ON THE FERRY
So manfully (or personfully, given the way of the world these days) struggling on without notes, I find myself back on the ferry again heading across the Pamlico Sound. Curiously enough, when I was back in the UK in April 2006, a friend of mine, Kevin Balch, had "Pamlico Sound" in the list of favourites for "Google Earth". Apparently it was a question on a crossword puzzle, about which Sound has an entrance and an exit. The answer was of course Pamlico Sound. This by the way, isn't strictly true. It actually does have two entrances, but it does disappear up its own creek (presumably without a paddle) as I can confirm. And I should know, because I sailed over it a couple of days ago
But meanwhile, I hadn't really needed to have reserved a place on board this ferry because there was plenty of room. The thing was probably not even one-third full. So once we were fully loaded, the ferry winched up its ramp and set sail into the sound.
I took a photo of the harbour from here. You can see the ferry company's offices in the background. They were pretty large to say the least, especially when you consider that it doesn't look like there's a great deal of ferry to administer out here on Ocracoke.
I'm not sure what purpose is served by the lighthouse on the upper level of the offices, if it is indeed a lighthouse. I would imagine that it's more of a pilots' viewing platform. All of this makes me think that I'll have to come back here in the evening some time to have a good look.
And as the island steadily disappeared into the distance I went up onto the top deck to take a few more photographs. You can see quite clearly from the photograph that the ferry port is out on a corner of the island.
There's also a massive water tower that you can see. It made me wonder about what water there is here for drinking and other purposes. Ocracoke struck me as being little more than a sandbank, and it would be unlikely that there would be any aquiferous rock strata underneath. Could be rainfall, I mused, or reverse osmosis, as at Kitty Hawk up the road a way, or it could be by distilling the sea water.
To the right of the ferry terminal, you can see the entrance to the inner harbour - a sort-of reverse angle shot of one I took earlier this morning.
THE PAMLICO SOUND
So "Goodbye Ockracoke Island". I was truly sorry to say goodbye to it. And especially sorry to say goodbye to the Outer Banks. There are just some places that you visit that have a certain kind of atmosphere and just seem to fit you. Rather like a comfortable shoe, if you know what I mean (and I'm sure you do). I was quite at home on the Outer Banks and I'm sure I'm going to return there sooner that I think.
As for my opinion of Ocracoke Island and the Outer Banks? Well, considering that the crossing is going to take over two and a half hours (I'd consulted a timetable by this time), my opinion was
"Ocracoke Island? It's far out, man!"
But before I could get myself settled down for the journey, I found myself obliged to take a photograph of these two young children. As usual with most ships, we were being pursued by a flock of gulls, looking for food, like gulls do. Some gulls were flying very close to the ship, and these two kids were teasing these gulls by pretending to throw things to the them.
Of course, it wasn't long before the inevitable happened. The girl in the orange tee-shirt suddenly let out a piercing yell, clutched her hand to her head, and ran squealing to her mother. As you have no doubt guessed, one of the seagulls, totally fed up with this situation, had performed a magnificent impression of a Stuka dive bomber and zoomed in to score a direct hit. It was absolutely superb to watch.
I have to say that I had no sympathy whatever with the kid, and couldn't help having a little smile to myself. This was definitely "wildlife 1, humans 0".
We hadn't gone too far out into the Sound before we encountered this small island. Now, I've been on and on about there being no wind turbines along the coast of North Carolina, as you have probably noticed, and on more than one occasion too. Why on earth can't they put up a few wind turbines on islands such as this one? It's absurd that they are wasting all of this opportunity to generate electricity when the USA is in the middle of an energy crisis.
There is just so much wind out here, as the Wright Brothers would testify. It's criminal to let it all go to waste out here.
A few miles further out, we crossed a sister ship making the return journey from Swan Quarter to Ockracoke. I wouldn't have minded doing the return journey either, given the time.
You can see how the weather has turned. The beautiful hot weather with which we had started the day had long since disappeared. It was cold, windy, and it looked like the storm I had predicted earlier that morning was going to arrive at any moment. If you read my earlier pages, you will remember my opinions about the crossings over here. Short ferry crossings are no problem usually, but this is a long sea crossing across waters that are affected by storms and hurricanes every year. Not for nothing is this area known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic". A crossing of more than three hours, a storm can spring up at any moment, and we're doing this crossing on a ferry like this.
It doesn't particularly bother me, but can you just imagine the British Board of Trade being asked to licence a passenger ferry like this for these waters? The B liarite nanny state would throw a fit.
We're over halfway out now and the wind was starting to get up. We were really being churned about in the swell and there weren't so many folk on deck just now. Probably many of them were doing their Alec Guinness impression and have gone "to share the suffering of the afflicted".
I did hear of a sailor who went up to one of the many people ... er ... leaning over the rail and saying to him
"your problem is that you have a weak stomach", and receiving the reply
"rubbish. I'm throwing it up as far as everyone else is".
A HISTORY LESSON
It was on this ferry that I had a most peculiar encounter which served to underline my opinion that American education is teaching its citizens all of the wrong things and in the wrong manner too.
I was talking to an American out here who, after a few minutes, cottoned on to my accent.
"You're from England, aren't you?"
Well, as it happens, I'm not, but there's no point in confusing the guy.
So he continued. "Well, I don't know how you people can sell yourselves out to the European Union like you have done. We Americans wouldn't let anyone push us around like they do to you".
Well, what can you say? I was dumbstruck. I couldn't believe what he was saying. I never expected that I would have to teach an apparently well-educated and erudite American his own history.
So I asked him if he could tell me the full name of the State of Massachusetts - which he couldn't.
So then I asked him if he could tell me the full name of the State of Virginia. He couldn't do that either.
So then I asked him to tell me the full name of the State of Texas. Again, he couldn't.
I decided to put him out of his misery. "They are, in fact, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Republic of Texas. You see, in history, the early states were all independent states - hence why they are called states and not provinces - yet they all joined together to form a Federal Union. In the course of so doing they all handed over most of their powers to a Federal body - far more powers in fact than any European state has handed over to the European Union."
He looked at me open-mouthed. And I continued
"Now tell me what happened when Greenland seceded from the European Union in 1984?"
He didn't know.
"Well, they just closed down their offices and walked away. Now tell me what happened when Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and a handful of other states seceded from the United States in 1861?"
I could see by the look on his face that there was no way in the world he was going to answer that question.
"Yes", I said. "I think you Americans ought to take a close look at your own history and make sure you thoroughly understand it before you start criticising the European Union. You Americans are in absolutely no position to pass any kind of criticism concerning the EU".
After half an hour of this, his wife came up to rescue him. Poor guy. He and his wife wandered away so that I wouldn't taunt him "a second time".
After this, every time they saw me coming, they fled across to the other side of the ferry and eventually went to sit in their own car as a means of keeping out of my way.
I love the American people. They are really warm and friendly, but their ignorance is appalling. And you can't blame them for that. It's their education and their culture - firmly driving certain points into them and just as firmly avoiding certain others. They just don't seem to have the capacity for critical, independent thought. They have been spoonfed from birth with the ideas of "believing" and "obedience" into some kind of stereotyped caricature that is made of nothing but total arrogance. No wonder the events of the last few years have come as a total shock to their collective system. Already having suffered the humiliation of being pushed out of Vietnam by a bunch of peasants, they are now facing the humiliation of being pushed out of Afghanistan and Iraq. And they aren't going to recover from this humiliation.
Another thing that gets up the Americans' collective noses is that the USA has a population of about 290 million and has only one vote at the World Trade Organisation. The European Union has 400 million yet it has 27 votes, all of them speaking with the same voice. In any kind of straight fight on World Trade, the Americans lose handsomely. This is why the Americans spend so much time on one hand blackmailing impoverished third-world nations, and on the other hand bad-mouthing the European Union as much as they can. Of course, the Brits are so naive that they haven't woken up to what is going on in the world and have fallen hook, line and sinker for the American propaganda without having considered the implications.
By now, we were arriving at the mainland. I thought to myself that this had been a pretty quick crossing - I'm sure we hadn't sailed for the length of time that we were supposed to have been at sea.
I was right too, but what happened was that the ferry hugged the coastline for quite a while, as you can see in the photograph on the left and then disappeared up its own small creek (again, without a paddle), in the same fashion that I suppose the legendary Oozelum Bird does.
You can see the creek in the photograph just here, and let me tell you that it is a lot narrower in real life than it looks in the photograph too. A strong wind, a bit of tide or current, a thick fog, and you will need to be a good mariner to get it in here.
This ferry that we are on is presumably one of the "Sound" class of ferry (and I won't know which one until I get my tape back). A typical ferry of this class has a draught of a little over seven feet. This creek doesn't look as deep as seven feet, that I can assure you.
After driving off the ferry, I did a quick lap around the car park to a suitable place so I could take a quick shot of it. That wasn't as easy as it sounded either. There's this long lead-in onto the ferry, and no place to park up. I had to content myself with a long-hop from here, and wish that I had a nice digital SLR with a zoom lens.
You can see that the ferry here, alhough bigger than some of its cousins that roam the open seas out here, it still only displaces something like 570 tons. That's not a lot for a two-and-a-half hour crossing out here across Pamlico Sound in a storm or a hurricane. My friend Judith, who came with me on a P&O cross-channel ferry journey one Sunday in 1994, will offer graphic testimony of what happens when a 30,000 ton ferry has to ride out a European version of a hurricane for 11 hours. How would 570 tons cope with the kind of hurricane you have round here? There have been at least two major hurricanes here in the last ten years - Hurricane Fran in September 1996 and Hurricane Bonnie in August 1998.
There was another ship parked up in this small harbour, as you can see in the photograph just here on the left. This is the RV "Long Bay", a ship owned by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.
One of its main uses is to carry all sorts of items out to sea, and then dump them overboard in order to create artificial reefs for diving or other purposes. Although "diving" sounds like a good-enough purpose, I have my strong suspicions about what the "other" purposes might be, particularly since I learned that in this area alone, there are several artifical reefs made up of, in total, almost 200,000 used vehicle tyres. I wonder how much the landfill charges on that little lot would have been if they hadn't found this altruistic way of aiding the local diving community?
By now, it was quite late and everyone else who had been on the ferry with me had disappeared. Even the guy who does the towing-in on Ocracoke Island had gone, and that was a shame. I'd have loved to have followed him to see how he managed pulling that lot along. I was in rather a hurry as I had a long way to go, and there was still an enormous amount of things that I had to do. I recalled Roosevelt's speech to the American nation on 23rd February 1942 - "never before have we had so little time in which to do so much" - this was fast becoming the key motto of this holiday.
From Swan Quarter, I drove east a few miles, and then north up Highway 94 and over Lake Mattamuskeet. Now that was eerie - this lake and the forest around here, I can tell you. Following the 94 as it turned westwards, I eventually joined up with the Historic Albemarle Highway again, at the junction with Highway 32 at Irving's. Yes, been here before, haven't we?
Over the Albemarle Sound on the same incredible bridge as before, but this time, on ariving at Edenton, I continued northwards on Highway 32 in the direction of Virginia. The original plan from here had been to head for Virginia Beach and the naval installations at Norfolk and Hampton, check out someone called Mark Norris who I had encountered on the internet some time ago, a quick lap of honour over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and then Jamestown before arriving at Petersburg. No chance at all of any of this. I had no option other than to head directly to Petersburg.
I tell you, Southern Virginia is a poor area of the United States. I looked with some kind of despair at some of the conditions in which some of the residents of the town of Suffolk were living. It's really hard to believe that this is the richest country in the world. There must be some extremely rich people somewhere in the USA, because there aren't half some extremely poor ones.
A short way down the road, I came across a typical redneck removal. A pick-up and trailer with the household possessions on the back. When I was young and poor, this is how I moved house all those numerous times. When I was older, it was the rental van, but these days, I have my own truck.
This kind of removal certainly brought back a few memories to me, but it also brought home the poverty of the area too, and for three reasons.
It's difficult to realise that what is on this pick-up and trailer represents the sum total of possessions that a family from Southern Virginia has managed to accumulate in a lifetime.
It was on this depressing note that I pulled into Petersburg.