Full stacking lanes at the Hatteras ferry terminal. Photo: C. Leinbach

Maybe it’s time for the N.C. Ferry Division to look to the past for a solution to the present, regarding the Hatteras ferry terminal’s long stacking lanes of vehicles waiting to go to Ocracoke.

Ocracoke’s neighbor to the south, Portsmouth Island, thrived in the 19th century serving as a port that would receive goods for eventual transport to the mainland.

Large sea-going ships bringing cargo to the mainland through Ocracoke Inlet could not navigate the shallow interior waters of the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. 

The ships would transfer their cargo to smaller draft boats which could navigate the shallow waters to reach their intended destination.

This process was known as “lightering” and Portsmouth was a thriving “lightering” village.

This fascinating history of Eastern North Carolina deserves a closer look and consideration for possible reapplication.

Getting to Ocracoke means, for almost all, using the NC ferry service from Hatteras Island, Swan Quarter and Cedar Island.

But it’s the free Hatteras route that continues to burgeon with traffic.

An illustration of lightering. NPS graphic

Typically, the heaviest travel times from there are between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., but even this appears to be expanding.

In these lines are large trucks. They are making deliveries of goods for the stores and restaurants or building supplies. Many of these trucks catch the early ferries, which works best for the island businesses and the deliverers.

But there are other trucks that do not have such a regular routine and Ocracoke could be the last delivery with just a few goods to deliver.

Could it be feasible for these vendors to transfer their goods to smaller trucks that would deliver them across the Hatteras Inlet thus saving them several more hours?

We’ve learned that other islands – Bald Head Island in North Carolina and Block Island in Rhode Island – have private delivery services comparable to the lightering concept.

Such a service here could help relieve the number of trucks and free up some valuable car space so that more could board.

Vendors delivering the goods might be happy to save the time and extra costs involved in the hours-long trip from Hatteras to Ocracoke for only a few deliveries.

Island courier Dave Quidley of Buxton, whose business is Island Hopper and who delivers for FedEx ground, told the Observer that some businesses do contact him for relaying some goods to Ocracoke.

Such a service could be expanded by permitting trucks to drop off at Hatteras terminal or farther up Hatteras Island in Avon or even Whalebone Junction.

Jed Dixon, deputy director of the Ferry Division, who is looking for ways to lessen the waiting times said it is worth considering, even possibly finding a spot at the Hatteras terminal for “lightering,” if it can relieve some of the traffic.

The more cars we can load, the better, he said.

Lightering worked for many years on Portsmouth Island, could it work on Ocracoke?

We think it deserves consideration and should be a private enterprise.

To that end, the Ocracoke Civic & Business Association’s May 16 meeting will be a community meeting devoted to talking about the Hatteras Ferry terminal traffic.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Ocracoke Community Center. It will include Elizabeth Dyer talking about Hyde County Transit services up the beach.

Correction: Dave Quidley (Island Hopper) lives in Buxton. A previously published version erroneously said he lives in Avon.

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  1. Instead of the ferry division selling its older vessels they can keep those just for commercial traffic…finding ways to possibly lessen crewing requirements for such a vessel would be huge

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