Henry Piggot House
South of Ocracoke, across the inlet, is Portsmouth Island and a ghost town of the same name. Though as a community it began and survived alongside Ocracoke for hundreds of years, Portsmouth’s more limited access proved it’s undoing. It was abandoned almost 40 years ago, and came under care and control of the National Park Service. There was never any electrical power on Portsmouth, though a few small generators operated when needed. Mostly the residents continued to live well into the 20th century much as they had in the 18th. Many of the houses are preserved intact, as are a church, a general store, a school, a post office, and the decommissioned life saving station once manned by the Coast Guard. Almost all are open to the public and cared for by volunteers alongside the Park Service, who only seems to provide assistance when funding is available.
The last ferry from Hatteras leaves at midnight. It’s then a forty minute ride through a deep and disturbing darkness to the northern tip of Ocracoke Island.
These are some of the most treacherous waters on the Atlantic Coast. In recent years, the Coast Guard has averaged 10 rescue missions a month in Oregon Inlet just north of here. Charts for the region don’t show channel markers; instead are displayed just warnings such as this:
“Hatteras Inlet is subject to continual change.
Entrance buoys are not charted because they are frequently shifted in position.”
On the way back, when we got to the Spillway, there was a group of Boy Scouts setting up camp for the weekend. They had arrived back at the landing just as we were pushing off, and behind us had paddled the three miles to the Canal Tender’s camp with all their gear. At the camp, one of them found a rope swing and promptly broke his leg. The Scout leaders (a couple of dads worried about what their wives would say, no doubt) had called 911, and a rescue boat and helicopter were on the way. There was no room to land the helicopter, so they were going to have to take him back to the landing by boat. As we motored down the Feeder Ditch the rescue boat came roaring up the canal, and we got to the ramp just as the helicopter arrived, so we watched them load the hapless fellow into the back and take off for Norfolk.
We filmed the whole thing, of course.
Other things we saw and filmed:
- The homemade ferry, for crossing the canal.
- Two water moccasins, mating.
- A beaver.
- A bike race.