This past trip, what I've come to think of as the Easy in the Islands 292 (292 being the statute miles sailed during the eight days on the water), was a really wonderful trip. I would put it up there with the Inner Banks 425 and Bay Days 220 as one of my favorite trips over the years.
I've had a love affair with Ocracoke for the past twenty-some years. We vacationed there as a family for 14 years straight and I've been there for work (yes, it really was work) too many times to count. I've always reached the island by ferry, save for one time when I flew there in a small plane. What I have always wanted to do though, and this desire goes back a couple of decades, is to sail to Ocracoke. And we finally did it.
I can't describe the feeling of coming off Pamlico Sound, past the channel markers and the tiny sand island that marks the southern end of Howard's Reef, sailing on the same starboard tack that carried us all the way from the mainland, then turning downwind wing and wing to the the jetties leading into Silver Lake, the tiny little harbor that is better known to the locals as "the ditch."
We go from the cool breeze on the water to the heat of a sandy little isle. The lady at Dajio expresses concern over my sunburned skin as she finds me a table in the shade of an umbrella. The waitress brings a glass of water and the first of four cold glasses of iced tea (thirsty? you bet). The nice young couple at the Community Store offer to sell me ten bottles of water to resupply Spartina at a discount, but I say no and pay the full fare because I like what they are doing, carrying on the tradition at the old waterfront store that goes back to 1918.
It's people like Rob Temple, that's him above hard at work at his waterfront shop, that make the island a special. I had met Rob before, but he had no way of remembering me. Back in the 90s we were regular customers for evening sails on Rob's schooner "Windfall." He stills sails a schooner, a smaller version these days, plus the skipjack Wilma Lee.
Rob had noticed Spartina making a few tacks back and forth across Silver Lake that morning. When we meet about an hour later hospitality was all he had to offer. "Whatever you need, just let me know." Well, I needed a dock space since the National Park Service docks were closed for maintenance. He pointed out the window, said come tie up here. And then the offer of his golf cart - here are the keys and here's the gear shift, just push the pedal and run whatever errands you need to get done. Wow, what a nice welcome to the island.
After the errands I sit into shade of the porch with Rob, drinking an iced tea (yes, another one, it was a hot afternoon) from Ocracoke Coffee Company and we talk about books, sailing and a few people we knew in common. It is a wonderful afternoon. Rob even interviews me for his online column called The Shipping News, which you can read here. Being mentioned in a column with a couple of my sailing heroes - Joshua Slocum and Webb Chiles - well I don't even know what to say about that. Thank you Rob, for the hospitality and the kind words.
And then a while later I'm sitting in Spartina at the dock refilling my water bottles when I see a big strapping man with a white beard and a friendly smile looking at Spartina. I stand up to shake his hand, remind him that we had met before, back a couple of winters ago. He doesn't remember me, but introduces himself as Philip. He does not mention his last name, which is Howard. If you know Ocracoke, you know the name Howard. Howard's Pub. Howard's Reef. And that winding sandy lane just off the harbor and through the live oaks - Howard Street. Philip's ancestry goes back eight generations to William Howard, a one-time owner of the island and also an associate of a fellow called Blackbeard. You see Philip below, back on a winter's day when we first met.
A great little island with a perfect harbor, a classic old lighthouse and friendly people - what more could I want.
Yes, Ocracoke. It was the best.