economic growth of Wilmington. O.E. Durant is just one of
the many interesting companies operating there.
Robert Rehder is a Wilmington native and Navy veteran. During his college years, he was a deck hand and ship runner at O.E. Durant.