I grew up watching pirate movies: The Crimson Pirate, Long John Silver and, of course, Blackbeard the Pirate. But when I left Atlanta in April for a week-long vacation to North Carolina’s coast, pirates weren’t even on my mind. I was thinking about beaches, sun, and all of the great food I would eat along the way. For me, food is always the star no matter where I travel.
Our first destination was Wilmington on the Cape Fear River and Saturday was my birthday. We got up early and drove south to the boardwalk at Carolina Beach. You see, the boardwalk is home to Britt’s Donut Shop – voted one of the best donut shops in the U.S.by MSN City Guide.
We bought a bag of six warm donuts with two coffees and walked to the beautiful beach to enjoy them. Three donuts apiece would be enough, right? Wrong. These babies are so good they should be a controlled substance! They’re raised and glazed like Krispy Kremes but way better: crispier on the outside with just the right amount of sugary glaze; warm, moist and delicious inside. We got back in line and bought four more. Goodbye WeightWatchers. Happy birthday to me!
I made reservations far in advance for Saturday night dinner at Aubriana’s Fine Dining in downtown Wilmington by the river. I knew this was a popular spot with locals and it was very busy when we arrived. Dinner was great, but it was the dessert menu that first made me think about pirates: “Blackbeard’s Bread Pudding,” it said. Now, I didn’t know much about Blackbeard, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t a pastry chef. I may be wrong again, though. It was delicious.
On Monday morning, we sailed up the northeast fork of Cape Fear River on an eco-cruise with Captain Doug Springer of Wilmington Water Tours. Captain Doug really knows this river, its ecology and its history. We learned so much in two hours! In August, 1718, a pirate named Swede Bonnet piloted his flagship Royal James and two other sloops into the Cape Fear estuary for repairs and shelter from storms. The Royal James had once been a flagship of none other than Blackbeard. Bonnet was captured by the Royal Navy during the Battle of Cape Fear in September, 1718. So, this is where our search for Blackbeard begins.
That afternoon we headed north for two nights in the charming seaport town of Beaufort. It seems that Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard) was a regular visitor to Beaufort Inlet in the early 1700’s, and often hid his flotilla here while checking his booty. Pirates, like Hollywood starlets, can never check their booty often enough.
Blackbeard’s most famous ship, which he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, was a French merchant ship that he captured, equipped with 40 guns, and used to wreak havoc and spread fear along the coast. Basically, he was a terrorist. It was here in Beaufort that he ran her aground on a sandbar. “What better place to eat dinner,” I said, “than Queen Anne’s Revenge restaurant on the waterfront?” We contemplated Blackbeard over a bottle of chilled pinot grigio, although rum would probably have been a more authentic choice.
We started off the next day with a visit to North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Here is where our search for Blackbeard kicked into high gear. This place is literally loaded to the rafters with Blackbeard-related artifacts – many recovered from Queen Anne’s Revenge – as well as guns, swords, clothing and personal items used by his crew of swashbucklers. Arghh! No deodorant, though. Apparently they didn’t use it. Arghh! A beautiful library boasts a priceless collection of maritime-related books.
On Thursday morning we had an early date with a ferry to take us from Cedar Island – about an hour north of Beaufort – across Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island. The voyage took 2 hours and 15 minutes. Ocracoke is accessible only by ferry, private boat or private plane. Upon exiting the ferry, we stopped at the visitor center and were greeted by an historical plaque commemorating Blackbeard’s death.
Teach’s pirating career lasted for only two years, but it seems that Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood had had enough of his shenanigans. He sent a party of soldiers and sailors to capture him. It was here during a ferocious battle off Ocracoke’s shore, on the evening of 22 November 1718, that he was shot and killed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.
Our Blackbeard-chasing adventure had come to an end it seemed. That is, until we discovered his likeness in the island’s village peddling boat tours on the porch of a T-shirt shop. The old salt appeared less than happy about his new career path. Yo ho ho, indeed.
Except for the village,Ocracoke Island is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. We drove on North Carolina highway 12 toward the other end of the island, a ride that took us along 12 miles of beautiful protected beaches. It was a windy day with gusts up to 45 knots blowing the gorgeous sand in our faces. As we continued to the far end of the island, where another ferry would take us on to Cape Hatteras, the pavement sometimes disappeared beneath the rapidly accumulating sand.
Just a 45-minute ferry ride and we were in Hatteras. We left Blackbeard behind and headed north along the Outer Banks towards Nag’s Head Beach. More adventures lie ahead.