The Kayak Chronicles ©
by Darren Caffery
Ship John Shoal Lighthouse – Upper Delaware Bay
June 8, 2002
For Tom Kelly and I, The adventure started out on Friday night. After leaving Ocean County NJ at 6 pm and stopping for a bite to eat, we finally by arrived at Parvin State Park in Pittsgrove, NJ by around 10:00 pm only to ride around the dark back South Jersey roads of the perimeter of the park for about 35 minutes before actually finding the entrance to the camping area. After we finally found the entrance and then our specific site it was close to 11. We quickly set up our tent however, and joined our paddling buddies Ronnie & Michael who were already around a nice warm campfire. We hung out around the fire and talked about some upcoming paddling trips, some old adventures we had and later retired to our tents when the fire finally died down. It was the perfect night for camping. No bugs and just a little on the cool side.
On Saturday morning after checking out of Parvin State Park and after an informal meeting at our kayak club president's ranch, Tom and I followed Ken and his wife Donna to the shopping center in Bridgeton where we were all to meet for the trip out on the Delaware Bay. It really was an incredible sight, all those cars, jeeps and SUVs with different colored kayaks atop them. After everyone got there we headed for the launch site about 10 miles away at Bayside Wildlife Management Area, just north of the Cohansey River in Cumberland County, New Jersey.
The crew for this trip consisted of 20 members from the Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association which included myself, Wild Bill, Bruce, Kevin, Carlos, Rich, Jeep and his daughter Rachel, Mike S., Jeff, Sara and her boyfriend Dale, Bob Smith, Bill Metzger, Tom, Michael, Ronnie, Elaine, Donna & Ken Stroud. When we finally made it to Bayside and traveled down the dirt road where the launch site was, the road opened up to a remarkable vista of the wide open Delaware Bay. The excitement built, seeing the Ship John Shoal Light in the distance and knowing in just a short while we would all soon be out there paddling.
After all 20 of us were in our boats and in the water, the group immediately split into groups which included one who seemed like he had a date with the lighthouse, 'those who like to run fast', and those who just felt they would get there eventually. The largest of the groups was the last and included myself. Everyone just headed due south to the light which was clearly visible and about 5 miles away. There was only a light breeze initially and conditions made it easy to socialize for a while. While enjoying a very relaxing pace, I got to talk to some of my old paddling partners and also had an opportunity to meet some members of the club I hadn't met before. The sun was shining bright and I was surprised how warm the bay water was (probably in the high 60's?).
As we got farther out into the bay, the winds increased. Conditions grew choppier and our group became more scattered and less social as we neared the lighthouse. The closer we got to the light, the larger the waves became. I enjoyed cutting directly through the chop and waves and I enjoyed the bucking rodeo ride that the waves of the Delaware Bay provided on the way out to the Ship John Shoal Light. The waters directly north of the light were very confused and choppy and we had to concentrate on bracing and leaning to stay upright. After sustaining the intensity of this long enough, I headed for the less intense conditions of the lee on the other side of the Ship John Light. There was a whale watching boat on that side of the light filled with tourists who waved at us. On this side, part of the group slowly gathered one by one. After a group of us got into communicating range, we agreed to paddle directly back to shore to take a break on one of the sandy beaches which was visible from where we were. The ride back to the beach for me was a lesson in surfing. Most of the waves were fun to surf however some larger 4 ft swells launched my Perception Eclipse like a rocket out of control which was unnerving in a few areas. Again, there were stretches in which I concentrated intensely on my bracing, leaning and rudder strokes to keep my balance and prevent my craft from broaching.
It felt so good to finally land at the beach for a break. Although we joked about Wild Bill already being home and maybe running another afternoon marathon in Cape May Beach, we also were concerned about the other paddlers who were separated from us. Only 7 of us were on the beach. In the distance we saw 6 more members scattered in the bay, but headed towards the beach. We wondered if everyone else was ok and not knowing where people were was the worse part. Given the conditions and the scatteredness of large group, these were very reasonable concerns.
After launching from our break, we realized the paddle home would not take too long with the wind and the tide in our favor. After passing another beach farther north, we saw the rest of the group launch out from there and our paths finally crossed, bringing us all back within visible distance to each other for the home stretch back to the take out. It was nice to know everyone was ok and a harsh reality check to be very aware of the possible dangers that existed out there. On this trip, I realized how important communication is, and how the lack of communication can be very dangerous under these conditions and for a group of this size and of varying abilities.
It was about 6 pm after we were all off the water, so we started talking about getting dinner. 12 of us decided to have dinner together at the Bait Box Restaurant on the Cohansey River. After a bit of a wait we enjoyed a nice dinner and the company of our fellow paddlers. We also helped Ronnie celebrate her birthday with the cake that Micheal got our waitress to bring out for the occasion. We left the restaurant at about 9:30pm. It was a long but very nice day. I felt like I was on vacation and of course I hated it to end.
Overall, the paddle out to the Ship John Shoal Light was a wild, fun adventure, and a bit hair raising on the large following seas and chop of the Delaware Bay. A record of my GPS track on a 1/4 mile stretch with a pretty swift current and large following seas recorded my speed at 5.7 to 6.8 miles per hour. For most of the trip, we averaged about 4 miles per hour. Keeping track of my speed in various stretches has helped make me more aware of the power of the current and the tide...and the respect that this great body of water demands from those who paddle it.
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