The Kayak Chronicles

by Darren Caffery

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CEDAR ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Thorofare to Salters Creek: 

Wednesday May 23, 2007

In our week of paddling in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, one of our planned excursions was an exploratory paddle of the remote waters of the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Although Cedar Island was only about 75 miles away from our vacation home in Salvo, the trip involved coordinating the timing of two separate ferries and would require an approximate travel time of about 4.5 hours.  In the planning stages of the OBX trip, our group of paddlers from the Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association discussed some options and decided the best plan would involve traveling to Cedar Island the day before we intended to paddle.  This would allow us to get an early start and be off the water before the afternoon winds kicked up.

  

When we arrived to the OBX, we monitored the weather forecast for the week and would plan our excursion to Cedar Island accordingly.  Since the weather forecast was looking ideal, we planned on a midweek trip to the refuge.  After making our ferry arrangements and booking our motel rooms in the only motel on the island, we were ready to go.  Kathy and Jim opted out of the Cedar Island trip to enjoy some 'solitude' at the house while the rest of us were away.  WooHooo!!   :) 

After loading up our kayaks and gear, we left our house in Salvo at about 12 noon on Tuesday afternoon. Like the rest of the week so far, the temperature was in the mid 70's with a bright shining sun. We traveled about 35 miles south on NC-12, past the Hatteras Lighthouse and to the Hatteras Ferry terminal where we boarded a free ferry to Ocracoke Island.  We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon ferry ride in the Pamlico Sound across the inlet and reached the shores of Ocracoke Island in about 45 minutes. After about a 12 mile trek further south in Ocracoke, we reached the village.  Since some of the group had never been to Ocracoke village, I guided a walking tour of the island shops and points of interest. Although the season hadn't officially started, the island was bustling with tourists since it was such a beautiful day for walking.  We never made it to the Ocracoke Lighthouse, but it could be observed in the distance from most points in town.  After some browsing in a few local shops and an early dinner at a small waterside joint on Silver Bay, we made our way back to the Ocracoke ferry terminal where we boarded in time for our 6 pm reservation on the pay ferry to Cedar Island.

  

The early evening ferry ride to Cedar Island from Ocracoke was also very relaxing. As the island of Ocracoke faded in the distance, we looked out into the vast Pamlico Sound which appeared more like an ocean than a sound.  For the next 2.5 hours we joked and chatted and enjoyed the views from the observation deck of the ferry.  The winds picked up as the ride continued and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset as we approached the shoreline of Cedar Island.

  

We arrived at Cedar Island at about 8:30 pm.  Conveniently, the Driftwood Motel was just a few yards from the ferry terminal on the outskirts of the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge.  It was a small one story motel with about 35 rooms and the clerk told us our group stay was the most action the motel has seen in a few weeks, and from the looks of things, we had no doubts about that!  After we all checked in, and put our bags in our rooms, we assembled outside one by one.  There was a bit of whimpering from those in our group accustomed to staying in 5-star hotels.  There were a few remarks about rusty colored water, musty, damp rooms, and spiders, but the group was quickly reminded that we were in an area a "no whining" zone.  I must admit the running water in the shower did smell like the mudflats at low tide, but I'm not complaining  ....  just making an observation.

  

As the night was young, we dragged some outdoor chairs to a common area just outside our rooms facing the empty parking lot.  Even though Tim left his guitar back at the house in Salvo, our congregating outside the motel room reminded me of an authentic southern, front porch hootenany.  While we relaxed on wooden Adirondack chairs outside the motel rooms, we chatted and laughed as we indulged on beer and wine and ate chips and roasted peanuts.  Mosquitoes were a bit of a nuisance in the beginning, but after a few cocktails and some Deet, we didn't even notice them. We seemed to be the only visitors on this side of the motel, so we didn't worry about disturbing anyone with our evening carousing.  The hootenany broke up after we finished all the beer and wine. It didn't really take that long, and we were all retired to our rooms by 11 pm. 

We hadn't even paddled yet, and our trip to Cedar Island was already quite a fun adventure!  After a night of carousing, we woke up early for a continental breakfast. After reviewing a paddling guide map of the area (compliments of the Crystal Coast Canoe & Kayak Club and the Carteret County Division of Tourism), we were soon our way to the launch site which was less than 10 miles away.  After setting up our shuttle, our group of 11 paddlers launched into the  West Thorofare at the Gaskill Memorial Bridge at the southern portion of the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, located in Carteret County, North Carolina is on the end of a peninsula marking the southern end of Pamlico Sound. The refuge lies five miles east of the Atlantic ocean and is about 40 miles northeast of Beaufort, North Carolina. Established in 1964, the refuge consists of approximately 11,000 acres of irregularly-flooded, brackish marsh and 3,480 acres of pocosin and woodland habitat. The dominant marsh plants include black needlerush, saltmarsh cordgrass, saltmeadow hay, and saltgrass. The woodland areas are dominated by loblolly, longleaf and pond pine. Live oak is also abundant on some upland sites. The marsh and surrounding waters provide wintering habitat for thousands of ducks and nesting habitat for colonial waterbirds.

  

It was another beautiful day at 9 am when we launched. Sun was shining bright and winds were mild.  The beginning portion of our trip took us through about a mile of narrow tidal marshlands and then into the wider West Thorofare Bay and ultimately the more open waters of West Bay in the vast Pamlico Sound.  The mild wind, blowing from the north gave us a slight push as we paddled and provided just adequate chop to remind us why we love sea kayaking.  After almost 4 miles of paddling we reached Long Bay point.   The Cherry Point Bombing Range facility could be seen a few miles in the distance to the southwest.  The facility with it's large industrial looking building was the only sign of modern civilization along the shores of this entire trip.  After rounding the point, we paddled a short distance and soon landed on a white sandy beach for a break. Although it was only about 11:15,  we decided to have lunch and take a relaxing break in this beautiful beach.

After about an hour of lunch, relaxing and beachcombing, we launched back into Long Bay and headed south towards West Thorofare Bay.  On this stretch of the trip, we enjoyed a few more miles of open water paddling in the small waves and chop before we reached the narrow waters of Salters Creek.

  

The creek was beautiful with a canopy of trees and the aroma of honeysuckle permeated the air for the duration of our paddle.  For the next four miles, we paddled slowly as most of us did not want the trip to end.  The reflection of our kayaks and the trees on the waters of the creek in the late Spring sun were picturesque and added another sense of tranquility and beauty to the last leg of our course.  We all landed safely shortly after 2 pm and 12 miles of paddling.

Although we intended to board the 6 pm ferry out of Cedar Island, the next earliest was 3 pm.  After deciding we would try to catch the 3 pm ferry, we all worked together to load up our stuff.  After much hurrying we all loaded and our caravan headed back north on NC-12 to the ferry terminal.  We arrived at the terminal at 2:55 pm and as the last of our caravan boarded the ferry, the gates closed and the ferry departed for Ocracoke.  We had just made it! 

After a very nice ferry ride, we arrived on Ocracoke Island at about 5:30 and enjoyed much awaited, after paddle food and drinks at the infamous Howard's Pub

It was another great day in the Tao of Paddling!

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