Rainy Day Photography – A Drive Downeast

The Adventure

As luck would have it my vacation fell during a rainy period in Eastern North Carolina. While certainly not a good circumstance for outdoors activities, roadside photography was certainly an option. I decided to drive “Downeast” in Carteret County, North Carolina, aka the Crystal Coast, to see what I could find. The routine was to explore various backroads and upon spotting a photo-op to hop out of my car, take a few images then move on in search of another potential photo. Perhaps not the ideal circumstance for a photo adventure but certainly better than nothing.

“Downeast” includes several fishing villages and communities in the eastern portion of Carteret County. On this drive I visited Atlantic, Cedar Island, Harkers Island, Marshallburg, and Smyrna. All have a long commercial fishing tradition and were once somewhat isolated from the rest of the county until fairly recently.

The Photos

A tradidional Downeast Wooden skiff sits grounded in the salt marsh next to Atlantic Harbor in coastal North Carolina. Hand built boats like this have been used by commercial fishermen along the eastern NC coast for decades if not hundreds of years. Local men would ply the waters of the sounds and marshes for crabs, oysters, shrimp and fish using wooden craft like this. Until the advent of outboard motors these skiffs were powered by pole, paddle and sail. The introduction of small gasoline engines allowed the fishermen to work larger areas and to travel faster. The motors also allowed for larger, safer craft to be used for commercial fishing. Smyrna is located in “downeast” Carteret County, part of the Crystal Coast. Relatively remote until modern road building techniques opened up the area, local dialect more closely resembled the english used by colonial settlers than that of modern Americans. North Carolina “downeasters” share many traditions with those from Down East New England and Canada.
The remains of an old seawall juts out into Core Sound next to an abandoned fish processing plant in Atlantic, North Carolina. This old structure once provide some protection for boats unloading and the plant dock. Today all that remains are a few pilings and rotting boards. Smyrna is a fishing village located in eastern Carteret county. This portion of the county is know as “Downeast” and consists of several old communities where the primary industry was commercial fishing. Known as the Crystal Coast, most of the county’s towns sit along the ocean or sound. While the marine fisheries industry was once the primary industry, these days tourism is the primary focus. Activities such as sport fishing, Scuba diving, beach combing and ecotourism are popular with visitors. While the region is growing it is much less developed than the Outer Banks which are further up the coast.
The traditional shrimp trawler “Cameron and Connor” is tied a dock in Marshallburg Harbor in downeast Carteret county North Carolina. The only state along the US East Coast that allows trawling in sounds and estuary areas. Some point to this fact to a decline in fin fish. Reportedly for every pound of shrimp caught there are four pounds of by-catch, typically immature fin fish, are also captured. While these fish are returned to the water, their survivability rate is virtually zero. Marshallburg is one of the more remote coastal communities found along the Crystal Coast. It has a long and storied tradition of commercial fishing. This small fishing village is bordered by Core Sound.
This old boat house sits along NC Highway 12 near the base of the Monroe Gaskill high rise bridge. Located in Downeast Carteret county, the building is quite overgrown with vines. As one passes the decaying building they begin to cross the 3000 foot bridge connecting Cedar Island to the mainland.
A Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Nyctanassa violacea, searches for a meal along a section of dock at the Atlantic, NC harbor. One of two species of Night Herons native to North America, they have longer legs and heavier bills than the Black-Crowned Night Heron. Their diet largely consists of crustaceans and they are frequently found living in salt marshes and shallow water wooded swamps. Tolerant of both brackish, saltwater and freshwater, they can also be observed along shallow lake shores and in flooded thickets. Smyrna is one of several fishing communities located in the area known as Downeast Carteret county, NC. Part of the Crystal Coast other nearby villages include Harkers Island, Marshallburg and Cedar Island. Isolated for many years area residents often speak in an accent known as the Down East brogue. A language pattern similar to that of early colonial settlers.

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5 Comments

  1. Steve Heap August 22, 2022 at 4:32 pm #

    Nice and interesting story! I didn’t know anything about this area and it was great to learn a bit about their lives. I think my favorite image is that first boat. Just enough of it to tell it’s story. Looks like you struggled with boring skies!

  2. Rebecca Herranen August 23, 2022 at 5:49 pm #

    These are fabulous. Never let the rain ruin a trip. We got poured on in Venice, Italy. Still had a great time.
    I love the skiff and the left over seawall.

  3. jim hughes August 24, 2022 at 8:26 am #

    I hear the “clunk” of that old boat against a wooden dock.

    Great catch on that heron. So many colors in a “dull” bird!

  4. Louis Dallara August 24, 2022 at 9:08 am #

    Bob; Love this work, the look and feel is just right and would make a great collection. Lou

  5. Sharon August 28, 2022 at 1:57 pm #

    Bob, great images! I love to learn about the history of small communities. My vacation always falls during the rainy period!

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