CHAPTER X. FROM CAPE HATTERAS TO CAPE FEAR, NORTH CAROLINA.
CAPE HATTERAS LIGHT. - HABITS OF BIRDS. - STORM AT HATTERAS INLET - MILES OF WRECKS. - THE YACHT JULIA SEARCHING FOR THE PAPER CANOE. - CHASED BY PORPOISES. - MARSH TACKIES. - OCRACOKE INLET. - A GRAVE-YARD BEING SWALLOWED UP BY THE SEA. - CORE SOUND. - THREE WEDDINGS AT HUNTING QUARTERS. - MOREHEAD CITY. - NEWBERN. - SWANSBORO. - A PEA-NUT PLANTATION. - THE ROUTE TO CAPE FEAR.
Cape Hatteras is the apex of a triangle. It is the easternmost part of the state of North Carolina, and it extends farther into the ocean than any Atlantic cape of the United States. It presents a low, broad, sandy point to the sea, and for several miles beyond it, in the ocean, are the dangerous Diamond Shoals, the dread of the mariner.
The Gulf Stream, with its river-like current of water flowing northward from the Gulf of Mexico, in its oscillations from east to west frequently approaches to within eighteen or twenty miles of the cape, filling a large area of atmosphere with its warmth, and causing frequent local disturbances. The weather never remains long in a settled state. As most vessels try to make Hatteras Light, to ascertain their true position, and because it juts out so far into the Atlantic, the locality has become the scene of many wrecks, and the beach, from the cape down to Hatteras Inlet, fourteen miles, is strewn with the fragments of vessels.
The coast runs north and south above, and east and west south of the cape. The old light house had been replaced by the finest light-tower I had ever examined, which was completed in 1870. It is one hundred and ninety feet in height, and shows a white, revolving light.
Body Island Light, though forty feet less in elevation, is frequently seen by the Hatteras light-keeper, while the splendid Hatteras Light had been seen but once by Captain Hatzel, of Body Island. One nautical mile south of Hatteras Light is a small beacon light-tower, which is of great service to the coasting-vessels that pass it in following the eighteen-feet curve of the cape two miles from the land inside of Diamond Shoals.
While speaking of light-houses, it may be interesting to naturalists who live far inland to know that while (as they are well aware) thousands of birds are killed annually during their flights by striking against telegraphic wires, many wild-fowls are also destroyed by dashing against the lanterns of the light- towers during the night. While at Body Island Beach, Captain Hatzel remarked to me that, during the first winter after the new light-tower was completed, the snow-geese, which winter on the island, would frequently at night strike the thick glass panes of the chamber, and fall senseless upon the floor of the gallery. The second season they did not in a single instance repeat the mistake, but had seemingly become educated to the character of the danger.
I have seen one lantern damaged to the amount of five hundred dollars, by a goose breaking a pane of glass and striking heavily upon the costly lens which surrounds the lamp. Light-keepers sometimes sit upon the gallery, and, looking along the pathway of light which shoots into the outer darkness over their heads, will see a few dark specks approaching them in this beam of radiance. These specks are birds, confused by the bright rays, and ready to fall an easy prey to the eager keeper, who, quickly levelling his double-barrelled gun, brings it to bear upon the opaque, moving cloud, and with the discharge of the weapon there goes whirling through space to the earth below his next morning's breakfast of wild-fowl.
I found Mr. W. R. Jennett and his first assistant light-keeper, Mr. A. W. Simpson, intelligent gentlemen. The assistant has devoted his time, when off duty, to the study of the habits of food-fishes of the sound, and has furnished the United States Commission of Fisheries with several papers on that interesting subject.
Here also was Mr. George Onslow, of the United States Signal Service, who had completed his work of constructing a telegraph line from Norfolk along the beach southward to this point, its present terminus. With a fine telescope he could frequently identify vessels a few miles from the cape, and telegraph their position to New York. He had lately saved a vessel by telegraphing to Norfolk its dangerous location on Hatteras beach, where it had grounded. By this timely notice a wrecking-steamer had arrived and hauled the schooner off in good condition.
A low range of hills commences at Cape Hatteras, in the rear of the light-house, and extends nearly to Hatteras Inlet. This range is heavily wooded with live-oaks, yellow pines, yaupons, cedars, and bayonet-plants. The fishermen and wreckers live in rudely constructed houses, sheltered by this thicket, which is dense enough to protect them from the strong winds that blow from the ocean and the sound.
I walked twelve miles through this pretty, green retreat, and spent Sunday with Mr. Homer W. Styron, who keeps a small store about two miles from the inlet. He is a self-taught astronomer, and used an ingeniously constructed telescope of his own manufacture for studying the heavens.