Houseboat Reunions At The NC Coast
One of the many beauties of the Crystal Coast area of North Carolina is the amount of unspoiled coastline awaiting exploration. More than 55 miles of quiet coastal islands, maritime forests, and beaches make up the Cape Lookout National Seashore – and exploring the vast area (including the famed Cape Lookout lighthouse) by day is a favorite memory for many visitors. Those in the know don’t have to come back to civilization as the sun sets, however. If you’ve rented a houseboat for the weekend, you’re already “home” for the night.
Outer Banks Houseboats, a unique company based on Beaufort’s waterfront, offers a great way to spend a weekend along the quietest stretch of coastline in North Carolina. Whether it’s a romantic weekend for two or a huge gathering of family and friends, these well-appointed houseboats will lead to memories that will last you a lifetime.
At Home on the Water
“My family had a houseboat when I was growing up in Morehead City and I still have fond memories of weekends spent on it,” says personable Outer Banks Houseboats owner, Perry Barrow. “It’s hard to beat spending the night out along Cape Lookout.”
Barrow, who has owned and operated Outer Banks Ferry Service for more than 15 years, started offering houseboat rentals in 2003. After a successful first season, he added a second larger houseboat in 2004.
Outer Banks Houseboats
“Quite simply, my ferry customers were looking for a way to stay out at Cape Lookout, rather than having to take the ferry back at the end of the day,” he recalls. Ferry service manager Cindy Smith concurs, saying that many people are introduced to Cape Lookout through the ferry service out to nearby islands and then decide to rent a houseboat for a longer stay.
The advantages of enjoying the Crystal Coast by houseboat are many and can vary depending on who’s along for the ride and what you want to do once you anchor. Outer Banks Houseboats will deliver, anchor, and pick up the houseboat. You need only unpack once, and you'll have ample opportunities for independent exploration (each houseboat rental comes with a 21-foot Carolina Skiff). When everyone else has to head back to land, you can eat in or, if you prefer, head to an area restaurant before spending the night on the water.
Whether it’s for a weekend or longer, the setup for the start of a houseboat adventure is the same. The houseboat is docked right on the charming Beaufort waterfront at Barrow’s Outer Banks Ferry Service and, after loading provisions, Barrow or an experienced employee provides a briefing of the houseboat’s operations (you’ll quickly learn that everything is quite intuitive).
Take it Easy
The first question many people ask is whether they have to drive the rather large houseboat and the answer is a definitive “no.” Barrow or another captain typically pilots the houseboat to the anchorage of choice – a factor that depends on the wind and waves, as well as desired pursuits once anchored. One or more of the houseboat renters then follows in the Carolina Skiff, providing the perfect opportunity to practice piloting the easy-to-operate skiff and also a general “map” of how to get back to Beaufort in the skiff, if desired. There are several great restaurants on the town's waterfront, as well as shopping and the excellent North Carolina Maritime Museum, so you may indeed want to make the trip. Some renters choose to leave the houseboat at Barrow's dock for one or more of their rental nights to better enjoy a special event or Beaufort nightlife. However, most head out to quieter anchorages.
Guests staying more than two nights will get a short visit from Barrow or one of his staff to check on gas, propane, and holding tanks (renters only pay for the gas, oil, and propane they use on thehouseboat and skiff).
Once out on Cape Lookout proper, it’s just a matter of choosing a calm spot. If you stay more than two nights, you can radio in and have the houseboat moved once during your stay. When the houseboat is anchored (and the Carolina Skiff tied up conveniently to its side), the pilot returns to Beaufort and your houseboat adventure begins in earnest, with abundant possibilities for adventures on and off the houseboat.
Your houseboat serves as haven and base for exploration of Cape Lookout National Seashore. This low-lying narrow ribbon of sandy islands runs from Ocracoke Inlet in the northeast to Beaufort Inlet to the southwest. The barrier islands basically consist of wide and bare beaches, low dunes covered with scattered grasses, flat grasslands, and salt marshes along the sound side.
For centuries, these islands served as major fishing bases, with several self-contained communities thriving on the nearby and abundant fishing. For instance, Portsmouth Village was chartered in 1753 and was once home to more than 1,000 people – today, it’s uninhabited, but the partially restored village is still fascinating to explore.
Heavily loaded fishing boats stayed on the deep water on the Atlantic Ocean side, while shallower draft boats plied the sound and maintained contact with the mainland for goods and services. The sound side of all the barrier islands have also long served as sheltered anchorages – for boats during storms (especially Northeasters), for ships hiding from enemy submarines during World War II, and for houseboats today.
Most houseboaters choose to anchor somewhere out near famed Cape Lookout and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Shackleford Banks is separated from South Core Banks by narrow Barden Inlet, with several quiet anchorages possible on either side (depending on the wind, tides, and more).
This base in the shadow of the lighthouse provides easy exploration of Shackleford Banks (home to more than 100 wild horses), the lighthouse (located on the southern tip of South Core Banks), and the even more deserted areas of North Core Banks farther north.
The Cape Lookout lighthouse is definitely a popular destination for day-trippers. The first lighthouse was built in 1812, but the current one became operational in 1859. The 163-foot lighthouse with the well-known “diamond” pattern still provides a beacon to those at sea (Barrow, a private pilot, says he and other pilots also use it as a navigational aid from the air).
Today, the Cape Lookout lighthouse complex includes the tower (climbing only available during four open house days a year) and the assistant keepers’ quarters, which serves as a visitor center and museum in-season. National Park Service rangers also provide informative programs in-season, including several history and ecology talks and walks. To the south down near Cape Point, there’s also a historic U.S. Coast Guard Station.
The National Park Service maintains a Visitor Center on nearby Harkers Island, which is easily reached by skiff. The visitor center is a great place to get more information about all of Cape Lookout National Seashore. It also offers a short orientation film, natural and cultural history exhibits, and a well-stocked bookstore. The excellent Core Sound Waterfowl Museum is within walking distance of the Visitor Center.
Shackleford Banks is also very popular with day-trippers, but houseboaters get to visit early or late in the day to avoid occasional crowds. Highlights here include possible wild horse sightings (just don’t get too close), beach picnics, and some of the best shelling along the east coast.
Farther afield, more experienced and adventurous boaters enjoy running the skiff north through Core Sound. Here, you’ll find more quiet anchorages and places to beach the boat.
All along the coastline, the natural world serves as another highlight. Possible sightings include egrets, herons, terns, pelicans, and lots of seagulls. The extensive maritime forest (especially on Shackleford Banks) is home to toads, tree frogs, diamond-back terrapins (especially appropriate for the lighthouse), and many shorebird nests. You’ll also notice several “ghost forests” – where advancing sand and salt spray leave sun-bleached tree skeletons protruding from the sand.
After all of these daytime explorations, it’s enjoyable to simply head back to the houseboat and all of its amenities. Your evening can include a hot shower, a cold drink or two, dinner (possibly even freshly-caught fish), and maybe a movie or simply lying out under the stars. It sure beats heading back to civilization.
Outer Banks Houseboats currently features two different sizes and styles of houseboats, providing flexibility for the number and types of groups getting ready to hit the water. Each comes well equipped and they’ll even provide the provisions if requested. Both houseboats feature virtually every amenity anyone could want, including: full-size refrigerator (with icemaker); three-burner propane stove; microwave; toaster; gas grill; dinette; TV/DVD/CD/stereo; wardrobe storage; full-size shower; toilet; freshwater storage; air conditioning and heat; hammock; and spacious outdoor decking forward, aft, and above.
The 2003 Vagabond 35-foot x 10-foot model is a great choice for a couple, two close-knit couples, or a small family. Equipped with a full-size bed, a pull-out sleeper sofa, and a dinette that can be made into a small bed, this craft can sleep up to six people. It’s powered by a 200 horsepower engine.
The 2004 46-foot x 12-foot Luxury Aquacruiser is ideal for larger groups of any kind. It can sleep up to 10, thanks to a full-size bed, two large bunk beds (sleeping two each), a sleeper sofa, and the convertible dinette. Additional features of the Luxury Aquacruiser are an additional half-bath, a Bimini-style top on the upstairs deck, and an extra TV/DVD/CD/stereo combo in the master bedroom. It’s powered by two 115 horsepower engines.
Daily houseboat pleasures you may enjoy can include sunning and swimming, meal and snack preparation, reading, napping, and simply listening to the waves lapping against the houseboat’s hull.
The dining part of any houseboat adventure is definitely a highlight. Barrow’s houseboat assistant, Debbie Silvestrini, says most houseboat renters arrive with coolers and grocery bags full of fresh options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as beverages of choice. Some choose to wait until they’re in the area and then head to a local grocery store before transporting everything to the houseboat.
Others, however, ask Silvestrini to provision their houseboat for them (at cost) and she is happy to provide creative options for their meals, snacks, and beverages. She'll also try to accommodate special requests like bait and tackle for fishing or a cake for a special celebration.
The only things left for you to bring are sheets, pillowcases, and blankets; bath towels; cards, games, books, DVDs and CDs; fishing gear; beach towels; and insect repellent. Silvestrini notes that some people choose to bring a supply of disposable dishware so they don’t even have to do dishes during their time on the houseboat. After all, who wants to do chores when there are so many activities to enjoy?
If you're going:
Outer Banks Houseboats
324 Front Street Beaufort, NC 28516
Houseboats are generally available for rent from early-April until the end of October. Packages include: “Weekend Adventure” (Friday morning to Sunday afternoon); “Weekday Adventure” (Monday morning to Thursday afternoon); and “Full Week Adventure” (Monday morning to Sunday afternoon). Rates start at $1,195 for the 35-foot houseboat and $1,295 for the 46-foot version. You can also rent both houseboats. Advanced reservations, for one or both houseboats, is recommended.
by Lynn & Cele Seldon
added: March 22, 2010
updated: April 1, 2010
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