If you have to wait out northeast winds on a voyage north that are making conditions rough off of Cape Hatteras, a great place for all round protection is the Bight at Cape Lookout.
The Bight offers 360° protection from the seas and is shallow with great holding. It is surrounded by literally miles and miles of beautiful sand beaches, both inside the Bight and along the Atlantic shorelines.
The famous black and white diamond patterned Cape Lookout lighthouse sits at the south eastern end of the Bight. The flashing white light is visible for up to 25 miles and warns mariners of the shoals that extend up to 9 nmi. southeast from the cape. I had sailed past those shoals on my way to the bight. It was an odd feeling seeing waves breaking on the invisible and very shallow underwater shoals without any land in sight.
The area around the lighthouse is all part of the Cape Lookout National Sea Shore Park. It is a wonderful place to spend time walking the beaches, dunes, marshes and sand flats. I could easily spend a week or more just exploring all there is to see here. The area is close enough to attract day visitors from all around Carteret County who come to camp and picnic along the shores. They are friendly and welcoming, which often leads to interesting conversations and recommendations of sights to see and even more places to explore. Plus with tens of miles of beaches it is easy to keep your distance, yet also stop and chat. Will this be the new normal, chatting while standing far apart? At first it seemed awkward, but in no time it was very natural.
During one of the chats I was asked if I was temped to swim here? My reply was “No, I have been too spoiled by the warm, super clear waters in the Bahamas”. Their response was, “Good keep it that way, the Cape Lookout Bight is frequented by black tip sharks, so do not go in the water”. As I walked back along the beach to my paddle board with their warning fresh in mind, the thought of paddling back to Oh! was not quite as inviting as it was prior to our brief chat. About an hour after getting safely back on board, a huge shark swam lazily past Oh!’s stern right at the surface. I could see it’s dark eyes even in the murky water. By the time I grabbed the camera it was about 40 meters away, but the distance between dorsal and tail fins had to be at least 2.5-3 meters. Yikes! That was a very sobering sight…maybe for my next shore leave I will use Tadpole, the rowing dingy.
Along the North side of the Bight is the Shackleford Banks, another long barrier island that extends WNW for 7 nmi. all the way to Beaufort Inlet. Some of the vistas are like living landscapes from an artists brush. They really are stunning with dynamic skies, seashore marshes, meadows and pastoral settings. If you love to stroll beaches and sand dunes with the sea breezes and salt air, you would really enjoy a few days here. The Shackleford Banks are famous for the large herd of feral horses that freely roam the island. The horses have been living here for hundreds of years living free and now protected as part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The origin of the horses is uncertain but is thought to date back hundreds of years to a Spanish ship wreck. The horses are studied to gain understanding of how wild horses lived and flourished. I was very fortunate to find a fowl and mother amongst one of the herds as I went for a long walk on the beach that wraps around the eastern end of Shackleford Banks. This little one on spindly legs could not have been very old.
The rich abundance and variety of land and airborne wildlife on North Carolina’s outer banks is a stark contrast with the relatively deserted islands of the Bahamas. The difference is most likely due to the abundance of fresh water, rich souls and vegetation of this area; verses the parched karsted limestone that dominates the Bahamian islands. Whatever the reason is…the variety of species and lush vegetation ringed by miles of white sand beaches creates a very welcome and soothing area to just enjoy this very beautiful natural setting. Especially in the evening as the runabouts have left and the banks take on a more unspoiled and tranquil setting.
In the area around Shackleford Island there are crab spawning sanctuaries, scallop and oyster beds, and the islands beaches are a Loggerhead turtle nesting site in the summer.
The area is rich in winged wildlife as well with a large variety of birds. Some notables are Brown Pelicans, Great Egrets, Terns; many shore birds such as the laughing Gulls and Sanderlings, as well as predators like the Ospreys.
The Bight is a very peaceful place to recharge after a week at sea, or prepare for the next leg north by stocking the freezer with freshly baked sweet almond corn bread and another batch of almond oatmeal, or cappuccino oatmeal cookies. These are perfect for late night watches with a cup of your favourite hot drink…or to sit and watch the sun set as you listen to the gentle slapping of wavelets along Oh!’s hulls. I must admit life is very good on Oh!.
From Oh!, waiting out a North Easterly blow at Cape Lookout Bight.