– View of the Lighthouse from Lookout Bight –

by Bittu Ali

The Cape Lookout National Seashore is one of our favorite NC weekend destinations for a variety of reasons. First of all, Cape Lookout is absolutely gorgeous. From the Cape, you can get a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, you can watch the sun rise from the ocean and set in the ocean from the same location. The Lighthouse at Cape Lookout is one of North Carolina’s most well recognized historical features. As one of our few National Seashores, Cape Lookout is free from development and feels like the wild and pristine place it should be. Additionally, the only way to reach Cape Lookout (or any of the South Core Banks, for that matter) is by boat –the closest road goes only as far as Harker’s Island. Consequently, the beaches on this particular island that is part of the Outer Banks is one of the least crowded in North Carolina. Finally, of particular importance to our crew, Cape Lookout has beaches that face both East and Southwest.

Having beaches that face nearly opposite directions is a big plus if you want to surf. The odds are pretty good that there will be some waves coming from somewhere. Our friends, Dave and Charles (who now live in Oregon) were visiting family in NC over the holidays so we hatched this idea to take Danny’s sailboat and load it up with all the toys for an extended New Year’s weekend to Cape Lookout. The plan was to do some coastal sailing, board and kayak surfing, relaxing and generally just having a good time away from home.

With 4 guys, 2 WW Kayaks, 1 Surfboard, a huge cooler full of gourmet food and hundreds of pounds of miscellaneous gear, Danny’s San Juan 23, Willie Juan, pretty much looked like Jed Clampett’s rig (from the Beverly Hillbillies) as we pulled into the public boat access in Beaufort to launch. It took us 2 hours to load and rig Danny’s sailboat. One of the locals watching us quietly stood by –apparently baffled by the sheer volume of gear we continued to stuff into every available recess in the 23’ sloop. Finally, his curiosity got the better of him and he asked how long we were going away from land. When we told him 4 days, he just laughed and walked away.

– Fully Packed and Loaded Down –

As we finally got underway and began to motor our way out of Taylor Creek towards Shackleford Banks, we realized we would not make it to Cape Lookout before nightfall. Also, the tide was going out and in these shallow waters, navigation could be difficult with a boat that has a 2’ draft. Consequently, Danny made the decision to anchor out in Shackleford Slue so we could get a fresh start navigating through the tricky shoal water the next morning.

– Headed out of Taylor Creek –

Unfortunately, there are sections of Shackleford Slue that are less than 2’ deep at low tide. We found one of these sections and promptly ran aground. The tide was going out. Danny yells out, “Quick! Everybody jump out of the boat!” I look around and all I can see is water. It is December. Charles and I decide to put on our drysuits since we found the idea of hypothermia unappealing. “We don’t have time for that guys, we have to push this boat off the sandbar before it gets stuck for good”, Danny says. Dave (who is a big guy and insanely strong) strips down to his boxers and jumps into the frigid waters. Dave single-handedly pushes the sailboat off the sand bar. Regrettably, we have no way to retrieve Dave as the boat breaks free and starts to go out with the tide. “Swim for the dinghy, Dave!” we yell in unison. Fortunately, Dave easily makes it to the dinghy in tow and climbs aboard.

– Dave Makes it to the Dinghy –

With the light fading, we find a relatively deep place to set anchor and spend the night. The night is crystal clear and the boat rocks gently with the breeze. With a belly full of grilled chicken served over pasta with a delicious red sauce, we sleep well. All of us except for Charles –who is seasick.

– A Seasick Crewman –

The next morning, our first order of business is to navigate out of this shallow channel into deeper water. Our next order of business is to find a marina and get some Dramamine for Charles. As luck would have it, we arrive at the only marina on Harker’s Island at low tide. The water is only 2’ deep. We run aground once again. This time, Charles and I push the 5500 lbs load into deeper water as Danny and Dave cheer us on.

Our luck is turning for the better as we find an open store that sells Dramamine. We also find a public restroom with flush toilets and our group’s mood improves dramatically. We shove off from the marina and this time, manage to get into the channel without running aground –perhaps due to the fact that we are lighter upon having visited the public facilities.
– Headed out of the Marina –

In any event, we find a decent breeze and head for Lookout Bight. The water here is very deep and we have no further mishaps. In fact, the rest of the trip is fantastic. The next morning we set sail for the Lighthouse. There is a nice deep spot to set anchor and we head out to the beach to check out the surf. The waves are small and mushy but Danny and I make the best of them. Since I am in a short WW kayak (a Liquid Logic Vision 56), I am able to catch the small waves pretty easily and get some decent rides. Danny’s long board would do better if he had more to work with but he gave it a good go nonetheless.

NOAA weather reported a small craft advisory and heavy rains beginning that evening. So, instead of staying one more night, we decided to head back that afternoon. Our trip back was enjoyable and uneventful. To us, this trip had all the ingredients we look for in a good adventure: Fun activities to engage in (board surfing and kayak surfing, in this case), an excellent destination, good company, great food, an opportunity to make a variety of plans and overcome obstacles, excitement, and an element of the unknown. We highly recommend this trip. If you want to do a trip similar to the one described here, we have listed below some information you may find useful.

  • There is a restroom facility and a fresh water source at Cape Lookout near the Lighthouse. You should call the Park Headquarters to check if these are operational prior to your visit. The park web address is: http://www.nps.gov/calo/index.htm and their phone number is: 252-728-2250
  • You should bring enough water even if you think you can resupply at the Cape. Allow 1 gallon per person per day for drinking and cooking.
  • You can launch a trailerable boat at either the public boat ramp in Beaufort or the Harker’s Island Marina.
  • Make sure you have accurate charts of the area (NOAA chart 11545) and/or good local knowledge. The waters north of Shackleford Banks are quite shallow.
  • Bring a VHF radio and know how to use it.
  • A Danforth anchor will work well in the sandy bottom. However, you’ll want 250’-300’ of anchor rode if you want to anchor out safely in Lookout Bight.
  • Short Whitewater Kayaks with planing hulls will strap well to the toerail/lifelines. Put the sprayskirt on the boat to keep the water out.
  • Bring a well stocked cooler; if the weather/surf is less than ideal, at least you can eat/party well.
  • Tow a dinghy or at least have a good plan to get to the Cape when you anchor out.