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Cape Hatteras is now a vacationer's paradise, but it was once a captain's nightmare. Two currents come together here: the Labrador Current, which flows north to south, and the mighty Gulf Stream, which runs south to north. They collide just a few miles off Cape Point at the Diamond Shoals. Sometimes this is a gentle mix; sometimes they come together with such force that they throw fish and shells far into the air, sink ships, and flood the land.
This is the heart of the area known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." More than 1,000 ships have sunk off the shores of the Northern Outer Banks, the victims of shallow shoals (sandbars close to shore), storms, and war. Ships tried to take advantage of the north- or south-flowing currents that passed nearby to speed their journey. Some never completed their trip and were blown aground by fierce nor'easters and hurricanes. Even today, ships are lost every year off the North Carolina Coast.
If you get a chance, walk the beach a while. The shelling is great, and sometimes the waves uncover what they once claimed. I've walked on the beach during the winter and spring and come upon shipwrecks uncovered where there was once just sand, only to return the next week to find it covered back up again.
The salt marsh on the sound side of Buxton is protected from the wind. The water is very clear and full of fish and shellfish. This is where the "Lost Colony" supposedly ended up. Artifacts such as arrowheads and other remains of an Indian village can be found in the clear, shallow water. I've found several arrowheads in the peat very close to the shore. The Indian village is now underwater, so you will need to look there. An east wind will blow the water out of the sound and make for easier hunting.
Trip Highlights: This area is noted for its clear water, Indian history, and windsurfing. The launch site is known as "Canadian Hole." It got its name from all the folks from Canada who come to the Outer Banks to windsurf. They fill the parking lot to over-flowing during the windy spring and fall months.
Trip Rating: Beginner.
Trip Duration: Three to four hours; 6 miles.
Navigation Aids: USGS Map NC0091, Buxton, 1:24,000.
Tidal Information: No direct tidal influence.
Cautions: Stingrays are common in the sound here, and stepping on their stingers can be very painful. If you need to exit your kayak in the water, make sure you have water shoes on. If you walk any distance in the water, shuffle your feet as you walk to scare off the stingrays.
Trip Planning: It's best to plan your trip here during the summer and fall months when the weather is milder. During the more turbulent winter and spring, the winds tend to make paddling difficult. It can be quite buggy at the launch site during the summer, so bring insect repellent.
Launch Site: From Avon, travel south on NC-12 for 0.5 mile and look for a paved parking area on your right. If you hit Buxton, turn around; you've gone too far. You can park anywhere. There are portable toilets here, and a wide sandy beach. You can launch from anywhere on the beach.
Where to Eat & Where to Stay The Orange Blossom Cafe and Bakery (252-995-4109) in Buxton on NC-12 is about 2 miles south of the launch site, on the right, just past the turnoff to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Get there early for the sweet rolls and bakery items. The lunch specials are to die for. Order a great big veggie or chicken burrito with rice, beans, cheese, and other great fillings, and have a picnic. lodging Falcon Motel (252-995-5968 or 800-635-6911, www.outer-banks.com/falconmotel) is 1 mile south of the launch site. You can also launch from behind the motel on a small creek that leads out to the sound. camping Buxton Campground (252-473-2111), Cape Hatteras National Seashore, 3 miles south of launch site, just past the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
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