31 March 2010

Riding the Hatteras ferry

The ferry ride from Hatteras Village over to Ocracoke island takes about 45 minutes. Each boat carries about two dozen vehicles, and it's free. The boats leave each side every 30 minutes or so during the day, and every hour on the hour overnight.

We took the 2:00 p.m. boat over to Ocracoke last Friday. The weather was breezy — it nearly always is on the Outer Banks — but sunny and clear. The ride was pleasant.

The Hatteras Island car ferry in North Carolina

However, we were only the second or third car loaded on the ferry for that run, and we ended up parked on the bow of the boat. The water across Hatteras Inlet was rough enough, and the wind was strong enough, to blow up salt spray that completely covered the hood of my mother's car and the windshield. Having salt spray on your car is not a good thing for the finish.

The ferry we rode on was the Croatan, and it is
registered in Morehead City, my home town.

Hatteras Inlet was cut through the Outer Banks in September 1846 during the same storm that opened up Oregon Inlet to 50 miles the north. That must have been quite a storm. An earlier inlet existed just a few miles south of today's Hatteras Inlet, separating Hatteras Island from Ocracoke Island, but it was closed up by sand during a big storm in 1764.

The Hatteras-bound ferry seen from the one going to Ocracoke

As we rode across Hatteras Inlet, which is about two miles wide, I saw a lot of birds — mostly gulls, terns, cormorants, and brown pelicans — and two dolphins. We've always called them porpoises here in North Carolina, but I think they are in fact bottle-nose dolphins. The two I saw broke the surface of the water just off the bow of the ferry boat but then disappeared for good. I didn't get a picture because it all happened too fast.

Our car was on the bow of the ferry boat
and got sprayed with salt water.

Besides the birds and the dolphins, I saw a seal. I couldn't believe it. They are rare in these waters. They do, however, sometimes ride the Labrador Current southward and wind up on North Carolina's beaches. This one was sitting on a buoy out in the inlet.

Speaking of such things, I should point out that there are alligators in the brackish rivers, marshes, and swamps all along the coast of North Carolina, though they are not plentiful. I have seen one or two over the years, and sometimes they end up trying to cross a highway and halt all traffic for hours before they can be coaxed off the warm pavement. Some of them are enormous and quite dangerous. Some have been seen gobbling up people's pet dogs and cats in new subdivisions along the local waterways.

When I was growing up, there weren't any pelicans, thanks to DDT.
Now there is a large population of them.

North Carolina is the northern limit of the alligator's territory, and it is also the northern limit for the large herbivorous marine mammals called manatees — lamentins in French. My sister said a manatee took up residence in a creek (a local word for a coastal river or narrow bay) near Morehead City a couple of summers ago, but then moved on, probably back toward the south. Alligators and manatees are much more at home in Florida's waters than in North Carolina's.

Here is the seal I saw on a buoy in Ocracoke Inlet.

There are a lot of snakes, including several venomous species, in the marshes and swamps of the North Carolina coast. They include water moccasins, copperheads, rattlesnakes, and coral snakes. Life here can be quite exciting.

When the ferry docks at the north end of Ocracoke Island, you still have 12 miles to drive to get to the village. The long straight road runs down an island that is so narrow in places that you feel you are on a causeway — you can see the ocean on one side and the waters of Pamlico Sound on the other. The road periodically washes out or becomes covered in deep sand when there is a windstorm.


  1. It is nice being a tourist along with you.

  2. Wow, do you mean to say there is something FREE left in this country? How very refreshing.

  3. We have one ferry around here that is free, and a couple that cost about $5 each way... but, they're only about 5 minutes of ride (across the Illinois or the Mississippi), so it's not much of a thrill :))

    hmmmmmm I can smell that salt air...

  4. I'm loving this. Got a little behind, but so much to look forward to!! I've always enjoyed your coastal stories and knowledge!

  5. Hi Eleanor, as you know, half my heart is on the N.C. coast, and the other half is in France. I guess I need a big tugboat to pull the two a little closer to each other.

  6. Wow! I love the sound of free transport of vehicles from Village over to Ocracoke Island. But a trip from US to UK is never free I guess. I also want to experience this ride you had but I guess I would be experiencing it a bit longer than yours since I ought to transport myboat. CE marking is the safest way to bring my baby to UK. I’m so excited to travel by sea to Europe since I always take air trips. I can almost imagine the nights at the sea with my boat. Imports are made easier now by global boat shipping. Thank God for modern world!

  7. Hi Ken,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Hatteras Village to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you!


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