Gregg Cattanach's Outer Banks Guide

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This article by Gregg Cattanach first appeared in the Lake Wind Advisory August 1997 issue

My last visit to the Outer Banks was an incredible windsurfing adventure. While people in Atlanta were complaining about 18 straight days with no sun, I was getting 20-35 knots of NE wind for 6 straight days! During windy times in Hatteras the 'texture' of the water changes dramatically from launch site to launch site. Here are some of the great places I got to sail this last June 1 - June 7. While you're there AND if you get strong winds for several days, here are some super sailing sites to make your trip far more interesting. (Don't just sit like a lump at the same launch all week!)

These are the coolest out of the way places I've sailed and each has it's own character. If the wind is just in the 6.0-7.0 range it really doesn't matter where you sail, because the water texture will be the same almost wherever you go. But when it gets windier than 5.5 the different sites become radically different because of the geography of the bottom of the sound, length of fetch for the wind, etc. Try out these sites if you get strong winds, you'll like it! - Gregg Cattanach

Going from North to South:

Manteo Airport

Take US-64 back through Manteo and look for the signs for the NC Aquarium. There is a little public park sandwiched between the Airport and the Aquarium. The water is deep throughout here so the ramps can be huge. This can be great on a SW day with thunderstorms building; you can catch all the good SW wind as the thunderstorms build over Roanoke and Nags Head. Often it can be blowing 5.5 here and nothing at Canadian Hole, especially on the first day that the SW wind returns. Also, there is no need for weed fins.

Hatteras Island Sail Shop (Waves, NC)

A very good SW site with flat water and then deeper about 2 miles out. Also, see if Barton Decker is in the shop. He will talk to you about the island, he's lived there 27 years.

N. Avon Dirt Road

Just 1/10 mile N of the last building in Avon is a sound-side dirt road. Take this (no 4WD necessary). There is a good rigging are with grass protected from the wind, and the reef is only 21/2 miles offshore. There is incredible flat water 1/2 mile before the reef and if the wind has been strong for 1 or 2 days you can get 3-5 foot swells and breaking waves out there. Also at this launch there is great flat water jibing right next to the shore. You can also drag race with the guys that stay at the houses behind Windsurfing Hatteras. This is ideal if the wind is N or SW. (Strong NE can cause some shallow sections near to shore.)

Canadian Hole

This is often the windiest place on the island on afternoons after the SW wind has been blowing for 1 to 2 days. Lots of people to drag race, but no grass or protection from the wind for rigging. The 'hole' is a pain when it's windy with lots of sailors because it becomes a chaotic washing machine. Talk to the old man in the powder blue van, this is Phil Carcich's (an Atlanta guy) father, and a certified character. He is almost always there. The crowd makes it fun but the water has no real character on SW and there are tons of better places to sail on NE.

Soundside Restaurant

Down in Buxton, about 5 miles south of Canadian Hole, you can launch behind this restaurant. I sailed there in 30 knots from the NE on my trip and the ramps were steep and 3-5 feet right up to shore. Very gnarly! Also this is a great place if the wind is straight E or W, when most other launches become too offshore or onshore.

Frisco Woods Campground

Again a great place for strong NE winds. Exactly side shore winds and the best variety of water texture. Near shore is a super flat hero jibing area (try doing 8 in a row, down the line, showing off for the campers), then you soon get super starboard ramps, then further out is bigger swell, (but not as intense as the Okrakoke or Avon reefs). They might ask you for $3 to sail during the day, but it's worth it! However, this is not very good on SW winds.

Okrakoke Flats

Take the free ferry (14 mi. S of Canadian Hole) from Hatteras Village to Okrakoke Island. The ferry ride is cool, feed the birds and watch how skilled the laughing gulls can fly. Just 100-200 yards after you get off the ferry there is a dirt road on your right (sound-side, no 4WD necessary). This place can really be incredible for flat water speed sailing and giant planing jibes. All grass rigging, protected from the wind, and then at least 1 to 11/2 miles of flat, flat, flat water. Use a short weed fin and try to break the 30 knot barrier! This is only workable on strong NE winds, and it make some sense to sail here a few hours either side of high tide. As you go out past 3 duck blinds the reef reappears and there is much more deep water swell riding available. Be careful of bottoming out but basically it is all perfectly sailable while planing. (I sailed a 4.5 and had only 1-2 INCHES of chop!)

Ocean Sailing

I would launch at one of two places in the ocean based on the wind: a) If it's SW you can try the 'Old Road'. Look for a dirt road toward the dunes/ocean about 1/2 to 1 mile south of Avon. Go there and rig on the old pavement. It's just a short carry over the dunes. Make sure the SW wind is very strong (at least 4.5 on the sound). You will need a larger sail on the ocean (5.2) than the sound. This will be side/offshore. This is better than across from Canadian Hole because the shore break isn't so awful. b) If it's NE go to the oceanside turnout just N of Hatteras village. Again, you get side/offshore winds, usually someone else to sail with and no killer shorebreak. Wait for 4.5 conditions on the sound and then rig a 5.2 on the ocean. (P.S. these sail sizes are what I would sail, adjust accordingly).

Two Hints for More Fun

  • Don't rig too big when you sail on the sound. The water is generally so flat and offers so little resistance, you can often sail MUCH faster using a smaller sail once you get it going. We are so used to having to rig big on Lanier to power through the chop and deal with the lulls; this just isn't necessary on Pamlico Sound. On my trip I sailed 6 of 7 days, it was very windy (20-30 knots) and I used these sails (by day): 5.5, 5.5, 3.5, 4.5, 4.0, 3.5!! Don't be afraid to rig down. You can go just as fast or faster and your day and hands and arms will last longer!
  • Also, buy a GOOD weed blade fin and use it. They are so much better now than 5 years ago. What is the point of going to windsurfing heaven, and then dragging vegetable matter around with you all week?

Hope you have WAY TOO MUCH WIND!!!!!!!