Deserted Island: Shackleford Banks

At the southern end of a 200-mile string of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast known as the Outer Banks is Cape Lookout National Seashore. And at the southern end of that is an uninhabited island called Shackleford Banks. I spent the day before Thanksgiving there with my parents.

The island is only accessible by boat but there are a couple of ferry services on the mainland in Beaufort. Beaufort itself is a cool little town established in 1709. It’s rich in history and very picturesque but its biggest claim to fame (and my favorite thing about it) is the fact the Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground just off its coast in 1718. The wreck was discovered in 1996 and is the subject of an ongoing archaeological research project.

You can view artifacts from the QAR in the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort  which happened to be right across the street from our ferry service. So while we waited for our departure time, we got to wander about the museum examining artifacts from straight pins and tiny glass beads to cannon that had been buried under the shifting shoals of Beaufort Inlet for 300 years. To me, that’s a lot of fun and I tried to read every sign in the 45 minutes we had before our boat left.

Our ferry was a flat-bottomed skiff that offered no protection from the frigid late November wind which I thought it was invigorating. My parents looked slightly less thrilled, but 15 minutes of cold wind and spray seemed a small price to pay.

Leaving Beaufort in our wake.

We were plenty warm enough once we arrived at the island and hiked the half a mile through the dunes to the ocean side.

The sound side of the island where the boat dropped us.

My parents hiking across the island.

And when we got there, it was delightfully deserted.

There were just two people on the other side when we arrived and they were just leaving to catch the boat back.

The Gulf Stream passes at it’s closest just off shore here before swinging away to the east bringing with it plenty of shells more common to shores farther south.

I haven’t picked up a Florida fighting conch (lower right) since I was a kid beachcombing in Florida.

A broken queen’s helmet, also not common this far north.

There were also plenty of shorebirds…

…and a lone shrimp boat being swarmed by gulls.

And to my delight, a bonus. To visit the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (and take a photo of it making my collection of Outer Banks lighthouses almost complete), we would have to have taken another, longer boat ride and our mini-vacation just didn’t allow time for both trips. But when I took a closer look at this photo, I realized the Cape Lookout Light is just barely visible on the horizon.

See the tiny tiny lighthouse on the horizon? I say this counts.

And even more delightful, on the walk back across the island, we got to see some of the wild horses that have lived on the island for about  400 years.

Locals say the “banker ponies” are shipwreck survivors. You can find a more detailed history here.

So I’ve added another island to my mental list of favorite places, and I’ll be going back first chance I get.

How about ya’ll? What’s one of your favorite places and why?

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There’s Still Sand in My Shoes: Things People Say When They Get Back from Vacation

What they say: What they’re thinking:
   
“We had a lovely time at the beach.” “It was freakin’ awesome.”
“But it’s always good to come home.” “We should live there!”
“I feel so relaxed and recharged.” “I drank beer every day!”
“My life feels manageable again.” “I didn’t drive anyone to the vet, dentist, doctor or school for a   week!”
“I’m ready to get on top of things.” “I’m deleting my To-do list!”
“A week off gave me a fresh perspective.” “I could learn to sail and scuba dive!”
“It reminded me to live in the here and now…” “My phone didn’t work anywhere on the island!”
“…and to appreciate what we have…” “Of course, I’d need a boat…”
“…a wonderful home, a loving family…” “…and a beach house with its own name and maybe a pet pelican …”
“…and…um…I’m sorry. What was I saying?” “…and we’ll have bonfires on the beach and a hammock on the porch and   I’ll sleep with the sound of the surf coming through my open window every   night and write stories about sea monsters and shipwrecks and haunted   lighthouses and…”

Let’s call him Seymour.

Okay, maybe it’s is just me. I suppose I’ll be like this for a while, at least until I get the sand out of my shoes and the shells out of my pockets (keep finding them in the wash). Until next year. Smooth sailing, ya’ll.

A Beachcomber Going Home

The end of a vacation is always the hardest part. I’m already thinking about everything I have to do when we get home. But I have something like a gazillion photos to play with later in Photoshop and a pile of shells to add to our collection (which is entirely too big already, but what can I do? I have to bring home shells. I’m pretty sure it’s a rule.)

So, of course, I took a picture before I packed them up.

And then I thought, people are going to want to see some of these close up. That’s our one piece of beach glass there in the middle plus the claw of an anonymous crustacean, a whelk egg case, and a vetebral bone from I-don’t-know-what because beachcombing isn’t just recreation for me, it’s a fairly serious compulsion.

And here’s our man-made stuff (i.e. artifacts, because I am convinced at least one of these items came from a shipwreck and not just from a tourist’s pocket). My partner found the quarter (obviously modern). Her sister found the crucifix and I found the coin I’m not going to identify for you. Your guess.

Time to pack the car and go turn in the keys.

Shipwreck

One of my favorite things about the Outer Banks, what sets it apart from all the other Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches I have visited, are all the shipwrecks. Apparently opposing forces like to meet just off shore here playing havoc with mariners.  The icy water of the Labrador Current from the north crashes into the tropic water of the Gulf Stream from the south at Cape Point on Hatteras Island (about 8 miles from where I’m sitting right now), creating strong offshore winds and the shifting sand bars of Diamond Shoals, a sailor’s navigation nightmare. The North Carolina coast became known as The Graveyard of the Atlantic. Hundreds of shipwrecks have been mapped along the Outer Banks.

And the really cool thing is, you don’t even have to scuba dive to go see one. Sometimes the wrecks have washed ashore and several of these are documented by shipwreck enthusiasts. Though even one storm can change things significantly, revealing a wreck or burying a it completely, so hunting for a shipwreck on shore is an iffy enterprise.

This is a photo I took last year of a wreck known as the Flambeau Road wreck in Hatteras village. It isn’t known what ship it was, but estimates based on construction identify it as a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century cargo schooner. I was thrilled to find it. Since this seems to be a pretty reliable wreck and easy to get to, I went back to visit this year.

And this is what I found. I was so excited I circled it for an a long time snapping photos as the sun went down, a storm approached, and the tide began to creep in.

This is me (or my feet), standing on the deck of a shipwreck (or more likely, the inside of the hull, but that didn’t rhyme or have the same visual effect).

Once I decided I could stand on the wreck without hurting it (is that silly?), I got excited all over again and climbed all over it like a hundred-year-old, salt-soaked jungle gym trying to find artsy angles.

Finally, the light was getting dim and I was thoroughly chilled, so I decided to leave my lovely wreck to the tide.

Daybreak

As an inlander, watching the sunrise over the Atlantic is a treat. So usually the first morning after we arrive at the beach, I set an alarm and get up at dawn while everyone else is sleeping.

This year, I slept in the first couple of mornings, but yesterday my eyes blinked open at 5:30 about an hour before the sunrise. I grabbed my camera and a cup of coffee and went out to the beach to wait.

There was a wicked chill in the wind and my hands were getting numb by the time the sun made an appearance. One other person was on the beach waiting for the sunrise too, so I framed her in the photo.

When the sun finally broke free of the clouds, it was brilliant.

Behind me, the moon was still high in the west. I snapped one more photo and went in to get some hot coffee.

Island Wildlife

It’s hard to imagine what life on a barrier island like Hatteras must be like for wildlife when a hurricane can come along any year and level dunes that took years to build, wipe out a forest, even cut new channels right through the island like Irene did last year. But life abides. Especially shore birds who just need a place to rest, to nest, to roost, to feed. This place is a birder’s paradise.

I went exploring yesterday around the cape and came across this great egret and three white ibises feeding together in a marsh. Unfortunately, the grass was so high, I couldn’t get a good shot of all of them together but the egret was kind enough to give me this photo op.

And then one of the ibises hopped out of the grass so I could finally see more than his head and beak.

I went on to find a closed campground that I thought was completely abandoned until I came across a few of the locals.

I thought I was being stealthy by sneaking up on them them so slowly and carefully until I finally realized they weren’t afraid of me at all. There were four in all, two adults and two young.

This little one seemed curious but not at all afraid.

Flotsam

It’s day three of our retreat at the Outer Banks, and I’m celebrating by spending as much time as possible wandering up and down the shore with my camera.

If you look closely at the pincers, it looks like they’re lined with teeth. Crustacean parts are creepy.

 I am a compulsive beachcomber. One of my great joys in visiting the edge of the any big body of salty water is to pace its margins too see what the tide left on the sand.

I don’t know where the people went but it was thoughtful of them to leave this for me to photograph, don’t you think?

And sometimes, people leave behind fun stuff too. I saw several sand castles yesterday but this was the best (and most colorfully staged).

The Outer Banks – Day One

Last week’s birthday break kind of ran into this week’s family vacation. So for the next week, Fork in My Eye will be mostly a photo-a-day blog featuring the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This one is from my first walk on the beach after we arrived last evening. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

If you look just above the fisherman, you can see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the distance.