The Kayak Chronicles ©

by Darren Caffery


Paddling the Outer Banks of North Carolina:

Hatteras to Ocracoke

Wednesday May 21, 2008


On our third day of paddling in the OBX of North Carolina, our group of paddlers seemed to dwindle.  Joe had to drive his wife to Virginia Beach and Patrick and Stephanie had planned a trip to the Hatteras Lighthouse.  Our plan, suggested a few weeks before by our own JSSKA adventurer Kathy K, was to paddle from the Hatteras Ferry Terminal to Ocracoke Island.  Ocracoke Island is south of Hatteras Island and can only be accessed by boat.  There is a free ferry that runs from Hatteras to Ocracoke and it’s about a 45 minute ride in the Pamlico Sound, across the inlet.   In my yearly travels to Ocracoke, I had always taken the ferry, so a trip by kayak was certainly going to be an adventure.


We awoke to sunny skies and temperatures already in the 70’s at 8 am.  Winds were predicted at only 5 knots and were not expected to increase at all throughout the day.  Although the tides weren't exactly perfect for this trip, the weather certainly was. As a result of the near perfect wind conditions, we decided to go ahead with the trip despite the less than favorable tides.  After about a 25 minute drive to the ferry terminal and review of our route and some safety issues, Tom, Jean, Val, Kathy, Mary, Bill and I launched into the Pamlico Sound at about 9:30 am.  Jean and Val chose not to paddle to Ocracoke and paddled northward up the coast instead.  It was important that those of us paddling to Ocracoke be extra vigilant to stay out of the ferry channel and to be aware of the large wakes that the ferries would be throwing our way. (For more info about planning this trip, see Pam Malec’s Guide to Sea Kayaking in North Carolina).


The first 3.5 miles in the Pamlico Sound were paddled along the coastline of Hatteras Island, out of the ferry channel. Although the conditions were very benign, it was a bit unnerving, even out of the channel, to see the ferries coming towards us.  Mary seemed to like to stay as close to the channel as she could and we thought she was looking to race the ferry.  She made the rest of us a bit nervous, but she seemed to be having a blast playing in the ferry wakes. As we got closer to the inlet, the outgoing tide was barely noticeable and other than some small rollers, there was little resistance during our crossing of the inlet.  It was smooth sailing all the way across. When we finally crossed, I  navigated around some small breaking waves and landed on a small sandbar just before the island of Ocracoke.  The others followed and we took a short break on the sandbar to scout the area.  Soon after, we launched back into the sound and paddled less than one quarter mile to touching down on the island of Ocracoke at about 12 noon.



Although it was lunch time, we decided we would paddle out into the sound to a white sandy beach island which we can see in the distance of the Pamlico Sound.  That would be our lunch spot.  It was a great plan and after about a mile and a half of paddling to it, we observed signs indicating that landing on the island was prohibited because of bird nesting.   We circumnavigated the island and the signs were everywhere.  Paddling back to Ocracoke or continuing to Hatteras for lunch were not options. Lunch time was NOW.



We paddled over near a duck blind and ate lunch in our boats in the shallow water surrounding the island. After lunch and a short break, we started our return trip back to Hatteras.  Because the wind was at our backs, it seemed much warmer.  There was also some mild haze which seamlessly blended the water into the horizon.  We paddled a nice relaxing pace back across the inlet.  On our return trip, we went through a very shallow area that required a brief portage.  When we got back to deeper water, we were back in our kayakers.  After getting settled back in our kayaks, we soon heard Patrick calling us on our VHF radios.  When I answered him, he reported that that he and Stephanie were on a ferry which was nearing the approach to Ocracoke. He could see us in the distance.
“Is that you guys over by the duck blinds?” He asked.
“Yep, that’s us.”

He continued to tell us that he and Stephanie were now officially engaged! He had proposed to her in the Hatteras Lighthouse.  There was going to be a celebration at our house tonight!  As we reached the tip of Hatteras, instead of paddling along the shoreline, we paddled an offshore route, outside of the ferry channel. It was smooth paddling all the way back to the landing. When we neared the landing, Jean and Val were also approaching the landing. After we met, it was still a bit too early to land so we all paddled down to another small beach and took another short break.  After our break and some chit chatting we paddled back to the take out and we all landed together at about 3:15 pm.  For those of us that paddled to Ocracoke, our total mileage was 11.6 miles. Although we didn’t see any dolphin along our crossing, it was another great day on the water!



Shortly after dinner, Joe returned from VA Beach with a surprise cake.  When Stephanie and Patrick arrived back to the house later that night, we all ended a great day with the delicious cake and celebratory champagne toast to their engagement.
Congratulations to Patrick and Stephanie on their engagement.  
"May their road ahead be paved and blessed with sunshine, happiness, joy and peace, as they prepare for their wedding and their new life together as husband and wife."


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