|The most famous stretch of coastline in the country - Tuesday, May 13, 2008
We survived the night well, and my repair held fine. Early on the sky was black but by 9:00 the sun was out and there was blue sky and white clouds. It is still breezy but nothing that shakes the house! We decided to take a walk down to the beach before moving on up island. There is a boardwalk through what passes for woods and out over the flats to the dunes, and it’s a nice way to get down to the beach.
The surf was roaring from the high winds but there were fishermen out anyway. One man said “It’s not good right now because everything’s dirty - but when you have a fishing trip planned you just go!”
Looking at the ocean it’s easy to picture this being a very dangerous stretch of coast. But for all it’s history it's just a beach today. There may be a thousand secrets buried in these waters, but none of them matter much this morning.
The 4+ foot hammerhead shark in the picture above has no business being on this beach, but whoever caught it did not have the decency to do what was necessary to return it to the sea. He was either too lazy or too cowardly, so he just dragged the fish up on the sand, cut his hook loose and left the fish to die. Proving once again that sharks have more to fear from us than we do from them, and that human may be too kind a word to apply to some of our species.
It puts the actions of the man on Ocracoke Island into perspective. He and his boys were quite afraid of the nurse shark they caught, but they had the stones to do right by it anyway. What a great example for a man to set for his sons.
We broke camp and headed up island, intending to visit the lighthouse and then move north to a campground that has WiFi, but the continuing wind is still causing ferry closings and flooding, so we have to adjust our plans to fit the situation. We arrived at the lighthouse first.
To quote from the National Park Service information sheet:
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse protects one of the most hazardous sections of the Atlantic Coast. Offshore of Cape Hatteras the Gulf Stream collides with the Virginia Drift, a branch of the Labrador Current from Canada. The current forces southbound ships into a dangerous twelve-mile long sandbar called Diamond Shoals. Hundreds and possibly thousands of shipwrecks in this area have given it the reputation as the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic'.
To encapsulate the rest of the two sided sheet as best I can:
The first lighthouse was built at the turn of the 18th century and was first lit in October, 1803. It was 90 feet tall with a lamp powered by whale oil. It was not tall enough or bright enough to warn shipping effectively, so in 1853 it was raised 60 feet and the whale oil lamp was replaced with a first order Fresnel lens powered by kerosene (as seen in the museum).
But the original lighthouse was poorly built and poorly maintained, so by the 1860’s Congress appropriated money to build the present lighthouse. It was first lit on December 1, 1870, and received it’s distinctive paint job of two black and white graduated stripes three years later. The striping identifies it by day, and it was given a light signature of one white flash every seven and a half seconds to identify it to ships at night. It is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States, measuring 210 feet from the bottom of it’s foundation to the pinnacle of it’s tower.
By the 1990’s erosion of the shoreline had brought the surf almost to the door of the lighthouse, so in 1999 the lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet (against considerable local opposition) to it’s present location, where it stands 1,500 feet from the seashore again (it’s original distance). Few people thought it could be moved without damaging or destroying it, but the companies that did the work prepared it with such meticulous and loving care that the actual move took only 23 days and was completed successfully. This national treasure has now been saved for the enjoyment of many generations to come.
The lighthouse is normally open to climbers, but today it was closed due to Gale Warnings. No one in the Park Service could tell me exactly how a gale is defined, but they all agreed it's when the wind gets to 40 something (they didn’t know if it's mph or knots) and when it does you’d better not go out on the water!
Here it also means the roads will probably flood at high tide, and the ferries to the island are closed as well. Since we were headed up island through a flood area, and since it was not quite high tide, we opted for lunch in our RV (under the shadow of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse) and then a short nap and a nature walk. The Nature Walk is a 3/4 mile self guided hike through a uniquely forested area of the island, complete with fresh water ponds.
The nature hike took us through a swampy area where there were snake warnings, water moccasins and eastern diamondbacks, as well as a long thin non poisonous snake called a brown snake. A few minutes later we came to a man in the red jacket standing frozen on the trail. A snake (he didn’t know what kind) had just slithered across the trail in front of him and he was afraid to go on. While we stood there talking about it he and Madolyn saw another snake in the brush next to us! He said he heard it rattle but Madolyn didn’t see a rattle. A moment later we spotted another snake and Madolyn got this picture of it - probably a brown snake.
Having us along seemed to make the guy in the red jacket feel safer so he finally continued on. We stayed prudently behind him and let him stay on point clearing the way! Back at the RV we decided to return to the Frisco Campground and spend another night before moving up island. But before we left we wanted to see the site of the old lighthouse.
They have preserved the original site by using the foundation stones to make a circle where it was. The names of all the former lighthouse keepers are etched into the stones, making a beautiful and fitting memorial.
With flooding still a problem up island we decided to return to Frisco Campground for another night and head for the town of Waves tomorrow. We found a good site and settled in for the night.
Later in bed I looked out the window and saw a brief flash of light over the dune. Seven and a half seconds later there was another one. How many times in life do you get to be lulled to sleep by the Cape Hatteras Light?