by Grant Carter
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Ann, Kelby and I are 15 hours out of Grand Rapids Michigan, half-way across Currituck Sound and one hour from downtown Avon. The Jeep is loaded with the required Hatteras toys: five windsurfers, eight sails, six masts, the ladies' mountain bikes, roller blades and, somewhere under Kelby’s pile of Barbie Dolls, my copy of Jimmy Buffett’s new book Where is Joe Merchant?
Approaching the end of the bridge I realize that I am beginning to lose it. Once again, Hatteras Fever is striking and striking hard. Ann recognizes the symptoms. She knows I won’t last much longer.
She’s right. I turn off the car radio. So much for the “Official Hurricane Channel of the Outer Banks.” I need a weather forecast without “easy listening beach music.”
By sheer coincidence, the battered Realistic Weather Radio just happens to be in the driver’s side map pocket. I extend the antenna, point it out the open window and turn the switch. I begin to feel my Hatteras Fever subsiding as I wait for the official marine forecast.
Welcome Back to the Outer Banks
Charlie Compher’s voice welcomes us back to the Outer Banks. Charlie, you see, is not just your every day weather announcer. He is the voice of the National Weather Service and he can make or break your day. Charlie is the voice who warned three years ago of Hurricane Lillie—she didn't arrive—and the big Northeaster that blew out the bridge—“Where were you when the ship hit the span?” And for those of us who get Hatteras Fever in the middle of winter, Charlie is the voice at the end of the telephone telling you to get your backside to the island fast—the wind is blowing 20 to 25 knots from the southwest and it’s 70 degrees!
But this morning the trusty weather radio has become the despised frustration box. Charlie’s forecast is plain awful—an optimistic 10-knot breeze from the west, the kind of wind that seasoned Hatteras windsurfers know won’t fly a wind sock.
Heading south toward Nag’s Head, Ann and I wrestle with two questions: why did we drive all night for this, and now what do we do? We really don’t want to answer the first question; we’ve been doing this drive for too many years with too many similar welcome back messages from Charlie. We should know better, shouldn’t we?
We decide to answer the second question over breakfast at Stack’em High in Kitty Hawk. Great Spanish omelettes and pancakes. Kelby confirms the grits are as good as last year. Feeling somewhat energized, though far from refreshed, we agree on our windless day strategy: we’ll drive toward the end of Hatteras Island and visit friends and favorite spots. A sort of windless Hatteras Island travelogue.
Our next stop is Kitty Hawk Sports at Nags Head. The parking lot is nearly full with cars sporting out of state and Canadian license plates. Similar victims of Charlie's forecast I suspect. Keith Wood, the store manager, is maxxed out. He waves from the other side of the shop and returns to explaining the merits of a new sail to prospective customers. As usual I don't escape without buying some new hardware: a spreader bar which I know I won't need today.
If You Can’t Sail, Fly
By this time, Kelby has seen enough high aspect fins and carbon fiber masts. At 10 a.m. she wants an ice cream cone! And, she knows where to find the best ice cream on the Outer Banks—at How Sweet It Is. I catch up in time to help finish the cone. We buy a kite and briefly consider a hang gliding lesson—perfect conditions for learning, we’re told. If you can’t sail, you can always fly.
We drive past the Outlet Mall at Nags Head. Great bargains, especially if you are in the market for shoes or clothes. We’ll stop on the way home. However, it is October and there are less than 100 shopping days to Christmas. A short detour to Manteo and The Christmas Tree store. A fantastic selection of decorations for the holiday season. Kelby wants it all but settles for tree decorations.
All this Christmas spirit has made us thirsty. Fortunately, the Weeping Radish is located beside the Christmas shop. If you want a change from fried fish, hush puppies and grits, then the Weeping Radish may be the ticket. It features authentic German cuisine and its own brew-pub supervised by visiting brewmasters from Germany. The dinner menu looks superb but we’ve got places to go and people to see.
Where Is Barton Decker?
Half an hour later we’re driving over a 150 foot dark piece of newer asphalt on the Oregon Inlet bridge. This is the famous span that got clobbered by an errant dredge ship in the big Northeaster trapping Island visitors for up to 48 hours. Back on Hatteras Island we decide to visit Barton Decker's Hatteras Island Surf Shop—if we can find it. Oh, we know it is on the west side of the highway in Waves but there is no neon sign. In fact there really is no sign, just a shredded flag and the remains of an old windsurfer sail at the entrance. Since there is no wind, Barton is not sailing and the shop is open. We look at the new Seatrend boards and Fleetwood composite booms. Very tempting!
Barton is as enthusiastic about Windwing sails as he was when we first met him eight years ago. He invites us to test one of his sails later in the week.
Kelby is now suffering her own version of Hatteras Fever. She just has to see her friends and do a little shopping. Business is booming at Windsurfing Hatteras when we arrive. Another typical windless Saturday morning: every frustrated boardhead seems to be maxing out his or her Amex or Visa cards.
Stephanie flashes Kelby a big smile from behind the front counter and shouts: “Kelby, welcome back. I heard you were in town.” Minutes later Kelby and Dundee the super dog are rolling around on the floor. Michael Grundy, the store manager, is laughing: “Just like old times,” he says. We manage to escape without a purchase but we know we’ll be paying our “wind taxes” here soon. After all, you can’t visit Hatteras without buying a new fin, can you?
If you can’t move to the island but want to take it home with you, then the next door Home Port Gift Shop is the place to be—pictures of the lighthouse, seashell lamps and all sorts of neat gifts make this a regular stop on our visits. Kelby makes her required purchases.
More Places to Go and More People to See
Gary Cooper at the Avon Kitty Hawk Sports store tells us that we missed some super days last week and Jim Ballantine at Avon Windsurfing tells us about his Air Foil sails—we’ve heard they are fast. At the only traffic light in downtown Avon we turn right and drive into the old village of Kinnakeet, a real trip back in time. The brick homes in this area look like real homes, not the stork-like cottages stuck in sand dunes along the highway. Many of the locals who live here earn their living as fishermen as did their ancestors.
Continuing toward Buxton we pass the Food Lion (the largest food store on the island), Bubba’s Too (ribs, ribs and Mrs. Bubba’s apple pie), Canadian Hole (no wind, no people) and the Brew Thru (we’ll be back). A side trip to the lighthouse and then to Cape Point means a four wheel drive along the beach and dropping our tire pressure to 16 pounds. There are not too many surf fishermen today: the wind direction is ass-backwards for Red Drum in the fall and there hasn’t been a run of Bluefish for a couple of days, Bob Eakes of the Red Drum Tackle Shop tells us later. If the wind switches to the north we’ll get some Drum he assures us. I wouldn’t mind that. It has been four long years since Ann, Kelby and I hooked into a 37 pound Drum at the Point.
Passing the newly renovated and greatly expanded Fox Watersports store, owned by that famous shark hunter Ted James, we head toward the Hatteras Island Marina. Its about 4 o’clock and the offshore fishing boats are arriving back from a day in the Gulf Stream.
Captain Fred is docking Citation, a 57-foot beauty, and shortly after the mate begins the show: a great catch of tuna, dolphin (not Flipper the porpoise) and a couple wahoo are piled on the dock to the cheers of everyone. Reminds us of the day we chartered Citation and caught enough tuna for a month. We eat dinner at the Channel Bass in Hatteras Village, one of the best restaurants on the island. Not too many windsurfers here, mostly fishermen. Owner Shelby’s trophy fish are mounted on the walls.
Its nine p.m. The end of another day in paradise.
The toys have been unloaded from the Jeep, Kelby has explored the house, Ann is reading her latest Dirk Pitt adventure and I’m getting Hatteras Fever again. I find the frustration box and turn the switch. Will we be on the sound tomorrow or will we be visiting Ocracoke Island?
Charlie’s back. The forecast is southwest 20 knot winds with a sunny 70 degrees. Postpone the trip to Ocracoke, its going to be a perfect 5.0 day.
Thank you, Charlie. You're back on top of our popularity list.
Grant and Ann Carter, of Ottawa Canada, have been regular visitors to
Hatteras Island for nine years and pioneered soundfront sailing at Avon.
Six-year-old Kelby hangs out at Windsurfing Hatteras with Stephanie, Michael
and Dundee when she is in town.
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