The Ocracoke Ferry
May 9, 2008
|The ride to Ocracoke Island - Friday, May 9
Today we invite you to join us as we take our RV on her first ferry ride across the waters of Pamlico Sound, from Cedar Island to Ocracoke Island in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. If you’re prone to motion sickness you might want to take a Dramamine tablet half an hour before we leave, because the winds are 30 knots this morning, and the seas on Pamlico Sound are 3 to 4 feet.
That’s not so tall, and the Pamlico is a big ferry - but as I overheard the mate tell a group of laughing passengers, “The folks on the Titanic was having their selves a good time too - right up until she sank!
Cape Hatteras is still an island away, but this is the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the water off these barrier islands is one of the largest ship graveyards in the world. When I was a kid I read every book I could find on the sea, and if ever a ship in one of my books went down, you can bet it sank trying to round Cape Hatteras through the Diamond Shoals. The very name is synonymous with treachery and danger.
That being said, we’re not going anywhere near the open sea, and I don’t remember any of the ships in my books being car ferries hauling RV’s. So we got in line for the ten thirty ferry, and hoped they would have room for us after all. This ship is officially ‘full’ and our reservations are for the noon ferry, but often people with reservations don’t show up and we’re hoping that happens today.
Sure enough, it did - and the lady in the toll booth took our money and waved us aboard. It’s a two and one half hour ride across 23 miles of water, and the toll for us and the Winnebago was a mere $30 - cash up front of course. (They don’t want to have to send divers down to get their money out of your RV.) We pulled in our mirrors and squeezed into a nice safe spot amidships, then got out and went topside.
Ten minutes later the whistle blew. The deck shuddered as they yawed sideways out of the slip, then they cranked up the screws and we headed for Ocracoke. Pamlico Sound is a huge body of water and the surface was a field of whitecaps, but the ferry plowed right through them with very little listing.
There is something about the water that is soothing, and sometimes even a little frightening, but either way I never tire of watching it. I read a book once about a sailboat race in the Tasman Sea. There was a horrendous storm and several of the boats and their crews were lost. Others thought they were going to die, but man after man the survivors talked in awed reverence about the beauty of the seas that were about to kill them.
We enjoyed the ride topside until it started to rain and we had to go inside. The windows soon became opaque and we couldn’t see out, so we returned to the auto deck and rode in the comfort of our coach for a while. How cool to sit in your living room and look out the window at the open water!
Even if you do get tired of watching the water, there’s always something else to look at. Birds, buoys, passing ships and the sky - and the weather is always changing and interesting too. Even from inside the RV we could sense changes in the speed of the engines, and in the motion of the sea when the ship turned or the current changed.
The ferry route passes Ocracoke Inlet where the sound waters are exposed briefly to the open sea. There, even on a calm day you feel the swell and the current change. The last time we took this ferry we were southbound. It was sunrise and the waters were like glass, but even on that day we could tell when we were passed Ocracoke Inlet.
So much history was made here. Ocracoke Inlet is where Blackbeard the Pirate was finally hunted down and killed.
The rest of the ride was nice enough, and we were entering Ocracoke harbor before we knew it. The rain had stopped so we disembarked and found a place to park. We checked out the ferry building and got a pin for our collection, then headed up island looking for a place to eat.
We stopped at Captain Ben’s for crab cakes and flounder and chips, then drove all the way out to the other end of the island. Like the rest of the barrier islands, Ocracoke is long and narrow. In places it is so narrow you can see both sides of the island from a single vantage point, the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Pamlico Sound on the west. With the exception of a few wooded areas the island is a low lying strip of sand supporting only grasses and shrubs. It is windswept and bleak, but it has an austere beauty excites and satisfies.
On the way back to our campground we stopped to see the ponies - called Banker Horses. They were wild until 1959 when the state finally penned them for their own safety, but the pen covers acres. They are well cared for and protected, and allowed to remain as wild and free roaming as possible. They are believed to have come from early European shipwrecks in the 1600 and 1700’s, but no one knows for sure. They have one less vertebrae and their rib cage and bone structure is different from common horses.
We found Ocracoke Campground, a National Park Service Campground, and scored a nice site surrounded by bushes and only a short walk over the dunes to the beach. We leveled and settled in, then checked the beach, but the wind was sandblasting us so we returned home to let it fall off a little - maybe tomorrow. But what a nice place to do our waiting!