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Small Town Travel: The Port on the Intracoastal Waterway Where Everyone Knows Your Name

April 11, 2014 at 12:09 PM | by | ()

Before we do anything else, this writer needs to clear up that the town in North Carolina is pronounced BOW-Fort, as in bow tie (the town of Beaufort in South Carolina goes by BU-Fort, as in Buick). It’s part of the Crystal Coast, North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, and it used to be called Fishtown, for reasons you can probably gather from the name.

Today, most of the old fishing vessels have been replaced by sailboats, yachts, and leisure crafts, but rest assured it is still all about boating in Beaufort. Because its location is approximately halfway between Cape Cod and Key West, it serves as a stopping point for many ships on the Intracoastal Waterway, as well as a landing point for those crossing the Atlantic. As is the case with Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, if you’re not getting out on the water in Beaufort, you’re missing out on what makes the Crystal Coast the Crystal Coast: The barrier islands.

A fifteen-minute ferry ride and I was on Shackleford Banks, a 9-mile island within eyesight of the coast that contains campgrounds and herds of feral horses. People told me to keep a safe distance from the horses, but I just couldn’t resist after spotting a pack grazing along the shoreline. I was able to get within about ten yards of them when it was all said and done. The entire island is wide open and beautiful, trails leading across the center, a good place to wander around for an afternoon if you grow antsy sitting by its shores.

At $15/person round trip, the ferry is a nice option for those that want to explore the island on their own. There are also guided historical boat tours, such as the Water Bug, which will clue you in to the pirate-related history of the area. Far be it from me to romanticize a man who caused so much harm to so many people, but Beaufort has connections to one of the most famous pirates of all time, Blackbeard, who had a house in town and terrorized much of the North Carolina coast.

In 1718, the Governor of Virginia (Alexander Spotswood) decided enough was enough and sent a party of soldiers and sailors to bring back his head. The ensuing engagement ended with Blackbeard’s body in the sea and his head tied to the bow of the boat – a warning to future would-be pirates. Beaufort’s Maritime Museum has a great exhibit on Blackbeard as well as the rest of the town’s boating history, and it’s free to everyone.

In town, there's something you will realize very quickly: This is not a place you go to "escape." The waitress there also bartends here. The bartender here runs the parasailing company over there. The chef from that restaurant likes to drink at this bar. It is literally impossible to hang out in Beaufort for a few days and not begin to learn the names of the locals. They pop up all over town, and if you become aware of it and make even an inch of effort, you'll quickly see how connected everyone is.

If you play your cards right, you might just find yourself at the local music joint later that night, the Backstreet Pub, drinking beers and suddenly recognizing faces and names. And, because most tourists don't know where to go, your presence at the lesser known places, like Backstreet Pub and the Arendall Room, will draw positive attention to yourself.

If you're looking for a place to kick back during the sunset, make your way to Rhum Bar. I went for a drink, and stayed for three. Soft reggae music, boat drinks, and views of the channel traffic make guests sink a little lower in their chairs. Get there early to claim a coveted spot on the lower deck above the dock (shown above). It's popular with tourists due to it being recognized as one of the best apres-adventure bars a few years back, but the views and drinks still attract plenty of locals.

Sitting down at a place you’ve never been before and crossing paths with locals who remember and recognize you can happen in a larger town in theory, however the reality is that it will not. Take advantage of this small town charm and be friendly, be social, and the people of Beaufort won’t just tell you about their town, they’ll take you by the hand and show it to you. That is, without question, what happened to me.

[Photos: Will McGough]

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