(Near) Surf City (ICW Mile 267)

Melvyn Brown
Tue 30 Nov 2010 19:37

34:23.2N 77:38.3


On Sunday we drove to Bogue Banks, one of several islands forming the Outer Banks of the Crystal Coast.  I don’t know what we expected to see….but what we didn’t see was the sea.  All that prime real estate on the water’s edge, sometimes on a single plot, sometimes a little cul-de-sac with three or four properties back from the water’s edge, meant there wasn’t a view for those driving the 20+ mile main road along the length of the island.  I did count half a dozen or so Public Access To Beach signs and it is there you have to head if you want to see the Atlantic Ocean.  We drove the entire length, half expecting “something”….but there was nothing.  Lots of (presumably) holiday properties – the 2008 census shows just 1,815 people in Atlantic Beach – a great many of them with a For Sale sign outside - and the occasional shopping precinct/mall with fast food outlets and stores selling surf boards and loud shirts.


There is an aquarium which we visited.  One of the exhibits was fish found on wrecks.  There was a map of the Crystal Coast with one continuous list of names, apparently there are over 2,000 including wrecks going back to the War of Independence and ships sunk by German submarines in WWII.  There was a pool of Horseshoe Crabs, which look the same as they did when they were fossilised 450 million years ago.  The staff member was telling us they are not in fact crabs, but related to spiders and with that she turned one over and yuk!  Think flat tarantula with a shell.

They can’t be eaten but fishermen used to catch them in their thousands to use as bait and as a result they were over-harvested.  Their saving grace was the fact they don’t have iron in their blood, but copper and since the 1970s their blood has been used to test whether medicines are safe for humans (rabbits were used prior to this but the testing was a lot slower).  Wikipedia would have you believe a sample of blood is taken and then the crab is ‘returned to the water’.


Having driven the length of the island, we returned to one of the Public Access car parks and walked along the beach so I could look for shells.  I picked up a few, but you have to be really lucky to find them unbroken.  We then went to the very north of the island to Fort Macon (battle 1832) and walked along the beach.  The wind had dropped overnight and the day was very pleasant.  We watched the wading birds, you didn’t need binoculars, they are obviously so used to people they were at your feet.  There was a little one which looked like a wind-up toy, its legs were a blur as it dodged the waves.  We watched the pelicans dive after fish, there is nothing particularly streamlined or sophisticated about their dive, they create quite a splash and you could be forgiven for thinking it was a belly-flop.


We left Beaufort on Monday and retraced our steps sailing on the other side of the Bogue Banks.  The previous day’s trip the length of the island by car, which didn’t even register at the time, took us four hours motoring(!!).  These waterways we are now travelling consist any number of inlets, creeks and sounds in which there are lots of little islands, sandbanks and reed beds, some of which are only visible at low tide.  Imagine a lava lamp with globules of various shapes and sizes, some of them joining up, with no discernable pattern or logic – that’s what the map I am following looks like.  Threading its way through the hundreds of globules is a single shipping channel, supposedly dredged to a minimum of 6ft, sometimes a matter of a few yards wide and liable to silting.  Sailing the ICW is not the soft option.  Sometimes the waterway is a couple of hundred yards wide and it seems impossible that a few feet one way or the other could result in going aground but then you notice someone shrimping, standing up to their waist in water, a matter of thirty yards away.


I did buy a couple of walkie-talkies whilst in Beaufort which I thought might overcome the problem of instructions being shouted from the front to the back (with Melv’s deaf side being an additional factor) and indeed it did help because I was able to sit and watch the navigation screen and give instructions along the lines of “left….left….left a bit more” to Melv on deck.


There is a dearth of marinas or anchorage sites on this stretch of the ICW – a fact which the guide books fail to address, referring to Beaufort and Morehead City and then picking up the story in Wilmington, conveniently overlooking the fact there is 70+ miles between the two.  We chose one of the few anchorages which happened to be Browns Creek.  This Creek led out into the Atlantic and so we slept with the sound of the Atlantic waves in the background.  This morning we watched the sun rise and the porpoises chase the fish in the Creek.  Unfortunately we were a bit slow to get going and it was low(ish) tide.  Melv was obliged to gingerly zig-zag out of the Creek, desperate to find sufficient depth to avoid going aground, in order to rejoin the ICW channel.  (I did my Kate Winslett act at the bow and I’m embarrassed to admit the redistribution of weight did seem to help!)  No thermals needed today!  The temperature quickly rose to 70 degrees.


We have stopped at a Marina this evening and may stay an extra night as there is ‘60% change of precipitation’ tonight and the possibility of tornadoes(!) and more rain forecast for tomorrow.  It’s not very much fun sailing Zarafina in the rain as there is no protection from the elements and (as described above) there is absolutely no chance of any respite from the need to be at the helm and constantly checking position/depth.