Watching the Water: The Outer Banks in May

June 26, 2007 at 9:20 am | Posted in Travels | Leave a comment

I went to the Outer Banks the first week in May and took my laptop along.  On Tuesday night I was at the Driftwood Motel (next to the Cedar Island Ferry Terminal).  The area has no cell phone service, much less internet access, and I had to be up at 6:00 am for a modest breakfast so I could be in line for the ferry at 6:30.  For some reason I woke up early.  So …open up the laptop (sans mouse) and write an email.  The rest of this is based on that email, and others that followed.

[Early Wednesday Morning]

Things are a bit Spartan at the Driftwood Motel.  The 12 x 18 room is paneled in the original cinder block, with a window and a door worthy of a medieval fortress.  There’s a king-size bed, and the other furniture  (a dresser, two bed-tables, and a chair) is imitation rattan.  The TV is on the dresser, and to my surprise they have cable, so I was able to watch Keith Olbermann last night.  (He excoriated Bush:  it was the fourth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.)  There’s a reading lamp by the bed, so I sat on the bed with my laptop… in my lap!

I thought the motel restaurant would be open for dinner, but it’s only open Thursday through Sunday, so I drove back down the road a couple of miles to a very small Mom & Pop store and got an awful, pre-made, ham and cheese sandwich on white bread.  No mayo, no butter, no mustard, no lettuce, and no tomato.  For a drink I got a bottle of  V8 Splash Berry Blend that was even worse than the sandwich.

But before you cry for me you should know that I stopped at The Ice House in Morehead City at about 5:00 pm and had a bowl of their wonderful clam chowder.  To my astonishment, they remembered me from my March visit!

[Wednesday Afternoon]

I was sitting on the upper deck of the Cedar Island – Ocracoke ferry this morning, and I was thinking that I’m really lucky.  It was sunny and warm, with 15 knots. of wind on our quarter.  There were whitecaps and just enough of a sea to make the boat roll easily through the swells at about 10 knots, so there were only a couple of knots of relative wind.  I had my NC Ferry System mug of coffee, the air smelled good, and all I had to do was enjoy the ride.  If it’s stormy on the way back, I thought, it will be perfect.

As we approached the first channel markers outside of Ocracoke, the engines slowed to idle, then reversed, and we swung into the wind.  Somebody asked me what was happening (why he thought I would know escapes me) and I said that the skipper had forgotten his cigarettes and we had to go back for them.  But it turns out to have been nothing so dire:  they had merely lost steering, and two of the crew were working on it.  Fifteen minutes later they had fixed it, and we came on into Ocracoke.

There’s another ferry ride between Ocracoke and Hatteras.  I had to wait about fifteen minutes before boarding the ferry, and the 40-minute free ride was as pleasant as the other one, with no steering or other problems.  Once on Hatteras I headed for Kill Devil Hills without (this time) stopping at the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.  I got to my hotel, checked in and then went to the Jolly Roger, where I had lunch:  eggs, toast, and scrapple.  Oh, I love scrapple!

My room has a balcony, and  I could see the ocean (as blue as the Mediterranean) a hundred yards away from across the street.  I couldn’t see the beach, but I could see a vast expanse of water, and before dinner I went down to the beach and spent a few minutes supervising the surf, even though the waves are probably six inches from crest to base.  Salt water is good for my soul.

[Thursday]

I had dinner Wednesday at The Windmill Point restaurant.  The restaurant has a huge collection of memorabilia from the USS United States, and its back yard looks out over Pamlico Sound.  I sat in a window and enjoyed the view, which is somewhat restricted by a full-size windmill (and a number of very realistic water fowl sculptures).  There were a number of people para-sailing (surfboards pulled by a parachute), and it was interesting to watch.  I don’t have the foggiest idea how they do it, but it must take a lot of skill.

I had breast of duck with a port wine raspberry sauce for dinner, following a cup of pretty good New England clam chowder.  (Lots of clams, but a bit watery and with too much sherry.)  I washed dinner down with a glass of Sterling Merlot, a very good merlot that didn’t go with the sauce on the duck.  I should have had the Riesling.

And I missed Keith Olbermann. <sigh>

Thursday morning I went out to supervise the surf.  The weather had changed completely:  cloudy, in the low 60s, with a brisk Easterly wind.  The surf was up, and in serious need of supervision.  The beach is short and steep (the result of winter storms?); the sea was an absolutely beautiful grey-green, and lumpy.  The wind was in my face, the world smelled good, and the surf crashed and hissed on the shore.

Later on I checked out the pavilion at the Wright Brothers Memorial.  It has a bunch of exhibits left over from the 100 years of flight celebration.  Some were about the progress aviation has made, some were about NASA (Did you know that the joystick is a spin-off from the space program?), and some were about the Outer Banks circa 1903.  There was nothing much on the Outer Banks in those days except some very poor fishing villages and Coast Guard lifeboat stations.  The prosperity came with the tourists a few years later.

After lunch I went back to the beach (in two different places, actually) and supervised the surf some more before holding a staff meeting.  It’s a good thing, too:  the surf really needed additional supervision.  After the staff meeting I noticed that the waves had grown even bigger and had changed direction, because the wind had shifted toward the north.  So I went back to supervise some more. <sigh>  My second career (as a Surf Supervisor) is so demanding!

The surf was higher and wilder than it had been:  does this mean that I’m a failure?  NO!  I like it that way!  It crashes on the beach, and waves run into each other, making all sorts of interesting lumps and patterns, as well as lovely crashing, booming, hissing noises.  Even the seagulls enjoy it.  I saw several of them playing in the surf like kids, running after retreating waves, then running away from newly arriving waves.  Yup, running.  Not flying, running.

I dined at the Prime Only.  Superb cream of asparagus soup.  A 6-oz. filet mignon done to perfection, and easily cut with the butter knife that is the only knife they offer.  And a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finally, coffee and crème brûlée.  The waiter did the burning with a hand-held blowtorch straight from Home Depot but wrapped in a napkin: I told him he could easily have a second career.

After dinner I watched the Republican Presidential Candidates debate and concluded that our next President is almost certainly going to be a Democrat.

[Saturday]

Friday was a travel day.  I drove past endless (and endlessly beautiful) sand dunes.  On the Hatteras – Ocracoke ferry I met a retired orthopedic surgeon who used to operate in Lumberton once a month 40 years ago.  He was surprised to learn that the names “Lumberton,” and “Lumber River” have nothing to do with Lumbee Indians.  The river is so named because they used to float logs down it; the town is named after the river.  I have no idea where “Lumbee” comes from.  Luckily, I was able to enjoy the wind and the sea while holding a desultory conversation with the guy, so enjoyed the ride.

Had an early lunch at the Pony Island restaurant in Ocracoke:  eggs, grits, toast, and corned beef hash!  I love the stuff; it’s the only thing in the world I use ketchup on.  It was only 10:00 and they don’t serve lunch until eleven.

The Ocracoke-Cedar Island ferry was jammed.  I headed for the upper deck (the “sun deck” so I could find a good spot in the lee of the deckhouse and watch the water.  Unfortunately, so did approximately 17,000 yard apes on a school trip.  Most were girls; all were shrill.  I soon retired to the main deck where I was lucky enough to find a sheltered spot to enjoy the sea and the fresh air, and drink my coffee.  Again, the wind was on our quarter, having changed direction from Westerly to Easterly, and it was stormy.  Whitecaps all over, sea birds diving into the wake:  exactly what I wanted.

Life is good!

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