The Crystal Coast – Down East

Defining Down East in Carteret County

Carteret county North Carolina is known as “the Crystal Coast.” A segment of it is frequently referred to as “Down East.” That region roughly begins where Highway 70 makes a turn next to East Carteret High School. Some of the communities included in the area are Bette, Ottway, Harkers Island, Sea Level, Marshallberg, Atlantic and Cedar Island. Of course this is only a partial listing of the small towns that make up this section of the county.

Traditions and a Brief History

This portion of the county was somewhat isolated for many years. Surrounded by sounds, creeks and marshes, boats were the only way to access these communities. As such the residents maintained a different accent, the “down east brogue, compared to the rest of NC. There accent and speech patterns were very similar to those of early English settlers. As such linguists often visited and studied the local language. Similarly, pirate reenactors frequently visited the area to learn to add a touch of realism to their speech.

Being surrounded by water it is not surprising that there is a long tradition of fishing and boat building in the area. Harkers Island boats, for example, is well known for their distinctive bows. Commercial fishing and boat building are still active industries for Down East residents. However, eco-tourism, sport fishing and other tourist activities are becoming more and more important to the local economy.

The Cape Lookout National Seashore Headquarters is located on Harkers Island. It includes a hiking trail, some displays inside the building, as well as a departure point for ferries to the light house an barrier islands across the sound. The park was recently recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, adding astro-tourism to local industries. Next door to the headquarters the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum is found. It features displays of local decoy carvers as well as local traditions, arts an crafts. Further east on Cedar Island is a North Carolina Ferry terminal. Here large car ferries carry visitors to Ocracoke Island and the famous Outer Banks.

Late Autumn Photo Explorations

In late October and early November I made the drive to explore the area for some photo opportunities. I was particularly hoping to find a few quaint, small boats at anchor or deserted in some picturesque locations. The trips did not disappoint. I also visited the Willow Pond hiking trail at the Waterfowl museum.

The Photos

An old wooden skiff sits abandoned along the shore at Harkers Island, North Carolina. Perhaps it broke its mooring during a storm and washed up here. Maybe the boat’s owner simply abandone it. It was likely once used by one of the local commercial fishermen. Today it hints at a simpler, less hectic time. Harkers Island is located in an area known as Down East Carteret county and is part of the Crystal Coast. Isolated from the mainland until a bridge was built a few decades ago, many of the islanders speak with a brogue that is similar to the English used by early settlers. That unique language is slowly disappearing due to the recent accesibility. Traditionally a fishing village, vacation homes are now springing up all around the island.
This is a decoration found at the Core Soundd Waterfowl Museum on Harkers Island, North Carolina. The village has a long tradition of commercial fishing, boat building and decoy carving. All activities that are celebrated and documented in the museum.
A small wooden boat sits alone in the saltmarsh next to Atlantic Harbor in eastern North Carolina. This part of Carteret county is know as Down East. The area which consists of sea side and sound side ommunities is collectively called the Crystal Coast. It’s primary industry was once commercial fishing. Today it enjoys a healthy tourist trade with people visiting from around the world to enjoy the excellent sport fishing, scuba diving as well as typical beach activities.
A simple wooden bench offers a chance to rest and reflect along a nice hiking trail in eastern North Carolina. Natural areas such as this provide an escape from the stress of modern life A sanctuary if you will.
A traditional Down East North Carolina skill is tied to a dock at the Marshallburg Harbor. It’s image is reflected by the smooth, salt water. Small boats like this have been used by coastal watermen for many decades. Commercial fishermen use them to navigate the shallow waters of the sounds, creeks and marshes while setting and tending their nets and traps.
Here’s a view from the state boat launch area at Harkers Island, North Carolina. The body of water in the distance is Core Sound. This island village has a long, fishing and boat building tradition. Islanders have an accent that is similar to the way early English settlers spoke. Outsiders can find them quite hard to understand.
An old skiff sits in the marsh next to the harbor at Atlantic North Carolina. Flaking paint and rust stains attest to the long, hard life this little boat has had. Small craft like this have been the workhorse for the watermen of Down East Carteret county for many decades. One of the more eastern communities of the Crystal Coast, the people of this quaint fishing village have long made their living from the surrounding waters.

Previous Visits

As a Crystal Coast Resident this wasn’t my first visit to eastern Carteret county. The following are some older posts about those adventures.

This entry was posted in General Photography, History & Landmarks, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography, Rural Decay, Uncategorized.


  1. jim hughes November 12, 2022 at 7:25 pm #

    Why do we all like photos of ruined old boats run aground? Maybe they’re a metaphor for life. Sometimes I feel that way, but oddly, I sort of enjoy it.

    Sounds like a great area to hang around. Which would be more fun – being a “pirate reenactor” or an “astro-tourist”? Seriously, I love the dark sky concept and hope it spreads far and wide. Remember how the Milky Way looked when we were kids?

  2. admin November 12, 2022 at 7:48 pm #

    Jim, I’m both a pirate reenactor and a astro-tourist. They’re both fun! The Milky Way is amazing at the cape.

  3. Katrina Gunn November 13, 2022 at 11:48 am #

    I love the bit of local history! Especially the idea that this area still has its own distinct accent, which is becoming increasingly uncommon in this homogenized age. Some very nice captures there – and as to Jim’s observation on people liking pictures and photos of old boats, I think it’s a matter of remembering a shared history or experience. At some point, there will be a sailboat painting from me with its story.

  4. Bill Swartwout November 13, 2022 at 9:34 pm #

    Great article, Bob. I love the shots of the small boats – they remind me of scenes from around here on the Delmarva Peninsula. Your description of the islands sounds similar to Smith Island, MD and Tangier Island, VA, places I have visited. Your narrative and photographs makes me want to visit “Down East” as you describe it. Maybe one day…

  5. Steve Heap November 14, 2022 at 9:08 am #

    Great article, Bob. Another area of the country that I have never visited and it was interesting to learn of this area that we pretty much cut off for so many year. Boats in the water are always an intriguing subject and you have found some fine examples here!

  6. Jim Cook November 22, 2022 at 2:30 pm #

    Very engaging post. I appreciate your descriptions that inform us of the history of this way of life.

  7. Rebecca Herranen December 1, 2022 at 9:50 am #

    Beautiful images and great write up. I absolutely love your first image, looks like a painting

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