The hurricane conditions that threatened holiday weekend plans Thursday, July 3, gave way to clear skies and seasonable conditions for locals and visitors flocking to Wrightsville Beach on Friday, July Fourth.
Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said during a Tuesday, July 8 phone interview that he had never seen the beaches as crowded.
Masonboro Island was once again the focus for local law enforcement agencies with a command post set up at U.S. Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach throughout the day.
Around peak time, 1:30 p.m. Friday, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House estimated around 200 boats were in the water surrounding Masonboro and around 1,200 people on the island.
Each year a growing number of boats have anchored on the banks of Masons Inlet to the north between Wrightsville Beach and Figure Eight Island. This year there were around 300 boats at 1:30 p.m.
The command center was relatively quiet until around 4 p.m. when boats began leaving Masonboro Island.
A pontoon boat loaded with around 25-30 people was taking on water in Masonboro Inlet around 4:10 p.m. when the Wilmington Fire Department marine unit first noticed the vessel. The heavy wakes from boat traffic and outgoing tide through the inlet caused water to begin washing over the bow.
Wilmington Fire Department forced the pontoon to go ashore around 4:45 p.m. on a resident’s beach just south of the Coast Guard station where the passengers unloaded.
There were no injuries during the incident and no one was charged.
The person who was allegedly driving the pontoon revealed a blood alcohol content of zero during a breath test.
Following that incident there was a barrage of calls for foot, buttocks and back lacerations from Masonboro Island and Masons Inlet.
Three of the laceration cases near Masons Inlet were due to a boat running aground just off the back channel at the south end of Figure Eight Island. The three injuries reported were a shoulder and facial laceration, lower back laceration and inner lip laceration. New Hanover County Emergency Medical Services battalion chief Scott Goodyear also said one of the patients had an orthopedic shoulder injury. All patients were transported to EMS crews standing by at the Figure Eight Harbour Marina and all were in stable condition, Goodyear said.
Earlier in the day Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue also assisted people attempting to swim across Masons Inlet. Ocean rescue reported it appeared the swimmers were under the influence.
Multiple swimmers also had to be monitored crossing Masonboro Inlet throughout the day and into the evening but there were no emergencies reported.
A late night on Friday did not prevent beachgoers from showing up bright and early on Saturday. By mid-morning, island streets were congested with traffic.
Wrightsville Beach Park Ranger Shannon Slocum estimated as many as 30,000 visitors to the beach strand on Saturday but said the day proceeded smoothly despite large crowds.
“We had our issues but we didn’t have the tremendous amount of issues that we usually would have with Fourth of July on the beach strand,” Slocum said. “I don’t think we had any major incidents, which is amazing. We have well-seasoned people out here working on the beach and we’re pretty fortunate that we do.”
Slocum also reported noticing more families on the beach than usual and attributed that trend to combined enforcement efforts.
“I still remember years ago after Fourth of July and how beat up the beach was. It seems like we’re getting better every year and I think you can see that in the amount of families coming out the beach,” Slocum said.
Slocum said minimal damage to the recently renourished beach as a result of Hurricane Arthur offered plenty of space for visitors and prevented issues.
“We dodged a bullet. … You don’t know what you’re going to find the morning after a storm. There were a few escarpments but for the most part, it fared pretty decently. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been millions of dollars of sand that came in one week and was gone a few weeks later,” Slocum said.
The Wrightsville Beach Police Department issued a total of 13 citations and 75 civil penalties. Of the 75 civil penalties, five were issued for illegal water taxis on the Fourth of July and seven fireworks-related civil penalties were issued that evening.
Ocean rescue captain Jeremy Owens’ echoed Slocum’s report with 13 rescues on the Fourth of July and no rescues necessary Saturday and Sunday.
One of the few larcenies reported over the weekend came from the Town of Wrightsville Beach after 23 of the 50 American flags posted around Town Hall were stolen throughout the three-day period.