By Amy Gaw
Fishing boats are complicated. A blend of design, utility, recreation and livelihood; they are also high-standing members of the family. Manteo native and life-long waterwoman Melodye Cannady appreciates all these nuances; she was recently reunited with her “sister” boat — one built by her father and shares her name — after 50 years apart.
In October 2019, Cannady bought the Mel-O-Dee from Hatteras fisherman Capt. Neff Matthews and brought the boat back home to her father’s house in Manteo, where it now resides on a deep-water canal.
“I never stopped loving her,” says Cannady, recalling the history of the boat named after her by legendary Dare County boat builder Buddy Cannady, otherwise known as Capt. BC.
“I know every inch of her,” Cannady says. “After all this time, she still has that hum. ‘Your boat has to have the right hum,’ my dad would always say. That hum is what will bring the fish to the boat.”
The history of the boat is well documented. Capt. BC, who built 350 boats in his lifetime, was 26 when the Mel-O-Dee was constructed. William Thomas “Buddy” Calloway, his grandson, was 26 when Mel-O-Dee returned to the family dock.
“My son, Buddy, is a lot like my dad,” Cannady says. “We all stay busy. Buddy is putting the boat back to her original condition.”
Dare County Boat Builders Foundation recognizes Capt. BC as a founding father of the local boat building industry, and “one of the most prolific custom boat builders and successful charter fishermen” on the Outer Banks, according to the foundation’s website.
Capt. BC’s first charter boat was named Snot, which he bought in 1954. He worked that small fishing vessel in the summer and began building boats in the winter. In the 1960s, Capt. BC worked alongside boat building legacy, Warren O’Neal from whom he learned the art of boat construction, especially larger vessels built for sport fishing. Because of O’Neal’s influence, all the boats built by Capt. BC feature the classic, Carolina-style bow and wide flare.
In 1961, when it was time to replace the Snot, Capt. BC teamed up with O’Neal and a third legacy, Omie Tillett, and built the Mel-O-Dee – it was the second hull to feature O’Neal’s signature Carolina flare.
Cannady’s mother, Maggie, contacted well known Elizabeth City sign painter and billboard artist R.O. Givens to paint the boat’s name across the transom. For a little flair, Givens added musical notes and bars around the lettering, a nod to the boat’s musical name.
“By the time he finished painting the name, there was a huge crowd gathered around Warren O’Neal’s workshop to see his work,” Cannady recalls. “It was a first. The lettering was that different from the normal way. It really was the beginning of transom art on Carolina-style boats.”
Melodye Cannady is as local as they come, and she grew up in the fishing and boat building industries. When her mother, Maggie, died when Cannady was 16, the young woman spent most of her time with her father as part of the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center fleet. She was the fleet’s first female mate.
Meanwhile, her paternal grandmother, Bernice Cannady, taught Cannady about the hospitality business. She later purchased Cannady Guest Home and Cottages and currently operates that business with the help of her children. She also manages the Miss Oregon Inlet head boat and organizes an annual youth fishing tournament.
Cannady is married to commercial fisherman William Calloway, and they have two children, Lillie Bernice Calloway Leavel and Buddy Calloway.
Cannady’s namesake remained just as busy, continually fishing through the past five decades. After the Cannadys sold the Mel-O-Dee, the boat operated out of Oregon Inlet, then sold again and worked out of Virginia Beach. Capt. Neff Matthews bought the boat in the late 1980s and fished out of Hatteras for 30 years, naming it Lucky Chip, after his son.
As he got on in years, it was common for Capt. BC to go to Hatteras just to look at the boat he built, says Cannady of her father, who died June 1, 2018, at the age of 86.
“Sometimes, he would sit on the stern,” says Cannady. “He just loved it. We would always stop by and see her. We told Neff, ‘If you ever decide to sell the boat, please let us know.’”
Cannady called Matthews last fall and he agreed to sell. She was there the next day to finalize the deal, along with her son and her grandbaby. They all cried, even Matthews. Tears of joy, says Cannady.
To date, the new owner has put windows back in the cabin, refurbished the fiberglass bottom and dried the boat out. Cannady and her son will paint the hull and continue to do cosmetic improvements this winter. Mel-O-Dee is juniper planked and has an open cabin, same as when the boat was originally built.
“I love her that way,” says Cannady, “the diesel smell and the cool spray of the ocean while headed offshore brings the same excitement and anticipation to me as it did many years ago.”
Clockman’s Sign Shop, Graphics & Printing in Manteo restored the boat’s signature name and musical notes on the transom, says Cannady, and she’s grateful to Blackwell Boatworks in Wanchese for “taking extra good care to put this old girl back in the water.”
John Wilson, the former mayor of Manteo, is the owner of another vintage, recently renovated charter fishing boat called Deepwater. He appreciates the historical significance of Cannady’s acquisition.
“It is great to have two iconic, island-built wooden boats saved for future generations,” Wilson says. “It is wonderful to see the two
of them out in Shallowbag Bay at the same time.”
Cannady says she found fishing on the Mel-O-Dee for the first time as the new owner a bit overwhelming.
“My heart was so full. When we went under the bridge for first time in 50 years, phew. That memory will last forever,” she says of that July trip. “We went out to (the) Gulf Stream, went out a bit farther than other boats. We caught some fish, then it was my turn. I could almost hear my dad; he would get so excited. I couldn’t believe it — I caught a white marlin.”
It was a meaningful trip for her son, too.
“We fished alongside my granddad’s friends and heard a lot of great stories,” Calloway says. “Just before we got back to the dock, we passed Lee Perry’s Deepwater and it made me feel as if I was living in an old fishing story. I wish Pop-Pop (Capt. BC) could be here to see his old boat come back to his house with his family smiling and tunas on the dock.”