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By Connie Leinbach
A few hours before the Hatteras ferries opened to the public Thursday afternoon, the N.C. Ferry Division rescued the 20-plus people who had been waiting in the ferry stacking lanes for three days and brought them to the island.
Rob Dickerson of Winston-Salem, who was among the 20-plus cars waiting from Monday to Wednesday to get to Ocracoke, texted the Observer Thursday morning to say the group was headed to the island. For several years, he has been a frequent on-air guest at WOVV, Ocracoke’s community radio station. Due to COVID-19 concerns, he could not share his playlist with the station’s listeners on this visit.
The Hatteras ferry supervisor had heard about the newlywed couple in the group and wanted to get them to the island, Dickerson said.
“We had to get some equipment to the island,” said Jed Dixon, Ferry Division deputy director, during a visit to Ocracoke on Friday, who authorized the special trip via the back side of the island. “We didn’t know for sure that the road would be open later that day.”
In several spots along NC 12, especially north of Rodanthe and the northern end of Ocracoke, the large swells from the passage of Hurricane Teddy on Sunday (Sept. 20) and Monday (Sept. 21) washed dunes away and flooded the road.
Ferries from Hatteras were canceled because of the breached dunes on Ocracoke and which NCDOT road crews worked for three days to clear of sand. Access to the north, above Rodanthe, was blocked by overwash.
The special two-hour ride by the M/V Stanford White on Thursday is the same route used by the passenger ferry and which the Ferry Division used for about three months after Hurricane Dorian last year.
Because the dock infrastructure is different in Silver Lake than it is at the north end of Ocracoke, ferry workers were concerned that the small cars might have difficulty getting off because of the angle.
“The rest of us have promised we won’t leave them behind and will lift up their car if necessary,” Dickerson texted the Observer before the boat pulled into Silver Lake.
But all of the cars made it off the ferry and honked as they debarked amid some cheering by friends and family members waiting for them at the dock.
Ocracoke Island homeowner Robin Metcalf was among the group who spent three days in the Hatteras Ferry stacking lanes.
“It was a crazy experience,” she said on Saturday.
She said a number of them arrived at the Hatteras ferry hoping at 9 p.m., but at 10 p.m., ferry workers told them the roads weren’t passable and no more ferries would leave that night.
She and the others scrambled to find motels. Then they all came back the next morning and were told that crews were working hard to clear the roads.
“That’s why we were all there every day,” she said, and every night they had to rebook motel rooms.
Newlyweds Katie and Matt Oldhouser of Richmond were among the group waiting each day. They were married on Sept. 19 and left for their Ocracoke honeymoon the next day but got stuck waiting.
Finishing up their last two days on Ocracoke before they head back home today, Katie spoke Saturday afternoon from the beach and said their time on Ocracoke was still “as good as we hoped.”
She said quite a few people on the island honked at them, and they also ran into their new “ferry friends,” as the stranded group began calling itself.
“We came out of it with a story and we’re going out on a high note,” she said about her unusual honeymoon.
Despite the inadvertent adventure, Metcalf, echoing others, was glad to be on the island.
“I bought a wooden sign that says, ‘Ocracoke is my happy place,’” she said. “The wait was worth it.”