The name "Topsail" may have stemmed from the 18th century, when pirate ships scoured the local seas. Jolly Roger-clad vessels -- including that of the legendary Blackbeard -- might have taken cover within the channel behind Topsail Island to launch surprise attacks upon passing merchant ships. Once word of the pirates got around, merchant captains would send lookouts to the top of their ships' masts -- and so "Topsail" was born. Topsail Beach, the island’s smallest town, still retains many treasures.
Missiles and More
Once a hangout of Blackbeard and his crew, it’s rumored the pirates’ buried treasure remains hidden below the sand. Missiles and More Museum, housed in the Historical Assembly Building, offers plenty of pirate insights along with local American Indian and World War II artifacts. The island acted as a U.S. Navy base during the conflict and in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University, gave rise to the United States’ space program. Between 1946 and 1948, more than 200 rockets were launched.
Lea and Hutaff Islands are part of a 5,641-acre barrier system north of Topsail, offering a sanctuary for wildlife and a respite for tourists. It is one of 96 "Important Bird Areas" in North Carolina, providing shelter during the nesting, migrating and winter seasons. Clapper rails, sharp-tailed sparrows, American oystercatchers and piping plovers are among the feathered visitors, while during spring and summer, loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs. The National Audubon Society, along with the North Carolina Coastal Trust, the State of North Carolina, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ensure the security of this wildlife sanctuary through land purchases.
Save the Sea Turtles
The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue Center is a nonprofit organization sustained through volunteers. Visits and donations are welcome. From spring until summer, female loggerheads lay up to 120 eggs in each nest, with incubation lasting two months. Once hatched, the 2-ounce turtles make their ways to the water, attempting to avoid predatory birds, fish and crabs. Only 1 in 1,000 makes it through the first year, and as few as 1 in 5,000 survives to adulthood, which is 20 to 30 years. Those that do live return to lay more eggs.
Ride the Sea
The Queen Jean has a range of fishing charters with the opportunities to catch black sea bass, amberjack and triggerfish. Sunset voyages are offered as are educational excursions for kids; all equipment is supplied. Belle of Topsail offers a more relaxing cruise. A 55-foot replica of a 19th-century riverboat, it sports a salon and open-air deck, and there are claims the vessel is haunted. For those in search of swashbuckling adventure, The Raven has its own pirate school.
Pier-ing for Fish
The arrival of spring starts pier fishing season at Topsail as sea mullet, flounder and king mackerel make their ways to the shore. The pier at Jolly Roger Inn is a fine vantage point for all-day angling and has along a bait-and-tackle shop. In case you don’t catch anything, there are a handful of eateries nearby. Sea View Pier, once named Salty’s Pier, is to the north of Topsail Beach and is one of the state’s longest, stretching for more than 1,000 feet.