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The Best Little Patch of Sand and Water I Ever Saw (Published 3/23/17)

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

I don't usually wax poetic about any other body of water on this blog, other than my beloved Long Island Sound. It was the harbor of my birth and my lifeblood for far too long for me to betray my love affair with any of the other lovelies like the Chesapeake Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. But of late I have found myself wandering a new path and discovered a strange fact. My heart betrays me.

I have fallen in love with Pamlico Sound, and I feel just as guilty as a wayward lapdog getting scratches from some other lap owner.

Oh, what pitiful stuff, the shame I feel.

The Best Little Patch of Sand and Water
Pamlico Sound from Space

But hear me out. There is an argument to be made that the Pamlico Sound is one of the best training grounds on the Earth for sailing and boating. A fact that the Military and Kite Boarders alike have been keeping under their hats for far too long and likely the reason why we all know about Annapolis and Key West, Newport and Charleston, but only a select few have ever heard of Bath, New Bern, Ocracoke and Oriental.

Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh

Why is it that Sir Walter Raleigh himself, wandered between the shifting sandbars in the 1600s, and it gave birth to household names like Blackbeard and the Wright Brothers, yet so few people know about this shallow little ditch of water perched so precariously on the Atlantic Shelf? As early as the 1700s, the US Government saw economic value to the Sound and saw fit to transform the little inlets and rivers that feed the Sound into the most prominent man-made cut of the ICW. And certainly, both the Union and Confederate forces saw strategic value in the Sound, or why else would they fortify the bejesus out of it in 1860 and continue to do so up until today. Between the planes, the bases and the bombing ranges, one only need but to listen intently to hear evidence of Freedom being affected anywhere from Charlotte to Richmond to Wilmington these days.

And then there are the old tales and stories bandied about in History. Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony, the founding of the Navy SEALs at Ocracoke, and the German Subs that litter the Graveyard of the Atlantic Ocean off Hatteras. There are the Navy Test Flights that took place at New Bern and of course the advent of the Light House Service and the US Coast Guard on the Outer banks. Can all of this history and learning have taken place in such proximity of a body of water if it weren't something very special in the first place?

Well, that's the Pamlico Sound.

Bath, NC's own Capt. Edward "Black Beard" Teach
Bath, NC's own Capt. Edward "Black Beard" Teach

I can tell you from my own experience, Pamlico Sound boasts a strange mix of fresh and salty, inland and offshore, Urban and Backwoods. The salinity and nutrients mix together in the Sound so as to create a bounty of flora and fauna unmatched in the Western World. Perhaps it's the proximity to the Gulf Stream that has blown evolution in the Sound's favor.

Tropical species like Palm Trees and Sea Oats, dolphins, and Pelican make this seem like an Island Paradise with a much smaller latitude at times than it actually has, while Albatrosses and Oaks, Blue Crab, and Bunker make this place look much more like Long Island or Boston Harbor at times.

Anybody that has had the misfortune to plant tomatoes in February around here knows that March can and will show that irony in the most unwelcome way when it's 80 degrees on Valentine's Day and Snowing for the Ides of March.

first in flight, given my roots in CT,
I'm not sure I believe they were first in flight, given my roots in CT, but The Wright Bros certainly did it with style

The USCG- The service you love
The USCG- The service you love to hate until you need them

She's a fickle body of water to be sure. One day she is as calm and lovely as a lagoon set in the Emerald Sea, and the next boasting waves and winds reminiscent of the mighty North Atlantic in Winter. It is the fickleness of weather that makes her teachable moments the most valuable, I think.

The Cape Hatteras Light house
The Cape Hatteras Light

More than one student has received their offshore experience while caught in a surprise waterspout or some micro-burst on an otherwise pristine afternoon in the Sound. But it is this wild weather in such proximity to safe harbor that makes this body of water such a great place to learn. You can mess up in blue water conditions in the Sound, without paying the ultimate price of a mess-up in real blue water. There are perks to being locked in by a barrier Island.

But when the time comes, as we all hope it will for our little fledgling sailors, to fly into the open world, that world is just a few short miles from multiple launching pads in North Carolina, including my favorite, Beaufort, NC.

The little town with the big piratitude sits at the mouth of one of the most underused yet primed for greatness inlets on the North American coast at the end of the ICW where it makes its turn south on your way to Florida.

Her sister City, Morehead, is the larger and flashier of the two, but it is Beaufort that boasts the history of Piracy and is the namesake of the Inlet. And that is where I call home and plan to marry my lovely fiancé later this year.

The Anchorage Inn at Ocracoke
The Anchorage Inn at Ocracoke

So my love for Long Island Sound is not gone. I still hold her dear in my memories of youth, and she is where I gained most of my sea time. But it's time for me to open my heart to another, and quite frankly she is quite a few notches up the scale of places to learn.

Long Island Sound still bristles right now with snow and ice. She is deep and treacherous and most unforgiving. Her waters, which once teamed with lobster and fish, now crawl with odd-shaped slimy things that no one wants to eat. And not just that, she is elitist and expensive and not very welcoming.

Pamlico Sound is alive with spring right now, teaming with oysters, crabs, and fish from all over the Atlantic. In a few short weeks, summer will arrive here and the dolphins and pelican will be so thick you'll have to watch yourself as you sail past the bombing range at Brant's Shoal. The Marines will still be rattling the windows, and the sound of Freedom will blow in as the Harriers cross overhead. The skies will light up with lightning, and Ocracoke will come alive with bikes and ice cream cones. And all too many shop owners in Oriental, Beaufort, New Bern, and Manteo will toss you a line and help you tie up, hoping for a chance sale and a few more tourism dollars.

As for Jen and I, we will be settling down to a plate of steamed seafood that is as fresh and local as you hope to get anywhere in the modern Sea. Such is life in Eastern Carolina. On the shores of the best little patch of sand and water I ever saw, Pamlico Sound.

Hope to see Y'all soon.

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