The Kayak Chronicles ©
by Darren Caffery
Paddling the Outer Banks of North Carolina
OREGON INLET TO NAGS HEAD
Tuesday May 25, 2004
On Tuesday May 25th, our third day in the Outer Banks, we awoke from our oceanside rental house in Nags Head to sun and temperatures in the high 70’s. Since this trip was a 15 miler (one way), it involved planning a shuttle. We had to first drop our drop kayaks off at the launch site at the Oregon Inlet and while a few paddlers waited with them, and the drivers dropped off their cars at our takeout point of Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The shuttle offered a nice convenience as our vehicles would be at the takeout when our trip was over. Thanks to Stephanie for shuttling us paddlers back to the launch! In addition to myself, our paddlers for the day included Tom, Patrick, Gary, Eric, Paul, Diane and Chuck. Joyce and Stephanie decided to be landlubbers and go shopping and sight-seeing for the day.
We launched at 10 am from the Oregon Inlet Fishing center. Winds were blowing at about 5 knots from the south as we paddled a westerly course from the public ramp at the Oregon Inlet fishing center on the Hatteras National Seashore. As we paddled northwest, we could see some small islands with white sand beaches in the distance so we made our way towards them. After about 3 miles of paddling in the Pamlico Sound we landed at one of the islands and took a short break. While on the island we looked over some of our maps and decided on the best route north to our takeout. We decided to paddle back across the sound towards the shoreline of the barrier island where we could also get a bit closer to the Bodie Island Lighthouse and take some pictures.
After snapping some shots of the lighthouse we continued northward where the Pamlico Sound meets the Roanoke Sound. In the Roanoke Sound we passed Cedar Island to the east then began to encounter some rather shallow areas. A few of us hit bottom and we feared we could have to drag and portage if it got any shallower. No one wanted to run aground! Our paddles were hitting the bottom which made it very difficult to maintain a steady speed. Luckily, after almost a mile of shallow areas, the sound got deeper and we were back to a steady paddling pace.
As we continued our northward coast along the undeveloped coastline of the Hatteras National Seashore we observed many pelican and jumping fish. We also saw quite a few jellyfish with all their tentacles intact. After about 8.5 miles of paddling we approached Bells Island and had the Baum Bridge well within sight. While a few paddlers took a break from paddling, a small group of us ducked into a smaller quiet creek and saw turtles, egret, and many jumping fish. After exploring the quiet creek we continued to paddle in between the barrier island and Headquarters Island. The skies quickly became ominous. I turned on my vhf radio which had just began broadcasting a weather alert. A number of fast moving and severe thunderstorms were heading our way from a number of different directions. We quickly assembled our paddlers together and made our way under the small Pond Island Bridge of Highway 264. After passing under the bridge I thought it would be best to land and wait out the storm. Luckily there was a public launch site nearby which we soon landed at. We pulled our kayaks out of the sound as the sky got darker. This particular site had a sheltered area, restrooms and was located on the main highway with many conveniences available nearby. A few of walked over to Dairy Queen and enjoyed some ice cream while some others got cold drinks out of vending machine at the nearby Kitty Hawks Watersports Center. Interestingly, the Dairy Queen did not have chocolate ice cream. They weren’t out of it either. We were told they just don’t carry chocolate. I found that disappointingly odd but I didn’t cause a ruckus about it.
After some snacking, we reassembled and within a short while were all under the shelter of the public ramp facility watching the winds churn up the Roanoke Sound. The emergency signal on the VHF radio went off as the weather alert warned the three different storms were getting closer to where we were. The storms were to bring heavy winds and rain and severe lightning.. As the Roanoke Sound churned and the wind increased, we quickly removed our boats from the waters edge and dragged them up under the shelter where we were planning to wait out the storm.
We could see the storms dumping rain to our west in the north and in the south. The dark areas of clouds appeared to be moving very fast. They were also moving closer to where we were seeking shelter. The weather warning on the VHF confirmed the storms were headed towards us. Within 20 minutes a torrential downpour began. It was also getting late which created another problem for completion of our trip and involved the location of our takeout point. The State Park at Jockey’s Ridge where our cars were parked and waiting for us to arrive would be closing at 7 pm. If we didn’t arrive til after 7, we would not be able to get our cars out of the locked gate! It was already after 5 pm, it was still pouring and the takeout point at Jockey’s Ridge was almost 4 miles away. We watched the rain pour down and powerful bolts of lightning from a number of different locations on the sound. Loud roars of thunder boomed as we sought shelter under the Nags Head public launch building. Interestingly, Stephanie and Joyce who were spending the day shopping after shuttling us around in the morning were in a nearby shopping center when the storm blew in. Seeing the storms blowing over the sound made them wonder if we were safe. Steph called her sweetie Patrick and asked him if we were all ok and where we were. She was surprised to hear we were basically next door to where they were shopping. Within a few minutes they were with us under the shelter. Since it was getting later and the rain hadn’t stopped, it was clear that we would not be able to finish this trip at Jockey’s Ridge. Stephanie offered to drive us paddlers back to get our cars out of the park at Jockey’s Ridge before it closed. Although we hated to abort the trip, we took Stephanie up on her offer. While a few paddlers waited at the shelter with the kayaks the rest of us went with Steph, picked up our cars then drove back to the shelter. When the rain slowed down, we loaded our kayaks onto our cars and packed up the gear. Our trip was over after slightly more than 12 miles of paddling.
The ironic part is that once our kayaks were all loaded up, the skies cleared up and the sound returned to a calm state! Overall, it was a great paddle and it was exciting watching the storms blow in only because we were under a safe shelter. After paddle food, drink and much merriment was had at the Jolly Roger in Kitty Hawk later that evening. In addition to the numerous carafes of red wine we consumed, the highlight of the evening was Eric singing Karaoke to “Let’s Just Get Drunk and Screw” with a later encore of David Bowie’s “A Space Oddity”
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