March 4, 2015

New Inlet

One of the first places I explored on Hatteras Island was New Inlet on Pea Island. The old remnant bridge that’s still there, was built after the storm of ’33 cut an inlet from sound to sea. As a result, traffic was interrupted on the sand road, so the state began construction of a bridge to span the troubled spot. The new inlet filled back in on it’s own, and the state halted construction before it was completed.

I used to walk out precariously on that deteriorating, unfinished bridge to catch hard crabs on baited strings. It wasn’t uncommon to come home with a few dozen nice ones. Since then, New Inlet has always brought me a feeling of wonder and tranquility.

I wasn’t the first one to get enjoyment there. Long before, there were fish camps where locals could hunt and fish for sustenance. It must have been a beautiful, bountiful outpost.

skiffOne of the first photographs that I made at New Inlet was taken in 1979 as I was testing a brand new 400mm Novoflex lens for the first time. I parked my truck on the shoulder of highway 12, stood in the bed and made 4 handheld, identical exposures to see how the lens worked. The shot later became a somewhat iconic image as the cover of Hatteras Journal, written by Jan DeBlieu.

bridgeI took a similar shot in 1982. John Herbert’s sail skiff, once again, served as a crucial element in the composition.

St. ClairBy January of 1985, the fish camp once owned by St. Clair Midgett had dropped from it’s foundation into the water. Later that same year, when Hurricane Gloria blasted through, it took what was left, completely away.

fish campIn May of 1985, I shot this smaller camp just northwest of St. Clair’s. It too was taken out by Gloria.


August 25, 2014

Moving Toes in the Sand

Filed under: buildings,Outer Banks,People — j0jgvm89bj @ 3:50 pm

Last year Magnum photographer David Harvey asked me to help him on an assignment for a National Geographic story about rising sea level. He wanted to shoot the ocean encroaching on the Mirlo Beach subdivision in north Rodanthe, a familiar place.

The oceanfront at Mirlo has had a history of erosion for as long as I can remember, and the wave action there has attracted surfers for years. In 1984 Hurricane Josephine took out a protective dune line, and it has been a more vulnerable spot ever since.

Not only has the paved highway been taken out numerous times, but some homes have fallen into the sea as well. A few homeowners have moved their buildings to somewhat safer ground. The first house to be built on the Mirlo Beach oceanfront was called East Wind. It was built by developer Roger Meekins as a spec house. Later sold to new owners, it was renamed Toes in the Sand. It became the second house to be saved on that ill-fated oceanfront. Serendipity moved in 2009, was the first.

With Toes scheduled for relocation to another lot, David wanted to document it. Knowing that Cape Hatteras Electric Membership Co-op was going to be involved moving power lines, I contacted CHEMC to see if David could use of one of their bucket trucks in the process. Everything fell right into place.

David Just before the house was pulled off the beach, David waited with Carroll Midgett.

coming out With the house was underway, I drove David down the road to the bucket truck.

midwaybucket truck Once up in the air, he got the desired perspective.

up in the airbacking in Backing in was a piece of cake for Abode House Movers.

approval In the end, David was pleased.

D&C After a job well done, David pauses with Candy, his assistant… before going off to Mac’s for lunch.

For a look at the story, go to this web address:



July 1, 2013

Latest Casualty

Filed under: beach,buildings,Outer Banks — j0jgvm89bj @ 7:29 pm

Yesterday morning I heard that the yellow house at the end of Buela O’Neal Road had just fallen on to the beach. Of the latest casualties, this is one of the older ones, a modest beach box. It may have been built in the 70’s or early 80’s. There was a light rain coming down, but I went to look anyway.

The owner had been working with local government and Park Service officials on trying to save the house. His insurance company would not help. In order to collect through the federal flood insurance program, the structure has to have been already damaged or destroyed by flood (encroaching sea) before collecting. I hope this owner was covered.

Now the remnants will be all over the beach, creating an unsightly and potentially dangerous condition. This is nothing new. It happens time and again. There is little incentive to save these imperiled structures.

There is something wrong with the system that repeatedly allows this to happen.

This is the view looking to the south toward the Rodanthe Pier. So much for our pristine beach.

May 29, 2013

The Grommet House

Filed under: beach,buildings,Outer Banks,storms,surfing — j0jgvm89bj @ 5:02 pm

An accountant from Northern Virginia by the name of Myers, owned a cottage on the oceanfront in Rodanthe. It was a ramshackle place, built at a time when, if there were any building codes, they weren’t enforced much. The Myers family used to spend Summers there. Two of their kids were Worth and Gladys. They partied with the locals. In the winter, two of my friends Carlen and Dave, rented the place.

Robin and I surfed in front of it for years. It had a consistently good breaking wave and the mainstream surfers from Virginia Beach hadn’t discovered it.

A bit of a landmark, I photographed it for a period when I thought it was going to wash away. I saw the Rodanthe oceanfront nearly every day, checking the waves and exploring. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was also witnessing a complex process of barrier island dynamics. It fascinated me, how the beach environment reshaped with each storm.

Then the surfers from the north began coming. And as surfers will do, they name a spot after something they can relate to. From then on it was dubbed the grommet house. Grommet is surfing slang for a young or beginning surfer. In the longboard days, they were referred to as a gremmie. The Grommet House became a popular, packed out surf spot, but by then Robin and I moved on to other secret breaks to elude the crowds. We were always one or two steps ahead of the masses.

The Myers cottage gets some weather in March of 1980.

The house was still holding fast in 1982, and the beach made some accretion. The dune line in the background would later shelter a subdivision called Mirlo Beach.

The driveway got pummeled into the sand.

The ocean eventually took over, and the house fell into the sea.

April 24, 2013

Jim Henry

Filed under: black & white photography,buildings,history,Outer Banks,People — j0jgvm89bj @ 1:49 pm

In the late 70’s, when I moved to a house in North Rodanthe, there wasn’t much around at the time… only a few beach boxes with several old family homesteads scattered about. Most prominent in the neighborhood was the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station complex. I used to wander over and take a lot of pictures of the buildings and surroundings. Part of the allure for me was the dilapidated state of the place. It was a palette for some wonderful photography.

Restoration had not yet begun and it was wide open. It was there that I met an older, gray-haired man who also had an appreciation for the place. He was a federal employee working as an economist for the Civil Aeronautics Board, and was nearing the end of his career in Washington, DC. Jim Henry had been visiting the area for years and purchased a tract of land from ocean to sound in 1953 for $3000. His dream was to build a nice house there and live out his retirement.

Meanwhile the Chicamacomico Historical Association, the non-profit incorporated in 1974 to promote and restore the old station, was having problems with a lack of good leadership. Long story made short, Jim was suddenly thrust with taking charge of that responsibility. In 1982 he was elected to manage the organization as it’s president. He had an appreciation for the finer things in life, was well-traveled, educated, loved opera and a martini. At the same time he enjoyed the simple life that the villages had to offer.

One of his first tasks was to rehabilitate and open up the main 1911 building to the public. That included getting it weathered in. Through a series of state and federal matching grants, Jim raised $44,000 to finance a new cedar shingled roof and other exterior projects.

As a result on May 1, 1984, Jim was invited to Washington to give a presentation before the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. It was there that Jim accepted a prestigious award on behalf of the Chicamacomico Historical Association, largely because of his efforts.

Later he gathered historical photographs to mount exhibits. That’s when Jim met with me. My studio was up and running nearby, and he hired me to make printed copies from archived photographs. I mounted hand-made sepia toned prints on foam board, and those became the first exhibits displayed on the station’s first floor.

The boatroom of the main building got cleaned up. There was battleship linoleum glued on top of beautiful heart pine flooring, not to mention lead paint covering the walls.

From then on, I was a willing helper to Jim. The Chicamacomico Historical Association rewarded me with a lifetime membership, and subsequently invited me to join the board of directors. I can’t count the number of times that Jim would pull up in my driveway to get some advice or assistance. I’d roll my eyes back and think, “oh, here we go again”. He was somewhat a persistent pain, but I too loved the old station, and always caved in to help.

In 1988 we acquired a collection of shipwreck name boards from the Fearing family. An exhibit was mounted in the small boathouse. Jim presided at the grand opening. Fearing family representatives were present along with association members, Coast Guard personnel, historians and media. Jim was really proud of this display to educate the public about shipwrecks.

No individual has done so much to save Chicamacomico as Jim Henry. When no one else stepped up to the plate. Jim did. He wanted to tell the station’s history, get it properly restored, and always have free admission to the public. It was a labor of love. He came to the rescue, just in time to save it from falling apart.

An early morning beach stroller, Jim often came back with what he called “treasures from the sea”. Here he holds a lower jaw from a walrus, deposited thousands of years ago during glacial migration through the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1992, Jim passed away after a short illness, and I was elected to the unenviable position of president for the next 6 years. That’s another story.