Quiet Harbor In Ocracoke
by Tom Dove
Originally published in several Maryland newspapers 1/13/89
OCRACOKE, NC-The scene recalls the famous exchange between the Old West lawman and his faithful sidekick:
“Sure is quiet.”
“Yep. Too quiet.”
Except for the hourly spurt of about a dozen cars from the Hatteras ferry, this village of 650 is almost too quiet for a visitor in January. Only the two general stores and a couple of guest houses are open. Otherwise, it’s a fishing town not unlike Tilghman Island or Smith Island.
Ocracoke is even more remote than Smith Island. It’s a 20 minute drive to a 40 minute ferry to another 20 minute drive to reach a supermarket on Hatteras Island. And you thought crossing the Bay Bridge was a big deal.
All these features of Ocracoke make it interesting to the cruiser, expecially to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) traveler with a little time to spend exploring the North Carolina sounds. Spring and Fall would be ideal times to be here.
Ocracoke is not directly on the ICW. You must leave the secure comfort of that well-worn path and cross Pamlico Sound to reach the near-perfect harbor of Silver Lake on the island. The sound is shallow and can get rough in strong winds, so pick your weather carefully for the crossing.The entrance to Silver Lake is narrow but well marked, and water depths will accomodate medium sized sailboats with ease.
Once inside, you are sheltered from all directions and the entire town is within easy walking distance.You may anchor in the harbor and a public dock is adjacent to the ferry terminal. Hardware, groceries and anything else you might expect in a self sufficient town are on the waterfront.
The commercial docks often are occupied by a sizable fleet of fishing trawlers; this is a working village.It is complete down to the school, whose 100 students (grades K-12) make it the smallest public school in the state. It may also be the prototype school for the next century, with heavy use of computers, modems and satellite communication.
Talk to the residents and you will think they are transplanted Eastern Shore people who have picked up some of the Carolina Accent. It sounds a lot like home to a native of the Chesapeake.
If your interest is history, there is plenty of it here. Since the 1500s, ships have used Ocracoke Inlet and run aground on its outlying shoals. The place is rich in stories of shipwrecks and rescue and of commerce and piracy.
Ocracoke is filled with curiosities: two tombstones indicate their owners died 13 years before they were born. Purebred mustangs roam wild four centuries after the last contact with Spain.
Then, there is the story of Old Quork.Old Quork was a contentious, abrasive, blasphemous fellow who insisted on going fishing one stormy day in March, swearing profusely, against the unanimous advice of the islanders.Old Quork never came back and no trace of him was ever found. To this day, no Ocracoker will go out fishing on March 16 – Old Quork’s Day – insisting that the water will be too rough. It generally is.
Sometimes you just want to take a long walk or a refreshing swim at an ocean beach. With 16 miles of undeveloped Atlantic shoreline, you should be able to satisfy that urge here. A single road runs keel-straight up the length of the island and everything but the village at the southern tip is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore – no houses, no souvenir shops, no condos. It’s lonely and beautiful.
An excellent nature trail and wild pony pasture are about four miles north of town. Otherwise, there is nothing special to do here, and that is its appeal. If you want nightlife or elaborate restaurants, skip it. Leslie Lanier, a transplanted Georgian who has lived in the village almost two years says, “We see two kinds of people here: those who settle in and stay for weeks and those who take one look and leave on the next ferry.”
For more information, contact the Ocracoke Civic Club, Ocracoke Island, NC 27960, (919) 928-6711. Cruise into Silver Lake on Ocracoke and visit a while. Just don’t expect anything to be happening in midwinter and be sure to stay in port on Old Quork’s Day.
— The End —