Friday, July 12, 2019

Cape Lookout Bight

July 12
Cape Lookout Bight

We have spent a pleasant two days anchored in Cape Lookout Bight, exploring the surrounding area by foot and dinghy.

A bight is "a curve or recess in a coastline or river." In the case of Cape Lookout, the bight is shaped like a big "U", with two inlets at the top of the U (north) and Cape Lookout at the bottom (south). Intermezzo is anchored along the left (west) side of the U, about a quarter mile off the southern shore which forms the cape and separates the ocean from the bight. The waters in this area of the bight are about 25 feet deep, the rest of the bight is pretty shallow, typically 1 to 7 feet deep.

Yesterday morning we took the dinghy to the western shore. It was low tide so rather than drag the dinghy up the beach to to above the high tide line, we anchored it in a foot or so of water and waded to shore. The bottom is sandy and there are lots of little fish swimming about. I tried digging for clams but its not the right habitat for them- too sandy, not enough nutrient in the water, probably due proximity to the deep water and daily flushing from the tides. We found a cut though the low, vegetated sand dunes that led out to the big white sandy beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean. It was deserted. Just the way I like beaches.

We jogged southward along the beach for about a half hour to reach Cape Lookout and stand at the end of the earth on a spit of sand jutting into the blue, white-capped ocean. A big four-wheel drive truck with tourists in the back passed us and there was a family fishing near the cape, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves. We walked the journey back to the dinghy at a more sedate pace, appreciating the sunny blue sky, the nice cooling breeze, the sea birds, and the beauty of the dunes, beach and sea.

We waded out back to the dinghy, which was floating in about four feet of water now that the tide had come in. We motored across the bight to the bottom-right (southeast) of the U where there is an abandoned Coast Guard station. We poke the nose of the dinghy into a beautiful wetland where the grass growing up through the shallow water was as bright as green can get, swaying slightly in the wind in the bright sunlight. Then we continued on to land the dinghy on the beach near one of the abandoned Coast Guard structures.

The Coast Guard station was established in the late 1800's as a lifeboat station for rescuing mariners in distress. A long open surf lifeboat would be dragged out onto the beach, in the earliest years by men, later by mules, finally by a truck, and the Coastguardmen would row out through the surf to rescue the crews of boats that foundered along this treacherous coastline. The Coast Guard would eventually evolve to use fast motor lifeboats and helicopters for these types of rescues. I'm guessing that the big dock sticking out into the bight was the home for one or more motor lifeboats until the station was closed in 1983.

The sandy road trails leading through the station pass through a pygmy forest of salt-pruned trees. The land around the bight reminds me of Fire Island NY on which I spent a lot of time as a kid- as you cross from bay to ocean you pass through wetlands, then pygmy forest, then dunes onto white sandy beach. Here, though, the vegetation of the forest and dunes seems more dense and established. I'm guessing that's due to milder winters here on the Carolina coast.

Most of the Coast Guard structures are closed and in a bad state of repair, but the large white main barracks looks pretty good from the outside and it appears that some sort of renovation is underway inside. No one was around, so we snuck in through the front door and climbed the stairs and then ladder up to small square lookout area at the very top of the building. The 360 degree views of the bight and ocean from there are spectacular and you can imagine a Coastguardsman looking out for ships on a violent sea through the cold rain of a winter storm.

After visiting the Coast Guard Station, we got back in the dingy and motored up the right side (east) of the U to the 163 foot tall lighthouse on that side of the bight. This the headquarters for the National Park Service and I was wary of committing some sort of infraction and receiving a citation again, like I did at Dry Tortugas (see blog post from there). We beached the dinghy with some trepidation (there were no signs telling us we could or couldn' unlike the NPS) and enjoyed walking along the boardwalk nature trail with its classic NPS interpretive signs describing the natural and human history of the lighthouse station. The lighthouse keepers' residence has been beautifully restored and is a museum but we arrived after it had closed. The lighthouse itself is an impressive brick structure, painted in a pattern of black and white diamonds, the black diamonds facing east and west, the white diamonds north and south to help mariners orient themselves at sea.

By the time our day's tour of the bight was drawing to and end, the wind had whipped up to nearly 20 knots. It was a wet ride diagonally across the U back to Intermezzo, with a steep chop and wind-driven spray from the dinghy's bow. A hot shower followed by a rum drink finished off the adventure.

The wind blew hard all night, but Intermezzo lay comfortably at anchor, hardly swinging at all and just barely, gently bouncing on the wavelets, limited in height by the short fetch to shore.

Today we took the dinghy back to anchor in shallow water off the western shore again and walked/jogged around the left (west) part of the U, first along the ocean beach, then around the end at the opening of for Barden Inlet, and back along the beach of the bight. It was mostly cloudy and the wind was blowing stronger than yesterday, but the natural beauty of this place is undiminished.

When we returned to Intermezzo, I put on dive gear to finish replacing the propeller anodes. There was a current that made the job a bit difficult, but nowhere near the strength of the current in Masonboro Inlet, which caused me to abort the work previously and resulted in several cuts on my back, leg and hand from the little barnacles now growing along Intermezzo's waterline. Those will need to be knocked off before they get much bigger.

We'll stay here overnight and then make our way back to Beaufort, this time for an official visit, rather for a quick crew drop-off like last time.