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    Netflix’s “Outer Banks” — The Wrong But Not So Obvious

    August 15, 2020

    The Wrong-But-Not-So-Obvious

    Some of the things that the Netflix drama “Outer Banks” gets wrong about the real Outer Banks are just so obvious that they leap off the screen. Then there is the other category—not quite as obvious, but to those of us who live here or our visitors who are part of our Outer Banks family, it’s not quite right.

    The Redfield Lighthouse

    There is no Redfield Lighthouse on the Outer Banks, and no lighthouse on the Outer Banks looks anything like what is seen in the show. The Redfield Lighthouse that is shown is actually the Morris Island Lighthouse that at one time guided ships into Charleston harbor.

    Morris Island Lighthouse in Charleston, SC
    Morris Island Lighthouse in Charleston, SC

    The Morris Island Lighthouse is as historic as any of the four Outer Banks lighthouses. And it probably has the type of recognition in South Carolina that our lighthouses have, although it is hard to imagine that it has the panache of the Hatteras Lighthouse.

    It does beg the question, why, if the name of the show is Outer Banks, a real Outer Banks lighthouse name wasn’t used? Why not call it the Bodie (pronounced Body) Island Lighthouse, which would add a certain air of tension to the story as it unfolds?

    Bodie Island Lighthouse in Nags Head, NC
    Bodie Island Lighthouse in Nags Head, NC

    However, the real problem is not the name of the lighthouse or that it doesn’t look anything like an Outer Banks lighthouse. The big problem is someone is living in it.

    Back in the 1880s and 1890s, before there was electricity, there was a lighthouse about every 30 miles along the Atlantic seaboard. And every lighthouse had a lighthouse keeper who lived in the lighthouse keeper’s quarters which was invariably at the base of the lighthouse.

    No one lived in the lighthouse itself. No one.

    It is obvious there is no keeper’s quarters at the base of the Morris Island Lighthouse. When the lighthouse was automated in 1932, the keeper’s quarters were dismantled. Any remaining outbuildings were destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1969.

    The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1962.

    Trees on Outer Banks Beaches

    Our visitors the Outer Banks have probably noticed there are no trees on any of our beaches. They weren’t cut down or removed. They were never there.

    Anyone who has never been to the Outer Banks and was watching Outer Banks, though, would be forgiven for thinking trees grow right up to the beach. In more than one scene, they appear just behind the shoreline and are clearly visible.

    South Carolina Beach
    A beach on Hunting Island in South Carolina

    That simply does not happen on the Outer Banks, and it very rare for trees to be that close to the shoreline in general on barrier islands.

    Outer Banks Beach Scene
    A tree-free beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks

    The combination of salt-infused winds and poor soil keeps trees from growing. The soundside of barrier islands will very often support thriving maritime forests.

    Map Coordinates

    Through a series of events, John B finds the map his father left him. He and his friends sneak into the kook’s beach club to use the computer there because power still has not been reconnected for the pogues following a hurricane.

    Outer Banks Netflix Gif

    The coordinates they announce are 34o 57’30 north and 75o 55’42 west. And, they’re excited to discover that the wreck is in only 900’ of water.

    There is so much wrong with this it’s difficult to know where to start.

    Those of us lucky enough to live here, as well as our regular visitors, know the southernmost point of the Outer Banks is Ocracoke Island. The southern tip of the island is at 35o 03’58.

    The latitude the writers use is six miles south of that and is directly across from the northern Core Banks.

    Coordinates of the Royal Merchant in Netflix's Outer Banks
    Coordinates of the Royal Merchant in Netflix’s Outer Banks

    The coordinates for Royal Merchant shipwreck do exist but they don’t quite match the 900’ depth. A look at Google Maps puts the shipwreck, according to those coordinates, about five or six miles offshore and at a depth of 80’-85’. Interestingly the coordinates are almost on top of an artificial reef locally called the Boxcar because, well, they dropped old boxcars to create it.

    To get to 900’ the kids will need to travel about three miles to the east where the Continental Shelf begins its precipitous plunge to some of the deepest parts of the Atlantic Ocean.

    It is also unclear why the kids were cheering that the ship was at a depth of only 900’. It is possible to run an underwater drone to that depth and get a picture of the wreck, but it’s hard to see how they would salvage anything from it. Nearshore shipwreck salvage in much shallower water takes millions of dollars to finance and very specialized equipment.

    Much like the Chapel Hill ferry, the producers and writers don’t get a pass on this one. It would have been absurdly simple to place the coordinates off the Outer Banks and either have the longitude match the 900’ depth or change the script to match the 80’ depth.

    Everyone Has a Boat

    This one is driving us crazy. Almost everyone has a boat. Slight correction to that—almost all of the male characters have a boat. And, as it turns out, they’re all conveniently parked in their back yards.

    That’s simply not the case. Boats are extremely expensive to own. Fuel costs run quite a number of commercial and charter fishermen to the verge of getting out. Maintenance is constant and ongoing—commercial fishermen spend almost as much time maintaining their boats as they do fishing.

    Gif from Netflix's Outer Banks

    Somehow, though, even though they’re pogues (the poor kids) they always have money to gas up their boats that are conveniently docked in their backyards. That includes JJ, whose father is an alcoholic and is out of work.

    And, even though the age range seems to be 16-18, these kids are skilled pilots who can navigate the dangers of an inlet and get out to the open sea.

    Tanneyhill the Rice Plantation

    There are two clues in Tanneyhill Plantation growing rice that makes it clear the Netflix Outer Banks is not the real Outer Banks.

    The two clues are: Tanneyhill Plantation and growing rice.

    There were no plantations on the Outer Banks. Probably the closest to a plantation would have been the home and land that Hodges Gallop owned along what is now Jean Guite Creek in Southern Shores and Martins Point.

    The land was valuable for its forest products. Gallop did, according to eyewitnesses, also try his hand at planting corn and other staple crops with limited success.

    His home, however, was not some palatial antebellum structure.

    The other problem here is growing rice. As far as we can tell, no one ever attempted to grow rice on the Outer Banks. Barrier Islands, with their nutrient-poor, sandy, very well-drained soil would not have supported rice production.

    Tanneyhill Plantation
    Tanneyhill Plantation | Netflix

    It should be noted, though, that until the Civil War, rice was one of the most important crops in North Carolina, rivaling cotton and tobacco as the number one cash crop for the state. The rice was grown throughout the coastal plain, but never on the Outer Banks.

    The Well

    John B and his friends figure out where the gold is hidden, and it’s on a parcel of land where a crazy old lady lives. In the basement of the crazy old lady’s house, they discover a well.

    A well with stone walls so deep that the kids knew, before even seeing the basement or well, that they would need rope to rappel to the bottom.

    Here is why it makes no sense on the real Outer Banks—dig down 5’ and you’re in groundwater. Actually, in most places, it’s 3’

    As a consequence, Outer Banks homes do not have in-ground basements. Most are built up, usually on pilings, but almost nothing is at ground level.

    Outer Banks Oceanfront
    Most homes on the OBX are built on pilings or stilts.

    The only exception to that rule is if the home is built on a sand dune, which is what passes for a hill around here. The crazy lady’s home does not appear to be on an elevated piece of land.

    Which brings us back to the well. The well with the stone walls that are so deep John B has to rappel down it. That well could not exist on the Outer Banks.

    The stone walls of the well are typical of where there is a dense, packed soil. A shaft is dug and then the stone is used to stabilize the shaft.

    Digging a 5’ hole in sand is next to impossible. Digging a 25’ or 30’ shaft and hoping the sand won’t keep filling it in as fast as it can be dug? Not going to happen.

    Wells do exist on the Outer Banks. Before there was a modern distribution system for water, a lot of local residents had their own wells. Before electricity, they were hand-pumped wells. When electricity was introduced, electric pumps did the work of a handle.

    But nobody had a well like the one John B climbs into.

    With a little suspension of disbelief, the episode is very exciting. But it’s hard to see how it could have happened on the authentic Outer Banks.