Beach Access and Park Issues
August 18,  2009

Island off Cape Point is keeping rescue personnel busy


The island that has formed off the tip of Cape Point beach kept the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad and National Park Service rangers and lifeguards busy Friday, Aug. 14, and again on Sunday, Aug. 17, according to Bob Helle of the rescue squad.

The “island” is actually a large exposed shoal or sandbar just off Cape Point.  It was there when Cape Point re-opened to ORVs on July 29.  It seems pretty close to Cape Point, and it’s been easy to wade out there at low tide. 

It’s been a temptation for beachgoers.

“People really want to go out there to fish and look for shells,” said Park Service ranger David Carter.

However, the cut-through between the Point and the island has gotten steadily deeper with the shifting of the sands that make up the Diamond Shoals off Cape Point. And the current running through the water has gotten stronger.

People who have been easily wading out there at low tide have been having more trouble returning to the Point if they stay too long and the tide rises.

“Last Friday at 12:30 p.m., the squad was dispatched to the Cape Point beach for a man who had struggled getting back to shore from the low-tide island,” Helle said. “The man had walked out to the island at low tide and was fishing as the tide rose and the channel between got deeper and the current stronger.”

After arriving on scene, Helle said, Hatteras Island Rescue and Dare County EMS checked out the man and further treatment was declined. 

While the man was being checked out, rescue personnel observed 12 people still on the island. 

“The people were warned by loudspeaker to stay on the island and not to attempt to swim back to Cape Point as the channel depth was over 6 feet and the current was running 4 to 6 knots,” Helle said. 

Hatteras Island Rescue launched a Jet Ski, he said, and, one by one, the dozen remaining people stranded by high tide and currents were taken back to shore.

Then, Helle said, at 4:30 p.m. the same day, the rescue squad was again dispatched for another six people stranded. Again the Jet Ski brought them back one at a time without incident.

There was a repeat of the rescues from the island on Sunday, Aug. 16, at about 1:30 p.m.

“While training in the Cape Point area,” Helle said, “rescue personnel on shore were approached by a woman who expressed concern for her husband who had gone out to the island at low water and was now fishing on the far side.  The wife stated her husband had a cardiac history and she was not sure he should even try to make the swim back with all his fishing gear.”

 The rescue squad’s Jet Ski was diverted via radio, and the man was safely removed from the island with his fishing gear.  Also taken off the island by the rescue squad were three teen-agers who swam to the island but did not want to swim back.

Park Service ranger Carter said signs have been posted at Cape Point to advise beachgoers to “beware of the rip currents.”

Though the current in the water between the Point and the island is not technically a rip current as we usually think of them, it is ripping through the narrow channel with great force.

“The Hatteras Island Rescue Squad and NPS rangers remind all visitors to use caution and only venture out to the island at low tide,” Helle said. “If on the island, keep aware of your surroundings with special attention to the depth of water and currents in the channel to the island.

“I would say don’t go out there at all,” Carter said.

The formation of “islands” off Cape Point is not unusual.  It happens from time to time, depending on wind and currents and the shifting sand on the shoals.  The islands come and go, often in a short amount of time.  There have been several “islands” out there at the same time.

Reaching the islands is always tempting to fishermen, beachcombers, and others with an adventurous streak.  But making the trek can be very dangerous.

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