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The Legend of Blackbeard the Pirate

The Legend of Blackbeard the Pirate

Photo: History.com

A popular vacation destination that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to its pristine stretches of shoreline each summer, the Outer Banks of North Carolina is home to a wealth of historical attractions. From the site where the Wright Brothers made the first successful powered flight on Dec. 17, 1903, to the place where some of the first English settlers vanished from Roanoke Island without a trace, the region has witnessed the happenings of an assortment of events that have since made their way onto the pages of history books. But when it comes to the people that put the beaches of these barrier islands onto the map centuries ago, few are more well-known than the infamous pirate by the name of Blackbeard.

Photo: ThoughtCo.com

Blackbeard the pirate—whose given name was reportedly Edward Teach—was born in Bristol, England, in 1680. Like the majority of pirates of his time—who sought to earn their fortunes and ultimately return home without soiling their family name—relatively little information is known about Blackbeard’s upbringing. It is believed by historians, however, that his first foray into piracy likely took place around the 1714 conclusion of Queen Anne’s War, during which Edward Teach served as a privateer aboard ships sailing out of Jamaica. When the war was over, Teach relocated his base of operations from Jamaica to the island of New Providence in the Bahamas, where he served an apprenticeship under Captain Benjamin Hornigold—the man who founded the pirate republic in the Bahamas.

Photo: Queen Anne’s Revenge Project

With one of the most influential pirates in history as his mentor, Edward Teach—by now referring to himself as Blackbeard in honor of the long, black beard he often wore in tiny braids secured by thin ribbons of various colors—quickly learned the ins and outs of piracy. The pair of pirates enjoyed considerable success on the high seas, commandeering many large merchant vessels sailing through the shipping lanes of the Caribbean and ruthlessly pillaging to acquire the goods onboard. Although Blackbeard and Hornigold made a top-notch team, Hornigold soon deemed the fortune he had amassed from plundering sufficient and retired from piracy in 1718. With Hornigold giving up piracy to become a planter on the island of New Providence, Blackbeard took the skills he had learned during his apprenticeship set out on his own.

Photo: Pinterest

His first order of business was to convert the Concord—a large French ship that he and Hornigold had captured together—into a vessel better suited for piracy. He mounted 40 guns onboard the ship and renamed her the Queen Anne’s Revenge. With a crew of 300 men, some of whom had served as crew aboard the Concord before it was commandeered by Hornigold and Blackbeard, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was ready to set sail in search of merchant ships whose booty could be plundered. According to historical accounts of Blackbeard’s escapades during the early 1700s, the vast majority of crews whose ships were overtaken by the ferocious pirate surrendered without a fight.    

Photo: Pinterest

By the late spring of 1718, Blackbeard’s piracy career had reached soaring new heights. He was the proud commander of at least a half dozen pirate ships, which at one time blockaded the harbor in Charleston, South Carolina, looting every vessel that sailed in and out of the entrance to one of the busiest ports in the southeastern United States. Following the success of the blockade, Blackbeard and a portion of his flotilla sailed further north to present-day Beaufort Inlet in North Carolina, and later to Ocracoke Inlet on the Outer Banks. In the summer of 1718, Blackbeard and about 20 members of his crew sailed through the Ocracoke Inlet and into the Pamlico Sound, heading for the nearby town of Bath, North Carolina. Sensing that the golden age of piracy was coming to a close soon, Blackbeard made his home in the tiny town on the Pamlico River and married his 14th wife, the daughter of a local planter.

Blackbeard the Pirate’s signature pirate flag.

Unable to resist the lure of the lucrative career of piracy for long, Blackbeard eventually set sail once again and continued to loot vessels and bring the stolen goods back to Bath. The pirate frequently anchored his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, in Ocracoke Inlet, which served as the spot where the most of the ocean-bound vessels from mainland settlements had to pass through in order to reach the open water. Despite the number of ships Blackbeard had such easy access to in and around Ocracoke Inlet, his crew on the Outer Banks was significantly smaller than it had been in years past—leaving him vulnerable to an attack by those who sought to rid the barrier islands of piracy forever.

Photo: Ekabinsha.org

Having grown frustrated with the infamous pirate and his frequent—and typically successful—attempts to pillage their vessels, the people of North Carolina sought the help Alexander Spotswood, the governor of Virginia. Gov. Spotswood compiled a crew of British naval officers and sent them under the leadership of Lieutenant Robert Maynard to Ocracoke Island in search of Blackbeard. At dawn on Nov. 22, 1718, Blackbeard and his crew were on the receiving end of a ferocious attack by the British sailors.

According to reports, Blackbeard suffered 25 wounds—five of which were gunshot wounds—before finally succumbing to his injuries. To claim the bounty on his head and prove to the governor he had indeed slaughtered one of the most notorious pirates to ever sail the seven seas, Maynard beheaded Blackbeard and displayed the pirate’s head on the bow of the ship as it sailed back to Virginia—a sign to all who witnessed it that the age of piracy in the region had finally come to an end.    

 

 

 

Explore H2OBX: The Outer Banks’ New Waterpark

Photo: WFMY

If you’re planning a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this summer and searching for a unique activity that provides fun for the entire family, look no further than H2OBX, a brand-new waterpark located just across the bridge from Kitty Hawk and Southern Shores in neighboring Currituck County.

Photo: Aquatic Development Group

Conveniently located right off Caratoke Highway in Powells Point, North Carolina, H2OBX is situated directly along the route that tens of thousands of visitors take to reach the barrier island paradise for a weeklong vacation. Read on to find out what you can expect to find when you visit this one-of-a-kind Outer Banks attraction this season.

Photo: H2OBX

Located at 8526 Caratoke Highway, the $46 million-dollar H2OBX waterpark held its grand opening event on June 22. Perfect for days when the red flags are flying and the surf is too rough to get in the ocean, H2OBX boasts an assortment of adventures for kids and adults alike. The waterpark features more than 30 rides, slides and themed attractions, as well as a lazy river, wave pool, lagoon, and 50 private cabanas where you can kick back and relax in resort-like style.

Photo: WAVY

If you’re in the mood for a thrill ride, take the “Paradise Plunge.” This nine-story slide allows riders to climb into a launch capsule which will then be dropped free-fall-style from 90 feet in the air before launching into a 360-degree loop. Sound a little too exciting for you? Take the thrill meter down just a notch or two with a ride on the Rip Tide. The 50-foot-tall tube slide takes riders through a series of twists, turns and steep drop-offs before they reach a 35-foot wall that boomerangs them back and forth.

Photo: H2OBX (Paradise Plunge)

Looking for something a little more family friendly that won’t freak out riders with a fear of heights of sudden, steep drops from the sky? H2OBX features plenty of rides that are perfect for families and young children. Check out the Queen Anne’s Revenge—a ride named after the ship sailed by the legendary Outer Banks pirate Blackbeard in the early 1700s—or sail into Calico Jack’s Cove, a wet ‘n’ wild playground designed for kids of all ages. Children too scared to brave the waves of the Atlantic Ocean can get a similar and safer experience at H2OBX’s Twin Tides Family Wave Beach, a dual-entry pool filled with gently rolling waves.

Photo: H2OBX (Flowrider)
Photo: H2OBX (Lazy River)

If you’re a surfer searching for waves on a day when the ocean isn’t offering what you need, head to H2OBX’s Flowrider, which offers endless waves perfect for surfing or boogie boarding. After a long day of surfing the waves or embarking on one of the dozens of adrenaline-inducing ride, lay back and soak up the sun on a tube ride through the gently flowing waters of the adventure river. This 1,000-foot-long journey takes tubers on a relaxed ride that features a series of waterfalls, geysers and bubbling waters—an adventure not to be missed on your trip to H2OBX waterpark, which offers something for everyone to enjoy on your next Outer Banks vacation.

Shelly Island: A New Island Forms on the Outer Banks

Photo by Chad Koczera

When it comes to vacation destinations, beach lovers will be hard-pressed to find a better spot to soak up the sun, surf and sand than the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Stretching nearly 200 miles from Carova Beach to Ocracoke Island, the Outer Banks comprises barrier islands composed of constantly shifting shoals and sandbars. Earlier this year, a brand-new island emerged off the coast of Cape Point on Hatteras Island—one of the most dynamic regions along the entire Outer Banks. Named Shelly Island for the abundance of seashells visitors to this recently exposed sandbar encountered as they strolled its shores, the new island has started to make waves among Outer Banks locals and vacationers alike.

Photo: Raleigh News & Observer

The story of Shelly Island begins in April, when a thin strip of sand began to become visible just off the southern shoreline of Cape Point. Because this area is the spot where the Gulfstream and the Labrador Current converge, Cape Point is no stranger to sudden changes in the hidden shoals that lie beneath the shallow salty water. Marking the southernmost point of the Graveyard of the Atlantic, the waters off Cape Hatteras National Seashore are sprinkled with the wreckage of thousands of sunken ships that ran aground on the treacherous shoals over the course of the past several centuries.

Photo: CBS News

While most sandbars that become exposed during constantly changing conditions around Cape Point are quickly covered again in just a few days or weeks, Shelly Island continued to grow larger and larger as spring turned into summer. Noticing the rapid expansion of the new island off the coast—and just how close it was to Cape Point—Outer Banks beachgoers began to make the journey through the relatively shallow waters that extend between the two islands via kayaks and standup paddleboards. Those brave enough to take on the strong and often dangerous currents that sweep along the shoreline of Cape Hatteras swam or waded to the new island to scope it out for themselves.

Photo: WCNC

What was found on the mile-long island caused a young beachgoer to nickname the sandbar Shelly Island—and the name stuck. As word spread of the hundreds of shells that litter this island that once sat deep beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, adventurous shelling enthusiasts showed up by the dozens to stroll the beach and add items to their collections. But seashells weren’t the only notable finds on Shelly Island. According to National Geographic, the surf has also washed a variety of other interesting objects onto the beach, including whale bones and shards of centuries-old shipwrecks.

Photo by Chad Koczera

From fishermen to history buffs to shell-seekers, there is something unique for every ocean lover to find on a trip to the Outer Banks’ newest island. But because of the strong and unpredictable currents Cape Point is known for, those who make a journey to Shelly Island this season are encouraged to exercise extreme caution when venturing out to the sandbar. If you’re planning to visit Shelly Island for yourself, you’d better act fast: like the hundreds of shifting sandbars along the Graveyard of the Atlantic that came before it and then suddenly disappeared beneath the white-capped waves, Shelly Island likely won’t stick around forever.

 

The Story Behind the Historic Whalehead Club in Corolla

Photo: Steve Alterman Photography

When it comes to landmarks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the four iconic lighthouses along the coast from Corolla to Ocracoke Island frequently come to mind first. Although climbing up the spiral staircases inside these structures to take in unparalleled views of the ocean and sound is one of the most popular activities to participate in during an Outer Banks vacation, visitors should not skip a trip to yet another historic Outer Banks attraction: the Whalehead Club. 

Located in the heart of the village of Corolla and overlooking the Currituck Sound on the western edge of the barrier island, the Whalehead Club is a 21,000-square-foot mansion that boasts a bright-yellow painted exterior, 18 expansive dormers, five brick chimneys and a copper roof comprising 10,000 individual tiles—making it one of the most recognizable buildings on the entire Outer Banks. But while it is best-known today for serving as an exceptional venue for Outer Banks weddings and other extravagant affairs, the Whalehead Club has a unique history that harkens back nearly a century.  

Photo: WeddingWire.com

In the late 1800s—long before the Outer Banks became the popular East Coast vacation destination it is today—the Currituck Outer Banks were bustling with wild birds ranging from ducks to snow geese that flocked to the region in enormous swarms during the fall and winter. As news of the wildfowls’ presence began to spread, wealthy businessmen from New York, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia transformed tracts of undeveloped land throughout Currituck County into hotspots for houses that served as clubs where hunting enthusiasts who came to the Outer Banks to partake in such activities could rest after a long day in the field. One frequent visitor to the hunting clubs—particularly the Light House Club, which was established in 1874 near the Currituck Lighthouse—was a man named Edward Collings Knight Jr.

Photo: Michael Colligon Photography

An artist, businessman and heir to his father’s fortune, Knight and his second wife, Marie-Louise, spent a considerable amount of time visiting the Outer Banks throughout the early 1920s. Soon realizing they wanted to make the Currituck area their permanent residence, in April 1922 the Knights purchased the Light House Club as well as the 4.5-mile-long tract of land it sat upon. Not content to remain in the rustic accommodations of the hunting lodge they had purchased forever, the couple began to design the plans for their brand-new estate that would become the future Whalehead Club.

Photo: VisitCurrituck.com

Completed in 1925, the Whalehead Club was built upon 39 acres of pristine soundfront property as a hunting lodge that would house the couple and offer accommodations for well-to-do visitors to the Outer Banks. The construction project—which required all materials to be hauled in by boat due to an absence of paved roads in the village of Corolla—took three years to complete and cost the Knights $383,000 (more than $5.3 million today). A lavish example of the Art Nouveau style of architecture popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Whalehead Club consists of four stories and features a dozen bedrooms and bathrooms. The estate was one of the first structures east of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to have an elevator installed, and it was also the first residence on the entire Outer Banks to receive power.

Photo: WhaleheadWedding.com

Throughout the years, the Knights hosted plenty of company in their new show-stopping estate. As many as 30 friends and visitors came by each year, many staying for several weeks at a time to enjoy the coveted hunting season that lasted from October to March in the Currituck Outer Banks. In the years following the Great Depression, however, the waterfowl population on the Outer Banks began to wane as a result of decades of hunting along the barrier islands. Knight’s health also began a sharp decline in the 1930s, and on November 23, 1934, he suffered a heart attack, which prompted him and his wife to leave the Whalehead Club. In 1936, Edward Knight passed away, and just three months later, Marie-Louise suffered from what doctors believed to be an aneurysm and passed away as well.  

Photo: Tangled Roots and Trees BlogSpot

The Whalehead Club sat empty in Corolla, and Knight’s two granddaughters who had inherited it upon his death had no interest in maintaining the property, so it was placed on the market and purchased in 1940 by a Washington, D.C.-based businessman named Ray Adams. Because there was virtually no demand for such an enormous and extravagant property as a result of the Great Depression, Adams paid only $25,000 for the 15-year-old mansion and was the one who gave it its current name. Although Adams had grand plans to turn the estate into a year-round tourist destination for visitors of the Outer Banks, which was growing in popularity among those looking for an escape from city life, he passed away in 1957, and the house was once again put up for sale.

Photo: The Photo Hiker

In the years that followed, the Whalehead Club was purchased and then resold by various owners who had a wide array of different plans for its use—but eventually it was abandoned altogether, and the unkept building and its property was deemed an eyesore by the community. So in 1992 the Currituck County Board of Commissioners undertook a $1 million project to restore the dilapidated structure to its former glory as a luxurious 1920s hunting retreat. Following a long labor of love, the renovation was complete. Today, visitors to the Outer Banks can take a step back in time by embarking on a tour of the historic Whalehead Club and finding out what life there would have been like nearly 100 years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

Discover the Currituck Lighthouse in Historic Corolla Village

It may not be as famous as its Cape Hatteras Lighthouse counterpart in Buxton, but the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is an Outer Banks attraction that should be at the top of every visitor’s must-see list while vacationing on the island’s beaches. Constructed starting in 1873, the 162-foot-tall red-brick structure was the last major lighthouse to be built on the barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is located in the heart of the historic village of Corolla in North Carolina’s Currituck County, and when the lighthouse was competed and lit for the very first time—on December 1, 1875—the beam of light it emitted into the night sky finally provided the long-awaited navigational aid mariners needed when sailing along the darkened waters of the northern Outer Banks.

For centuries, ships sailing along the Eastern Seaboard encountered difficulties navigating the treacherous shoals of the Graveyard of the Atlantic, causing many vessels to run aground and ultimately sink to the bottom of the sea floor. Before the Currituck Beach Lighthouse was constructed, the Bodie Island Lighthouse—a black-and-white striped structure located just north of Oregon Inlet on the southern edge of Nags Head—served as the only form of navigational assistance on the Outer Banks until sailors reached the Cape Hatteras Light Station more than 40 miles to the south.

This left a large expanse of dark and dangerous seashore from the Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach to Coquina Beach, 34 miles to the south in Nags Head. In an effort to better light the way for vessels traveling along the coast of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, plans were drawn up to create the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and prevent future sailors from becoming disoriented as they passed just offshore of Corolla and Duck.

Photo; Stephanie Banfield

Comprising approximately one million red bricks, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is almost identical to the Bodie Island Lighthouse in design; however, it’s exterior was left unpainted in an attempt to differentiate it from its neighbor to the south so vessels sailing past in the daylight could easily spot and recognize the tower. The lighthouse has 220 steps that visitors must climb to reach the balcony, where they will be treated to panoramic views of the Currituck Sound (and neighboring Whalehead Club) to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the village of Corolla to the north and the town of Duck to the south. At its base, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse’s brick walls are 5 feet 8 inches thick, tapering to a thickness of 3 feet at the parapet.

Photo: Worldwide Elevation Finder

Known as a first order lighthouse, the structure is outfitted with a large Fresnel lens and emits a beacon of light that can be seen for 18 nautical miles. The beacon—which now turns on automatically as evening begins to fall and turns off at the first signs of dawn—is characterized by a 20-second flash cycle: on for three second and off for 17 seconds. In addition to warning mariners at sea that the shoreline is nearby and to keep a watchful eye on the coastline, the various light sequences that differentiate each lighthouse also inform sailors of their approximate location along the Outer Banks.  

Photo: Gary McCullough

Also located on the grounds of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a Victorian-style home that was constructed adjacent to the lighthouse and designed to serve as a residence for the lighthouse keeper, assistant lighthouse keeper and their respective families. The residence was used for decades; however, when the lighthouse received access to electricity in 1933, there was no longer a need for a keeper to remain on-site. In 1937, the lighthouse keepers’ positions were eliminated entirely and the home began to slowly fall into a state of disrepair over the next 40 years.

Photo: CurrituckBeachLight.com

In 1980, a group of individuals dedicated to restoring the lighthouse keepers’ home, the lighthouse and the grounds to their former glory created a nonprofit organization called the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC). The organization spent the next three decades raising over $1 million in private funds to go toward restorations of the lighthouse and keepers’ house, as well as the costs of future maintenance and operations.

Photo; CurrituckBeachLight.com

On July 1, 1990, the OBC was able to finally open the Currituck Beach Lighthouse to the public, and today this popular Outer Banks attraction receives thousands of visitors each year who stop by to take a self-guided tour of the grounds and a trip to the top of the historic structure to take in the incredible 360-degree views of the Outer Banks from above.

Photo: Megan Black/Seaside Vacations

 

The Mirlo Rescue on Hatteras Island

Nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” the coastline of the Outer Banks of North Carolina is sprinkled with thousands of shipwrecks that lie just offshore from Carova to Ocracoke Island. While many of the vessels that sank to the bottom of the sea ran aground in storms during the 17th and 18th centuries, others—such as a tanker called the Mirlo—were the victim of attacks as recently as World War I.  

Chicamacomico Historic Site & Museum / Photo: Scenic USA

A British tanker that weighed 6,667 tons and had a crew of 51 members, the Mirlo was carrying a cargo load of gasoline and oil from a port in New Orleans, Louisiana, to New York Harbor in August 1918. As the ship emerged from the Gulf of Mexico, rounded the Florida Keys and began making its way up the coast of the Eastern Seaboard, it became increasing exposed to the threat of enemy German submarines that had invaded U.S. shipping lanes during that spring and summer. Several ships were sunk by mines laid and torpedoes launched from the U-boats, putting Captain John Allen Midgett and his crew of surfmen at the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station on Hatteras Island on guard should any ships be sunk off the Outer Banks. 

Photo: NCGenWeb.us

Located in the village of Rodanthe, toward the northern end of Hatteras Island, the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station was commissioned on Dec. 4, 1874, and home to the first shore-based rescue responders in the state of North Carolina. In the early afternoon on Aug. 16, 1918, the Mirlo struck a mine dropped by German U-boat 117 off Wimble Shoals, resulting in a series of explosions that destroyed the engine room and caused the cargo load of gasoline the ship was carrying to erupt into flames. Realizing that the boat was not salvageable, the captain ordered his crew to board the Mirlo’s three lifeboats and evacuate the sinking ship.

Photo: TripAdvisor
Photo: NPS.gov

The first lifeboat to leave the Mirlo capsized in the Atlantic Ocean, tossing all 16 of its passengers into the sea. When a third explosion erupted on the nearby Mirlo, all but six of the sailors who clung to the capsized lifeboat perished in the seas that were still rough from a recent storm. A second lifeboat contained 19 passengers and drifted helplessly amid the fiery gasoline-soaked seas while a third lifeboat, which carried 16 crewmen and the captain of the Mirlo, was able to clear the flaming wreckage and head toward the coastline of the Outer Banks.

The rescue that ensued has since been deemed one of the most dramatic rescues in maritime history. A Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station lookout named Leroy Midgett was in his post when the Mirlo first exploded and notified Captain John Allen Midgett Jr. of the attack. The alarm was sounded, and the crew raced to the stables to harness the team of horses, rode to the station and readied the McLellen Boat wagon that carried the rescue boat: Surfboat No. 1046. The crew put the surfboat into the ocean and fought their way through strong offshore winds and crashing waves with heights up to 20 feet to attempt to reach the crew members of the Mirlo who were stranded in lifeboats off the coast.

Photo: OuterBanks.com

The huge breakers overwashing the surfboat ultimately flooded the small vessel before it could reach the crew of the shipwrecked Mirlo, forcing it to return to the shore to be drained. Two relaunches were attempted, but the breaking waves were too large and too strong, and the surfmen from the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station were unable to get the surfboat past the breakers. The rescue crew tried a fourth launch, which was ultimately successful, allowing the boat to clear the rough waves and make it through the surf into the open waters where the Mirlo crew was stranded near the burning wreckage of the tanker approximately five miles off the coast of Rodanthe.

The Chicamacomico rescue crew reportedly first encountered the lifeboat that contained the Mirlo’s captain, who instructed the rescuers to bypass their boat and search instead for the survivors of the boat that had capsized after the explosion. Pushing through flames that shot 100 feet in the air from exploding barrels of gasoline that had been aboard the Mirlo, the rescue crew pressed on until they reached the capsized lifeboat—and found a handful of survivors clinging to the overturn boat in the smoke and rough seas. According to accounts by the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, the six surviving men were exhausted from the ordeal and coated in oil. The Chicamacomico rescue crew pulled the sailors from the sea and continued their search for any remaining survivors in the other lifeboat.

Captain John Allen Midgett Jr.

Once the lifeboat was spotted, the rescue crew realized that the vessel was extremely overloaded, leaving it so crowded that the men aboard could not move enough to row it toward the shore. Instead, it was drifting out to sea. The Chicamacomico crew pulled their surfboat alongside the lifeboat, tossing a line aboard so the lifeboat could be towed to safety. The crew then headed back to the spot where they had encountered the Mirlo captain’s lifeboat and been instructed to move on to save those in more immediate danger and provided a tow for that lifeboat as well.

As darkness fell on the coast of the Outer Banks, the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station rescue crew towed the two lifeboats toward Hatteras Island, ultimately saving the lives of 36 sailors from the sunken Mirlo tanker. Later that fall, on Nov. 8, 1921, Captain Midgett and his crew of surfmen were awarded gold lifesaving medals for “gallantry and humanity in saving life at sea” by the British government for their incredible efforts to save the lives of dozens of sailors who were aboard the Mirlo when it was destroyed by German forces. Today, surfboat No. 1046 and an assortment of photos, artifacts and replica equipment can be viewed at the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Historic Site and Museum in Rodanthe.

 

 

Sea Turtles on the Outer Banks

Photo: Pinterest.com

Every year, thousands of visitors venture to the sun-soaked shorelines of the Outer Banks of North Carolina in search of the perfect spot for rest and relaxation or the opportunity to partake in a wide array of recreational activities ranging from surfing to standup paddleboarding. However flip flop-clad vacationers hoping to spend a week making memories that will last a lifetime aren’t the only ones who travel hundreds of miles to spend time on the string of thin barrier islands that make up the so-called OBX.

Photo: National Park Service

Every year, from May until September, adult female sea turtles make the arduous journey from the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the coast of North Carolina to dig a hole deep down in the sand and lay dozens of eggs under the cover of darkness. Despite these sea turtles’ efforts to tuck their nest safely above the high-tide line, the majority of baby sea turtles that hatch from these eggs don’t survive longer than their first few days of life at sea—if they make it from the safety of the sand to the ocean waves at all. Those sea turtles that are fortunate enough to survive the trek to the sea are also faced with an assortment of natural and manmade threats with the potential to eliminate their chances of ever reaching adulthood.

Photo: Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.)

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), all sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed in the Endangered Species Act, which was signed on Dec. 28, 1973, and provides protections for species that are deemed threatened or endangered, as well as conservation of the habitats and ecosystems upon which they depend. From pollution, climate change and entanglement in debris to accidental capture by commercial fishing operations, strikes by vessels and destruction of their nesting and feeding habitats, a variety of threat pose serious risks for the survival of sea turtles today. These issues have caused a rapid decline in sea turtle populations since the 1930s, prompting conservationists to team up to help combat the threats these sea turtles face and to help increase their chances of survival.

Photo: Stephanie Banfield

Seven species of sea turtles have been identified, five of which can be found along the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks: the loggerhead, leatherback, green, Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill. When sea turtle nesting season begins on the OBX in May, female sea turtles come ashore to lay approximately 100-120 eggs the size of ping-pong balls in their nest, which is also called a “clutch.” The nest consists of a hole in the sand that is typically 1-2 feet in depth, and once the eggs have been laid, the sea turtle covers the hole and the eggs with sand before venturing back out to sea. Sea turtle nests are virtually invisible on the surface, with the turtle’s tracks from the nest to the water being the only way to tell any eggs were laid on the shore. Although female sea turtles only nest every other or every third year, during nesting years the turtle will return to the beach lay another nest of eggs every two weeks or so—typically resulting in a total of between four and seven nests per turtle.  

Most nests of eggs incubate under the sand for a period of 60 days before they hatch, but if the nests are made during cooler weather or shady spots, the eggs can take as many as 100 days to hatch. Volunteers—such as those involved with the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.)—comb the coastline daily from May to September in search of turtle tracks that indicate the location of a new sea turtle nesting spot, and once a nest is found it is monitored closely throughout the duration of the incubation period. Wooden stakes and caution tape are used to create a square border around sea turtle nests on the Outer Banks to indicate their location and prevent them from being tampered with or driven over on four-wheel drive beaches. Volunteers keep a close eye on the nests, searching for signs of disturbance from people, animals and overwash, and watch for clues that the nest is about to hatch, or “boil.”

Photo: Stephanie Banfield

When a nest begins to hatch—which typically occurs during the evening hours—volunteers restrict access to a wide swath of shoreline from the dunes to the edge of the ocean to protect the hatchlings from beachgoers and other dangers. Nests can take several hours or even days to boil after the first signs of hatching occur, but once the process begins, all of the sea turtle hatchlings start their journey from the depths of the hole in the sand to the waves lapping at the shoreline within minutes of one another.

Photo: Stephanie Banfield

Volunteers stand by to ensure all the hatchlings successfully make it to the sea without any inference from predators—such as seagulls—and help guide any wayward hatchlings that head the wrong direction back toward the water. It is the hopes of volunteers and conservationists alike that once these sea turtles have all been safely escorted to the sea, some will survive to adulthood and return to the shores of the Outer Banks of North Carolina someday to begin the process all over again—and that one day sea turtle populations will flourish and they will no longer find themselves an endangered species.

Construction of the Sand Dunes that Protect the Outer Banks

Photo: Barbara Ann Bell

Whether you’re a vacationer or a local, when most people think of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, images of rolling sand dunes topped with swaying seagrass often come to mind. While these picturesque dunescapes make for some of the best photography on the entire Eastern Seaboard, few who wander the winding pathways between the dunes to reach to salty shoreline know the unique history of the manmade mounds of sand that protect private residences, vacation rental homes and businesses along the Outer Banks.

Photo: Outer Banks History Center

For centuries, the 200-mile-long string of sandbars that hug the North Carolina coast have served as a barrier between the mainland and the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean. Breaking waves slowly erode the shoreline while coastal winds blow the billions of grains of sand that comprise the beaches, causing the islands to shift ever so slightly westward over time. This natural migration of the barrier islands continued unchecked for hundreds of years, until the Outer Banks’ population swelled and the area began to attract vacationers—and the shifting sands posed a threat to property, infrastructure and livelihood.

Photo: Pinterest

In the early 20th century, long before the Outer Banks became the bustling vacation destination it is today, the beaches from Corolla to Nags Head to Hatteras Village were predominantly flat; the only sand dunes that dotted the coastline were piles of sand that had formed naturally as the island slowly edged toward the west. Oceanfront homes—modest by today’s standards—sprang up along the shore as well-to-do residents of inland communities created spots where they could escape the hot and humid summers and seek respite on the breezy beaches.

Photo: Dan Waters

While the shifting sands uncovered hidden treasures in some spots—such as long-buried maritime forests and centuries-old cemeteries where some of the islands’ earliest settlers were laid to rest—in other areas the blowing sand encroached upon houses, hotels and attractions, including the miniature golf course that today lies entombed beneath Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head. But the intruding mounds of sand that threatened to swallow portions of the burgeoning beach towns weren’t the only concern of Outer Banks in the early 1900s. The threat of high storm surges that accompanied hurricanes and nor’easters was ever present, and when such a coastal weather system struck, the ocean overtook the island, oftentimes causing massive flooding from the sea to the sound.

Concerned for the future of the Outer Banks and its ability to continue to serve as a popular vacation destination for travelers from up and down the East Coast, residents, business owners and investors alike recognized the need for erosion protection on the towns’ beaches. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the New Deal, a series of federal programs that focused on providing economic relief from the Great Depression. The scope of the program spanned from housing and agriculture to labor and finance, and its development included the creation of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which provided federal funds to put Americans back to work. The National Park Service and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) joined forces and initiated a program that called for the development of manmade sand dunes along the Outer Banks that would be stabilized with vegetation and fencing.  

Photo: National Park Service

Military-style camps were constructed for housing on Roanoke Island and Hatteras Island, and as many as 1,500 workers from the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps spent seven days a week transforming timber and brush into sand fences and setting them up along the edge of the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean. Once the fences were in place, the blowing sand was prevented from passing the sand fence barriers, and a dune system began to take shape and steadily grow. Workers secured the sand dunes further by planting sea oats and cordgrass, whose roots would help to fortify the dunes as the vegetation grew.

Photo: National Park Service

The result of the workers’ effort—which was completed shortly before World War II began in 1941—was the construction of more than 3 million feet of oceanside sand fencing and a system of sand dunes that ranged in height from 10 feet to 25 feet tall. The sand dune project was considered a success, as the presence of the protective dunes prohibited storm surges from ravaging the island and flooding lowland areas along the Outer Banks. Today, the vast majority of these manmade dunes that were constructed along the coast throughout the 1930s still remain, and efforts are constantly underway to rebuild any dunes that are damaged or destroyed in coastal storms so that the sand dunes can continue to serve as a barrier that protects property and the people that call the Outer Banks home.

Photo: Debra Banfield

Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks: Part 1

Characterized by converging currents and constantly shifting offshore shoals, the waters off the coast of the Outer Banks of North Carolina are commonly referred to as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Despite the construction of navigational aids such as the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton and the Bodie Island Lighthouse further north in South Nags Head, thousands of vessels have found themselves wrecked off the coastline of these barrier islands for centuries, resulting in a significant loss of lives and the destruction of both boats and the seafaring cargo they carried. While many of these ships have sunk to the bottom of the sea and can only been seen experienced divers—or, in some cases, from the sky above during an air tour of the shoreline—the remains of handful of Outer Banks shipwrecks can be spotted from the beach when the sand shifts just enough—or out in the surf when the tide is low enough to expose them.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Laura A. Barnes

The Laura A. Barnes was a four-masted wooden schooner that wrecked off the coast of Nags Head on a foggy night during a nor’easter on June 1, 1921. At 120 feet in length, the Laura A. Barnes was built in Camden, Maine, and was traveling from New York to South Carolina when she foundered in the dense fog. The Bodie Island Coast Guard successfully rescued the entire crew, but the ship wasn’t salvageable, so its wreckage was left sitting on the beach for several years. In 1973, as the Outer Banks became an increasingly popular vacation destination, the National Park Service moved the remains of the ship approximately one mile south, where it currently can be found near the Bodie Island Lighthouse at Coquina Beach. Unprotected from the elements, the wreckage has continued to deteriorate and break apart during hurricanes and other coastal weather systems; however, many large pieces of the ship can still be spotted in the sand dunes at this popular beach access along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Photo Courtesy of Fine Art America

Oriental

Farther south, off the coast of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island, the wreckage of the Oriental can be spotted in the surf by those walking along the beach. A steamship that served as a transport for Federal forces during the Civil War, the Oriental ran aground approximately three miles south of Oregon Inlet on Hatteras Island in 1862. The remains of the Oriental are often referred to as “The Boiler Wreck” because the ship’s smokestack can frequently be seen jutting out of the water just 100 yards offshore and resembles a boiler. Because the wreckage of the Oriental sits in shallow water that is only 15-20 feet in depth, this shipwreck is popular among snorkelers and divers alike. A wide array of large local fish now call this wreck their home, making it a prime spot for viewing underwater wildlife. To view the shipwrecked Oriental, park at the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge visitor center and head to the beach, as it’s easily visible from shore during good conditions, particularly at low tide. Or, grab a kayak or standup paddleboard and paddle out to sea to witness the wreck up close and personal.  

Photo: Nick Beltly

Pocahontas

Also located off the coast of Hatteras Island is the wreckage of the Pocahontas, a Civil War-era wooden paddle wheel steamer that sank on the shoals 75 feet offshore of Salvo more than 150 years ago. The wreck sits in about 15 feet of water half a mile north of Ramp 23 in Salvo, near the end of Sand Street. According to VisitOuterBanks.com, the steamer was lost during a storm on January 28, 1862, when gale-force winds rendered its boilers useless and caused the ship to wash ashore just before the battle of Roanoke Island. Although no lives were lost in the disaster, 90 of the 114 horses being transported onboard the vessel perished. The Pocahontas wreck is one of the most popular shipwrecks on the Outer Banks, as it’s easily visible from shore and serves as an excellent spot for diving. Surfers and paddleboarders have also been known to paddle out to the wreck—which, thanks to the presence of a large iron rod and portion of the paddle wheel that stick out of the ocean—makes it a one-of-a-kind location for a unique photo op.

Photo Courtesy of Eastern Surf Magazine

*Stay tuned for Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks: Part 2, coming soon!

 

Discover the Island Farm on Roanoke Island

On the northern end of Roanoke Island lies a secluded spot few tourists vacationing on the barrier islands of the Outer Banks have ever been. Situated just west of U.S. Highway 64 in historic town of Manteo, the Island Farm is a unique destination for both visitors and locals, offering a slew of adventures and a wide array of activities for attendees of all ages. If you’re searching for a place to spend a day on your vacation well off the beaten path, a stop by this historic living site is well worth the trip.

When you first set foot on the grounds of the Island Farm, you’ll feel as though you’ve taken a trip back in time to 1847. The site sits on a slice of the Etheridge farmstead, a chunk of land where one of the area’s earliest settlers, a man named Adam Etheridge, built a house and established a farm with his family centuries ago. Today, the Island Farm comprises a period restoration of the house—including several 19th century furnishings, many of which were original to the property—as well as a dozen other buildings, such as a reconstructed slave cabin, smokehouse, cookhouse, dairy, corn crib, outhouse, woodshed and blacksmith shop.

Historical interpreters clad in period-specific attire can be found working inside and around the various buildings constructed on the Etheridge farmland, giving visitors a chance to witness what daily life would have been like on the Outer Banks in the middle of the 1800s. Throughout the year, interpreters perform a variety of tasks that bring Roanoke Island history to life. Here you can watch a blacksmith create his wares, help a farmer hoe a row of corn, assist the cook in making plates of corn cakes, or stroll along the fences of the pasture that houses animals ranging from a cow and an ox to several sheep and two banker ponies. Several free-range chickens also roam the grounds of this often-undiscovered island attraction.

If you’re not content to sit back and watch 19th century island life unfold before your eyes, you can take part in a wide array of hands-on activities and demonstrations. From woodworking, cooking and blacksmithing to garden planting, and harvesting, you won’t find a lack of things to do when you visit the Island Farm on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Once you’ve exhausted your list of daily “chores” on the farm, climb into an on-site wagon for an ox-drawn wagon ride around the premises, or embark on a self-guided tour of the farm and farmhouse.

The visitor center provides historical context via a series of educational exhibits on such topics as fishing, farming, boatbuilding, island culture, slavery and the locally famous Freedmen’s Colony. A family graveyard on the property allows visitors to pay respects at the final resting place of Adam Etheridge as well as many of his immediate family members and descendants. A large oak tree referred to as “Crissy Oak” marks the final resting spot of Crissy Bowser, a longtime resident and worker on the farm.

Whether you’re looking for a way to take a break from the beach during your Outer Banks vacation or you want to add a history lesson or two into your trip, you’ll find all that and more during your visit to the fun-filled Island Farm on Roanoke Island.  

*All photos courtesy of TheIslandFarm.com

 

 

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