The Kayak Chronicles

by Darren Caffery


Paddling the Outer Banks of North Carolina:

Manteo - Roanoke Island

Monday May 19, 2008


On our second day of paddling the OBX, we launched at the Baum Bridge on the Roanoke Sound with the intention of paddling the northeast side of Roanoke Island and a stop in the town of Manteo. We had hoped to be sheltered from 15-20 mph west winds which NOAA was predicting.  The prediction of 15-20 mph was right on,  however the direction was a bit off and winds were blowing from the northwest.  With that direction, the winds were going to pose some serious resistance on much of the route we intended to paddle.

The sun was peeking in and out and the temperature was in the low 70's. With a good deal of determination, we intended to give it a try and launched into the Roanoke Sound at about 9:40 am.  The wind resistance gave us a bit of a workout but we hadn't felt the full force as we were partially sheltered.  There were some fun rollers and a bit of confused water and refractory waves from the bulkheaded Pirate's Cove townhouses along the shore, but we persisted.  After paddling about 1.2 miles we approached the mouth of Shallowbag Bay and it was there we felt the full force of the wind and the fetch across the open bay.  At the mouth, looking towards Manteo about another mile or so in the distance, we saw nothing but whitecaps and patches of wild water. I went a little farther to scout the conditions some more but quickly felt that the conditions were going to be a bit too much for a group crossing.  Before I could report back to the group and discuss our options, a few members in the group had already expressed concern about making the crossing. Over the VHF, I communicated to everyone that we were going to paddle back down the shoreline, land at the first available beach and reconfigure our plan for the day.


After paddling back down the shoreline about a quarter mile or so with some hearty following rollers, we found an opening in the bulkheads to land on the beach.  After a few minutes the entire group was gathered and we reviewed the map and our options to salvage the trip.   The map showed a narrow cut through channel which lead to western shoreline of Shallowbag bay where a landing in the town of Manteo was located.  To get to the channel, we only needed to paddle back another three-quarter mile and into the lagoon for the Pirates Cove development.  From there we could reach the calmer waters of the cut through channel into Manteo.  This route would allow us to circumvent Shallow Bag Bay which was filled with whitecaps and confused water. It was decided we would take this alternate route into Manteo.  One by one, we launched and began paddling back towards Pirates Cove.

We all made it into the lagoon at Pirates Cove with no problem and once inside, it was a myriad of lagoons and channels.  The group got separated into a number of different lagoons at this point and after paddling a mile or so into the development, I was not able to find the cut through to Manteo. In a narrow channel which ran along busy Highway 64, I stopped to review my map.  Despite the map showing that a forward course in the ditch would dead end after another mile, some of the others continued paddling forward.  Some people in passing cars on Highway 64 shouted at us,
 "That's not a river!".   It was very amusing.
Seeing that we were long past the point where the cut through was indicated, I decided to paddle back with Joe and Patrick to see if we could locate it.  Maybe I missed it?  After paddling back with a careful analysis of the map, there was no sign of the cut through whatsoever.  As we paddled by  a woman on her dock, we asked her if she knew of a cut through and she reported that there was a small cut through at one time but some storms over the past two years had filled it in.  Hmm.  I was waiting to hear the others radio in and report that they had reached a dead end and soon enough they did. Shortly thereafter, Tom radioed in and reported that after getting out of his boat and scouting the area a bit, he noticed a cut through but it was going to take a little maneuvering or a slight portage or "push" through an overgrown marshy area.  He reported that he made it through ok and that the cut through did indeed lead to the shoreline of Manteo on the more wind protected side of Shallowbag Bay.  Tom later reported that the group of paddlers with him all made it through without event.


Meanwhile, Joe Patrick and I had no idea where other paddlers or this cut through was, but we were determined to get over to Manteo and meet up with them for lunch. We decided to paddle back through the lagoons of Pirates Cove and out to the point at the mouth of Shallowbag Bay again. Once we arrived, the winds had died a little but there were still whitecaps on the bay.  Determined to reach Manteo, we decided to just "high tail" it through the chop of they bay.  If we paddled along the shoreline, it would be about 1.5 miles of paddling.  After going through the chop a bit, we soon moved to hugging the shore as close as we could without paddling in the breakers.  We bounced and bobbed on the waves and confused waters and occasionally tacked to avoid the strong winds directly in our faces.  A few times, some large waves crashed over my deck and soaked my face.  Even with tacking, there was little protection from the wind and it seemed like an endless amount of paddling and very little movement.  Because it didn't seem to be moving, I tried not to look at the shoreline while I paddled hard into the wind.  If I stopped paddling, I was pushed back many yards.  Stopping wasn't an option. I paddled as hard and fast as I could and was soon away from Joe and Patrick. When Patrick caught up to me, he reprimanded me for straying from them.  He reminded me that if I was to get into trouble, it would be hard for them to assist me.  He was right.  After that, I was mindful not to stray too far from them.

My energy was draining fast and I was still about a mile from the landing in the town of Manteo. Tom was reporting on the VHF that he had landed at Manteo and could see the others not far behind him.  At one point, after paddling very hard and moving forward very little, I decided to land at a small beach to take a breather. I found an area with no breakers and surfed a wave right onto the sedge.  I radioed to the others about taking a break.  After taking a breather and scouting the bay, I charted a visual course then launched back into the bay. After padding hard again for another 30 minutes, I finally reached the lee shore where the development in the town was blocking most of the wind.  Ahhhh.  What a relief!  I could now take a more relaxed paddling pace.  Joe and Patrick also made it into the lee and our paddling paths soon converged with a few of the other paddlers.  As we got closer to town, we could smell the grills of restaurants on the water's edge and we knew we were close to our reward.


As we approached the landing in the town of Manteo, we could see the replica of the Elizabeth II ship docked.  Tom was on a small footbridge near the landing and he took our pictures as we landed one by one. By 1:30 pm, we had all landed safely and began walking through town, in search of lunch.  Joe's wife Jeanette and Steph had drove into town to meet us.   After a brief walk through town, a few of us dined at the Full Moon Cafe while some others shopped and a few others had lunch down by their kayaks.

During lunch, Patrick and Joe decided to bail on the return paddle and put their kayaks on the vehicle that Steph and Jeanette had driven over in.  The rest of us decided we would take the cut through that Tom found back to the takeout.  It was hard getting motivated to get back on the water after lunch and a few drinks but we did it.


We launched back into the bay at around 2:45 pm.  Shallowbag Bay appeared much calmer and although the winds were still blowing, they were now BEHIND us.  This made the paddle back much easier.  We quickly made our way across the Shallowbag Bay, into the marshy cut through. I renamed the cut-through "scoot ditch" as we had to scoot ourselves over a marshy impoundment to get through.  I should have went through first because the weight of me "scooting" in my kayak actually dredged the impoundment and opened up the channel a bit more!#$@#@!  Big Poppa coming through! After winding around the lagoons of Pirates Cove and back out into the Roanoke Sound, we were all safely back at the landing at Baum Bridge by 3:50 pm. The return trip was only 2.75 miles and an easy paddle back.  Total mileage for the trip was 10 miles but it felt more like 20!

It was an adventurous day of OBX paddling. Despite the change in the route, getting lost, and some challenging conditions, we managed to get into Manteo for lunch.  When it comes to food and drinks, the Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association (JSSKA) paddlers are always determined!  
Bill M joked at the end of the day.
"I guess we'll call this another one of your 'exploratory' paddles?!#@"


On the way back to our house in Salvo, we observed a rather large immature bald eagle on the side of the road.  (Thanks to Jean for snapping the picture). When we arrived at our house, happy hour began, and more tired bones were soaked in the hot tub.
It was another great day in the OBX.


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