Why Visit a Boat Graveyard?
When you live on a sailboat, it just makes sense to avoid any place claiming to be the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. The Outer Banks of North Carolina are well-known to boaters for fierce weather, strong winds, rocky outcroppings and shifting sandbanks. Over 5,000 ships have been lost along this 130-mile stretch of barrier islands, so most cruisers give it a pass. That’s why we never considered taking Snowcat to the Outer Banks until some fellow cruisers convinced us to give them a try.
We visited North Carolina’s Outer Banks in May before their tourist season got into full swing and loved it. We waited for a window of calm weather and headed out to the islands to explore the lighthouses, beaches, history and amazing seafood of North Carolina’s barrier islands.
Ocracoke Island - a Remote and Special Get-away
From Oriental, N.C, we navigated Snowcat through the shallow waters of the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island. The most isolated of the islands, the primary way for visitors to arrive on Ocracoke is by ferry. Cruisers on their own boats can stay at the National Park Service docks near the ferry terminal or the Anchorage Marina where we docked Snowcat. There is also limited space for anchoring in the harbor.
While visiting Ocracoke, we decided to rent bikes (although many people rent golf carts) to explore the outer reaches of the island. At the Ocracoke Preservation Society, we got a glimpse of the islands fishing heritage, heard stories of Blackbeard’s local hideout and saw the devastation of past hurricanes. Famously, the island used to be so isolated that the locals had their own island brogue dialect.
We enjoyed visiting the Ocracoke Lighthouse and talking with competitive fishermen along the beach. There were opportunities to buy seafood right off the boats from the fishermen or try some of the fabulous restaurants in town. We recommend Ocracoke Island as a beach get-away whether you arrive by ferry or your own boat.
Roanoke Island Treasures
Heading north along the leeward side of the Outer Banks we navigated our way to Roanoke Island. We docked Snowcat at the Mateo Waterfront Marina in the heart of the sweet town of Manteo. It was good to be on a catamaran because the bay was shallow and few deeper-hulled boats ventured in.
We were delighted to discover that downtown Manteo had a family-owned cinema that offered first-run movies. The elderly couple that owns the Pioneer Theatre popped the popcorn and took the tickets, and we got an evening out for $7/person. I’m not sure that we would have picked Avengers:Endgame ourselves…but heck, it was the only film in town.
Within walking distance from Snowcat’s berth, we could explore the Roanoke Island Festival Park. This 25-acre historic park has costumed interpreters that treat visitors to glimpse of life in the early settlements. The Elizabeth II, a life-sized reproduction of a merchant ship from 1585, sat across from our boat and I jumped every time they shot the cannons off for a tour group.
Highlights of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
While docked in Manteo, we rented a car and explored more of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Driving north we stopped in Kill Devil Hills at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and were reminded of the passion and risk that were a part of the Wright Brother's pursuit of flight.
I could go on and on about the wonders of the Outer Banks. If your from the East Coast you most likely know all about the OBX (their shorthand for the Outer Banks.) If you haven't visited the Outer Banks, give it a try and make sure to check out some of these other highlights.