Windsurfing in the Cape Lookout Area

EMERALD ISLE

Island Rigs
15th Street
3rd Street Park
Salter Path

MOREHEAD CITY

Radio Island
The Circle
Harker's Island
North River
Minnesott Ferry
Cedar Island

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Most of this information is now available in a Google Earth Placemark file. I highly recommend using this because photos convey so much more than words when it comes to describing sailing sites and how to get to them. Click on the icon below and "Save Link As . . . ". You must have Google Earth installed. If so, just double click on the .kmz file you just downloaded.

NCWindsrufingSites.kmz

This is a guide to windsurfing in the vicinity of Cape Lookout. Cape Lookout itself is pretty hard to get to, so this is really a guide to windsurfing around Emerald Isle, Morehead City, and Beaufort. All these sites are on the North Carolina barrier islands that are south of Okracoke. They are comprised of Core Banks, Shackleford Banks, and Bogue Banks. Core Banks and Shakleford Banks are part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore and administered by the NPS. Bogue Banks is the only island with any development on it, so naturally, that is where most of the windsurfing sites are located. Access to Core Banks and Shackleford Banks is only by ferry and 4WD vehicles are a must. These beautiful strands of national seashore are also accessible by sailing across the sounds. They offer a unique experience and an opportunity to explore some of the last untouched sections of Atlantic Coast beach. The sites listed here are the most popular places to sail; however, the area offers all kinds of unique windsurfing experiences for the adventurous. Click on the site name (in blue) for a map of each area.

This was originally written for the Triangle Board Sailing Club, and a more comprehensive guide to windsurfing in North Carolina can be found there.

Windsurfing Sites in the Emerald Isle Area

Island Rigs

Directions: On route 58. It's a windsurfing shop located on the sound-side between the towns of Emerald Isle and Salter Path.

Island Rigs is a shop located on Bogue Sound and is the most popular sailing site in the area. The best wind directions are west - north - east. It is also sailed in southerly winds, but you have to slog out to the wind line. It is an easy place to sail, with an outstanding rigging area and all the amenities. The water is shallow making it a great place to learn water starts and jibes. In southerly winds, there can be big chop on the north side of the sound, but be prepared for a multi-mile reach to get there. Watch for body slamming shallow spots and the occasional oyster bed. Ray charges a day use fee (per sailor) to cover rinse water, parking lot, etc.

15th Street

Directions: Dead end street on the sound side a mile or so West of Island Riggs. Historically significant as one of the first soundside sailing sites on the island.

15th Street is sailed in pretty much any wind direction. This site offers flat water and chop on the north side of Bogue Sound. Basically, it's the same sailing as Island Riggs except that it's not quite as shallow and there is no day use fee (or amenities).

3rd Street Park

Directions: Near Island Riggs. Across the street and a little to the west.

3rd Street Park is an ocean launch that is best sailed in W, SE, SE and E winds. At the time of this writing, it had a great break, but these things continuously change. 3rd Street is a little better than the Circle in Morehead City in a S/SW wind because the wind is less onshore. Be careful of the surfers and surf casters!

Salter Path Family Campground

Directions: On the soundside, a mile or so East of Island Riggs.

Salter Path Family Campground is a great place to spend the weekend and is about the only place to camp on the island. The winds and the sailing here are the same as Island Riggs and 15th Street. The camping facilities are beautiful and you can keep your gear rigged and on the water. Be prepared to pay for all that convenience however - you can get a motel room for what they charge per night. Generally worth the price though.


Windsurfing Sites in the Morehead City/Beaufort Area

Radio Island

Directions: Take Hwy. 70 through Morehead City and across the bridge towards Beaufort. Once over the bridge, take the first right, go behind the boat storage building, and turn left across the railroad tracks.

Radio Island is an advanced to expert site which is only sailed in south, or southwest winds. It offers a wide variety of sailing and when its good it will provide you with some of the most memorable days you'll ever have. It's also an easy place to get into a heap of trouble if you're unlucky or careless. Radio Island is "inlet sailing", and it takes some getting used to. Timing is important here - the currents add to the apparent wind when the tide is going out, and reduce apparent wind when the tides are incoming. Therefore, this launch is best sailed on an outgoing tide, which means that if you breakdown in the inlet (or if the wind dies), you're going out to sea. So do yourself (and everyone else) a favor, and make sure that your equipment is in good shape. The sailing conditions include flat water, big rollers, backside wave-sailing on sand bar breaks, down the line wave sailing at Fort Macon, and big port tack jumping on "The Rip" off Shackleford banks. Beware of the boat traffic, learn where the shipping channel is, watch for sand bars at low tide, and learn how the currents work. Most boats in the inlet are trolling, so give them plenty of room when passing astern. Always try to sail Beaufort inlet with a buddy, check the local tides, and, if possible, get initiated by a Radio Island veteran. Click for a NOAA nautical chart of Radio Island and the inlet.

The Circle

Directions: Take Hwy. 70 to Morehead City and turn right over the bridge to Atlantic Beach. Go straight until you hit the ocean and park to the west (right) of the amusement area.

The Circle is an ocean launch best sailed in E, any southerly wind, and W. You'll find ocean swell and waves here. Watch out for the surfers and the fishermen and get there early in the summer to get a parking spot.

Harker's Island

Directions: Harkers is actually about a 30 minute drive from Beaufort. The quickest route from the Triangle area is to take Hwy. 101 E. from Havelock and follow signs to Cape Lookout National Seashore or Harkers Island. There are a number of turns, so watch for the signs. When the road dead ends at the eastern most point of Harkers Island (aka Shell Point), you're there!

Harkers Island gets the strongest and most consistent northeast wind of any launch in the Emerald Isle/Morehead area. It is almost guaranteed whenever a high pressure is centered over New York or Pennsylvania. It is also a good place to sail in a SW, but most people prefer Island Riggs or Radio Island. The National Park Service has a nice facility at shell point, complete with restrooms and a small museum. This is an advanced to expert sailing site due to the strong current at the sound-side launch. So make sure your gear is in good shape because broken gear is rewarded by a very long swim here. There is good chop hopping in the channel just off the launch, and great flat water sailing (and I mean flat) in Mike's Hole to the lee of the grass islands. Waves can be had by sailing 2.4 miles across the sound, up Iron Creek (a long drag at low tide), and then doing a 200 yard portage over Core Banks to the ocean. The waves here in a NE may be the biggest and cleanest on the outer-banks due to the long fetch from Diamond Shoals; likewise for the shore-break. Also, by the second day of a big nor'easter, the long shore current runs along the beach at a blistering pace. This spot was pioneered by local legends Don Ketterrer and Bill Hanner. Core Banks is a very bad place to break a mast. DO NOT learn to wavesail here. Click for a NOS coastal survey of Harkers Island and Core Sound.

North River

Directions: On the way to Harkers Island, launch on the south side of Hwy. 70 on the west side of the causeway.

North River is a wind machine in any southerly and is a great place for a wide variety of skill levels. If the forecast is for 10-15 and its a hot day, you can often sail a 6.5 at North River. The wind is stronger here than at the flat water sites on Emerald Isle because of its exposure and the fact that it is a little further inland. In addition, Open Grounds farm (the largest farm this side of the Mississippi) is located just to the NE, so the area may benefit from a local thermal. The launch is a small sandy beach, with a grassy area for rigging. The water is waist deep and there are no shallow spots - which translates into more chop than Emerald Isle. The bottom can be soft in places. On those days when the wind is south or southwest, and the Emerald Isle flat-water sites are shallow and squirrelly, this is the place to go. And for all the hero jibers out there, there is a constant stream of cars crossing the bridge

Minnesott Ferry

Directions: Take 101 S. from Havelock and follow signs to Minnesott Beach (left on 306). Launch from Pine Cliffs Recreational Area, which may or may not be marked.

Minnesott Ferry is hardly in the Morehead area, but I put it here anyway. Because of the long fetch from New Bern and the fact that the Neuse River narrows here, there can be outstanding chop and swell at this launch. Watch for the Ferry when sailing here (another captive audience). Sailing at this site is not recommended in the summer due to possible pfisteria outbreaks.

Cedar Island

Directions: Same as the directions to Harker's Island, except that you need to follow signs to the Cedar Island Ferry. This is a beautiful drive and a nice tour of "Down East". The route is dotted with small quiet towns where the traditions of fishing and boat building are alive and well. The launch is to the right (east) of the ferry landing - follow signs for public boat access.

Cedar Island: Cedar Island is argueably the best windsurfing in North Carolina in a NW wind. There is tremendous fetch here and the water is deep to within a few hundred yards of the beach. As a result, you get good sized swell which can peak up to 5 foot in 4.5 conditions. To make things even sweeter, the jetties for the ferry landing knock down the wind chop at the launch and clean up the waves. The beach here is protected by a gated barb wire fence to keep horses in. The NC division of ferries has restrooms and refreshments - its a great family spot.

The following are comments from Alan White (2000):

"Cedar Island is one of the best spots I've ever sailed on a NW wind. It is safe, and easy. West is good. North is ok, but not that great. To launch go to the public boat ramp in the lee of the jetty. There is a parking lot. You can rig in the grass and sand off to the side. The jetty might create a little wind shadow at first, but it isn't bad. You might have to slog 50 feet. Once outside of the jetty the swell hits. It looks worse than its bite. I would compare it to the swell beyond the sandbars of Clam Shoals. We sailed there all day one April about 4 years ago on 4.5 sails. Conditions went to 4.0 in the afternoon, but the swells stay surprisingly consistant...about 3 feet. Whenever we go on club trips out there I make a point of traveling through this route just in case it blows NW. "