Hi Dave! Congratulations on your new boat!
“I thought about doing a circumnavigation of Bald Head Island but when I switch to satellite view on Google maps, it looked like the inlet that used to be on the north side of the island, thus making it an island, might be closed (and after Hurricane Florence, I’m not terribly trusting of any mapping data).”
Correct. The times I’ve circumnavigated around Cape Fear, I’ve launched/landed from the public beach access at Fort Fisher/Cape Fear River access at Fort Fisher. There’s about a mile in between the two, but it works to drop off your kayak, drive to the takeout and park your car, then walk the mile back and paddle - or vice versa. That’s around a 20 mile paddle.
Alternatively, you could launch from Southport, paddle out to round Cape Fear (6 miles), then turn around and paddle back. (total around 12 miles without any playing around or wandering).
“I could still play around on the back side of the “island”, maybe including Zeke’s Island Reserve.”
It’s a nice, popular area to kayak without ocean exposure - unless you carry your kayak across the dunes.
" I’m curious what the south side of Bald Head Island (the open ocean side that runs kind of northwest-southeast) is like in terms of surf (I’d be most happy with mild stuff - maybe no more than a couple of feet and rounded more than crashing/dumping),"
Like anywhere, it really depends upon the day, the wave direction, period, and height, along with the tide level, and different shoaling formations leading up to the beach. In other words, you just don’t know. Two consecutive weekends in August, the first we had 3-5’ conditions along the south side of the island, the next we had 1-2’. And things undoubtedly changed to some degree after Florence. There are nice shoals at the mouth of the river that usually offer some fun.
“and how fast the current out of the Cape Fear River is if you hit it close to maximum ebb.”
Depends a lot on tide levels and river levels, but here are NOAA tidal current predictions and tide predictions for this coming weekend:
Saturday 10/20/18 tides: 4:52 am high tide, 11:02 am low tide, 6:13 pm high, 11:24 pm low
Saturday 10/20/18 currents: slack current 5:51 am, max current 10:05 am, slack 1:33 pm, max 2:52 pm
Sunday 10/21/18 tides: 5:37 am high, 11:46 am low, 5:56 pm high
Sunday 10/21/18 currents: Slack 6:45 am, max10:53 am, slack 2:21 pm, max 3:40 pm
Max current speed for those two days is predicted at 3.4 knots during the ebb, and 1.9 knots during the flood. Higher river levels mean lower flood current speed, and higher ebb current speed, as well as extending the time in which you have an ebb flow.
“Alternatively, or in addition, I would probably be staying at Carolina Beach State Campground so I could maybe leave from there and head up Snow’s cut and, if the conditions were reasonable, poke my head out of the inlet to the ocean.”
Take the ocean high tide and low tide times above, and add around an hour and 40 minutes to be around slack. So to time this paddle well, plan your paddle around ocean low tide. So Saturday, with 11:02 am as ocean low tide, the water will be ebbing from Carolina Beach State Park, through Snows Cut, all the way out of the inlet, until around 12:40 pm. Then you’ll have slack current, and it begins flooding back in for the next 6 hours. If you’re not sure about the conditions peaking out of Carolina Beach Inlet, wait until you’re sure the current will carry you back in before peaking out. If it’s easy conditions and you’re confident, you can go early, have the current help pull you out, ride a wave in, have current help pull you back out, ride in, etc. Just make sure you’re in full control in terms of ability to re-enter your kayaks in the ocean and get back into shore if you’re playing against a current pulling you out into the ocean.
I hope this is helpful. Carolina Beach State Park is a nice and inexpensive place to stay. Wrightsville Beach is another nice place to launch that’s just a short drive from there. I’m working M - F, 8 - 5. If you make it up this way, I’d love to make time to paddle with you on Saturday or Sunday, or any evening I could meet you for a quick paddle at 5:30ish.
In any case, I hope you enjoy your trip!