Shuttle offers an alternative to waiting
in line for the ferries to and from Ocracoke
Last week I
had a new
experience traveling to Ocracoke, one of my favorite places to visit,
especially for Thai food.
of waiting in the stacking lanes at the ferry, I boarded the Soundside
Shuttle, captained by Will Whitley of Hatteras, and joined a family
also looking for a different visiting Ocracoke experience.
Ocracoke Island, traveling in the Pamlico Sound on the backside between
the barrier island and the reef.
think about the past weekend.
my boyfriend, Patrick, and I were preparing to head down to Ocracoke,
as we often do.
I uttered a
so shocking that it nearly inverted the poles.
Patrick…maybe Thai food isn’t worth it.”
Thai food is
always worth it. Always.
least, that’s how I felt right up until the moment the ferry
attendant’s outstretched palm doomed my boyfriend and me to 30 more
minutes in the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry stacking
we sat there, sweltering in the fire pit that used to be Patrick’s
truck, we discussed the logistics of the trip. Basically, we were
looking at three more hours of traveling and waiting in lines—at the
very least. This was not what we had envisioned when we lined up at 10
o’clock that morning, but we stuck it out.
And it was
was the oppressive heat, the seemingly endless waiting, the fact that,
because we were packed on the ferry like sardines, I was unable to open
the passenger’s side door, and so was confined to the Chevy Sweat Box.
Trust me. The rolled-down windows were a sorry consolation prize.
were rushed when we got to Ocracoke village, which made the already
nightmarish task of driving even more stressful. (Even in an
average-sized truck, I always feel like we’re driving an armored tank
through Ocracoke’s small, pedestrian and bicycle-dominated streets.)
By the time
back to our house, I was an irritable mess—sweat-soaked, sunburned, and
the midst of all this, I had forgotten that I absolutely love going to
Ocracoke. Dining options aside, it is still one of my favorite places
in the world.
always thought of Ocracoke as being as much an experience as it is a
destination. There are, of course, plenty of reasons to visit the
island, but what makes it so special has little to do with the sights
or even the food.
the people, the pace, the feeling of being in another world, the
feeling that you have finally done it—you have literally gotten away
from “it all” and you never want to go back.
when I had the opportunity a few days later to ride with Whitley on his
brand-new, custom-outfitted, passenger ferry to Ocracoke—the Soundside
Shuttle—I didn’t hesitate.
to get to
Ocracoke without the purgatory of the ferry stacks? No one had to ask
showed up at Oden’s Dock in Hatteras village just before our slated
departure time of 11 a.m. The boat, with its shade-top,
seats, and chrome rails, looked like an oasis in the barren desert of
Hatteras-Ocracoke transportation options.
boarded the boat, along with the Pryor family from Long Island, New
York—Jim, Theresa, and their two children, James and Gabrielle—and we
pausing for a few pictures, we were underway, and within minutes, we
were passing the 11 o’clock ferry from Hatteras. I felt a tinge of
sympathy for the passengers, who waved excitedly as we breezed by them,
not knowing what they were missing.
was a gorgeous day to be on the water. It was so clear that we could
see the bottom as we cruised through the shallows of the Pamlico Sound,
and even though it was hot, there was just enough of a southwest breeze
-- enhanced, of course, by our 18-knot cruising speed -- to ensure that
we stayed cool, but there was not enough wind to make the passage
felt nothing but relief as we flew past the ferry docks at the north
end of Ocracoke and continued on, skidding across the sound, somewhere
between the island and the outer reef. It was so nice to be able to
skip over the part of the trip that involves driving for 15 or 20
minutes in a really long line of cars, all inexplicably going 35 on a
55 mph Highway 12.
the way, I chatted comfortably, aimlessly with the Pryors. They make
the nine-hour trek from Long Island to Hatteras each year, spending
about a week and a half on the island. Theresa and the kids had been to
Ocracoke before, but this would be Jim’s first time. He hadn’t had much
interest in taking the ferry.
asked whether those were “little houses” in the sound, and the
explanation led us to a conversation in which we bonded over a shared
confusion about the appeal of duck hunting. The little houses are
actually duck blinds.
asked for recommendations about what to do on Ocracoke, and I gave them
a list of must-dos -- Thai food included, of course.
hour after we left Oden’s Dock, we were idling through Silver Lake
harbor, with Whitley steering his skiff into its slip at Anchorage
Marina, right smack-dab in the heart of Ocracoke village.
is a charming place—and I don’t mean that in any diminutive, kitschy
sense—and getting there via water taxi just made sense. It was a
charming ride -- right down to the part where we had to turn around in
the middle of the sound, because the usual route had shoaled up, and
Whitley had to scout out an alternative passage.
exciting, and it fit perfectly with that “world away” feeling that
makes Ocracoke so unique.
golf cart and set out to explore the shops on the island and to eat
rented a bike, and as I pedaled through the busy village, I thought to
myself that this is how you should get to Ocracoke, because this is how
the island should feel—remote, but not forbidding; familiar, but
slightly exotic; inviting, but unconventional.
off the boat and biking around, eating at little food stands, drinking
a beer on the waterfront, venturing down narrow, sandy streets, kind of
reminded me of island hopping in the Caribbean. No responsibilities, no
Whitley just purchased the boat this past April, he said the idea has
been stewing in his mind, in various forms, for about the past five
years or so.
inspiration ultimately came from his work and experiences on the
water—more than two decades of maritime adventures that have included
running a boat for the Hardee’s corporation, delivering private boats
to destinations all over Atlantic and Caribbean, captaining private
boats and headboats in Morehead City and Hatteras village, and touring
the country’s lakes, rivers and coastline—what’s known as a Great
Circle Tour—on a restored, 1925 Chesapeake Bay “Buyboat.”
traveled around the world by sea, Whitley recognized that there were
really no transportation options in Hatteras for people who don’t
arrive here by car, especially when it comes to visiting Ocracoke.
was the tangible, demonstrable aspect of starting the business, which
he has done with his wife Carol. He had to prove that there was a need
before he could get licensed and approved by the North Carolina
Utilities Commission, and so he spent a lot of time talking with people
who come to the Outer Banks without ground transportation—those who
come to fish seasonally or in tournaments, who come on sailboats, who
bring their boats to the Hatteras Marlin Club, and the like.
the surface, it would seem easy for such individuals to get to
Ocracoke. They already have a boat! But the effort (and expense) of
taking a large sportfishing yacht or sailboat over to Ocracoke for a
day is, in the end, more trouble than it’s worth.
realized that what was needed was a skiff of some sort—a smaller vessel
that could easily and quickly maneuver through the sound, close to the
island and wouldn’t burn a barrel of diesel fuel in the process.
worked directly with Carolina Skiff to build just such a boat, and he
was able to demonstrate enough interest to get the project
is a need for Whitley’s service, but there’s want, too. That, Whitley
said, was a part of the business plan that was probably best captured
in a statement from Bill Gilbert, who owns Anchorage Inn and Marina in
Ocracoke and who worked closely with Whitley in developing the shuttle
I go,” Gilbert told Whitley, “I always ask if there is a boat going
somewhere (I want to go) and there always is.”
it comes down to it, there’s just something about going somewhere on a
boat. Something different. Something exciting. Something that makes
people want to do it.
To be fair,
is a boat, too. And it definitely has its benefits.
the most obvious benefit of the ferry is that it’s free. A round trip
on the Soundside Shuttle costs $40 per person. While Whitley does offer
group discounts—$35 per person for groups of 10 or more and $30 per
person for groups of 15 or more (the boat can carry 19 people)—it can
still be a pricey day trip. In addition, the ferry keeps longer hours
and more flexible times, and there are times, especially later in the
day (and later in the season), when the lines aren’t that bad, and the
boats aren’t too crowded.
of course, you can take your car with you on the ferry, which is pretty
important if you’re toting bikes or surfboards or pets and essential if
you plan to drive out on Ocracoke’s renowned beaches.
this, and he’s in the process of diversifying his portfolio, as it
said that he expects to do most of his village-to-village
transportation on the mid-week days (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday),
when the ferry traffic is the heaviest. The rest of the week, he’s
planning to offer private, full and half-day sound excursions, taking
people clamming, crabbing, shelling, swimming, or even just picnicking
on the sand islands and shoals in the sound.
also talked about offering sunset and full moon cruises, and serving as
a water taxi, shuttling people between Hatteras Island villages. One
particularly interesting idea he mentioned was serving as a kind of
taxi service to the beaches, transporting fishermen and their gear (as
well as other beachgoers) to areas of the beach that are technically
open, but are inaccessible because of other resource
can’t do anything like that right now, but he is talking with Cape
Hatteras National Seashore officials about the possibility.
now, Whitley is mainly promoting the Hatteras-to-Ocracoke passenger
ferry aspect of his business, and I would encourage anyone looking for
a different way to experience Ocracoke—whether it’s to avoid driving
their own boat, to escape the ferry stacks, or to get a fresh
perspective on a familiar place—to give it a shot.
if you are staying on Ocracoke, you can take the Soundside Shuttle to
Hatteras village to go shopping and sightseeing, especially at the
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
Soundside Shuttle is based at Oden’s Dock in Hatteras
You can call 986-4000 for departure times to or from Ocracoke or for