Norman Miller is not your typical easygoing Ocracokian. He comes from a harder line, having grown up on Chesapeake Bay, and the silences into which he sometimes lapses are strange, introspective and uncomfortable. Not comfortable, either, is the way he fishes his 36-foot charter boat. Rascal. The Atlantic off Ocracoke is a crazy pattern of white water, with steep seas breaking unpredictably over shallow banks, and it is in the midst of this that Miller likes to anchor. Still, he has earned an unassailable reputation as the best red drum skipper in the U.S. There is never any shortage of people waiting to sign up to go out with Miller. Indeed, you have to book months ahead, which was why I knew that my best shot on Ocracoke—to fish with Norman—was a feeble one.
Extraordinarily, I got lucky. Miller said he had a cancellation for the following Wednesday. That left me with two days to fill. I asked Miller if it was worthwhile to fish the surf off the island.
"Don't know nothin' about the surf," he said characteristically.
Sharon gave him a look. "What about the sandspit?" she said.
"Sandspit?" I asked.
"It's a tiny little island," she said, "that came out of the sea a while back."
"Don't know if anybody goes out there now," said Miller. "The last load of guys got into trouble, sank their boats."
"I could ask Rudy if he'll take you," said Sharon. She reached for the phone.
And so it was that the following perfect, opalescent morning I slid over the side of Rudy Austin's little boat and waded ashore on the sheltered side of Drum Shoal or Vera Cruz Shoal, an islet too young to know its own name. It briefly occurred to me that I could end up in some kind of Robinson Crusoe fix. To the east, the next landfall would be some 3,000 miles away, roughly, at Casablanca, Morocco. To the west, a mere 20-minute boat ride away, was the low silhouette of Ocracoke.
I looked around. It was low tide, but at high water on a rough day, I thought, the sea must break over the bank. Sweating, half-trudging, half-trotting as fast as my clumsy chest-waders would let me, I made my way across the spit to the seaward side, where the surf roared.