After missing an opportunity for a sea passage the prior day, today I showed up at the Hatteras Ferry Terminal promptly at 9:10 AM to pickup my pre-reserved tickets, eager for the 9:30 AM departure. The day promised good weather offering moderate temperatures and a refreshing sea breeze, a perfect day for a mid-May adventure. In the departure galley I saw groups of excited passengers awaiting their turn to board the passanger ferry. There were numerous retired couples, likely RVers spending time at local campgrounds looking for a fun excursion while vacationing in the Outer Banks (OBX). Two retired couples stood by their bicycles; one was sporting a pair of well-aged red and black Schwinn bikes upgraded with cushy seats and carrying large baskets hooked above the back wheels. The other couple went high tech with Lectric EXPerience electric-assist foldable bikes. In the corner of the waiting area were four German tourists, speaking a little too loud in their native tongue which reminded me of an angry barking Doberman Pinscher; German is definitely not a language of love nor romance.
A uniformed ferry attendant unhooked a rope and invited us aboard. He dutifully collected our tickets, confirmed that we purchased a return fair and motioned us into the vessel.
Ocracoke Express, The Journey
Ocracoke Express has a climate controlled main cabin with about one hundred seats and 40 adult life jackets stored in the main cabin, initially that troubled me, but looking around I noticed more life jackets of various sizes strategically dispersed throughout the vessel. Pictorial plaques describing “Instructions For Donning Jim Buoy Type 1 PFD” were stuck to the walls all around. The top deck contained about fifty spartan backward facing seats and was open to the elements: wind, sun, rain, and the barking Germans. I sat in the lower cabin facing forward and stared at the horizon in hopes to avoid sea sickness. I could see an open deck on the bow of the ship and at the most opportune time planned to step out there during our 70-minute journey. From this vintage spot I hoped to catch a view of dolphins performing acrobatics in the Sound since they were recently spotted. Unfortunately, the NC Division of Transportation (DoT) employee with a shaggy beard reminiscent of Captain Blackbeard informed me that because of strong winds we are not allowed to step onto the bow. With an arm full of tattoos depicting marine life, he pointed to the upper deck and invited me to go upstairs. I knew that the German tourists were on the upper deck so I politely declined not wishing to be exposed to anymore of the barking German language.
Impressions of the Island
I found Ocracoke Island to be more picturesque and tidier than Hatteras. Houses on this island were smaller and well taken care of, those in disrepair were actively being renovated. Prominently displayed signs indicated that almost every residential property on Ocracoke is available for rent and managed by one of two agencies either Blue Heron Realty or Ocracoke Island Realty. I wondered how many people actually live in Ocracoke full time? I could probably count permanent residents on my digits and for accuracy multiply by two. My first intended stop was the Ocracoke Lighthouse. I had such a success seeing the lens of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (read prior blog, Part 1) and of course the Lighthouse itself that I expected another educational visit. But alas, there is not too much to see here. First, I was disappointed that the lighthouse was covered with a simple white wash, no geometric black and white pattern that I come to expect from North Carolina lighthouses. Ocracoke’s beacon is still in operation, managed by the US Coast Guard and therefore not open to the public; what a disappointment. If I cannot climb the circular staircase up the tower and by doing so make my head spin, at least I hope the lighthouse protects the marine traffic from ocean perils with its non-rotating light that can be seen a full 360 degrees to a distance of fourteen miles.
It started to drizzle so I found rescue under a covered porch of a local Life Saving Church (Reaching – Rescuing – Restoring). I hoped to go inside of this cedar shingled structure to see colors reflected through the stained-glass windows, but it being Sunday morning in the South this building was dutifully performing religious services and not open to a casual tourist. As I sat on the porch enjoying protection of the cedar clad church, once again my ears were assaulted with the barking tone of the four Germans walking in my direction down Lighthouse Road. I guess, I will not be able to shake them off so easily, they are on me like Doberman Pinschers protecting a salvage yard.
Deciding to outrun the Germans, I hopped from the church bench and took off in the direction of Springer Point, a hangout place of Edward Teach and his rowdy companions. Most of us know Edward Teach as the infamous pirate Blackbeard. During his lifetime, on the grounds of Springer Point, Captain Blackbeard hosted the largest pirate party ever held on the mainland of North America. This wasn’t a Halloween dress up party but a real pirate shindy. I imagined drunkards in puffy shirts, black triangular hats, striped Aladdin pants, intoxicated on Caribbean rum swaying on their wooden legs with local winches in tow (add some eye-patches for a complete visual). North Carolina’s history is intertwined with Blackbeard. At one-point after running his commandeered ship Queen Ann’s Revenge onto a sandbar near Beaufort, NC; the famous pirate attempted to rehabilitate himself by applying to then NC governor Charles Eden for a pardon under an Act of Grace. Once again using his given name, Edward Teach lived as a common citizen conducting shady businesses in Bath. I can almost imagine the self-decommission fierce pirate Blackbeard walking down the streets of Bath and out of nostalgia, as he used to do before a battle, bradding his long black beard into numerous braids tied at the end with bright red ribbons and for added amusement placing hemp rope behind his ears setting it ablaze so that the thick smoke engulfed his face accentuating bloodshot eyes. After a few months of living in Bath, Blackbeard returned to his chosen profession of piracy.
History tells us that in 1718 off the Ocracoke shores, Lieutenant Robert Maynard defeated Blackbeard in a fierce battle. Blackbeard’s body was punctured by five gun shots and twenty sword cuts before he dropped dead. Blackbeard’s body was decapitated so a bounty could be claimed and his headless torse was pushed into the ocean. Legend has it that the headless pirate swam around his ship three times before sinking to the bottom of Pamlico Sound. Something in this story reminds me of the story of Rasputin, a Russian legendary antihero who similarly to Blackbeard was difficult to kill.
Today Springers Point is a land Preserve with walking trails open to tourists. I took a meandering stroll through the sandy trails between luscious green understory covered by a canopy of Live Oaks and Coastal Red Cedar with branches hanging like twisted locks of Blackbeard’s beard. One thing Ocracoke lacks is public bathrooms, luckily within the land preserve there were plenty of secluded areas where I could answer nature’s call. The few moments of stillness while taking care of business attracted a swarm of mosquitos, I was hoping and praying to the god of the Life Saving Church to save my bare bottom from the hostile, blood hungry attack. How did Captain Blackbeard and his pals protect themselves from the savage insects? Pondering the concept, I walked out of the land preserve and by the bike rack noticed the couple with their black and red Schwinn bikes, we politely waved to each other acknowledging that most likely we will meet again on our Ocracoke adventure and travel back together on the three o’clock ferry.
As I walked down a neighborhood street mesmerized with colorful yard decorations my nostrils sensed an intoxicating sweet aroma of white lilies and Confederate Jasmine. I love the smell of white lilies and in May their magnificent heads adore multiple front yards of Ocracoke houses. My next destination was the British Cemetery. Continuing down the street, I kept reminding myself not to scratch the pesky mosquito bites hidden under my black skort in hopes that the itching sensation would disappear swiftly if I control myself and do not aggravate the situation. About two hours into my adventure, I realized that while Ocracoke is a pretty little island, its amusements are limited and soon I would be ready to board the ferry with the barking Germans and the retired Schwinn couple for a return journey to Hatteras. With about forty-five minutes to spare, I stopped in Smac Nallys bar and grill, a five-minute walk from the ferry terminal, for a glass of local 1718 Ocracoke Brewery Kolsch. Smooth, delicious beer quenched my thirst and was a tasty end to my walking adventure.
Our ferry departed on time and as I expected the four barking Germans and the nice retired couple with black and red Schwinn bikes were on board. As we made our way back to the mainland, I looked around the cabin and noticed that many passengers were snoozing, propped on the shoulders of their partners, parents or maybe even unexpected strangers.
Travel recommendation, for a dollar more bring a bike with you. Bike by the Lighthouse, walk the Springers Point Preserve, bike around the various residential streets of Ocracoke Island, then find yourself a scenic bar where you can indulge in good food and libations – return home on the next available passanger ferry.