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Ocrafolk 2016

Text and Photographs by Michael Doster

Ocracoke. To some the name produces images of pirates, long stretches of undisturbed beaches and “high tiders”. To me it is the Ocrafolk Festival. I first learned of the festival shortly after acquiring the Annie Belle and decided to check it out. Dan from the Marian Claire and I were both fairly new to this boating thing, and he agreed to crew with me the first couple of trips over. We are both fans of live music and it seemed like a natural fit. Now, several years later it has become a yearly ritual. Once Dan's family was introduced to the Festival they became instant fans and Dan has taken to bringing the Marian Claire over each year, forcing me to find new crew. For the past three years that has been Eric from the Naughty Rita. I’ve often said the best crew is someone that is a competent Captain in their own right, and both Dan and Eric fit the bill. It is the foolish Captain indeed that does not take their advice seriously.

South River Sunset.

The festival occurs the first weekend in June, and this year followed Memorial Day weekend. Knowing how the harbor fills up on holidays, our original plan was to get under way on Sunday, arriving Silver Lake on Monday as the holiday traffic cleared out. Weather and technical difficulties delayed our departure until Tuesday, but around mid day we got underway and headed east. Winds were 10 to 15 dead on the nose out of the North East and the Neuse was choppy, with 1 -2 foot seas. Our plan was to stop over in either South River or Lower Broad Creek, depending on conditions, and finish the trip on Wednesday morning when the forecast was for calmer conditions. The Annie Belle is a 34 foot express cruiser, and while capable of running faster, I generally run her at about 8 knots allowing us to fish, carry on a leisurely conversation and enjoy the scenery. After hobby horsing and pounding our way through the chop for a couple of hours, I made an executive decision to duck into South River and finish the trip on Wednesday morning. South River is fairly well protected from everything but a North wind, and once we made the turn and entered the river the water was smooth as glass. Good call. We anchored in the middle of the river near the old Lukens cemetery and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon and evening at anchor. South River is one of my favorite anchorages, and other than the dolphin, rays and other wildlife, this evening we had the entire river to ourselves.

Boats in Silver Lake.

Wednesday dawned clear with light winds and we got underway around 7:00 AM. As forecast, the river and sound were calm and the trip over to Ocracoke was a pleasant “motor boat” ride. As we approached the island around noon we noticed a number of rain storms to our south and east, but we encountered nothing until entering the harbor. I typically fuel up immediately upon entering Silver Lake so in the event I need to leave on short notice I don’t have to mess with this. The rain conveniently held off during refueling and waited until Eric went to the bow to drop the anchor. Other than being a little damp, the hook was down and we settled in for a ceremonial “setting of the hook” cold one. We had arrived.

Dan and the Bambi Burgers.

Enter Bonnie.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie had been moving Northeast along the coast from Florida and the rain we were seeing was the leading edge of the low. It rained off and on the remainder of Wednesday afternoon, but that didn’t stop Dan from coming over for a dinner of Bambi Burgers (a Dan favorite). Dan had arrived a couple of days earlier on his way north to the Chesapeake and we had dropped the hook about 100 yards off his bow. Bonnie arrived in earnest about 1:30 AM on Thursday morning and it rained buckets. The rain continued until about mid afternoon on Thursday when we finally got clear of it. Ocracoke is low any way, and the rain from Bonnie coupled with rain they had received earlier in the week made for a muddy mess. The festival organizers literally had to pump water from the grounds in front of the stages so folks would have a place to sit. My hat is off to them. They somehow got things dry enough on Friday for the festival to go ahead outdoors as scheduled, though not without leaving a few mud pits behind. None of this dampened (no pun intended) the spirits of the festival goers and Saturday dawned clear and sunny. For those that have never been, the festival features music ranging from Brazilian Samba to Celtic Folk to good old Appalachian Blue Grass. Something for everyone. This year we had a special treat, as Kate McNally (a Matthews Point favorite) was also performing at the festival with her new band, and solo at a couple of the local watering holes. To me, a festival high light is the parade starring the Paperhand Puppets. This raucous gathering makes a special effort to include the kids and they have an exceptional time.

Eric and Kate.
The festival continues through Sunday and we had planned on heading back to Matthews Point on Monday. As can happen however, the weather forecast for Sunday night into the first part of the week was deteriorating and I made the decision Sunday morning to lift anchor and try to get back to the Marina before things got worse. Winds were out of the southwest at 10 – 15, forecast to go to 15 -20 late in the day. We would have it on the nose, but it seems that regardless which direction I go the wind is always dead on the nose. We cleared Big Foot Slough and things got rough. Seas were close chopped at 2 – 3 until we got past Royal Shoals then calmed down a bit further once we got past Brant Island Shoal. We made it back to Matthews Point about 2:00 PM, and other than rearranging a few loose items in the cabin arrived without incident. Another one for the log book.

For those interested, the festival is held every year the first weekend in June and I can highly recommend it (they have a web site, check it out). In the old days it used to be completely free, and while they do not charge an admission fee they do actively solicit donations. If you go, please consider supporting the festival in whatever amount you think appropriate. The anchorage fills up the week prior to the festival, and the park service docks are generally full so include that in your planning. If you plan on anchoring, in my experience, boats using plow type anchors (Deltas and CQRs) have had the greatest problems with holding. Every year someone breaks free and it always seems to be with one of these anchors.

While I might be preaching to the choir, I will offer the following to those visiting Ocracoke for the first time. Big Foot Slough is the main entry to the harbor. It also serves as the ferry channel and things can get tight in certain sections, especially if you happen to find yourself along side one of these vessels. It is not uncommon for captains to delay entering Big Foot or leaving the harbor until they are confident they will not be competing for water in the channel. The ferry always wins. Finally, while I am a big fan of chart plotters, Big Foot is prone to shoaling and markers move around a lot. Seldom does the marked channel coincide with what is shown on my chart plotter. Many a captain has gone aground by relying too heavily on charts and not paying attention to what is on the water.

Till next time:
Fair Winds, Calm Seas and a Bright Star to Guide You.
Michael Doster
Motor Vessel Annie Belle

A Few More Pictures

The Mud that Bonnie Left.
Dan and His Daughter Rae.
Oak Grove String Band.
The Parade.