Thursday, January 8, 2009

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.

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