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In Defense of Portsmouth Island

Last week we published Behind the Shot Part 5 featuring a harrowing story (and remarkable photograph) from Corey Barnett.  In short, Corey took his truck camper to Portsmouth Island, North Carolina and was endlessly attacked by, “giant mosquitoes, big gnats, and biting green flies”.   Worse,  Corey described three days of high heat, sweltering humidity, and no air conditioning.  Needless to say, he was quite happy to take a ferry to, “get away from this death trap of an island”.

We had a similar experience the first time we went to Flamingo Campground in Everglades National Park.  It was so bad that Gordon wrote about the awful mosquitoes in TCM.  We can definitely relate to Corey’s awful experience on Portsmouth Island.

John and Jeanette Hobson read Corey’s account and felt bad that Corey Barnett had – understandably – a really bad experience at Portsmouth Island.  Through their own experiences at Portsmouth Island, John and Jeanette have found some good solutions for the flying pests there; Deet wipes, Deep Woods Off, and surprisingly, Wax Myrtle branches.

John and Jeanette want to encourage us to give places we may have a bad experience at a second chance.  We gave the Everglades a second chance and we’re so glad we did.

Here is John and Jeanette’s defense of Portsmouth Island:

Two things that come to mind while reading the recent story about Portsmouth Island.  One person’s experience visiting a place can be completely different than your own experience visiting the same place.  Secondly, do I really want to say how great a place Portsmouth Island is?  After all, it might become overcrowded.  I guess I do.

Portsmouth Island dry camping

Let me start off by saying it is a shame that the Barnetts didn’t have a better time on the island.  My wife and I have visited the island twice and can’t wait to get back.

Yes, the bugs can be maddening, but the tranquility and remoteness that you can experience there is amazing.  So far we have found no other place like it on the East Coast.

Our first trip over was on July 4, 2016.  We drove off the ferry, got on the beach, and straight north fearing that we were just the first group of campers going there for the holiday weekend.  We quickly made camp about sixteen to eighteen miles up the beach and stayed put, worrying the we could lose our spot to some other party.  For those three days, we might have seen eight other trucks drive by.

The most consistent visitor was the girl from the park service driving by once in the morning and once in the evening checking for turtle nests and bird nests.  That was it!

We had complete solitude.  Well, other then some biting flies.  To help with the flies, we found that after having salads for lunch that the flies liked the dressing that was left on the plates.  So, when we finished we put the dirty plates over to the side of our truck.  That helped distract the flies from chewing on us.

Portsmouth Island remote camping

Other then that, we enjoyed three days of swimming and relaxing on the beach with very limited interruption from the outside world.  Also, let me say that cell service is spotty at best on the north end of the Island, but generally good enough to get a text or the occasional call to loved ones if need be.

For our second trip to Portsmouth Island, we visited the last week of June.  This time we wanted to do some exploring of the village of Portsmouth and do some more shelling.  After our first visit, we didn’t feel the need to protect our space.  So we drove north up the beach to the entrance of the road leading from the beach to the village.

Road to Portsmouth village

Above: The road leading from the beach to the village

We got to the area where the water covers the road.  Being very careful of driving through water, I walked a section at a time to check the depth and look for obstacles. The water depth was about up to my knees in places with a good solid bottom.

Visiting the village was a challenge with the flies.  We were armed with Deet wipes and a can of Deep Woods Off, both of which would only hold them off for short periods of time.  The old village was interesting.  The couple volunteering as guides for the Park Service were very friendly and knowledgeable about the history of Portsmouth Village.  We were their only visitors so far that day.

They also shared a secret about how to help with the flies.  Wax Myrtle branches waved around your head or held close to your face helps to keep the flies away.  Sure enough it worked as well as anything.  I am sure it was pretty amusing for them to watch us waving them around.  We headed back to the beach after checking the tides to find a good place to go shelling.

Our campsite for the night was at the furthest point south that we could drive.  It put us about a mile or so from the cabins that the Park Service rents out.  There were more people than we were really comfortable being around.  We made the best of it and found some amazing shells.

Portsmouth Island beach camping

After two nights and a cooler full of shells, we decided to head north again.  We topped off our water jugs and set out.

We chose a place about fourteen miles up the beach.  The area didn’t look prone to flooding and wasn’t impacted by high tides.  We stayed in this place for the rest of our trip.  Once again the most regular visitor was the park service volunteers on their four wheeler.  The water was a little cooler then  the previous year, but the experience was equal to or better than before.

For us, Portsmouth Island, North Carolina is nowhere near the, “death trap of an island” Corey described.  It’s actually a unique opportunity to camp at the ocean and relax.

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