Arrgh!!!!! Pirates in Coastal North Carolina

The coastline of North Carolina has been called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” due to the great number of ships that have wrecked in its waters. The barrier islands that stretch along the coast, constantly changing tides, and drifting sands made passing the inlets almost impossible for men and ships unfamiliar with the area.  The treacherous shores, inlets, and coves attracted pirates and smugglers with the security of isolation.  They used the barrier islands as a central base of operations to intercept British and Spanish ships laden with gold, silver and other riches.

Privateers or Pirates = big business. The golden age of piracy ran from the late 1600’s to the early 1700’s. Some of the first privateers are well known historical figures:  Sir Francis Drake, Christopher Columbus, and Sir Walter Raleigh.  A privateer was differentiated from a pirate by a note called a “Letter of Marque” from a reigning monarch specifically granting authorization to capture and confiscate another nation’s merchant ships.  Privateers operated independently, apart from the navy, but were an accepted part of naval warfare from the 1500’s to the 1800’s.  Private investors paid for privateering in hopes of profiting from stolen goods, while governments appreciated the damage they did to enemy commerce.

Pirates often started out as privateers, eventually becoming independent business men with their own code of ethics or “pirate’s code”.  Their eye was always on the prize, ships laden with treasure.  Aside from Hollywood movies, the objective was to capture ships and not sink them.  An intact ship and the treasure it contained was the reward and the crew members remaining alive through the conflict were trained seamen easily converted to pirates.  What other options did they have?

Pirates Treasure MapStriking fear into others through reputation and the use of individual pirate flags, also encouraged ships to surrender without a battle.  Enterprising pirates commanded whole fleets of captured ships and were unlikely to encounter resistance from merchant vessels.  One of the most famous and feared pirates was Blackbeard (Edward Teach) who made Ocracoke Island, NC his home and hideout.  There is still an inlet on Ocracoke Island today called “Teach’s Hole”, named in his honor.  Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of Blackbeard’s flotilla ran aground in Beaufort Inlet in 1718, three miles off the North Carolina coast.  The ship wreck was discovered in 1996.

Treasure Maps?  Not likely!  Treasure was divided among the crew and pirates and they had a tendency to party hardy and not be long-term financial planners.  So do not depend upon stumbling upon buried treasure when exploring the area.  Arrgh!!!!!

Submitted By: Karen Gaspar
119 Causeway Dr.
Ocean Isle Beach, NC 28469

Karen Gaspar - Sunset Beach

Neighborhood Profile: Bird Island at Sunset Beach

Bird Island is the last undeveloped barrier island in Brunswick County, and one of the few remaining natural barrier islands in the mid-Atlantic region.  At one time, Bird Island was separated Black Skimmerfrom Sunset Beach by a tidal creek (Mad Inlet) that could only be crossed at low tide.   Accretion of sand from storms and conservation efforts has gradually filled in the tidal creek so that two separate islands became one.
Privately owned prior to 2002, Bird Island was a prime target for resort development.

Handwritten pleas, posted in the Kindred Spirit mailbox located on the island (and a destination site in its own right) stopped development of the island.  The State of North Carolina used $4.2 million dollars of public and private funding to purchase the land and create a coastal reserve, administered by the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management.

Now an uninhabited 1,300 acre State Preserve comprised of salt marsh, tidal creeks, highnatural dunes, and pristine sandy white beaches, Bird Island has become a popular destination.  It is one of ten sites that make up the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve.  This coastal ecosystem is an outdoor laboratory about processes, functions, and influences that shape and sustain the coastal area.

The shoreline, dunes, and marshland of Bird Island provides important habitat and nesting for species that are endangered, threatened, or of special concern.  Guided educational walks to Bird Island are hosted by the Bird Island Preservation Society Stewards.  Walks begin at Sunset Beach’s 40th Street walkover and the beach at 8:30 am every Wednesday from June through August, and last about 2 ½ hours.

Reddish Egret PhotoOf particular interest to birders are Reddish Egrets, Egretta rufescens, one of the rarest large wading birds found in North Carolina. Bird Island and adjacent Sunset Beach have become reliable places to find this bird, usually from June through September. They are found on the open beach or on large flats around inlets and in marshes. Their feeding behavior is quite extraordinary, consisting of flapping and running around in an effort to startle prey into exposing itself.

The island also provides foraging and nesting habitat for a number of birds of concern, including the Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger, Least Tern, Sterna antillarum, Eastern Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris, Wood Stork, Mycteria americana, Piping Plover, Charadrius melodus, and Wilson’s Plover, Charadrius wilsonia. Loggerhead Turtles, Caretta caretta, also nest above the high tide.

Come experience the privacy and solace that Bird Island offers.  The animals and birds that inhabit the island are happy to share!


Submitted by: Karen Gaspar
Ocean Isle Beach
119 Causeway Drive
Ocean Isle Beach, NC 28469

Karen Gaspar - Sunset Beach

Kindred Spirit Mailbox – “A Message For You…”

Kindred Spirits are those who share beliefs, attitudes, feelings, similar experiences, or make a special connection.  This special connection is shared by people from all over the world. A bond Kindred-Spirit-Sunset-Beachformed as a result of the Kindred Spirit mailbox.  It is a story of mystery and spiritual awakening.  The Kindred Spirit mailbox has become a popular destination for many visitors to Sunset Beach, NC.  No one knows who first placed the mailbox there more than 30 years ago, although they left this note: “Twenty seven years ago I walked the tide line of Bird Island.  In the distance – right on the low tide line – I saw the silhouette of a rural mailbox.  However, I never could reach it – for it was a mirage.  The very next weekend, I “planted” the original Kindred Spirit mailbox”.

On the uninhabited state preserve of Bird Island now one with Sunset Beach, the mailbox resides among the dunes more than a mile past the last public beach access on Sunset Beach. Visitors can sit on a nearby bench and write their own personal message inside the mailbox’s journal.  People pen thoughts, dreams, hopes, bits of wisdom, deepest secrets, and words of grief.  It has become a place of solace and introspect with entries from new and returning visitors.

Messages can also be mailed to an associated P O Box where they are held with “love, honor, and respect by Kindred Spirit”.  Full journals and worldwide messages are archived in the Randall Library at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington for anyone to view.  The Kindred Spirit also has its own website and many of the personal thoughts and hopes left in the mailbox are now published on the site.

Plan a visit. Feel the sand under your feet, listen to the waves, browse through the journals and letters, and take time to pen your own note.  The mail box is waiting for you to become a Kindred Spirit.

Submitted by: Karen Gaspar
Ocean Isle Beach
119 Causeway Drive
Ocean Isle Beach, NC 28469

Karen Gaspar - Sunset Beach