For the last two weekends I have migrated to the coast with good friends for some sea kayaking. Frank and I went on the first trip. We made an on the spot change of plans when we got to the McClellanville boat ramp and found it closed as it was being used for the shrimp festival. We did Wambaw Creek instead. Saw 2 gators swimming. They went under as we got close paddling upstream then back as we couldn’t do a shuttle with one car. The wild Spider Lilies and Blue Flag where “showing out” as they say down here. We camped primitive on the Santee Refuge like we had planned to do at the coast. Then paddled out to Bull Island and Capers Island at Price Inlet. Saw lots of Bottlenose Dolphin, and even saw 3 go vertical completely out of the water like missiles.
This last Friday I was camped at Buck Hall with Karl and Janice, and Ole. Friday afternoon we did Awendaw Creek. Did about 8 miles and got back just before dark. Saturday we paddled 14 miles out into Bull’s Bay from Buck Hall and around White Bank Island on the outside, and then back by way of Five Fathom Creek. It was close to low tide and Bull’s Bay is notoriously shallow. There was lots of exposed bottom with oysters. Out by the island in about 2 feet of water just off the side of my paddle tip as it entered the water a bow wave and turbulence erupted as a spooked 5 foot shark took off around the front of my kayak with it’s dorsal fin and tail out of the water! It was tying to get away from the sudden fright (spooked me for a moment too!) only to almost run into Karl’s kayak! Being much more agile than Karl and I it dodged him and disappeared leaving only the v of a wake behind, and two smiling kayakers!!
In the past I have only seen Bonnethead Sharks (less than 4 feet) feeding in the shallows on crabs, and caught one fishing once. I have also caught baby Black Tip Sharks less than a foot long while Speckled Trout fishing. They are good at bait stealing at that size. It seems the coastal marshes of the Carolinas are the nursery area for Black tips and other sharks species as well.
Sunday we put in and paddled out to camp a night on the beach bordering Cape Romain. We had the tide with us, but at times we had the stiff wind against us. We saw a few fishing boats and a family picnicking on the beach at Cow Pen Point This was our planned lunch spot so we paddled down the beach a bit and pulled ashore. After lunch we did the 3 mile open bay paddle to our camping spot. The waves were on our starboard stern quarter, and the waves about a foot with slightly larger sets. You could catch them from time to time for a helpful boost. I was also on the look out for Loggerhead turtles You usually only see a head come up about the size of a boxing glove, then disappears. About half way to our camp well out in the bay another Shark came to the surface. When the dorsal fin came up I was trying to turn it into a turtle head, but I realized quickly it wasn’t. The top of the vertical tail fin came up a good five feet behind the dorsal. You see this with sharks, but not dolphins and porpoise which have horizontal tail fins. It was coming toward me off to the side and pasted about 30 feet away before going under. Not to be seen again. Wow! that makes 2 sharks I have seen on this trip, and though I know they are there I just don’t see the bigger ones.
We get camp set in a strong 15 mph wind. This makes staking out the tent more fun… I have a one foot wide strip of black plastic I cut for reducing the continuous rain of sand that ends up on everything in the tent while a strong wind blows across the beach. I lay this along the base of the tent fly and weight the bottom half foot of the strip with sand to close off the wind tunnel formed by the fly and tent gap at the ground on the windward side. This helps but doesn’t totally eliminate the tent sand. Very fine no-see-em mesh screen shifted beach sand that clings to stuff. One of the many splendid joys of beach camping.
I walked the beach, and I am pleased at how little trash washes up here. What does often wash up is a variety of sea shells. I am always looking for new or perfect finds to add to my collection. It is too windy to build a fire as the stiff wind would blow sparks into the salt killed cedar and myrtle trees that are standing kindling. The mosquitoes and no-see-ems are out in force, but the onshore wind is keeping the majority at bay. We sit on the beach and have supper, then watch the sun set, and the stars come out. There is very little light pollution and this is one of those places you can see a magnificent Milky Way when conditions allow.
One of the many things you have to look forward too while beach camping are the winged residents. I know many shore and sea birds come to mine. However the most exciting are the much smaller horse flies, deer flies, yellow flies, mosquitoes, and no-see-ems! Winged creatures of a diabolical nature.
Without a strong wind, or a smokey fire, staying behind the no-see-em mesh screens of the tent is the best survival strategy! We have used multiple Thermacells and mosquito coils when there is little wind. This works sometimes. Of course DEET repellent is about the best, and a Thermacell is good if you stay close to it. Still when the sun goes down it can be trying.
Once in the tent there is a sacred ritual sacrifice of all the mosquitoes that got in with you. A good flashlight in hand and I have found a crumpled up mosquito head-net in the other hand to be a perfect combination to carry out the task. They and the no-see-ems tend to gather at the top and corners of the tent. These are prime killing zones. This ritual is repeated each time during the night when you reenter the tent after you get up to check on the progress of the stars.
In the morning I wake before dawn. I have left the vestibule tied back with a good view of the sunrise behind the safety of the tent screen. One of the delights of getting older is sleeping on the ground. Nice sun rise. Breakfast in bed. As we break camp we watch across the inlet as the USFWS round the cape on a four wheeler pulling a trailer. They are there to check on a dead Loggerhead Turtle that has washed up on the beach. They spray paint a cross on the shell so it won’t be counted again I suppose. Almost 25% of SC turtle nests are on this one barrier island beach.
Later we paddled over to the cape and walked the beach and eat an early lunch before heading the 11+ miles back across the bay, and through the marsh creeks. Ole saw another Dead Loggerhead with an X. While eating I was sitting on hard packed wet sand at the edge of the cut running out Cape Inlet. I had my feet in about a foot of water, Ole says “There’s a Shark!”. I look up and headed into the out going tide toward us and close to shore was a small 4 to 5 footer. It goes under about 20 feet away. I was tempted to pull my feet out, but thought I would know if it came into the shallows. Later we talked to a couple of fishermen. They said they had caught a nice Red and a couple of sharks. When I got home I saw that a 10 year old boy was bitten on the arm in waist deep water at Hilton Head Island, SC the same day.
The re-tern ( carrying on a tradition of paddling puns.)