The Kayak Chronicles ©

by Darren Caffery

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Paddling the Outer Banks of North Carolina:

Pamlico Sound at Ocracoke Island

Thursday May 22, 2008

   

Our caravan of OBX paddlers boarded the 9:30 am Hatteras Ferry for Ocracoke under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 70’s. Winds were mild at about 5-10 mph and it was smooth sailing on the ferry, across the  inlet, over to Ocracoke.  As yesterday we paddled our kayaks from Hatteras to Ocracoke, today  we were able to just sit back and enjoy an effortless ferry ride to the island, taking in many of the sights that we observed yesterday from the cockpit of our kayaks.

After landing at Ocracoke, we rode about 12 miles into town to the parking area and launch site near Silver Lake.  After loading our gear, we launched at about 11 am into the Pamlico Sound and took a southerly course, past Silver Lake, being extra vigilant for outgoing ferries as we crossed the entrance to the lake. Once we passed, the channel markers were a bit difficult to see, but we did manage to stay out of the way of the ferries entering and exiting Ocracoke from Silver Lake.

    

After paddling about 1.5 miles we reached a small cove with entrances to what looked like a few small creeks.  Some of the explorers among us paddled into the marshy creek only to find it narrowed rather quickly and soon became unnavigable with our long touring sea kayaks.  A few turtle heads, and a snake or two were observed and after making our way out of one creek, we soon poked into another nearby one.  This creek seemed to go a bit deeper into the island of Ocracoke, so we followed the channel as the shoreline changed from tall marsh grasses to trees.  On the way we observed some small jumping fish and some more turtles.  As we paddled in about one quarter mile, I observed a nutria swim across the narrow channel and disappear onto the wooded shoreline.  The channel narrowed some more and a few small homes could be seen in the woods along the shore of this small muddy creek.  The sound of songbirds and an occasional paddle hitting the water, filled the air in the quiet of the creek.  As the creek narrowed further and the canopy of trees got a bit lower, I wondered how much further we’d be able to paddle.

  

“I’m not sure how much further this goes” I yelled to the paddlers behind me.
 
A voice, with a noticeable southern drawl, from within the woods replied,  “Not much”.
 
The sound of banjos began playing in my head and I was bit startled.   I looked a bit harder into the woods, and I could see a man in a hammock.  His hammock was behind a small rustic house in a yard, well shaded from a heavy canopy of trees along the creek. It was noon on a Thursday and while we were paddling, this man was relaxing in his hammock, until a few of us paddlers behind his creek, interrupted his afternoon nap.
 
“Did you see any moccasins?” he asked.
 
“No, but we saw some other small snakes,” I replied.
 
After some friendly chit-chat with the man in the woods on the hammock, the sound of the banjos in my head faded away, and we back paddled our sea kayaks until the channel widened enough for us to do a k-turn and start paddling back out to the Pamlico Sound.

      

Once we returned to the sound, we continued to paddle south along the Ocracoke shoreline towards the inlet. We could see Portsmouth Island almost 4 miles in the distance and it vividly reminded me of a previous paddling adventure a few years ago in which we paddled over and camped on the island.  As we paddled along, we scouted the shoreline for a beach to land and have lunch. We finally found a good spot after about another mile of paddling. We landed on a white sandy beach at about 1 pm. At the beach, we ate lunch then some of us basked in the sun, while others beachcombed.  Patrick had a full lunch spread, and his setup was complete with a small collapsible table and chair! It was quite a sight.  Patrick loves his gear and spares no comfort!

     

     

On the beach, sand crabs scurried about and small shorebirds squawked.  We also observed a carcass of a cormorant.  Mary and I waded out into the deeper waters of the sound and took a refreshing swim.  The water was beautiful! After about 45 minutes, we launched back into the sound and continued to paddle towards the inlet.  After another 3 miles of paddling we finally reached the inlet. It looked like slack tide. There was no observable current and since the winds were light, there were almost no rollers coming in from the inlet.

I could see Kathy in the distance. She was paddling fast in her surf-ski out the inlet towards a small white sandy island out in the Great Atlantic. Most of the other paddlers were poking around in the inlet while a few powerboats rushed in and out. I decided to meet Kathy on the island, so I began paddling out towards her.  As I got closer to the ocean, I could feel the current coming in, and although my paddling pace didn’t appear to change,  I watched my paddling speed on the screen of my GPS drop quickly from a pace of 3.5 mph to about 2 mph.  I felt my arms working harder. I could see Kathy and Mary in the distance and Kathy looked like she was about to land on the island. I paddled out a bit farther before it really started to feel like work.
 
“Have you landed on the island yet?” I asked her over the VHF.
 
“Just about. Are you coming?” Kathy replied.
 
“By time, I get there, you will be back to the takeout!”  I joked.
 
After paddling a little harder than I wanted to that afternoon. I stopped paddling and just enjoyed bobbing up and down on some small ocean rollers as Kathy and Mary began paddling back towards me.  I figured if I didn’t turn around and start paddling back, they were going to blow right by me and then everyone would be waiting for me at the takeout. Not to be the last one back, I started to paddle back into the sound towards the others while Kathy and Mary followed.  When we finally all met up, we saw some birds standing in the water, and realizing there was a sandbar, paddled around it before taking a northward course back up the coastline.

      

The afternoon heated up into the 80’s with little wind.  On the last leg back to the takeout, I paddled a relaxed pace. I was a bit tired from the heat and made sure to drink lots of water, even though I wasn’t really thirsty.  I paddled an offshore course, outside the ferry channel but parallel to the coastline. I was alone on my return route back, as the other paddlers chose to paddle closer to the shoreline.  On one part of the return paddle, it appeared from the markers that I had strayed into the channel and with a ferry ahead in the distance, I paddled hard to get out of the channel again. I was out of the way in plenty of time before the ferry actually passed by, however when those ferries are coming at you, it’s a bit difficult to assess how fast they are going. After some more paddling I could clearly see the stubby Ocracoke Lighthouse sticking out of the trees in the distance.  Eventually, after about 3.5 miles of paddling, my route intersected with some of the other paddlers and we paddled the last half mile back to the take out together. As we approached the landing, Patrick who had landed a bit earlier, "serenaded" us on his harmonica with some maniacal and unrecognizable tune.  The last of the paddlers made it back safely to the landing at Ocracoke at about 4:45 pm and after about 12.1 miles of paddling. Kathy and Mary, since they paddled out to the island, probably logged an extra mile or two and were the last ones in.

    

After we all landed and loaded up, Kathy, Tom and I took freshwater showers in the parking lot with gallons of spring water which we had reserved just for this purpose.  It was very refreshing after such a hot, sweaty day on the water.  After a quick gallon shower and a change of clothes, we headed north on Route 12, to Howard’s Pub for dinner and drinks. We enjoyed a laid back dinner and some drinks at Howard's and then made our way to the northern part of Ocracoke to catch the ferry back to Hatteras.  During the ferry ride, some of  the paddlers slept, while the rest of us observed an awesome sunset. We arrived back at the house in Salvo before 10 pm. Some of us capped off an already great day with a nice relaxing soak in the hot tub.
 
It was a full day in the Tao of Paddling.  Life is good!

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