Commercial fishing, charter, and private boats are back to using Rollinson Channel to safely navigate between the harbor in Hatteras village and Hatteras Inlet.
Since January, many boats were using an alternate channel that goes farther west into the sound to bypass the heavily shoaled Rollinson Channel, also known as the ferry channel or main channel.
Shoaling has been a problem ever since Hurricane Irene in 2011. The problem was exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy last October and several northeasters last fall.
By mid-January, the shoaling had gotten so bad that the ferries stopped running for a month and then resumed operations in the alternate channel.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for keeping the channel clear, contracted for a company with a pipeline dredge to clear the sand out of the channel.
The dredge arrived on the scene just before Christmas and left last week. However, the channel is still problematic, especially in the area of marker 12B.
In that particularly dynamic area at the inlet, there has been more shoaling since the dredging.
Currently, the ferries are still using the alternate channel, while the Corps tries to come up with a solution that will keep the main channel open.
However, charter captains and commercial watermen are using the channel without problems.
“It is very narrow and shallow in places,” said Rom Whitaker, captain of the Release. But he said it is safe – for now – for boats that draw less than 5 feet of water.
“We have a better scenario than we had this time last year,” added Dan Oden, manager of Oden’s Dock.
At least, both Oden and Whitaker noted, fishermen and captains have a safe alternative to the main channel.
Whitaker says the alternate route takes about 15 minutes longer for him to run than the direct route to the inlet.
Having that alternative is especially important to Hatteras village and its marinas and businesses now because the Hatteras Village Offshore Open is just around the corner.
The offshore fishing tournament, the first event in the Governor’s Cups billfish series starts with registration on Tuesday, May 14, and fishing Wednesday through Saturday.
The tournament is sponsored by the Hatteras Village Civic Association and raises money for several local non-profits.
Last year’s tournament was plagued by shoaling in the channel, and some boats decided not to fish in the tournament for that reason.
Dennis Robinson, president of the civic association, said he’s hopeful that the main channel will remain open and if any problems develop, boats will use the alternate route.
“As long as we have a safe passage, we should be okay,” he said.
However, he added, “After dredging, I never expected this – never in a million years.”
“We didn’t get our money’s worth,” said Whitaker.
When the shoaling got really bad over the winter, Whitaker and other local captains located and marked the alternate channel, which has plenty of water. Most were using it until this week.
Whitaker says that although the smaller boats can use the main channel for now, he doesn’t think that will last too long. It will shoal up again, he says.
The Army Corps has not said how it intends to address the problem area in the channel.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For information about the Hatteras Village Offshore Open or to register, go to http://hatterasonmymind.com/HVCA/HVOO/.