Shooting the Breeze
January 7, 2009

Jimmy Buffett likes driving the seashore
beaches for surfing, fishing, and solitude

UPDATE: Jimmy writes the fourth part of his Outer Banks Diary -- on his day on Ocracoke.
Check the link at the bottom of this article.

You might be surprised who you could run into driving the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The man who has been called the “world’s richest beach bum,” Jimmy Buffett, spent four days on the Outer Banks this fall – from Nov. 10-13.

One of those days, he spent in his custom-built, veggie-burning off-road vehicle that he has dubbed “The Green Tomato,” driving the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore – by himself, which was just the way he planned it.

Buffett has written a lengthy, three-part saga of his trip from Kill Devil Hills to Ocracoke for his Web site.  It is, he says, not the first time he visited the Outer Banks. He writes that he has family connections going back to a grandfather who, he says, was shipwrecked off the Banks.  This trip was, though, the first time he drove down Highway 12, in what was apparently a maiden voyage on the sand for the Green Tomato.

We don’t know from his “Outer Banks Diary” if the singer, songwriter, author, and business mogul, who turned 62 on Christmas Day, is aware of the controversial status of ORV access to the seashore beaches.

But we do learn that he likes beach driving and has for a long time.

He writes in Part 3, the part that covers his travels on the seashore beach:
Beach driving was a big part of my adolescent years down on the shores of Dauphin Island and Perdido Bay in Alabama. I had a great friend who had a Willys 4-wheel drive Jeep that we used for beach parties, fishing trips and just simply driving on the beach. To me, there is something very liberating about leaving asphalt behind and cruising along the seashore with no road signs, radar detectors or real destination. It is like sailing on land. You can basically plot your own course and if you get stuck or break down there is a community of like-minded “sanders” out there who will stop and help you out.

Though I left Alabama behind a long time ago, I kept the thrill of those early years lodged in the fun chips in my memory bank, and the beaches of Long Island are now my stomping grounds for alternative terrain. What some folks refer to as “four wheelin” is largely the domain of fishermen with trucks turned into beach cruisers sporting coolers the size of dog houses and a literal forest of surf casting rods sprouting from the bumpers. But on the Outer Banks, it is also the way surfers get to the best and most isolated breaks. Accepting the fact that the waves looked like a “no show,” I stopped at a tackle shop to pick up some local flies before I left the highway.

Buffett flew from New York City to the airport at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, where he met up with his van coordinator who had brought the Green Tomato to the Outer Banks.  He spent time on the northern beaches, took an air tour of the islands, headed south to meet with friends from REAL Kiteboarding whom he met in the British Virgin Islands, and headed down Hatteras Island for his day alone on the beach.

He writes that he had hoped to spend the night in a campground in the Green Tomato, which is really a very amazing shade of green, but that the campgrounds were closed.  We assume he is referring to the National Park Service campgrounds.

So Buffett traveled to Hatteras village and rented a room at what seems to be, from the photos, the Village Marina Motel. He mentions some of the businesses and restaurants by name but not others.

The next morning, he writes about being awakened by the diesel engines on the boats heading out of Hatteras Harbor for a day of fishing.

His Plan A was to surf, but a quick trip to the ocean confirms that it’s not a day for surfing, so he falls back to Plan B, which is to do some fishing on his stand-up board and chill out on the beach.

His geography of the trip gets a little hard to follow, but we do know that he stopped at Frisco Rod and Gun, which he does not name but where we know Kyle Perry, whose family owns the tackle shop, helped him pick out some flies for his fishing excursion.

Then he apparently headed out to the beach at Ramp 49. And he writes:

I found a spot a good distance from any other fishermen with the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse just visible above the dunes. I guess it was the place. I parked, turned on some tunes and began to unload. The big test was a success. I rigged the stand up fishing board, assembled my fly rods, beach chairs and writing table and pretty soon I had my home for the day all neat and orderly and I hadn’t even broken a fingernail. My old scoutmasters back in Mobile would have been proud.

Next is a rather comical sequence in which he describes his fishing expedition on the stand-up board:

Though it was a bright, bright, bright sun shiny day, the wind was still chilly, chilly, chilly and blowing strong from the northeast. It would be a full wet suit day. The sight of the Green Tomato may have made some folks turn and stare while I was driving but it was nothing compared to the looks I got when, looking like a large seal in my wet suit and booties, I drug the stand up fishing board to the waters edge, practiced a few false casts and then headed out through the small waves of the surf break to where I had seen bait working from the beach. I did not care about my first impression to the surf casters, for I was on yet another mission. It might be a second day without waves, but it would be one of those days with a “first” in it, if I caught a fish from the board. Past the break, there was a small stretch of fairly calm water protected by the dunes but beyond it, the chop and the wind were clearly waiting. The trick was going to be to gauge the wind and current and paddle to that calm water, stow the paddle, grab the fly rod and make a cast before I was sailed by the wind out to the Diamond Shoals. I made several practice runs, hooking myself once in the foot, and losing my paddle on another run and having to go overboard to retrieve it.

I can only imagine what the anglers on the beach thought about the sight they were witnessing.

Buffett manages to save face with the anglers by catching and releasing a bluefish before he returns to the beach to chill out, read, and take a nap under an umbrella.

Then he packs up and heads off the beach:

I stayed on the sand for several miles just enjoying the freedom and the view until I had to get back on the asphalt to meet Jason for lunch but still had time to stop at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse for a climb. You know me and lighthouses. If there is one around, I will climb it. When I got to the light - BUMMER! It was closed for the season, so I followed the signs to where the original lighthouse had been back in the days when it might have been spotted by members of my family becalmed on that ocean so long ago.

By the time Buffett and his Green Tomato reached his last day on Hatteras, folks were onto him.

The Island Free Press got a couple calls about “Jimmy sightings,” but I didn’t rush out to find him.  After all, he’s not exactly Richard Gere.  I have to admit that I could have pulled up next to him on the beach with his Green Tomato, and I would not have had the foggiest idea who the old guy in the knit cap with the elaborate rig was.

It’s interesting that, except for those couple calls, we had no more information and no one sent us photos of his Hatteras or Ocracoke trip – although plenty of islanders met him and had their photo taken with him.

He mentions this in his diary and also mentions his rules for interacting with fans:

I was sitting in the van spinning the ball on my G1 phone looking at surf reports, maps and possible fueling places for the final leg of my trip down to the low country of South Carolina, when there was a tap on the window. It didn’t take long to figure out that I had again been spotted. I guess the text messages had been flying on the Outer Banks for a few days. It is hard to stay under the radar these days where videos and photos have replaced autographs, so I guess I better take a moment to give you the rules by which I operate in that regard.

1) I won’t sign autographs when I am in the act of eating (drinking is okay). Eating is a sacrament to me, and something, which is never to be interrupted. In my world, it comes with the punishment of eternal damnation in the fires of hell (can’t get away from that Catholic thing).

2) As for photos, it all depends on your manners and what kind of mood I am in, and if I do take photos I ask that you keep them as personal keepsakes and not post them on the internet or blogs and not shared with the entire planet earth. A photo should be a keepsake, not a calling card.

3) Finally, I don’t want anybody bothering me when I am at home and that includes on my boat. Other than that, I feel that I am fair game and it is all just a part of the job, and I have found the vast majority of the time, fans I meet out there couldn’t be more respectful and mannerly and I do appreciate that. I still have a bit of a problem with that celebrity stuff as I do still only see myself as a beach boy, ex-altar boy from Mobile, who worked hard and got lucky and not much more. To me, it is just my job.

The tap on his window was from some Coast Guardsmen while Buffett waited in line for the ferry to Ocracoke.

.the young man at my window introduced himself as a member of the United States Coast Guard and said simply that he hated to bother me but he would probably never get this opportunity again. I thought to myself, hell, if I hadn’t learned those three chords way back when at Auburn, Alabama, I might have wound up in the Coast Guard. Anyway, I got out, met his friends and snapped a few photos, shook hands and listened to his stories about his times at our shows, grateful that he and a whole lot other folks out there love our shows. In these days and times of instant gratification and American Idol, real fans are the basis of any career. Without them, you are just a karaoke crooner.

The bell at the front of the line rang as the ferryboat approached the dock. I said good-bye to the Coastie and his friends and climbed back aboard the GT, watching them high-fiving and laughing as they walked away towards town. I thought for a moment about a piece of advice I got from the late and great Paul Newman, when I watched him deal with a crowd of fans at a function up on Long Island years ago. I said something about how gracious he was with them and he looked at me and said something like, “Kid, it takes no more time to be thought of as an asshole than it does to be thought of as a good guy. Give them a thrill. That’s your job.” Wisdom from someone like that you cherish and remember forever.

Jimmy Buffett ends the last part of his Outer Banks Diary as he is riding across Hatteras Inlet on the ferry at sunset.  He was to spend the night on Ocracoke, but he apparently will not be writing about his visit there.

Finally, we have a message for Buffett.

He writes about his musings on the ferry ride:

I am always intrigued by the names of boats, as it is a very serious thing to those who venture out on the water as to what namesake they trust their souls to. So, it did set me to wondering why someone would name a channel ferry in the coastal waters of North Carolina after a famous architect who was murdered in New York in a sex scandal over a century ago. But maybe it was just a coincidence and W. Stanford White might have been a famous local seaman who rescued a dog or a baby in a storm. So, if anybody who reads this can enlighten me on this subject, please send me an e-mail.

Jimmy, we can tell you that the W. Stanford White was not named for the famous scandal-ridden architect from New York.  It was named for an Outer Banks politician who served on the county Board of Commissioners in the ‘60s and ‘70s and also was elected to the state legislature and was one of the first wildlife officers in the state.

“He and Melvin Daniels were instrumental in bringing the (DOT Ferry Division) shipyard to Manns Harbor,” explains his son, Stan White, who also served as a commissioner and now is a member of the DOT Transportation Board.

To recognize Stanford White’s contribution to the county, the commissioners recommended to DOT that a new ferry be named for him.  The W. Stanford White was commissioned in 2003. White died in 1978.

We are sure you will enjoy Buffett’s diary of his Outer Banks trip.  You will recognize people and places you know in the narrative and the photos – and he is a very entertaining writer.

To read Jimmy Buffett’s Outer Banks Diary, go to:

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