NC: Southport to Morehead City

It was quite the memorable visit with my friend Mike Steven’s folks Mike and Marilyn in St. James Plantation, NC.

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After filling myself on burgers and  chowder one day and a steak, chicken and apps party spread with the neighbors, I felt well fed and ready to tackle the ICW again. The hospitality shown to me was top notch and I cannot thank them enough for their kindness.  While rounding up my gear from the garage, I realized my worn out old hat that I had washed was missing. Mike accidentally gave it to the landscaper yesterday thinking it was his. Lost in translation, he felt really bad about it and I thought back to all the sentimental memories it had, from my Mom giving it to me at the start of the journey and the many rain storms and sunburns it kept me safe from. On the way to the boat, we stopped at the Golf Shop and he found me a hat with the logo of their community on it. Styling with my new clean hat, I waved goodbye and thought about how I had a small piece of clothing to remember the Stevens by.

The Cape Fear River was placid and the tide helped carry me upstream all the way to Snow’s Cut by sunset. At Carolina Beach State Park, a picnic area and bathroom looked prime for camping as the sun set.Nobody bothered me and I was gone by first light out into the fog of the ICW. Many mornings here started with clear skies but as the sun came out, a dense fog would settle against the water. In the distance the roar of surf could be heard from the beach, never that far off. The relative comfort of the ICW was magnetic and as long as the current was favorable, I could reach 25 miles a day!  After a hard day’s paddling, sometimes the view from the spoils island is worth it.

Spoils islands along the ICW meant it was usually easy to find a campsite by the end of the night with some shelter from the cedars and scrub oaks. This time of year the traffic is relatively light so most days I had the whole ICW to myself. Watching large traffic move up and down the ICW like this dredge was an interesting sight.

Last night, I knew a big storm was inbound. After sunset, the wind blew the chop on the water into a frothy whirling mass of white water. The scrub plants down along the frequently flooded shore wooshed and whirled in the turbulent and shifting winds. My tent was staked into the decking platform that washed up here and I just hoped that the tent would hold together as the gusts flattened it to my chest. After each big gust, it would pop back up with a splash of spray blowing under the edges. A 3 season tent in this 4th season isn’t ideal. Below me, a cricket chirped its happy song under the dry shelter of my tent and the decking while outside thunder crashed and lightning lit the water in a brilliance of silver. After midnight the winds finally blew out and I knew the bottom of my sleeping pad was soaked through but luckily my sleeping bag and myself were relatively dry. A short night but by 5:30, I was up and at-em again heading to Morehead City for groceries and the library for fresh Charts to the Alligator River.

NC: ICW to Southport

 

20190222_151856-01-726139682.jpegIt remained windy and rainy for the first couple days of North Carolina’s ICW.  It was still a bit early in the season for much boat traffic through Myrtle Beach, something I was quite happy for.  Leaving the development of the beach behind, I crossed into North Carolina and promptly found myself a shipwreck!

Appropriately named “Sum Day”, the wooden fishing boat has cast its last net and now gave me protection from the wind gusting to 25mph.  Camping on oyster shells can be terror for tents so I collected a bunch of foam from the bushes and built a soft pad.  What a difference!  The tide rose 5 feet from the above pic leaving my boat just barely out of the water at 10PM.

Each day dawned in an  ethereal fog which obscured the opposite shore of spartina and oyster shells.   The gentle waves on the oyster shell beaches produces a song of clinking calcium and soothing trickle as the water recedes.  Shoving off into those early morning fogs remains one of my favorite comforts in paddling as though the moist dense air is a cocoon from the coming stresses of the day.

Large marinas in this region store boats on towering racks with industrial fork lifts.  The sight of a fishing boat perched 60 feet above the ground isn’t something I see daily. From a distance, it looked as though someone was sport fishing in the live oak canopy!

Upon reaching Southport, NC my friend Mike’s parents offered to show me around for a few days.  Using the St. James Plantation kayak launch in their park, I easily hauled out and am relaxing in the loving arms of friends.  Here I hope to repair some gear, wash some salt from the freshly brined garments and resupply on groceries for the next leg of the trip up the ICW in NC.

SC: Low Country

The larger rivers and sounds of the SC low country meant some open water crossings but most of the paddling here would be in the relative comfort of the ICW and narrower rivers.  The sound of machine gun fire echoed over the water from the Marine Corps training base of Paris Island.  The beach there looked desolate and barren but I didn’t want to run into any “jarheads” on operations overnight.  Crossing the Beaufort River, I made my way over to historic Fort Frederick.  The WW-II era casement was now nestled beneath a grove of live oaks in the setting sunlight.  I explored the area for a bit before erecting my tent along the shoreline.

Come moring, dense fog blanketed the river, one of my favorite settings for paddling.  Consistently wiping the dew from my glasses each time I stopped to sip coffee, I continued up the river with the rising tide.  Using my charts and compass I was thankful to my boy scout courses for allowing me to navigate to the opposite shore without reference points.  Having the islands appear from the fog just where you’d hope is a real joy.  Across the dense air, cadences and shouted orders can be heard from Paris Island’s Marine recruits.

The day had warmed significantly once the fog burned off and I spent a brief time getting water and wifi in Beaufort, SC.  The expensive downtown area and historic homes were charming but not my idea of how to spend an afternoon while the tide was falling.  Winds increased as I set out into the open waters of the St. Helena Sound and a quick but strong storm blew through creating breaking waves and wet conditions.   A following storm was right behind it turning the setting sun green on the horizon.

I wound up paddling two miles back to the  southern shore for protection from the wind and a private but quiet beach to set up camp for the night.  Come morning, the wind had turned from the north and was really hauling but I made up my mind to paddle and worked back to the safety of the ICW.

Rice plantations line the low country shoreline with many of the sites out of operation or converted to wildlife preserves.  Around sunset, a derelict dock and large open park-like clearing beckoned be from the water.  Hauling out on rip-rap and concrete is never my idea of a good night (or morning) but I scratched and scrambled my boat up 10 feet to the grassy landing and celebrated another happy day with a remarkable sunset and Spanish Moss draped live oaks.  The sound of deer snorting and birds squabbling overnight were my only chorus.   No highway noise could be heard but the occasional creaking of the weary dock echoed into the marshes.

For every rough morning lowering the boat into blackness by my headlamp, there’s a night on a sandy beach with a picturesque sunset.  Each morning I rise with the goal to paddle and enjoy myself no matter what the conditions.  It is the fortitude of mind and intention to make the best of the conditions that keeps this trip going.  The extremely difficult moments make those of comfort that much more rewarding.