Flight: NC Outer Banks: Hatteras to Manteo

After our week on Ocracoke, it was time to head back up to the northern OBX. Stopping at Hatteras to get the airplane, I took off into overcast skies, taking what I was certain would be a perfunctory flight, as the colors were quite gray, light diffused, and nothing of any significance standing out from the air. Halfway back to Dare County Regional Airport, I caught up to my wife driving the truck on NC 12, did a few circles, and pressed on.

I was hoping Oregon Inlet had some illustrious colors to make up for the photogenic misery. It did not. Instead of a Caribbean tone like when I flew down, it was a brownish green; a product likely of fresh and brackish water bringing soil nutrients from the Albemarle Sound down through Roanoke Sound. With the stormy weather out of the south that would have driven water up into the sounds, the relaxation of it would draw river water down, making it unappealing. Falling back on the local pilot’s advice, about Oregon Inlet getting pretty three days after a northeast wind, let me realize that Oregon Inlet needs the opposite to occur than what did this week, wind pushing the water levels down by blowing sound water to sea, and having southern, clearer water come up from the Pamlico Sound and back into the fresher water areas after the NE wind quits.

Nonetheless, I did find some interesting color contrasts that stood out in the marshes on the west side of Bodie Island, between Oregon Inlet and Nags Head. Rarely is a flight totally worthless from a photography standpoint. This caps 8 straight days of flying, doubling my record.

1-Bodie Island Marsh 2-Bodie Island Marsh
Bodie Island Marshes
3-Bodie Island Lighthouse
Bodie Island Lighthouse
4-Roanoke Sound Brackish Water 5-Bodie Island Marsh 6-Bodie Island Marsh
Bodie Island Marshes

Flight: NC Outer Banks: Ocracoke to Hatteras

Today is the day before we leave, so the wife came up with an idea to move the airplane to the airport in Hatteras, the next island over. That way, if the weather (which was sketchy) was sour tomorrow, it would be closer to drive back down and get it, and also it made the ferry ride and packing easier. With the sun nice and bright, I flew over to Hatteras Island and around the Cape itself. Hatteras Inlet was quite pretty, as was the whole of the islands viewed from some altitude to see them all. The water was clearer than the prior day, with excellent blues and greens, also with cooperative atmospheric moisture levels as well.

We then did the tour around Cape Hatteras with the truck, driving out to the point, which was crowded, and then finding some relatively large waves crashing abruptly onto a steep shore. As the air and water temps were high 50s, it just invited going in with the GoPro. It was a bit of a dance not to get my face re-arranged by the waves, though I did get some good shots.

1-Ocracoke Village
Ocracoke, NC
2-Pamlico Sound, Ocracoke Island
Pamlico Sound, Ocracoke Island
3-Pamlico Sound Marsh
Marsh, Pamlico Sound
4-Back Side of Ocracoke Island
Sound Side of Ocracoke Island
5-Ocracoke Island, Hatteras Inlet
Hatteras Inlet, Ocracoke Island
6-Hatteras Island, Hatteras Inlet
Hatteras Inlet, Hatteras Island
7-Hatteras Island
Hatteras Island
8-Cape Hatteras
Cape Hatteras

Flight: NC Outer Banks: Cape Lookout, Shackleford Banks

I think I may have cracked the holy grail of Outer Banks aerial photography weather. In the Piedmont, it is a post cold front NW wind that does the trick, bringing in dry air from the Midwest, and applying a Chinook effect over the Appalachians to finish the job. Watching satellite maps, it is evident that the upstream Appalachian source to the OBX is not as high as the western part of the state; thus, a cold front has a limited benefit of blowing moisture away, though too much wind and it will transport moisture off the ocean, sounds, Chesapeake Bay and, if bad enough, the Great Lakes. Today, a high pressure zone came up from the southwest and parked overhead, putting an end to the wind. That seemed to put an end to the moisture problem, providing crystal blue skies.

It was time for some fuel again, so down to Morehead City to fill up. Along the way, there were photographs of previously viewed areas, though with better late morning light and also better atmospheric dynamics. Cape Lookout, Back Sound, and Shackleford Banks were amazing, along with some of the marshes in the Pamlico Sound. I managed to fill up a 8GB card on the 2.5-hour trip. Being the day after Christmas, people were out enjoying themselves thoroughly, hiking and driving Cape Lookout National Seashore, boating, and fishing with abandon. It was a five star photography day.

1-Confluence of Tidal Flow
Portsmouth Island – Confluence of Two Tidal Inlet Flows

2-Pamlico Sound
Pamlico Sound

3-A Few Birds
A Few Birds – Atlantic Ocean

4-Pamlico Sound Marshlands

5-Pamlico Sound Marshlands

6-Pamlico Sound Marshlands

7-Pamlico Sound Marshlands
Pamlico Sound Marshlands – Cape Lookout National Seashore

8-Back Sound, Shackleford Banks
Back Sound, Shackleford Banks

9-Cape Lookout
Tip of Cape Lookout

10-Back Sound, Shackleford Banks
Shackleford Banks

11-Back Sound
Back Sound

12-Back Sound, Rachel Carson Preserve
Rachel Carson Preserve – Back Sound

13-Back Sound
Back Sound

14-Core Banks, Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Core Banks, Cape Lookout Lighthouse

15-Back Sound, Shackleford Banks
Shackleford Banks, Back Sound

A Few Dolphins, Atlantic Ocean

17-A Few Birds
A Few Birds on the Beach

18-Ocracoke Inlet
Ocracoke Inlet

19-SW end of Ocracoke Island
Pamlico Sound, Ocracoke Island Marshes

Flight: NC Outer Banks: Portsmouth Island

The record has been broken! Five consecutive days of flying, the most in over 15 years of having a pilots license. The sun finally came out at 2:30PM, the front having cleared, and a brilliant, 100% Carolina Blue sky behind it, in an instant. That is one thing I love about the South – the front blows through, and the whole dreary thing is over. Up north, that would take a week to clear out, providing an obligatory 4 hours of pleasantness, before the next batch of misery arrived.

I flew down toward Ophelia Inlet, what is now my favorite inlet in all of the Outer Banks. It is shallow, colorful, and full of surprises. As I passed Ocracoke Inlet along the way, it was dismally brown, a product of what appears to be the Pamlico Sound draining out extra water from the heavy South winds that would have driven more water in. With the high outward flow, sand gets all stirred up, and the visibility drops as it’s like an underwater sandstorm. I predict by Saturday, it will calm down and be stunningly clear. The locals indicate that 3 days after a storm, the inlets get amazingly colorful.

As I approached New Drum Inlet, my camera stopped working. Battery out. Battery In. On. Nothing. Repeat. Nothing. Lens off. Lens on. On. Nothing. Damn it! I whack the camera body with my hand, and she turns on! Phew! Disaster averted. The Nikon is coming back from a warranty service, so if the Canon went, I’d be hosed.

In the air, the lighting didn’t seem to be all that spectacular. I wasn’t expecting much, and when I downloaded the photos, I was proven wrong. Apparently, the contrast and lighting was ideal for how I was handling it, as the camera showed a lot of sky reflection on the surface, and the images seem to have not picked it up. This was a pleasant surprise.

After the flight, we played a bit more in the tide pools, though the water was murkier, and the variety of sea life was not to be found. We’ll see what tomorrow washes up. It looks a little silly watching two fools wade in the ocean with swim shorts on and winter coats.

Oh, and the sunset was pretty, and so was the moonset 4 hours later. One day, I will get better equipment to capture when the moon pierces the horizon.

1-Sound Waterway
Pamlico Sound, Portsmouth Island – Fractal Pattern

2-Beach to Sound Waterway
Pamlico Sound, Portsmouth Island, Beach-Sound Connection

3-New Drum Inlet
New Drum Inlet

4-Ophelia Inlet
Ophelia Inlet

5-Ophelia Inlet
Ophelia Inlet

6-Ophelia Inlet
Ophelia Inlet

7-Ophelia Inlet
Ophelia Inlet, Tidal Flow

8-Ophelia Inlet
Ophelia Inlet, Tidal Flow Maelstroms

9-Ocracoke Inlet
Ocracoke Inlet

Shell in Tide Pool

Something Lives Under There

Ocracoke Inlet Sunset

Ocracoke Inlet Moonset

Flight: NC Outer Banks: Ocracoke Island

The weather was supposed to be rotten today, and it was questionable if I would be able to achieve my goal of maximum consecutive days flying. Well, it was breezy, to say the least, and the much forecast dramatic hate weather did not materialize, except for a brief evening squall line.

Winds were roughly 20mph crosswind, with an angry surf pounding the beach on the other side of the airport, a moderate roar accompanying pre-flight activities. Takeoff was uneventful, except for the crab angle required to fly crosswind (you can see in the video, the airplane angled left 25 degrees though flying west on takeoff). I flew up the length of Ocracoke Island at blazing speed, and then crawled back into the wind. The landing was rather uneventful, as the low trees make the crosswind more manageable.

After flying, we decided to go to the water, at Ocracoke Inlet. Here, one can drive on the beach (permit required), so we drove to a sand spit protruding into the ocean that I saw on Tuesday, brilliant underwater sand dunes exposed at low tide. Wind was strong out of the south, air 68 degrees, and water in the mid to upper 50s. Compared to raw 40-degree air and water that we are used to in the northern OBX, this was balmy. We splashed around in the tide pools, and I tried out underwater photography with my GoPro.

GoPros are challenging, as one cannot see what the image looks like, just snap away and let the onboard software handle it. For the most part, it does just a bland ok, except the white overcast light does not help underwater visibility, though maximum contrast AND maximum black point adjustment in Aperture will fix some of the flat issues. We found quite the sea life: hermit crabs, live sand dollars, jelly fish, live clams, flounders, and some form of sea snail. We’ll head back tomorrow at low tide, when the sun is out and see what that does for the GoPro.


1-Hatteras Inlet
Hatteras Inlet
2-Northern Tip of Ocracoke Island
Northern Tip of Ocracoke Island
3-Edge of Hatteras Inlet
Hatteras Inlet
4-Crashing Wave from Above
Crashing Wave
5-Hermit Crab (Underwater)
Underwater Hermit Crab
Underwater Live Sand Dollar
Underwater Live Sand Dollar
Underwater Sea Snails & Live Clam
Underwater Jellyfish

Flight: NC Outer Banks: Ocracoke to Morehead City & Back

Today presented an interesting conundrum. My newfound goal at Ocracoke is to break my consecutive daily flying record, which stands at 4 days (meaning that I flew daily for 4 days). This happened 3 times in the past, and the closest runner up was 5 times in 7 days during a NY February. It helps when I lived on an airport. If this scheme holds true, it will be 8 days of consecutive flying. We’re at 3 as of now.

The problem is, there are no airports with fuel within 40 miles. The gas stations on Ocracoke do not carry ethanol-free (certain airplanes can take ethanol-free car gas). Thus, if I wanted to fly around for fun for the next 3 days, I needed gas, as Morehead City would be closed for Christmas.

The weather was ok here at Ocracoke. Three thousand foot ceilings, steel gray sky, and haze. The rest of the East Coast was practically fog. Morehead City was reporting 300’ ceilings for most of the morning. Well, she cleared to 600’, and we were off.

Everything was fine, until within 10 miles of the airport. Ceilings dropped to 250’, though over the sound. I dipped down over the water to duck under it, and sure enough, it was higher on the other side, just barely high enough to get into the airport. After fueling up, I returned following the coast from Cape Lookout to Ocracoke, enjoying some amazing scenery along the way.

First of all, there are wild horses in Cape Lookout National Seashore, on the far western end. Lots of wild horses. Apparently the messianic stallion that everyone in Corolla is so excited about came from Shackleford Banks, another wild horse area I knew nothing about. Nonetheless. a fog bank sat over the lighthouse, so I got photos one would not expect possible in an airplane, and then saw pelicans in flight over the water, dolphins surfacing, and a variety of interesting features on land and in the sea, especially some inlets in the uninhabited sections of the southern Outer Banks. The sand formations and currents were truly amazing, despite day 3 of crap lighting. Tomorrow will be equally as foul weather-wise, and Thursday will commence clearing. On the descent into Ocracoke, yet again, the air temperatures changed at 600’, and cooled even more at 100’, like yesterday.

1-Sand Spit
New Drum Inlet
2-Ophelia Inlet
Ophelia Inlet
3-Ophelia Inlet
Ophelia Inlet
4-Shackleford Banks
Shackleford Banks
5-Cape Lookout Lighthouse Hiding in Fog Bank
Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Hiding in Fog
6-Cape Lookout National Seashore, Foggy
Cape Lookout National Seashore in Fog
7-Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Cape Lookout Lighthouse
8-The Pelican Brief
The Pelican Brief
9-Water Current Swirls, Ophelia Inlet
Ophelia Inlet Tidal Flow Swirls
10-Interrupted Fibonacci Sequence
Interrupted Fibonacci Sequence – New Drum Inlet
11-Pelican Brief, Part II
The Pelican Brief II – They make my flying skills look bad

Flight: NC Outer Banks: Ocracoke Inlet

The airplane at Ocracoke is about 3 miles from the place we are staying, the closest I have been to it since I owned it, and the closest to an airport since I grew up living next to one. The weather was crap, though I have to make use of my proximity to the airplane and fly daily, just for the sake of it. With a steel gray sky, I did not expect anything in the way of color, or anything worth photographing. How wrong I was.

The first issue was a minor cloud/fog layer, which was not visible from the ground. As I took off and approached 100 feet above the ground, it appeared that there was some fog ahead, and then it disappeared. Like little bits of tissue paper, light wisps of cloud were blowing in from the Pamlico Sound, and heading out to sea. I didn’t have the window open then, though on final approach I did, and it was evident then that the air temp increased 10 degrees upon rising above the tissue paper. Further, it was blowing out of the north on the ground, and south above the ground layer. The coast never ceases to be amazing.

Photographs of the Ocracoke Inlet were quite interesting, with a majestic steel gray sea, set against steel clouds, with green and turquoise accents pervading the water. Rising to 2,000’ altitude, there was a tidal flow coming out of the inlet, a layer of brownish water set against turquoise Atlantic Ocean water. A fog bank appeared to be over the Pamlico Sound 10 miles north, so I landed and called it a day. It took two hours, though it eventually rolled in, a quiet, eerie coastal fog filling Ocracoke Village.

1-Ocracoke Inlet
South End of Ocracoke Island, Ocracoke Inlet
2-South End of Ocracoke Island
South End of Ocracoke Island, Looking NE
3-South End of Ocracoke Island
South Tip of Ocracoke Island
4-Ocracoke Island
Ocracoke Island, NC Highway 12
5-Ocracoke Inlet Tidal Flow
Ocracoke Inlet Tidal Flow
6-Ocracoke Inlet, Portsmouth Island in Distance
Ocracoke Inlet, Pamlico Sound, Portsmouth Island in Rear

Flight: NC Outer Banks: Cape Hatteras & Ocracoke

We’re spending a few days down in Ocracoke, on the far south end of the habitable Outer Banks, ironically the dead opposite of where we are now, the northernmost section. Nonetheless, I decided to bring the airplane, as there is a no-frills airport in Ocracoke, and this part of the OBX is part of the focus for one of the book projects. A big part of any aerial project is seeing the same thing multiple times, under different conditions, and aggregating the whole thing together. A few long flights are worse than many shorter ones. This is a nice opportunity to get the farthest sections easily.

That required being dropped off at Dare County airport to get the airplane, and hoping all went well as Anne drove the truck and the animals south, crossing a ferry, and over to the island. Despite having to get gas, oil, fill the tires up, and photograph as I went, I got there first, flying at 1950 RPM. There was a tailwind, and the ferry was a one-hour affair.

The air was rather hazy, which can be seen in the images. I normally would not have driven all the way to the airport on a day like this, though this was more of a transport flight. That allowed me to focus on the sand patterns under the water in the sound, and they were uncharacteristically amazing, compared to the last time through Oregon Inlet. The ocean is like a masterpiece painting that is constantly changing, always beautiful, and never once exactly the same.

I found the ferry carrying the truck and its occupants, and got a photo as I ambled on overhead. This is the first time we have used an antique airplane, boat, and truck to get somewhere.

1-Oregon Inlet Sand Formation
Sand Formations, Oregon Inlet
2-Sand Formation
Sand Formations, Oregon Inlet
3-Sand Formation
Sand Formations, Oregon Inlet
4-Makeshift Pea Island Bridge
Pea Island Ramshackle Bridge & Sand Formations
5-Walk the Plank
Walk the Plank
6-Quintessential OBX
Quintessential OBX, North of Avon NC, Hatteras National Seashore
7-Sound and Brackish Water
Brackish Water meets Pamlico Sound
8-Cape Hatteras
Tip of Cape Hatteras
9-Riding Horses
“Pony Pen” According to Park Maps
10-The Pier Has Seen Better Days
This Pier Has Seen Better Days – Hatteras, NC
11-Wife and Animals on the ferry
Hatteras – Ocracoke Ferry

Flight: NC Outer Banks: Northern OBX

I finally decided to quit being lazy and get up in the air. There is too much to do at the coast, with the sand, sky, water, and horses constantly in motion, giving limitless things to photograph. Lately, it has been moonrises and sunrises over the Atlantic, and sunsets over Currituck Sound, with a healthy dose of slamming on the brakes and watching horses in between. Don’t forget to throw in playing in 47.8 degree water temps with a GoPro. Still working on the wet suit.

On this particular day, I decided to head north up to the bottom of Virginia along the coast, getting Currituck Sound as well as the 4×4 beaches that we live on. I figured I’d try my hand at getting horses from the air, which is a phenomenal pain in the rear, though it can be done. Consider this a practice run, with some modest success.

I also got the wife to come out with her iPhone and get some glamour shots of the airplane. One video in particular came out nice of slow flight along the beach – at 1500 RPM, pleasantly puttering by over the water.

I learned a few lessons in this flight.

  • Empty the stupid camera cards before flying. I filled one up, in the heat of the moment photographing horses, and had to mess with wiping the back up card for 5 minutes while climbing to altitude to do it safely, and then had to find the horses again, set up the flyby, only to have some moron with his parked truck in the way (taking pictures of the horses of all infractions!). Sigh.
  • I need a pre-flight camera checklist. The focus point was set to the bottom one, not all, and aperture was set to 3.5, hosing about 50% of the photos I took. Here is my new list, in aviation checklist format:
    1. Batteries CHARGED
    2. Cards EMPTIED
    3. Focus points ALL
    5. ISO 200
    6. Aperture 6.3
    7. Focus AUTO

For those that care about the photography details, I will specify the reasoning behind camera settings. Focus points being set to all will ensure a more balanced, center-of-the-image focus point, instead of a corner, resulting in sharper focus for the intended area. I shoot aperture priority mode, as very closed apertures will show any dust on the sensor, and very open apertures require precision focusing, which does not happen while moving. 3.5 is the most open, and 7.1 and higher starts to show dust, so I pick 6.3. ISO 100 is usually fine on a sunny day, though 200 makes sure the shutter speed is fast enough to counter the movement of the airplane. Sometimes, I have to switch to ISO 400 if I am photographing something dark. Focus is on auto, of course, because there is no time to manual focus, and I need one hand to fly the plane.

1-Kitty Hawk Soundside
Kitty Hawk, NC – Soundside
2-Southern Shores, Duck
Southern Shores, NC with Duck, NC
Duck, NC – Looking South
4-Northern Duck
Northern Duck, NC
5-Currituck Sound
Currituck Sound – Duck, NC
6-Beach Houses
Houses near Pine Island – Duck/Corolla, NC Border
7-Currituck Sound
Currituck Sound
8-Currituck Sound
Currituck Sound
9-Currituck Lighthouse, Whalehead Club
Currituck Lighthouse with Whalehead Club in Foreground & Atlantic Ocean in Background
10-Wild Horse
Wild Horse – Corolla, NC
11-Carova, 4x4 Beach
Corolla, NC 4×4 Beaches
12-Carova, 4x4 Beach
Corolla, NC 4×4 Beach
13-False Cape State Park
False Cape State Park, VA
14-Shore Birds Fishing
Shorebirds, False Cape State Park, VA
15-Sand Formation
Sand Formations – Corolla, NC

Mechanics of a Wave

There are some days where everything just works with photography. From sunrise to sunset, this was one of them.

As for playing in the water, while it was 70 degrees out, the water was 54, which is….shall I say….uncomfortable. Within 15 minutes, muscle function was starting to disappear, so it was time to quit frolicking with hypothermia.

As for how I got the wave photos: GoPro Hero 3+ (with the waterproof case), set to 10MP, 10 shots per second burst mode. It took about 450 photographs to get this batch of interesting ones. I have always had a fascination with waves and the mechanics of how they work, and since they move so fast, there is a fraction of a second to freeze them in time.

This was the second foray with them. Last week, while it was 46 degrees outside, I tried this little affair with the GoPro. I didn’t get as wet for starters, and also had to work out the details of the camera, what works, and what does not.

I am getting a wet suit. This is ridiculous.


1-Sunrise 1

2-Sunrise 2

12-Wild Horse Twilight
Wild Horse in Twilight – Corolla NC