The Kayak Chronicles ©
by Darren Caffery
4 Bays in 2 Days - A NJ Weekend Kayak Adventure
April 20-21 2002
The 4 Bays crew from L to R are Tom Kelly, Oleh Bobak, Darren Caffery, Elaine Zompolas, Mike Brower and Ray Brower.
This is how the trip was posted on the Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association message board:
"Paddlers will travel close to 40 miles on this full weekend kayak trip. It begins in Barnegat Bay and extends south through the intracoastal waterways and then west, up the Mullica River to Port Republic with a stopover for the night, midway in the course at the Sea Pirate Campground. The main waterways include Barnegat Bay, Manahawkin Bay, Little Egg Harbor and Great Bay. If you count Tuckerton Bay as separate from Little Egg Harbor, the course actually covers 5 Bays in 2 days. The route will include a few "multi-mile" stretches of open water paddling across the bays between the densely populated mainland and shoreline of Long Beach Island with the Atlantic City skyline visible in the distance farther south. In addition, the course will also take paddlers along and into various portions of the Edwin Forsythe Wildlife Refuge including Little Sheepshead Creek and Graveling Point. We chose to run this trip in Spring to avoid the massive boat traffic...AND those greenhead flies that will plague the area in just a few short weeks. "
Saturday April 20, 2002
After making some early morning car drop-offs at Chestnut Neck Marina, in Port Republic for our shuttle plan, we gathered in Barnegat Township to prepare for our launch.
JSSKA member Frank Davis met us at the launch site in Barnegat, took some pics and offered support. Ray Brower had great family support from his wife and father who also assisted with shuttle plans. We launched into the Barnegat Bay from Barnegat Township beach at 9:20 am with overcast skies and a warmer than normal seasonal temperature. The marine forecast for our area predicted some isolated rain for our travel area and did not include thunderstorms.
Barnegat Bay was relatively flat and winds were extremely calm as we paddled eastward along Conklin Island and then south around Gulf Point and between the west shore marshes and Sloop Sedge. With favorable light wind and currents, we cruised into the Manahawkin Bay with the Rt. 72 Causeway Bridge very nearby. We paddled into some very light rain which lasted 5- 10 minutes at most. At close to noon, we landed on a sandy beach at Main Point before the bridge to have lunch and stretch. After launching from Main Point we paddled towards the Rt. 72 Causeway Bridge at an average cruising speed of close to 4 miles per hour, passing under the bridge and then between Popular Point and Egg Island into Little Egg Harbor and our multi-mile stretch of open water paddling. With a light wind to our back and a favorable current we maintained an average 4 mile per hour cruising speed for much of the duration of open water from Popular Point to the marshy point where Westecunk Creek pours into the Little Egg Harbor. Chop was minimal and there were very few boats. Even with overcast and cloudy skies, the stretch of open water was beautiful, and I found it peaceful and relaxing even with a steady and vigorous paddling pace. After our stretch of open water paddling, we landed again at another beach area on the marshy point where Westecunk Creek pours into the Little Egg Harbor. At this beach, the sand had a very odd looking red-brown clay tint to it and there were partially exposed chunks of slick gray clay sticking out of the eroded bank. After our break we paddled around the marshy point and into Parkers Cove where we would then find our way through over two miles of the maze-like Weir Creek and finally to the Sea Pirate Camp. We landed at the camp slightly before 4 pm and even with our landing breaks, were ahead of schedule due to excellent group synergy and the extremely favorable paddling conditions.
We had our tent camp set up fairly quickly, got showered and cleaned up, then relaxed a bit while we waited for Ken Stroud to arrive. When Ken arrived we set up the JSSKA tent to make the site official and then a group of us lazy non-cooking campers packed into his vehicle and headed out to the local pub for some food and drink. At the Picadilly Pub on Rt. 9, we feasted on penne with vodka sauce, chicken parmigiana, and double cheeseburgers with fries. Oleh and Elaine opted to stay at the camp and dine on their previously prepared custom camp meals. After some food and drinks we stumbled back to our tents for a good night's sleep. The night got a bit chilly but it was great night for tent sleeping. The marine forecast for Sunday had reported the incoming storms to arrive in the evening, so we slept well and intended to launch at 8 am.
Sunday, April 21, 2002
We started coming out of our tents at around 6:30 am on Sunday. We awoke to sunny skies and a brisk chill so I lit a campfire as we started getting ready for our final day of paddling. After eating some breakfast we broke down the tents and started gathering our gear. Since Ken had his vehicle at the camp, he shuttled gear from our campsite down a 1/4 mile dirt path to the entrance to the creek which saved us having to walk back and forth a few times loaded with stuff.
After stuffing our hatches with all our gear, we ended up launching into Weir (pronounced "wire") Creek a little later than expected at around 8:45. We left Sea Pirate Camp with the outgoing tide and paddled a nice relaxing pace. We really didn't have to work that hard as the tide carried us out the two miles of meandering creek where turtles were popping their heads up around every turn then quickly disappearing. There were also lots of fish and fiddler crabs on the shoreline which scurried quickly into hiding as they saw the approaching armada of kayaks invading their territory.
As we approached the end of the creek and the mouth of the bay, we all just looked out into the Little Egg Harbor which had only a mild chop. The sun was still shining bright and there were huge puffs of white cotton clouds above. These were not the ominous kind that looked like they were going to dump any precipitation on us, but rather the ones that make a picture perfect sky image. After making our way out of the creek and into Parkers Cove of the Little Egg Harbor, we landed at a sandy beach where a few members of the crew landed for one last "pit stop" before our first stretch of open water paddling for the day. After the quick break, we paddled to the tip of Rose Point then took a southeasterly course toward the Middle Channel between Middle Island and Hither Island. Our goal was to approach the entrance to Little Sheepshead Creek near the Beach Haven inlet during the slack tide and allow the incoming tide to help propel us through the creek across the Great Egg Bay and eventually up the Mullica River to our final destination of Chestnut Neck Marina. We paddled across the open bay with the marshlands of Tuckerton and the wildlife refuge to our west and the southern tip of Long Beach Island to our east. Paddling the open bay with the sun shining felt good. We again had a light wind behind us and with the help of the current, maintained an average paddling speed of almost 4 miles per hour. We were on schedule and course with our approach to Little Sheepshead Creek however as we came out of the Middle Channel we encountered some very shallow areas and ultimately ended up having to get out of our kayaks and drag them about 50-75 feet in about 6 inches of water which wasn't all that annoying because it gave us an opportunity to get out and stretch. When the depth of the water was sufficient to get back in our craft we paddled past Foxboro Point and towards the entrance to Big Sheepshead Creek. We started seeing more boats now and the current and chop got a bit heavier and confused with boat wakes as we approached the inlet and the entrance to Little Sheepshead Creek. It was still enough to be fun and I enjoyed cutting into a few big boat wakes before we entered Little Sheepshead Creek.
We entered Little Sheepshead Creek about 12 noon with the incoming tide, just as planned. We landed for lunch at the small launch area across from the Rutgers Weather Station. Once out of our boats, we chilled fast in the increasing winds, dropping temperatures and fading sun. We ate lunch and walked onto Great Bay Blvd to get shelter form the cooling winds for a while. It actually felt good to get back in our boats after lunch and we warmed up fast once we started paddling again. As we paddled towards the outlet of Little Sheepshead Creek and into Great Bay we noticed some Black Cormorants and some Egrets. We got a good view of the old abandoned fish cannery and the Atlantic City skyline was clearly visible in the distance.
It wasn't much longer however until we also noticed those huge cotton clouds were slowly being replaced with the ominous gray precipitation dumping variety far off in the western sky. As we exited the creek the Great Bay was mildly choppy and we basically surfed the current all the way across Great Bay to Graveling Point with an average cruising speed of about 4.5 - 5 miles per hour. This was the fastest trip from the creek to the point I had ever encountered, again due to favorable tides, current and very little resistance from winds. Anyone who has paddled this area knows that strong headwinds can make this crossing a brutal few miles of paddling. We surfed into the beach at Graveling Point among fisherman and onlookers who met us as we landed. On my way to the beach, I attempted to navigate the sea kayak slalom course of thin wiry trees sticking up in the middle of the bay and good thing they are flexible because the wind at one point pushed me bow first straight into one. (If it didn't bend, I would have been dumped). After we got out of our boats on the beach it seemed to get colder and darker. We again found a sheltered area which was a little warmer. Although we were way ahead of schedule and the thought of the end of our adventure seemed to be a bit of a downer, we decided it would be best to get ready to make our way back towards the Mullica and our takeout before the storms arrive. We launched after answering a few questions and telling a few people on the shore of our weekend adventures in paddling thus far. We paddled past Turtle Island and finally made our way into a fairly calm Mullica River. There were some brief periods of light rain and the darker clouds were still off in the distance. The current from the incoming tide helped carry us up the Mullica all the way to Chestnut Neck Boat Yard and we landed just before 4 pm in a very light rain. I was surprised at how much energy I still had left.
At the landing, I reflected over a cup of hot chocolate about what a great weekend of paddling it turned out to be. This was despite some unfavorable weather forecasts of strong seasonal wind resistance which we expected to encounter on some segments of our trip but which never materialized.
We had excellent group synergy through the duration of our 4 Bays paddling adventure and I thank the entire crew for making it so great. In addition, I also enjoyed the planning part of the trip very much. Thanks to Ray Brower, for his motivation, enthusiasm and willingness to plan and lead the trip with me. This adventure started with a simple idea we had looking out at the Atlantic City Skyline from Graveling Point on a paddling trip last summer. Thankfully, it ended with a weekend in the Tao of Paddling.
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