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.

SC: Charleston to Grand Strand

The stillness of the morning and the cool air meant a fog layer grew from the draining wetland marshes.  This predawn hour is the most rewarding for my paddling experience and is akin to a morning meditation for me.

Conditions were perfect for my paddle past Charleston with low winds and a falling tide to carry me out.  I passed the historic homes along the water and waved at the joggers and tourists milling about the park.  Having visited this town a couple times before, I could only imagine the image of myself on the BMW GS touring down this same road and stopping for pictures of the same water separated by time.

Allowing a few commercial vessels to pass in the shipping channel, I venture out toward Pinckney Castle on Shutes Folly Island located in the middle of the harbor.  A view out to Fort Sumter and the Ocean to my east and the ICW and route to my north gives me bearing for the remainder of my push.  Once the tides turned, I had a heck of a fight getting back to the ICW but soon made my way to Sullivan’s Island.The ICW here is seperated from the ocean by miles of tidal marshes that glow golden in the afternoon sun.  Camping at Buck Hall Recreation Area for the night beside  a Boy Scout Troop, the view seems simple but to be above the grasses and not beneath them is a treat after a day of looking at blue and tan.

There aren’t many pictures of the next hundred miles or so as weather was cloudy, conditions nominal and sights mundane.  Daily wildlife accompaniment of dolphins, pelicans and egrets made for an enjoyable excursion though.  On a rainy day approaching Myrtle Beach on the Waccamaw River, a fishing boat was out working on a Marina Sign.  I spoke with the Dockmaster of Osprey Creek Marina who invited me to camp there for the night.  It was only 6 miles away but as a cold rain persisted into the afternoon, I found myself dreaming of coffee instead of miles.  Hauling out on their grassy shoreline, I made friends with Miles and Ellie who offered me a covered and enclosed picnic pavilion to camp in.   Using their facilities to shower and do laundry was a real treat since my last bath was down in Georgia a few weeks back!   If you are ever passing through Myrtle Beach on the ICW, stop in to Osprey Creek Marina for fabulous hospitality.

After breakfast and coffee in the dark, I shoved off at first light into a foggy world again and had the ICW to myself.  The din of traffic grew louder as I traveled through Myrtle Beaches burgeoning development.  Bridges for rail and cars passed over the ICW, some swing bridges still in operation but not a concern for me.

As a humorous break from all the “SLOW – Watch Your Wake” signs…

 

This mansion is just an example of the abundant new construction along the ICW.  Huge stands of timber were clear cut to make way for golf course subdivisions in the name of progress.  It sure is good for taxes!  Rant off, it’s just such a shock to be back in the land of oil sheen, plastic garbage and floatsom after weeks of natural respite.

I did take advantage of the proximity to stores last night by hauling out in North Myrtle Beach at a municipal ramp beside the waste transfer site.  Dragging my boat past the decomposing carcass of an Opossum discarded on the ramp, I put my tent on the flat grassy landing and hope nobody bothers me.  The nearby bridge traffic subsided after 11 and I slept soundly until the morning rain showers began.  Although half the day was spent sipping coffee, avoiding rain and working on my blog at the library, it has been a much needed break.

A few more miles will find me in North Carolina, the second to last state on my journey back to Virginia.  If things match up, I’m going to try to connect with my buddy Mike’s parents in Carolina Beach, NC for a night off the water and some conversational company.  Here’s to making miles and a new state when the weather permits!

 

 

GA: St. Simon’s to Savannah

My folks and I had a wonderful time catching up on St. Simon’s Island.  The abundant sunshine and comfortable conditions allowed us to take bicycle rides around the island, enjoy food and drink at the local establishments and relax in the comfort of the hotel room at night.  The kayak was locked up safe and sound below the pier in Gascoigne Park until the morning of my departure.  I said goodbye to Mom and Dad on the dock as mom christened my boat with a small plastic cup of leftover Virginia wine from the night prior.  I had a sip and it was a pleasant way to start my paddling day.

For most of the Georgia intracoastal region finding a solid campsite can be challenging.  The extreme tides and the shallow tidal marshes meant either slogging through knee deep mud or dragging the boat over sharp oyster shells and grasses.  This small campsite on a cedar hammock appeared too early in the day to be of use.  It was so well appointed, I almost considered stopping for the day to stay overnight.  Not sure if it was private or public, I kept on with hopes for a nice spot that evening.

The tip of St. Catherine’s Island has a nice sandy beach and some wonderfully done signs along the way.  Clearly this is a frequent day spot of the Savannah boat crowds.  Along St. Catherine’s, a private island home to a select few mansions and secluded histories, I met a Savannah College of Art and Design student from Saudi Arabia working on a documentary about the island.  He gave me a slice of pizza and some water as I bobbed along their fishing boat and was filmed with his large camera.

The following night found me on the shores of Green Island.  I was pretty sure this was a private island but there was nobody around and I had a long day.  Driftwood along the beaches made for dramatic sunset shots.

An old Civil War era parapet, part of the historic occupation of this island.  In Voyage of the Paper Canoe Nathan Bishop camped on this same island and was in great company with the island’s owner and inhabitant at the time time (1875)

Most days this is my get-up.  Just paddling along in mid 60’s weather wearing all the UV and bug protection as possible 🙂  Having to only apply sunscreen to my nose and cheeks makes things easier and less messy.

The relative comfort of the ICW means many calm mornings paddling along rice paddies or areas once flood controlled.  Remnants of the old canals, wooden walls and mechanisms still line the shores.  The warmer temperatures here meant afternoon bugs were a possibility but the winds often blew enough to keep the no-see-ums at bay.

The many larger docks, mansion homes and the like signaled my closing on my birthplace of Savannah. One night I made it a boat ramp in Chatham County just as the sun set.  Bucking the tide and a 20 mph headwind all evening meant I was pooped!  I set up my tent out of the wind behind the bathroom building and was just settling in when a bright LED flashlight illuminated the scene.  It was the fuzz!  Emerging from my tent with both hands out, I made it clear I was no threat and offered to walk with the officer to my kayak for ID.   While walking, I briefly explained my adventure to the young officer and knew by his enthusiastic response that I’d probably be alright.  After running my ID in his computer system while I twiddled my thumbs on the curb, he handed my ID back and told me he’d keep an eye on my boat through his 12 hour shift.  I was cleared to camp in the boat dock park for the night 🙂

The following morning I made serious miles and soon found myself crossing the south channel of the Savannah River.  I had to wait out an oil tanker and cargo ship which were both crossing the main channel ahead of me.  Their combined displacement actually drew down the river level a few feet before the bow wake returned with a curling lip to flood the shoreline.  Once the tall waves quit beating against the falling tide, I crossed the channel quickly and angled my way back to the ICW and into South Carolina.

GA: St. Mary’s to St. Simon’s Island

I stumbled upon the Georgia Blueway Paddling Trail which snakes it’s way along the ICW and through the marshes of Georgia’s coastline. Using this trail, I’ve been able to plan my journey a bit better and keep out of the open ocean and busier ICW when possible.

Tide was out as I shoved off and set down Barrel Creek to St. Mary’s.

A brief stop at the town of St. Mary’s revealed the boat ramp in shambles but an excellent kayak dock at Knucklehead’s Kayak Tours for me to use. He gave me a bunch of good advice in the way a grizzled Vietnam Vet chainsmoking cigarettes only can, then a bumper sticker to add to my growing collection under the rear hatch. The Cumberland Island Visitor center folks let me know the wilderness area of the island was off limits for hunting season so I could only arrange and pay to camp at Sea Camp, a short paddle and then a bit of a walk to camp. Instead, I thanked them and paddled on down the river with the falling tide and then up the west side of Cumberland Island as the tide rose. I passed the historic and stately homes and admired the wild horses I saw grazing on the shoreline. The miles ticked away as the tide helped me northward and I found myself at Plum Orchard around sunset.

There a fisherman who had taken part in the hunt told me I couldn’t camp there. Without a 7 mile paddle to Crooked River, I had no options but sleeping in the marsh so instead I stealth camped behind an old concrete building that had sunken into the marsh from storms.

Overnight the crunching outside my tent in the palmetto revealed itself to be a horse lazily munching away and exploring through the night. Satisfied it wasn’t a hunter or ranger, I fell back asleep to the wind in the oaks.

Making my way off Cumberland Island as early as possible, I continued along the paddling trail and soon found my way to Floyd’s River. Running low on water, I needed to find some and stopped at an abandoned military type place with many no-trespassing signs. Wearing my kayaking gear and carrying my jug, I wandered around down a road to a big dock where a small pumphouse had a spigot. Nobody stopped me and a glance at Google Maps showed this was the planned Camden Spaceport. Critical article here.

The mud here was soft and I sunk to my knees in the sticky tidal soup attempting to get back into the boat. In this region of Georgia’s coast, the tides can range up to 8-9 feet either leaving me paddling through the grass to the marsh edge or dragging the boat up sharp oyster shells and slippery muck to the shoreline. Not easy. There are few listed campsites along this route so I’ve had to get creative a few times in finding a campsite above the high tide line and with some protection.

One night on Jointer Island, I had a great view of the Lanier Bridge over to Brunswick, GA.

The wind would shift directions and the smell of trucks and the paper mill would waft my way. I’m certainly not used to being around big towns after all this time on the water. The following day I crossed the Brunswick River Channel and was about halfway through the difficulty of headwinds and fighting the tide when a large car transport ship materialized below the bridge. These big ships can move deceptively quick so I changed course and let it plow under the bridge, glad it wasn’t producing too high of a wake yet.

A quick stop at the park down by the bridge then I continued on to Southeast Kayak Adventures shop. The dock was destroyed and the marsh at low tide was nearly impassable. I did manage to get out and confirm the shop was closed and then continued over to the Marshes of Glynn Overlook Park where the oysters scraped my hull as I hauled it up on to the high tide line and chained it up below the trash manitee.

Spending the afternoon walking around, I stopped for coffee at McD’s and then headed to Winn Dixie. Just another fine winter afternoon in the south. The loud highway near my tent was an annoyance but the lights flashing on the canopy was like a light show with the many shapes and designs swirling about. Come morning, I steadily made my way to the Frederica River and upstream and across to St Simon’s Island and the historic Gascoigne Park. It was here that the live oak timbers for the CSS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”, were cut and shipped north for shipbuilding.

The next few days will be spent here on the island visiting with my folks and spending some much needed time away from the stresses of winter paddling on the saltwater.

St Mary’s River

Once deposited on the sandy beach of the St. Mary’s river, I knew there was only 50 miles or so to the Atlantic. A sense of accomplishment was creeping across me as the closeness of the peninsular crossing was at hand. Dustin suggested I camp at the pavillion lean to on the Florida bank. Sure enough an excellent shelter offered a place to pitch the tent out of that evening’s rain.

The current carried me downstream and I had to change my mindset from seeking the eddies and inside of bends from upstream travel. That was until 11am when the tides shifted and all those upstream tricks came back to assist.

At King’s Ferry on the second day on the river, low tide revealed hundreds of timber slabs from the logging days lodged into the bank and grown over by a network of cypress roots. The long straight and rough sawn wood remains from the days of logjams and huge lumber mills that processed the virgin timber.

The White Oak golf course appeared like a strange invasion on the many miles of stunning wilderness. Golf carts whizzed past on manicured greens and the sand pits up there looked much different than the tidal silt coating the shoreline.

A bald eagle perched in a tall pine observed me as I passed. Surprisingly this was the first eagle I’ve seen since the Gulf so there must be abundant fish. Many hawks and turkey vultures grace the inland skies where rodents and small mammals comprise the prey.

Hwy 17 swing bridge that was being remodeled in 2014 when I started adventuring on rhe ruckus and was forced to take I-95 over the St. MARY’S.

The final push to the Gulf found me nearing the roar of I-95 at sunset. Instead of camping in the tidal marsh, I found a vacant lot wedged between waterfront homes and hauled out on sharp concrete chunks at high tide. Later in the AM at low tide this would make for a challenging lowering where I’d tweak my back. The sunset over the marsh was well worth the effort and I devoured a can of pink salmon and carrots/celery.

In the morning I fought the tide for a bit and wound my way through the marsh with the help of Google satellite view to guide me up Borrell (pronounced Brill) Creek to St. Mary’s modern strip mall area.

Here I found a closed restaurant and landing to stash the boat while I ran in to resupply. I dined like a king and picked up groceries to last the next leg of the trip up the ICW and following the Southeast Coastal Paddling Guide.

My next stop is the historic town of St. Mary’s which is home to live oak canopied historic streets and quaint homes beneath Spanish moss. Looking forward to walking around and meeting the local kayaking shop for information ahead. Using my mobile phone I uploaded a few maps for the next section to CVS photo center and picked the maps up for $1. When the library is closed it’s important to think outside the box.

In a week I’m happy to announce a meeting with my folks in Brunswick, GA to catch up. Something to paddle forward to 🙂

Okeefenokee Swamp

The water level was still so high that instead of portaging around the river sill, I took the leftmost line and paddled hard over it. With a light scrape and a nudge forward I crossed into the Okeefenokee. A broad blue sky appeared ahead making me aware of how sheltered the river had been over the past month.

Following the orange blazed canal route, I headed up the River Narrows, aware of the light current now. At times I felt like I was flying compared to the untamed river flow. I soon left the bald cypress Prarie of grasses and ibis and entered a wilderness swamp with carefully manicured overhanging limbs.

Paddling through the forest was made that much easier by the many mile markers and flagging tape.

My intention was to camp at the Stephen Foster State Park (this one now in GA) but Hope and Eddy, fellow kayakers I met at Mixon’s Hammock told me it was $20/night! I’d happily stay here on the island with the hawks and owls for company than become prey to the park.

Eddy shared his awesome National Geographic paddling map which I took a few pics of. Hope admired my old Prijon and longed for many features that have gone out of favor in modern kayaks. Their boats sure looked sleek and light though!

Stopping in to the state park for water, I was told they didn’t give out the wifi password. That’s been 2 weeks now without connection but I’m okay with that and buy a sticker then move on. The government shutdown meant the Fish and Wildlife Service was not processing new permits for the wilderness portions of the Okeefenokee. Not having a solid grasp on when I’d reach the swamp, I couldn’t reasonably get a date or permit in line. Weighing my options, I decided to charge the swamp and complete the Canal Run route in a day or so with hopes I didn’t run into a furloughed ranger.

A stop at Billy’s Island was a great stretch and opportunity to enjoy the many woodpeckers that inhabit this environment. A homesteading family squatted here until kicked out in the 1930’s. Now that’s a remote spot!

The canal run route, also shown on maps as East Fork of Suwannee River is a narrow and meandering path hacked through the swamp connecting the two wider canal routes. A plan was made in the 19th century to link the Gulf and Atlantic via this canal but later the Okeechobee Lake and canals won over. What remains is a 20 mile paddle of fabulous quality and signage.

I met two other kayakers near Canal Run Shelter and found they were staying there tonight. Still early, I turned onto the wide canal and followed it another 5 miles to the Coffee Bay Day shelter. Here I watched the sun set on coffee bay and the bright moon shine on the lovely swamp. The picnic table had over 20 years of carvings.

The following day found me on the water bright and early and hoping no officials came around asking about me. The reflection on the Lakes was spectacular.

The broad canal route was mostly open to the sky but some sections had overgrowth canopy and Spanish moss touching the surface.

A side trip 2 miles to Cedar Hammock was worth the view and gator sighting. Spotted 9 mostly small gators on the short morning paddle. By 11AM I had reached the end of the canal at the Okeefenokee Adventures outpost. There, I had a hamburger at the cafe and arranged a ride to the Traders Hill Boat Ramp 7 miles away. The grand total? $20! How cool is that.

A big thanks to Mark, Dustin and Nichol for making this dream a reality.