Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Guided trip on the Intracoastal

Hello All! Long time no talky.

I have recently returned from a very interesting and pleasant paddle down the coast. A local author and professor needed a guide for himself and a friend. "D", the author, had been commisioned to write an article that centered around the trip. The proposed trip would be from Wilmington, NC to Charleston, SC. After some discussion and research we decided to break the trip into two sections and skip the "ditch" west of Myrtle Beach, SC (possibly the most tacky strip of coast in the world). This ditch-like section of the ICWW is a narrow canal cut through the mainland and is continuously lined with houses, businesses and docks. South of Socastee the ICWW joins the Waccamaw River and returns to more natural waterways.

We left Wilmington on Thursday, the first day of October. The only word to describe the weather that day is perfect. This was fotunate for us, for logistical, lodging and tidal reasons this would be our longest day, slightly more than 26 nms. Our timing was perfect as well. We arrived at the infamous Provision Co. in Southport right at slack. After lunch there we paddled the last 4 nms. to our uber-quaint "shack" for cold beers and bed.

In the morning we were joined by "R", who drove down from Wilmington. As usual, the hardest parts of a kayak expedition are the boat packing and the unique landing and launching scenarios. That morning was no exception as we did not launch 'til 1000, but we did have fresh coffee due to R (someone had forgot to bring the coffee makings).

Once again we had near perfect weather, enduring the only 20 min.s of rain for the three day trip. This day we were to paddle from eastern Oak Is. to an island near the Shalotte River Inlet.

We also had to make an important side trip up the Lockwood's Folly River to Sunset Harbor and Varnam Town, two small villages traditionally dependent on commercial fishing. In Sunset Harbor we visited the seafood market of Yankee Dave and picked up some crab meat and the best cocktail sauce ever. Yankee Dave is a commercial fisherman who is very environmentally aware and concerned about sustainability and impact. He and Ray had visited us just after dawn at the shack and we had a very informative and interesting conversation, I'm sure they were very beneficial to D's article.

Varnam Town was our second stop on our Lockwood's Folly River detour. To say that Varnam Town has.....character, is putting it lightly. VT is home to about ten floating shrimp boats and several others up to their gunwales in marsh mud. We had lunch and took a break here while D roamed about town on foot, bike and golf cart doing interviews and research. D has an innate ability to draw assistance from locals. An ability that has served him well in his many writing related journeys.

We left Lockwood's and continued west to our next campsite. With help from some of the many gill netters we found a legal and beautiful site on the west end of Ocean Isle Beach. After a dinner of fresh shrimp from Varnam Town we took a stroll along the strand. As we reached our landing cove we could barely see a small boat at anchor. In hushed tones we wondered who it was and where they were. We were answered from the dark, "We're over here!", in a distinct local dialect. Three young, local gill netters (probably unlicensed) had come to shore to smoke their mullet. I know what your thinking, yes, at least one of them had a "mullet" hair cut, but the mullet they were attempting to smoke were fish. These boys were classic stereotypes of the region, but friendly as could be and drunk. Everyone introduced themselves and answered the standard questions that strangers who meet in the dark on a barrier island ask. A few moments after they asked us if we had any beer, which we did not, R asked if they did. The least brightest of the group jumped up from his sand bath (apparently this cures poison ivy) and said, "sure, we got it right over here in this bucket". R and D gladly accepted and I declined because I kept hearing banjo music in my head and told them I thought I would head back to my tent. Quite suddenly, after only one swig of beer, D says he would head back to camp as well and offered his beer to the boys. As we walked back I thought it odd that D didn't stay since he is usually very social and looking for anecdotal experiences. I expressed as much to him, he said he had a sudden urge to brush his teeth. I pressed further, apparently the boys kept their beer in the same bucket of ice and water as their recently caught fish! D felt like he had just licked a mullet.

The next morning we were glad to discover R had returned and none of our belongings or boats had left. R had to come to no harm even after Mr. Jagermeister had shown up. The day began beautifully as we watched the deer grazing in a nearby salt barren and we ate breakfast and had cowboy coffee. We were in no rush for we would have to take a long lunch at Little River Inlet to wait for a favorable tide. The area behind Sunset Beach and Bird Island was tranquil and only lightly travelled due to repairs to their draw bridge.

Beyond Sunset and Bird we paddled into the largely protected Little River Inlet marshes. We gladly ate, napped and explored this area while we waited for the tide to change. Our last leg of our journey would take us into the most urban and artificial area we had paddled since leaving down town Wilmington. Little River SC and Cherry Grove SC are now contiguous with that bastion of summer vacations, Myrtle Beach.

As our journey neared it's end, D was becoming desperate for an experience he had hoped to have during our trip. D wanted to see and photograph dolphins. Just as we became completely surrounded by developement he got his wish. We watched 4 Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins feeding in the ICW for about 30 minutes, capturing the experience in still photos and video. 15 minutes later we watched as two Bald Eagles soared on thermals a thousand feet above us.

We were very fortunate people that day. Not only did we have a wonderful natural experience, but our vehicle was still at the take-out and it cranked. We also learned a valuable lesson about the absence of something making it more precious. This was made clear to us as we enjoyed cold cans of beer on the way home.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cownose Rays

A good friend just sent an e-mail with some incredible photos. These are thousands of "Cownose" or "Golden" Rays off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. They migrate from FL to Mexico and back again every year.

Many times in the outdoors we experience natural phenomenons. Some we understand, some we don't. Last summer I was guiding some clients on a kayak circumnavigation of Masonboro Island. It was a hot and bright day. About half way through the ocean leg I thought I was becoming overwhelmed by the heat and exertion. I suddenly started seeing flashing sunspots everywhere I looked! After a few seconds I realized the sunspots were dozens of large rays flying by beneath us. They moved so fast the experience only lasted a few moments before they left us behind. It was wonderful and surreal, and definitely a highlight for my clients.

Thanks to the photos I now know what I saw. North Carolina also has Cownose Rays.
Although I had seen this species many times in the marsh I had never seen them in this context before. Just one more of those natural experiences I will never forget.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kayak Touring Class

Hi y'all! I will be teaching an introductory kayak touring class at Great Outdoor Provision Co.'s Wilmington location. The class is unfortunately named "Coastal Kayak Trip Planning", but in the future it will be named "Introduction to Kayak Touring". The course is 8hrs., class room only and will be offered mondays, 6:30-8:30, Feb. 23rd, Mar. 2nd, 9th, and 16th at the Wilmington store. The main subjects covered will be; chart reading, basic navigation, course planning, safety, gear, packing, and group management. For full details and to sign-up go to greatoutdoorprovision.com

If you are interested in any other instruction, Watersmyth Kayaking teaches at all levels of coastal kayaking. We teach to all ages, skill levels and groups from 1-6 people per instructor.
We also offer tours to every aquatic ecosystem in eastern North Carolina. You can contact us at guctahin@msn.com or call me at 910 443-3345 (our website will be up soon).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Boat Pimpin'

A good friend of mine and former student is ....uh...very...uh...particular about some things, specificaly, gear and outfitting. he sent me these photos of how he tricked out his boat for sea kayaking. The boat is a P&H, Capella 166 RM.
So yer stuff don't fallout when da boats upside down and da hatch is open

Retroreflective webbing so you can go kayak clubbin'

this is behind the seatback, ready to use, but not free floatin'

lotsa agua behind the seat and secure

All-purpose, hold anything bungee

Masonboro Island Circumnavigation

Some of us occasionally need a little challenge in our lives. Not the typical day to day challenge of rush hour traffic and making ends meet, but something more primal, more visceral. A couple of intrepid kayakers joined me recently for just such a challenge.
We are blessed to have a near pristine, uninhabited barrier island in our county (and in some peoples front yard). I proposed to my friends that we circumnavigate this fair isle named, Masonboro (MAS). For myself and one of the others this would be a challenge we had faced before, but for the other this would be a new notch on their paddle shaft. Conditions were far from ideal; water temp. of 55 degrees, air temp. slightly higher, wind gusts over 25mph and about 16 nautical miles to paddle. This would be a challenge of our strength and skill with some manageable risk.
The tide was in our favor as we headed south from Trails End Rd. on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). We made good speed with a steady wind on our starboard beam. At Carolina Beach Inlet we landed for a break and to scout the mouth of the inlet. Our timing was near perfect, about an hour past high, offshore wind and little swell. This inlet is well defined for an inlet without jetties. The Army Corps of Engineers has a dredge barge permanently stationed near this inlet and dredge regularly. They must dredge regularly because they only move the sand about 150' from where they dredge it and a vast amount of water moves through the inlet everyday due to the inlet's proximity to Snow's Cut. Snow's Cut is a man made canal that cuts across New Hanover county just north of Carolina Beach (CB) and connects the Cape Fear River to the marsh areas behind Masonboro and the north spit of CB. These machinations allow great volumes of water to flush in and out of CB Inlet. When the the tide and ocean swells conflict, the resulting standing waves and breakers can be monstrous to a kayaker. But, not today.
By the time we rounded the shoal breakers we were about a 1/4 mile off shore. Now we were fully exposed to the wind, and it was relentless. Wind waves and wind constantly beat upon our forward port quarter. We spent as much energy on maintaining direction as going forward, but this is what we expected and were prepared for. About the time we had acclimated Alan, our first timer, asks me "How do you tell the difference between a shark's fin and a dolphin's?". "A shark's dorsal is triangular and a dolphin's is rounded, did you see a fin", I ask expectantly. He says, "I think I saw a dolphin in the inlet". Alan continued to have a near monopoly on the dolphin sightings, except for once when Chris and I saw a pair briefly. We all saw; White Pelicans, Northern Gannets, and Forster's Terns while we were "outside" (in the open ocean). On the inside we saw several egrets, herons and a Kingfisher. This time of year we don't have many species of bird, but we have different ones than in the summer. The rest of our time on the front side of MAS was difficult, but safe and manageable, with occasional relief when the swell would be large enough for a good ride. We landed through the surf for a break about 2/3 of the way down the island and relaunched with little difficulty. At MAS Inlet the tide was in full ebb with 25mph wind pushing it even harder, we didn't see any point in fighting this beastly current, so we portaged over MAS at the jetty. This proved to be wise, for the current in MAS channel that cuts from the inlet to the ICW, was strong enough.
The last leg of our journey was about a mile in the ICW, steady, silent paddling as we absorbed the events, sights and sensations of the day. Our strength had been used, our skills tested, and our taste for adventure whetted, but not satisfied.