Sunday, July 19, 2009

Having FUN in the OBX

Sorry I'm a little tardy in blogging but we have been having tons of fun in Ocracoke in the Outer Banks (OBX as the bumper stickers call it) of North Carolina. Ocracoke is the southern most populated island in the outer banks chain just south of Cape Hatteras - the summer population dwarfs the year round residency of about 700 as sun worshippers (like myself) and summer vacationers swell the ranks of the island with each ferry that arrives (the only way to get here is by boat since there are no bridges running from any "mainland"!!) - and arrive they do - we have a front row seat at our anchorage in Silver Lake Harbor to see the ferries come in laden down with campers, RV's, four wheel drive vehicles and swarming tourists looking for sun, great beaches and a quaint atmosphere to enjoy a week or two - they find it all here on Ocracoke as we have!!!

The other day our new friends from Stormy (Dave and his buddy Rod) took us out onto the mud flats to go clamming - we spent the afternoon in waist-deep water hauling in clams with these long metal clamming rakes. Unfortunately there was no beach for Cassie and Godiva to play on so they made the most of several sand bars and got in some good exercise chasing the ball, dodging the waves and generally swimming around - too bad we couldn't teach them to hunt and dig for clams (Cassie we think would have been a natural!) We had a friendly competition going with Bob and by the end of a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon the contest was too close to call but we all wound up winners as we had more than enough clams for a great feast!!! Thanks so much guys for showing us a great new skill and for such a wonderful afternoon!!! Doug is intent on finding a clamming rake so I think you have created a monster!!

That night Stephanie was the chef and we dined on September Song on angel hair in clam sauce - now I don't even eat clams but I had tons of fun digging them up and the sauce Stephanie made was to die for even without eating any of the nasty little buggers (oops I mean delectable little tidbits!) We also had a whole pail of the big clams left over for Stephanie to make clam chowder later on - there is just something way cool about eating what you catch for dinner!! A key lime pie later and we were all ready to call it a night - that clamming is tough work!!

The next day we set out to find Cassie and Godiva a beach - we had seen a great sand bar beach on our way in the channel so off we went. Unfortunately it was fairly rough out on Pamlico Sound and when we got to the beach, we were bombarded by birds - something straight out of a Hitchcock movie!! Hundreds of very agitated terns and laughing gulls were screaming and dive bombing us - obviously we had stumbled on one of their nesting areas!!! We tried to at least go for a little walk although Stephanie had all she could do to keep the girls on their leashes - not the fun day of frolicking and chasing the ball the girls had had in mind!! Oh well - the pelicans didn't seem to care that we were there but not wanting to upset the fragile eco-balance of the sand bar, we soon shoved off in our dinghies to the resounding caws of the not quite yet mollified sea birds!

We were getting soaked on the way back while searching for a real beach for the dogs so we called it a day and headed back into the harbor. After such a strenuous workout we decided we needed sustenance so headed in to SmacNally's for burgers and beers - we sat outside on the wharf under the sun drying off and soaking in the local ambience. Life was good! After lunch, we met back up with September Song for some walking exploration of the town.

We trekked to the British Cemetery down a sandy lane lined with beautiful flowering plants and trees which gave off an unbelievably sweet aroma - Ocracoke seems a haven for artists and craftsmen and the lane leading to the cemetery was lined with craft stores and local artists' renderings!

The cemetery is dedicated to the British sailors that were killed on the HMT Bedfordshire, a boat on loan to the US for patrolling the coast during WWII which was sunk off of Ocracoke in May 1942 by a German U-boat. Only four bodies were recovered, two of which could be identified but the local coast guard maintains this cemetery in memory of those fallen British sailors!

Next it was on to the Ocracoke Lighthouse, which we can see from our anchorage in Silver Lake. It is a beautiful lighthouse and the second oldest in the US still in use today!! The light is 75 feet above sea level and can be seen 360 degrees from 14 miles out which is key given the reef system which surrounds the outer banks!! While we couldn't climb to the top of the lighthouse, the base was open and we could get a sense of how sturdily it had been built - 5 foot wide walls!!! Many a ship has been lost on the outer banks which are perennially stormy with heavy winds and seas to frustrate even weathered seamen!! Everyone we ever talked to warned us not to go outside of Cape Hatteras but to go on the inside via the ICW - words of wisdom that we followed and now we've seen with our own eyes as the winds seem to always be howling and the waves crashing down here!!!

The town of Ocracoke itself is a haven for artists and small town grocery and craft stores abound - some even have a sense of humor as this local general store shows on its outer wall (tee shirts with the slogan get your ass in here (for Albert Styron's Store) are plentiful!)

After so much walking in the heat, Doug and I had the need for adult libations so off we went to our favorite bar on the island Howard's for a pitcher of cold beer - refreshing!!

The next day we had set aside for a beach day - despite iffy weather we were not to be thwarted!!! I needed to stick my toes in the sand and see for myself what a #1 beach looks like - Ocracoke beach was rated the best beach in America in 2007!!!! We waited for it to clear a little in the morning as we got all of our stuff together which was a project in and of itself. The beach is a couple miles away from where we are anchored so we got out our bikes, some chairs that we could sling over our backs, towels, books, lotion and of course a cooler (can't leave home without that!!!) By the time we had stacked everything in our dinghy, it was questionable whether there was room for us, but we made it and soon we were off to the dinghy dock where we unloaded and set up our bikes (we have the kind that fold up for easier storage on the boat!!) The folks in Half Note didn't look much better - they were finally gypsies too!! Soon enough we were on land, loaded down but ready to head out to the beach!!!

The beach was a bit of a culture shock to this girl from Maine where the beaches (at least in Kennebunk Beach) are pristine with nary even a hotdog stand or port-o-potty on them. Given that the beach is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, I guess I was expecting a long strand of white sand beach with sandpipers and gulls being the only adornments other than sun-worshipping, oil tanned vacationers - what greeted us was a wall of four wheel drive vehicles backed up to the water with tents, coolers and grills extending down from their flatbeds as if we had stepped out into a Buffet tailgate party except that there was the ocean with its crashing waves less than 10 feet away - what???? But I guess that's how it is done down here - everyone in a jeep or pick'em up truck just wheels it down on the beach, parks and sets up a tailgate party and that's a day at the beach!! Well, I guess it's easier than lugging all your beach gear across your shoulders or on your back, but it was a very strange sight!!!

Not to be outdone, we scoped out our section of beach, set up our beach chairs and towels and made a day of it - and we had a great time!!

Bob found a kite up in the beach grass which he rescued virtually intact so he and Stephanie (a former legendary kite flyer in her youth) had the thing up and flying in no time (it only crashed a couple times sending people including Doug scurrying in all directions - after all it was one of the cheap plastic ones)!! We played in the huge waves along with the surfers and boogie boarders - I had unfortunately neglected to bring my boogie board because after all how was I going to carry it on my bike with everything else??? Well I can tell you, tomorrow we're coming back and I'm bringing it no matter what (the only thing I won't leave at home is the cooler but who needs a chair when you can be boogie boarding?) The current was pretty impressive and combined with the waves made for a real fun afternoon in the water - although I must confess after about half an hour, it was pretty exhausting and I'd swallowed enough seawater to grow gills!! But nothing the sun and a cold frosty beer couldn't cure and before long we were back playing in the water!!! Tomorrow - we boogie board!!!

The ride back to the boats took us right past Howard's so a quick stop for a burger and a pitcher seemed inevitable - we are doing the battle of the burgers at all the local funky bars and so far, Howard's is in the lead!! Guess we'll have to see if anyone can compare - right now, I'm not so sure!! This morning the sky is once again looking less than sunny, so we're hanging out waiting for it to blow over once again (as we know it will) before setting off for the beach once again! Good enough time as any to catch up on the blog and some boat chores.....

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