Monday, November 12, 2007

Riding the Outer Banks ferries

The Ocracoke lighthouse

Drive down the N.C. Outer Banks from Nags Head or Manteo or Kill Devil Hills. At Oregon Inlet, in the north, cross what is known as a high-rise bridge. Continue for another 30 or 40 miles toward Cape Hatteras down the long, narrow strip of land that separates the Atlantic Ocean from the calmer waters of Pamlico Sound.

The ferry Cape Point departing Hatteras Island for Ocracoke

About halfway down you will notice a place where the ocean washed across the island in a recent hurricane. Except for the efforts of the N.C. Department of Transportation, which sent crews and bulldozers to fill in the gap in the sand, there would be a new inlet there.

The ferry's front probile, with the pilot's cabin up top

An inlet is a gap in the narrow sand bank that encloses the North Carolina sounds and that lets sea water and estuary water be exchanged between the open ocean and the more protected coastal waters and wetlands. The inlets are endlessly shifting and changing as strong tidal currents and storm-driven waves move sand onto or away from the shore.

Heading toward Ocracoke Island

Hurricanes often cut new inlets through the Outer Banks. Water surges over the barrier island and cuts a deeper and deeper channel into the sand as it rushes through. It's the coastal equivalent of a gully or canyon, but everything happens in fast motion during a hurricane

The ferries are registered at the state port in Morehead City

It's very difficult to build a bridge over an inlet because the sand is so unstable and the tides and currents are so swift. Building the Oregon Inlet bridge near Nags Head was quite an engineering feat, and I believe it is the only bridge on the Outer Banks that spans an inlet. Other bridges link the islands to the mainland, spanning the slower moving waters of the sounds.

Sailing into the sunset toward Ocracoke

Here's what Wikipedia says about Oregon Inlet: it was created by a hurricane in 1846. So it is very new. One of the ships that rode out that storm in the sound was named the Oregon, and it gave its name to the new channel.

Welcome to Ocracoke

Here's what's even more interesting: Wikipedia says that Oregon Inlet, like many other inlets along the Outer Banks, constantly "moves southward due to drifting sands during tides and storms. It has moved south over two miles since 1846, averaging around 66 feet per year."

Outer Banks sunset, 09 November 2007

The inlet that now separates Hatteras Island from Ocracoke Island was also opened up by the great storm of 1846. The same storm nearly closed up the inlet on the opposite end of Ocracoke Island, sending the once-prosperous ports at Ocracoke Village and Portsmouth Village on the other side into a steep decline. Portsmouth Village was abandoned in the early years of the 20th century.

Ferrying toward the western sky

One inlet that has been fairly stable since the late 1600s is Beaufort Inlet, about 75 miles down the coast from Ocracoke. Beaufort has been a fishing port since about 1710, and nearby Morehead City is one of North Carolina's two modern deep-water seaports. Morehead City was founded in 1857 and then developed when the harbor was linked by rail to the more densely populated Raleigh-Durham area.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just turn a knob
to get a clearer vision of the world?

Inlets, then, are bad places to try to build bridges. There is a project to replace the one at Oregon Inlet, which costs a fortune to maintain, with a bridge that would be built farther away from the inlet and the pounding waves of the ocean. If you want to move people and vehicles from island to island rather than from island to mainland, what is the solution? Ferries.


Gabby Walters said...

I remember the strikingly beautiful bridge going to Ocracoke. If you are still in the area, do take a pic of it.

vida said...

Love a sunset photo, takes me to another place... Vida x

Anonymous said...

Ken. Thanks for sharing your trip with us and for the great photos. I hope they are taken with your new camera and you are enjoying using it. I love mine! Even so I doubt I could achieve the gorgeous sunset shots today. But you have ispired me to try! Angela

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that should say 'inspired'!!

ConnMc said...

Have enjoyed learning about the history and geography of the coast of NC. It's a relatively isolated part of the Southeast and I haven't been there much. You have had some great photos as always..

Claude said...

This last photo looks like some sort of a robot. I love taking a trip around an area where I've never been.
Trying to catch up with my blog reading ;)

Ken Broadhurst said...

Hi Gabby, I didn't take a picture of the bridge at Oregon Inlet but there's a good one on this photography site.

Seema said...

Thanks for writing this.