Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Little History and Laughter Never Hurt Anyone

Have you ever woken up in the morning when your sides just ache from having laughed too much the night before?? - if so, now you know how I feel right now!! I'm sitting at the Manteo Waterfront Marina on Roanoke Island (famous for the Lost Colony of Roanoke - the first settlement in the new world) watching the rain come down as the pelicans ride by on the gentle tide and I can't help laughing just remembering last night which we spent on our new friends Penny and Dave Stormont's boat Stormy...more later.

The other day we left Ocracoke and headed up to the quaint little town of Manteo on Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina - we had some steerage problems right out of Ocracoke which we (that's the royal we by the way - it was all Doug!) managed to fix while underway - he's turning into a real gearhead (with a huge, lush ponytail I might add which has become quite the conversation piece as he hasn't cut his hair in nearly two years!!) We settled in for a quiet steam across Pamlico Sound as it was a really calm day - the Pamlico because of how shallow it is can become very nasty on a windy day but we had a beautiful weather window. All we saw for miles and miles were shrimp boats - tons of them!!! Our radar screen looked like it had the measles there were so many dots!!
The Shrimp Boats on the Radar Screen
A Shrimp Boat Dragging His Net
Two Shrimp Boats, One with Net in the Water
Our mouths were watering just thinking of all that fresh shrimp....think and you shall receive as you will later see!! Besides the shrimpers there was nothing out there but flocks of pelicans who kept buzzing our boat in formation - they really are cool birds when you watch them for awhile. Thus lulled into a false sense of security, about 6 hours into the trip we heard a loud thud as the boat kind of shivered - even I know that can't be good!!!! We hit what we think was a submerged oyster bed - huh??? September Song had just radioed us to warn of some shallow water - too late! We of course immediately came to all stops and soon the depth gauge was dropping again - from what we could tell, no harm, no foul as we seemed to be OK once we picked up steam again. Just keeping us on our toes I guess - we'll keep our fingers crossed there is no hidden damage.

We pulled into Manteo's waterfront marina that afternoon and were greeted by our friends' boat Stormy (we had met them this past week in Ocracoke and gone clamming one afternoon) which was alongside one of the t-head docks as well as pirate ships,
Sea Gypsy, the Local Pirate Ship
parasail boats
The Smiley Face Parasail
and the Elizabeth II, a 69 foot replica of a 16th century English merchant ship, the Elizabeth, one of seven of Sir Walter Raleigh's ships in his 1585 expedition to establish England's first colony in the new world. Manteo, Roanoke Island on which it sits, and the surrounding areas just teem with history and we want to soak it all in!!
The Elizabeth II
But that first night all we wanted to do was scope out the town and maybe find a place for an adult libation and a few appetizers - the true test of a good town after all!!! Along the waterfront which sports a wonderful little boardwalk, we found plaques commemorating Manteo, an indian that befriended Sir Walter Raleigh's colony, and Virginia Dare, who was the first born English person in America in 1587 but who then vanished with the rest of the Lost Colony. The town itself is a fascinating collection of little shops, restaurants, an old family run theater (which unfortunately is not showing the 6th Harry Potter movie - guess we'll just have to wait), a maritime museum and quirky homes - it is simply charming! After our ten minute walk through downtown (for that is all it really takes to scratch the surface), we hunted down the local pub, Poor Richard's Sandwich Shop, and took our cold beers out onto the back deck overlooking the harbor!! The wharf and boardwalk were alive with families having picnics, couples strolling hand in hand and the requisite long haired surf and pirate dudes off the parasail, pirate and dolphin watch boats (we fit right in with our long hair, tattoos and puka beads from the Bahamas!!!)

In search of food, we found Ortega'z Grill which is a great little place with paella and mexican food - just what the doctor ordered as we relaxed over cold beers, glasses of wine and homemade chips and salsa - YUM!! So far the only real flaw I have found in Manteo is that you can only buy beer and wine - no real drinks (sorry Bob that means no Captain and cokes for you!) even in restaurants - now I ask you what is up with that????? I'm sure there is a rationale but for the life of me, I can't figure it out!!

Yesterday we set out in our friend Dave's car - he was wonderful enough to let us borrow it for the day while he relaxed after a night of shrimping out in the Sound - thanks tons Dave!!! Not to waste a minute of our precious time with a car, we headed out in the morning for Nags Head and the obligatory stop at West Marine - we had a fender that had seen better days (feel free to read into this that it had seen one particularly tough dock in lots of current and wind towards the beginning of our trip - but heh that's what they are there for!!) and Bob had told us that the particular company replaces such fenders without question. Cool - the guy at West Marine sure enough just told us to go get another comparable one off the rack and we were good to go!!! Of course that wasn't all we needed, but....

Next it was on to the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, which was formerly part of the town of Kitty Hawk, which commemorates the first manned, mechanized flight. Can I tell you how cool this place is - I truly had goosebumps just hearing about it and walking around!!! Flight is something we all so take for granted nowadays but back then it was such a novel concept!! We first went into the visitor center, walked through the displays and heard a talk by one of the local volunteers - we got to see replicas of the 1902 glider that was the final experiment for the brothers before designing and building their 1903 flyer, the original of which now sits in the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
The 1902 Glider
The 1903 Flyer
It amazes me how two brothers from Dayton, Ohio with no formal engineering training (in fact Wilbur Wright never finished high school since he had created his own printing press and didn't have the time for school!) could not only conceive of mechanized flight but make it a reality. As we learned though, it didn't come easy to the the brothers - few things worthwhile I guess ever do. Both were fascinated by the concept of flight from an early age and while running a bicycle shop six days a week, they began to study aeronautics on the side...for fun! For four years the brothers studied and experimented first with kites and then gliders, even using a wind tunnel to determine the appropriate shape of the wing foils - for several summers/falls they moved to a camp at Kill Devil Hills, a spot they had chosen because of its consistent above 15 knot winds and the large expanses of soft sand (the brothers knew what they were attempting was dangerous and thus wanted a soft place to land for their numerous experiments - in fact over the course of their endeavour, they made over 1000 rides on their various gliders as they continuously modified their designs!!) Finally on December 17, 1903, after flipping a coin to see who would go first, Orville Wright positioned himself in the flyer and actually flew 120 feet for 12 seconds - it was the very first time a manned, heavier than air machine had left the ground of its own power, flown forward under control and then landed on a point as high as it had taken off from - man had achieved flight and the rest so they say is history - 60 plus years later, we put a man on the moon!!!! But the Wright Brothers were not done that fateful December day - Wilbur and Orville made three more flights, each one successively longer until Wilbur soared 852 feet and was aloft for 59 seconds on the fourth and final attempt (after that a huge gust of wind toppled the flyer rendering it no longer usable) - but they had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams and man would never again be earth-bound!!

The Memorial is a fantastic place that I encourage everyone to make a point of seeing if you are down this way - a large boulder commemorates the point of lift off for each of the flights
The Boulder Noting the Starting Point of All Four Flights on December 17, 1903
and then a marker stands at the site of the end of each of the four flights.
Three of the Landing Markers Noting the Landings for the First Three Flights
It is really poignant walking the length of the flight path from the boulder to the fourth marker - you get a sense of how far Wilbur really traveled and how magnificent a feat it is that the brothers accomplished against very long odds and after many, many disappointments.
Bob and Stephanie Walking the Path of the First Flight
I for one am so very happy they persevered!! A large monument shaped like an air foil sits atop a large hill which now is completely planted over with grass and flowers but which once was a shifting sand dune and the reason the brothers had chosen Kill Devil Hills/Kitty Hawk as the sight of their experiments in the first place.
The Memorial on Top of the Dune
Close-up of the Memorial
In fact we learned it took longer for the engineers to stabilize the sand dune than for the builders to erect the monument!! From the top of the hill where the monument sits you can look out and see the flight markers in one direction and in another, more of the sand dune hills that mark the region - if you close your eyes, you can just picture what the place must have looked like back then with shifting sand dunes stretching uninterrupted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pamlico Sound!!!
The View of the Area Where the First Flights Took Place
Everybody had their picture taken with Wilbur who bears an amazing resemblance to James Taylor I must say (rubbing his statue's nose brings good luck!! - the statue of Orville was being monopolized by one fairly large family!)
Bob and Wibur
Doug and Wilbur
Also on the grounds is a replica of the Wright Brothers camp and workshop where they lived and worked during the many months of their Kitty Hawk experiments, several hangars that house an aviation museum chronicling the history from that first flight by the Wright brothers to Neal Armstrong's walk on the moon to NASA's activities today, and a metal recreation of the Wright's 1903 glider where you can climb up into the place where Orville first laid on that fateful flight and picture yourself first in flight!!!!
The Replica of the 1903 Flyer with Kids Climbing on It

After such an amazing morning/afternoon, we needed sustenance and found a great little pizza joint in Nags Head. We of course had to scope out the beach on the way back - Nags Head is known for its beautiful, long beach and we were not disappointed - in fact we were inspired!!! We stopped at one of the several thousand (I'm really not kidding!) beach stores along the main drag in Nag's Head and Bob and Doug picked up their own boogy boards (of course they had to get the higher end, bigger, super dooper, coated bottom ones all in an attempt to give themselves an advantage in the upcoming boogy board-off!!!) As if that will help - bring on the waves!! On the way back to the boats, we saw the coolest sight - hang gliders shooting out off the side of a massive sand dune - so of course we had to go investigate. It was awesome - you head up to the top of a very large dune and just step off with a glider out into the fresh breeze that consistently blows around here!! While we were rapidly running out of time for that day, we definitely all want to give this a try before we head on!!

We got back to the boats after a wonderful day only to have Dave give us each several bags of fresh shrimp that he had caught the night before out on the Sound - very cool - thanks yet again Dave!! But wait - the evening and Dave's hospitality had just begun. At 6:00 pm we descended on Stormy where we finally got to meet his amazing wife of 34 years Penny (they have known each other since they were 2 and really still like each other!!!) - she is every bit as warm, fun and generous as Dave!! We knew we were in for an evening of great food, great friends (new and old as several of Dave and Penny's friends - let's see if I can get this right Diane and Don, and Betty and Butch joined us for the evening of frivolity) and lots of laughs. In fact, I'm not sure I have laughed that much ever - and that's saying something as we live a pretty fun life!! We had such a great time and an outsider looking in the window would have sworn that we had all known each other for 20 years or so - by the end of the evening (although it really didn't take a ton of convincing) Penny and Dave had committed to going to the Exumas next winter on Stormy (remember the attorney heard it so it must be so!) Although dinner in town had been planned, by 10:00 pm that idea was out the window and the party still wasn't breaking up - we had a nervous moment when there was a knock on the boat - we thought we might have been too loud for the rest of the fairly mellow fun is that at our age? But it was only after eating Dave and Penny out of house and home (or boat) that we all finally headed back to our boats - poor Betty had an 8:00 meeting this morning - ouch!! Meeting such wonderful people and enjoying a great night like we did last night is one of the parts of this cruising life that is so unbelievable - we are truly lucky to have such an opportunity and can't wait to see these guys out on the water again, hopefully in the Exumas next time!!! Thank you both for such a wonderful evening and all your generous hospitality - we look forward to checking out the massage table....oops, better leave that one alone...... Note that these pictures were taken early in the evening - by agreement of all parties no pictures taken later in the night are allowed on blogs, uTube or any other public forums to protect the not so innocent!!!
From Left: Don, Penny, Dave, Butch, and Diane
Doug Chatting with Betty, a lifelong resident of Manteo, with Bob

Today once the weather breaks we plan on exploring something...we just don't know what yet! There is so much to do in this town and on this island and while it doesn't look like a beach day, there is plenty of stuff to keep us busy - who knows we may even learn something!!!

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