Graveyard of the Atlantic
May 12, 2008
|Comes the dawn! - Monday, May 12, 2008
Albeit still with strong winds rocking the coach. The clouds are racing past - this time headed east toward the rising sun. Ocracoke lies in an easterly direction with only a little tilt to the north. This means the ocean is south of us. Last night that ocean was the scene of quite a lightning storm, continuous flashes all over the horizon as the storm receded. The night was breezy and relatively calm, with the stars coming out brilliantly in a moonless sky, but this morning the wind is back and it doesn’t show signs of dying down any time soon.
From our campsite we can hear the surf pounding the shore, and a walk to the beach is rewarded with a sight of unparalleled beauty. The cross wind picks up the spray from the breakers and turns it into white smoke. The beach is smoking too as the same wind blows the sand into clouds that sting your eyes and any part of your body that’s exposed. We take a mile and a half walk and just enjoy the solitude of Monday morning and having this exquisite place to ourselves.
The campground has pretty well cleared out as the working stiffs leave to return to their jobs. It’s too bad because the day is shaping up to be a nice one, especially if the wind dies down a little. But we’re leaving too - heading on up island to catch the ferry to Hatteras Island. It’s a short ride (45 minutes and about 7 miles) and a free one.
This ferry is smaller than the one at the other end of the island and runs every half hour. Everyone just gets in line in the order they get there and the two guys sort of balance it out as you drive on. The motorcycles are always last to get on and off. We were the only RV but there were several vans and a semi tractor trailer came on behind us. As soon as he was on they cast off and didn't waste any time about it.
The wind was still howling and the normally placid sound was a sea of whitecaps - much rougher than the when we crossed from the mainland three days ago. Still the ferry ride is fairly smooth. This ferry has a very small passenger lounge and most people (even the bikers) stay in their vehicles. We and the truck driver were the only ones in the lounge.
As we crossed the inlet between the islands we could see the surf on the open ocean and it was as high and wild as any surf I’ve ever seen. The truck driver was a black man who had just retired from a career in the army - very friendly and we had a nice conversation with him. The ride was short and soon we could see the town and the ferry landing, so we returned to our RV.
Madolyn turned on Lucy and she showed us right where we were in relation to the island. She even showed the speed we were going - 5.8 mph. She doesn’t do knots. We landed in a gale and were soon off the boat. I headed for the nearest parking lot so we could get our bearings, and it happened to be the parking lot for the Atlantic Graveyard Museum, which is something we wanted to see while we were here, so after checking out the beach we headed for the museum. The wind was blowing so hard it was all you could do to keep your car door from being blown off the hinges.
We entered the museum and were greeted with the sight of the original Fresnel lens from the old 1854 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It has quite a history and is a beautiful artifact. There is also a good exhibit on General Billy Mitchell, the man who made boobs out of the Army and Navy brass when he sank two of their ‘unsinkable’ ships with his airplanes. It happened right off Cape Hatteras and he’s something of a local hero here. The Milwaukee Airport is named after him and Gary Cooper played him in the movie.
Mitchell’s bombers laid down a smokescreen and then literally blasted those two ships out of the water with thousand pound bombs. These are actual photos taken at the time, and there is still a woman living on the island who met Mitchell and knew him.
I learned this from a very nice volunteer who was a teacher and is quite a historian himself. His name is Drew Pullin and he is the author of two books on the Civil War as it had to do with Roanoke Island and Hatteras Island. We had a great conversation and I bought his book on Hatteras on the condition that he autograph it for me. Drew’s wife comes from a family that has been here so long they sold the federal government the land the original Hatteras Lighthouse was built on!
That was before the Civil War, and his wife was one of a group of old timers who opposed the moving of the present lighthouse a few years ago. Their professed love of the structure and it’s history was so great that they would have preferred to see it taken back by the sea, than to be saved by being moved to another place. Not sure I agree with that position - kind of the same feeling I got when I heard my own mother tell someone she wanted me to go to Viet Nam - but I can sort of understand it and respect it. Besides, no one thought it could be moved. Imagine their surprise when it was!
The Civil War ironclad Monitor also sank off Cape Hatteras. It was found and the area of the wreck was declared a protected zone, but people anchoring in the area dragged their anchors across the wreck and did a lot of damage. The gun turret and engine have been recovered, but the rest of the ship has not been brought up. The model above shows the remains of the wreck as it sits on the ocean floor. The gun turret and engine are in a museum in Newport News, Virginia.
So it would seem that the reputation of Cape Hatteras is well earned. This museum is in the lobby of the building that will eventually house a much greater and more extensive museum. It began as a private museum, but was failing financially so the government stepped in (not sure if it was federal or state) and the museum is being expanded and improved. But even this much is fascinating and we were glad we saw it.
We left the museum and found a nice restaurant called Dirty Dave’s Crab Shack. We scored a window table with a view of boats which were pitching so violently at their moorings that you could easily have gotten seasick without ever leaving the dock. My flounder sandwich had a whole flounder in it and was the best ever!
Leaving the restaurant and heading for our campground we encountered a lot of flooding. The island is so low that if high winds coincide with high tides the streets flood. The winds were over 40 knots, closing the Ocracoke ferries.
We found the campground OK, but the poor ranger was trying to close early so he could get home before high tide flooded the street so badly he couldn’t get home. We picked out a campsite that was below the crest of the hill, and had the protection of some trees.
Unfortunately we discovered that the winds in town had blown our bathroom vent cover off again (we lost it once before in the Utah winds) and rain is expected tonight. So I spent a rotten half hour on the roof sealing it as best I could with duct tape. For the rest of the evening we huddled in our coach and prayed, and at bedtime we pulled in the slide to cut down on the exposure and wind resistance. Whew!