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By Jim Cole
All those who come to Ocracoke as tourists or as parttime or fulltime residents have stories about how they learned about the island and its many charms.
Here is the story of how my wife and I and our son discovered Ocracoke.
Back in the dim past of March, 1967, I was separated from the U.S. Army, having been stationed at Fort Bragg, NC. My sanity at the time could have been questioned because of my willingness to jump out of perfectly good airplanes and descend via parachute as a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces.
My mental state could also have been deemed somewhat defective by my decision to travel home to York, Pa., via canoe. Yeah, paddling all the way down the Cape Fear River, up the Intracoastal Waterway, up the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna River and the Codorus Creek right into downtown York.
The day after my separation I launched my canoe (bought at Sears, Roebuck in Fayetteville) from the little community of Spring Lake on the Little River and drifted/ paddled down to the Cape Fear River, down through the three locks which were operational at the time, and up the Intracoastal Waterway to Beaufort. It was a nice trip because the bugs weren’t out yet so camping along the river at night was easy and comfortable. I actually rigged a sail using a bamboo rug pole, a tree branch and an Army poncho and sailed up Bogue Sound from Swansboro to Beaufort.
From Beaufort, I paddled up the canal to the Neuse River where I was finally stopped by a strong nor’easter which prevented my crossing the Neuse estuary. A couple living along the canal in the little town of Merrimon allowed me to camp in their backyard to wait out the wind, but after three days and two nights I finally said nuts to this! I walked back to Moorehead City, took a bus back to Fort Bragg, got my car, and headed back down to get my canoe and my gear and drive home.
On the way to Merrimon out of Beaufort, I met a young couple hitchhiking and I offered them a ride. They asked if I could take them to the Ocracoke ferry, and I asked, “What’s the Ocracoke ferry?” They told me that it left from the mainland there and they were going to ride to Ocracoke, hike up the island, take the ferry to Hatteras, and hike up the Outer Banks to Nag’s Head and visit friends. I took them to Cedar Island, and sho’ nuf! There was a ferry boat.
Skip ahead now to summer, 1984.
My wife and I and our 10year old son, Bill, had decided to take a trip down south. After touring the Norfolk area, we stayed a night in Elizabeth City. While eating breakfast the next morning and looking at the road map, my wife noticed the Outer Banks and Cape Hatteras. I said we could take Route 158 down to Cape Hatteras. She really wanted to see Cape Hatteras but said that then we’d have to travel all the way back up to get off the banks.
And that’s where recollection awoke with a ban. No. there’s a ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island, and another one from Ocracoke to the mainland. We can just continue down the coast from there.
Once we arrived on Ocracoke, we found that at the height of the summer season you just can’t drive up and get on the Cedar island or Swan Quarter Ferry without a reservation, so we ended up staying most of three days and two nights on the island. We were hooked.
We finished our trip south, returned home and visited Ocracoke every summer after that except 1985 (when we went north) and 1994 (when we went to Europe).
In 1996 our son moved here, and in 1997 we bought a house here.
Bill and his family (Leslie and their child Nicholas) live here, and we spend lots of time in the autumn and winter visiting and enjoying the features of Ocracoke.
Jim Cole is a former nature columnist for the Ocracoke Observer