Category Archives: Sea Kayaking

Circumnavigating Portsmouth Island / North Core Banks

Last week, a friend and I completed a circumnavigation around Portsmouth Island, also known as North Core Banks. We started out in Sea Level, NC and traveled out Ophelia Inlet, North to Ocracoke, and then returned sound side to complete the circle around Portsmouth Island. We had 3 paddling days, although due to a Nor-Easter holed up for an extra day on Ocracoke.

The entire trip was 65 miles, which included a 24.5 mile run from Ocracoke to the Long Point Fishing Cabins, which only took us 4.5 hours, so 5.44 MPH moving average. I wrote a much more detailed trip report on the CKC website, which you can read here.

It was a great experience and part of my friend Lee’s quest to circumnavigate all the barrier islands in NC. As of right now, he is at 11/19 and I will hopefully be able to help him knock out a few more in the coming months.

Overall the trip went well, although we had to change up our plans due to the Nor-Easter and also had one rescue, both of which are described in more detail in the Carolina Kayak club posting.

Oops, almost threw a monkey wrench in the trip!

One amusing anecdote that I didn’t include in the CKC post happened as we were getting our gear ready at about 5:30 AM on Monday morning in preparation for crossing Ocracoke Inlet.

We had both gotten up at around 5AM, having done a decent bit of preparation the night before, and were both going into and out of the hotel room arranging gear in our kayaks. Several times during our stay Anchorage Inn & Marina, I had pulled the door shut behind me out of instinct and had to be let back in by my friend. That morning, as we both headed out the door, I pulled the door shut again, locking it behind us.

So, we ended up locked outside of our hotel room at 5:30AM wearing only our thermal base layers, as we would be soon putting on our drysuits. At this hotel, at least in the off season, the hotel clerk leaves in the evening around 5 or 6PM and so no one was at the front desk. And, of course, we had no phone to call the emergency number.

After a brief moment of panic, I pulled at the window and discovered it was open and so we were able to crawl in and unlock the room. Lee joked that had we not been able to get back in, he would not of rescued me later that afternoon when I capsized.

Size Matters, but How Much?

Recently, one of my paddling buddies shared a discussion thread with me, which presented the idea that many people paddle boats that are too long for them. The idea being that if you can’t attain and sustain max hull speed in the boat, then the boat is too long for you.

I think it is a fair criticism, as often in sea kayaking, the push as you skill up and subsequently start upgrading boats(at least personally,) seems to be for a longer/narrower boat.

This is an interesting concept and led me to do some research on hull speed and subsequently a different formula for calculating hull efficiency called the Froude number.

What is Max Hull Speed?

As a boat moves through the water, it creates a wave formed by the bow of the boat, which helps to form the wake(wave formed downstream of the boat.)

Max Hull Speed is basically the speed at which the wave created by the bow interacts constructively with the hull of the boat as it moves through the water. When you exceed max hull speed, the boat becomes less efficient. As this relates to kayaking, as you exceed hull speed, it takes more energy to paddle and maintain a consistent speed.

It is important to note that max hull speed is not a limit on the speed of the boat and it can easily be exceeded, but as the speed is exceeded, it takes more effort to maintain the speed.

Max Hull Speed can be calculated by taking the square root of the water line* of the boat and multiplying it by 1.34. While the hull design is important, to a certain extent, the geometry/design isn’t as big of a factor and efficiency basically falls in line with this equation(see note[1] below table for thoughts on human powered boats.)

*Note that this is the waterline of the boat and will not always be the total length. For instance, my Pilgrim has a lot of rocker, so even though the boat is around 15′ 9″, the water line is probably closer to 14-15 feet.

The below is a quick chart that shows hull speed for a few of the common water lines found in sea kayaks[1]:

Length of Waterline Max Hull Speed in Knots
12′ 4.64
14′ 5.01
16′ 5.36
18′ 5.69
20′ 5.99

[1] I don’t think you could use the above chart to compare flat hulled boats, such as a recreational, sit-on-top kayak, or most white-water boats, as when being powered by a human, the inefficiencies in the hull would be come much more apparent and difficult to work with when compared to boats powered by an engine. So, while the max hull speed should be more or less correct, the amount of human energy required to achieve that would not be the same when compared to a sea kayak.

How long is too long?

As you can see from the above chart, if you aren’t going to be paddling more than 5 knots, an argument can definitely be made that at least in terms of efficiency, there isn’t a huge advantage to having a boat with a water line longer than 14′. And even as you move up in 2′ increments, the difference in efficiency isn’t that significant between boats.

From a personal level, when paddling on the lake with little to no help from current, it isn’t uncommon for me to hit 5MPH+ and when doing a fitness paddle where I am paddling at about 80% of my maximum, I can maintain 5MPH+ for several miles at a time without too much difficulty. So, having that longer boat makes sense for me(at least when doing my fitness paddles.)

However, I think the overall point is a good one, boat length is important, but once you get over 14′ in a sea kayak, the overall water line length is probably less important than choosing the right boat for the job.

So, aside from racing or other times when you need high-performance is needed, the stability(secondary and primary,) tracking, the ability of the boat to handle conditions(wind/surf/swell,) and of course the paddlers comfort in(and paddling) the boat should likely be considered first, rather than always just going for the longest boat you can get. When considering conditions, the amount of help you are going to be getting(or working against) is also likely an important factor, so if you are going downriver with a fast current or getting a nice push from the tide, you are going to get to this speed and likely exceed it much easier than on flat water.

Another consideration is that when paddling a kayak, you are using a human engine(ideally mostly your core and not shoulders/arms) to power the boat, so even just a marginal improvement in efficiency can make paddling much easier…it isn’t like you can just get a bigger engine from the store to overcome inefficiencies. So definitely for anyone doing non-casual distance paddling, the length of the boat is still a very important consideration.

Froude Number vs Hull Speed

While researching hull speed, I found that in modern navel engineering, the Froude number is more likely to be used than hull speed when determining how efficient a boat is.

In terms of boating, the Froude number is a formula that lets you calculate the efficiency of a given hull at a speed, so you can get an idea of the amount of resistance to expect when moving at that speed. This helps you find the sweet spot in terms of speed for a given hull and also get an idea of the resistance you could expect at larger speeds, as opposed to max hull speed, which just gives you the speed at which the boat will be come more(or less) efficient.

While the formula is more complicated, I found an online calculator and plugged in some numbers. Since we are dealing with relatively low speeds and lengths, as compared to engine powered boats, the numbers pretty much corresponded with the above chart and you could draw similar conclusions about speed vs kayak length. However, I think it more clearly illustrated the inefficiency of a 14′ boat at speeds over 5 knots and how when going for distance/speed a longer boat(16’+) is definitely more efficient.

Baja California 2017

This year, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Baja California, Mexico paddling and exploring the coast line. This was without a doubt the most amazing and beautiful place I have ever paddled(so far.) The trip was organized by an ocean kayaker friend who had went last year and, as is the case with anyone that goes, got hooked by the wonderful and unique paddling experience offered in Mexico.

We started out our trip by flying into San Diego California, where we spent a night walking around the downtown marina area. Since we were loosing 3 hours due to timezone changes, we didn’t want to go to bed early, so walked at least 5 miles the first night exploring the downtown area. However, we still ended up waking up at around 5AM. The next morning, we met up with the rest of our group and were picked up by our guide, Jennifer, who would drive us across the border to Baja California.

The next 6 days were filled with adventure and awesomeness. We paddled every day, ate great food, and even though we paddled in a relatively small area, there was very little overlap between the places we paddled in.

The first day was a relatively short paddle exploring La Bufadora, which is one of the largest blowholes on the American continent. The day we went, the blow hole was particularly active as compared to later in the rip and we got a first hand look at it, as we backed our kayaks into the blow hole. It was also Sunday, so the place was very crowded and we had a ton of on-lookers watching us kayak.

While there are a number of sandy beaches, especially North of where we were towards Ensanda, the area where we paddled was almost all rocky beach. The amazing rocky coastline is one of the things that makes this such a unique paddling experience(especially compared to most places on the East Coast.)

The next day, I got to experience my first pour-over, which is a type of rock gardening where you ride the swell over or between a rocky outcropping, and one of the coolest features of this type of coastline.

It takes some practice to get the timing right and is a bit intimidating at first. However, by the end of the trip I had a pretty good feel for how the timing worked. The swell creates a sucking effect, as it rolls back over the rocks and can create some incredibly steep and powerful holes. However, unlike holes on a river, they reverse and go away relatively quickly as the swell flows back and forth across the rock, so are unlikely to hold you indefinitely(although can still cause a lot of damage.)

There was rather large swell, probably some of the biggest swell I have paddled in, but for the most part it doesn’t break until it gets close to shore. As a result, we did little surfing while we were out there, although on the fourth day I did catch a couple nice rides when we stopped for a few minutes at a place where the waves were breaking mostly perpendicular to the beach.

For the most part though, the rocks and swell combine to create what is essentially pretty crazy whitewater on the ocean. It ends up being some pretty serious whitewater and on a river, many people would simply go around some of the features we played on. It is always hard to judge, but we agreed that some of the features would at least be Class V rapids on a river.

Another neat experience was paddling in the Slot of Boom, which is a narrow passage(about 20 feet wide) that, due to the way it is lined up with the swell, creates an area where very large(and sometimes a bit confused) waves rush through it. You can point your kayak down the slot and take some pretty large waves across the bow(and face,) or turn around and try to surf one out.

While a lot of our paddling involved playing in the rocks, there were plenty of other amazing places to explore. We paddled in several caves, as well as made 3 mile crossing to an off shore island. On the way over to the island, there was pretty heavy swell and wind, enough that I was glad to be wearing a sea sick patch. However, on the way back, both the wind and swell had died down making it much easier to deal with.

Another neat experience was seeing all the seals. They were everywhere and very curious. In addition to seeing them laying on rocks, it was common to see 5 or 6 of them floating with their heads out of the water watching us whenever we took a break on the beach.

Aside from just good paddling, the food was also amazing. We stopped and had some amazing tacos de pescado and tacos de camerone (fish and shrimp tacos,) as well as some really good ceviche, at some food stands around Ensanda. Our host’s husband was also a great cook, who made ceviche with some fresh fish that we picked up at a local fish market, along with a number of other really yummy dishes. Interestingly, one of the restaurants we stopped at was serving sushi and so on one of the nights, I ate some pretty great sushi too.

This was easily one of the best paddling experiences I have ever had and even though I have just returned, I am already thinking about going back!

Shark Encounters of the Boring Kind

When you are out paddling, it is pretty common for people to come up and start a conversation with you. A recurring conversation point is whether or not you have ever seen a shark while paddling. Well this week, I got to see my first shark, which I believe was a relatively large Black Tip Shark.

On Monday, a buddy and I did a paddle during the partial eclipse. Tides weren’t quite right for a timely launch from his dock, so we loaded up the boats and put in at one of the Emerald Isle beach access points. This means a bit of walking and a fairly long portage, but you can get right out in the surf and it saves about 45 minutes of paddling that it would otherwise take to get out to the inlet.

Magic Seaweed had the surf at about 1 foot, although there were actually some pretty big swell and breaking waves at the beach. After playing for an hour or so close to the beach, it started to get a too bit crowded, so we went out closer to Bogue Inlet and played in a cool spot where there is usually some nice shoaling(especially going into low tide.) Here, the waves were much smaller and probably more in-line with Magic Seaweed’s prediction.

While the surfing wasn’t great, once you get back towards the more shallow area, there is almost always some confused seas that is fun to play around in. As I was sitting there getting tossed around a bit, I noticed a porpoise like fish cross in front of me and began keeping pace with it.

Earlier in the day, we had seen two dolphins and so my initial thought was that it was another dolphin. However, as I followed it, I noticed a few differences from a dolphin…mainly that it wasn’t coming up for air, but instead maintaining a fairly consistent depth as it swam. Typically, a dolphin will dive and surface to catch its breath and when it comes up, you will hear it blow/suck air. This one wasn’t doing that.

It was also lighter in color and upon further inspection, I realized that its tail fin was vertical in relation to the water, as opposed to horizontal. It was then I realized that I was keeping relatively close company(about 12 feet) with a shark.

The water wasn’t clear enough and the shark was far enough away to see its full size, but based on the distance from its tail fin to its dorsal fin, I would put it at about 4-5 feet long. I believe it was probably a Blacktip Shark, because the top of the dorsal fin had a small bit of black on it.

Upon realizing that I was tailing a shark through pretty shallow water, I decided to go back to surfing and went back out to try to catch another wave. The rest of the day was pretty cool, we got to checkout the partial eclipse a few times, including catching it at its max, which was a neat experience.

So now, the next time someone asks me if I have ever seen a shark while paddling, I will have a pretty neat story!

Surf Day By Figure Eight Island

This weekend, I went out to Rich Inlet, next to Figure Eight Island in Wilmington for a nice day of surfing. We launched and rode the tide out roughly 2.75 miles to make an easy beach landing just before Rich Inlet. There, we stretched our legs and discussed the plans for the day. Ultimately, we ended up spending the next several hours playing in the surf near the inlet and then a little further out as the day progressed.

In total, we ended up with 14 miles of paddling, which put us at approximately 8.5 miles of surfing, which when you figure that is just going back/forth in a pretty small area, isn’t too shabby!

Magic Seaweed had the surf as 1-2 feet in the morning and then picking up a bit, along with the wind, during the afternoon. This proved to be accurate and we definitely felt the wind on the way home. We timed it so that we had a bit of a push headed back to the launch point, but the wind largely canceled this out. We didn’t have enough daylight for this, but it would of been nice to have waited another hour to get a bit more flow on the way back.

It ended up being a great day of surfing though and I had several nice long runs, along with figuring out how to hop back on a wave when it crashes on you and you start to sidesurf. This was the first time I did this and found that when timed correctly, I could dig in a bit and straighten the boat out, hopping back on the wave rather than just peeling out of it.

Ringing in the New Year at the Beach

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend New Years Day paddling at Emerald Isle.

Magic Seaweed reported the conditions at about 1 foot. However, we determined that due to the distance Bogue Pier(the conditions Magic Seaweed is reporting) is from Bogue Inlet(where we do most of our paddling,) you need to add a bit onto its prediction for it to be accurate. It was probably closer to 1-2ft and easily a bit more at times. Wind was pretty low and both water/air temps were around 50 degrees. This was pretty chilly and dry suit weather.

We spent most of the day surfing around by a few sandbars, one about 3/4 mile off shore, where there was some fun breaking surf. In addition to getting some surfing practice in, we also practiced edging control, by surfing or just hanging out in the surf and trying to hold off on bracing with the paddle for as long as possible. This is great practice for boat control. We also practiced going backwards through the surf. Initially, I wasn’t very comfortable doing this and just paddled backwards without surfing. However, by the end of the day, I was feeling a bit braver and did some very short backwards surfing.

I also experienced a cool effect where I caught the second of two close together waves and the bow of my boat caught a bit of the front wave, while I was surfing the back. There was some pearling too at times, which was neat and I was able to see the impact that leaning backwards can have(at least when going pretty slow.)

Overall, it was a pretty awesome day and over the past few times I have been out, I feel like my surfing skills have exponentially grown. Rather than broaching almost immediately, I have been able to catch some decent waves and surf for a bit before peeling out.

Cape Lookout NC

I had the opportunity to go on a neat coastal paddle this weekend around Cape Lookout NC this past weekend.

We started our paddle at the Harkers Island Visitor Center and then went about 3 miles Northeast to Codd’s creek. From there, we traveled around 7 miles down to Cape Lookout and camped right in front of the lighthouse. The surf landing here was quite fun as while watching one of the other paddlers make it to shore, I neglected to keep an eye on the waves and ended up getting hit with a fairly big one. We were out mostly past the breaks, but obviously not far enough, and I got sidesurfed most of the way into shore before breaking out of the wave.

The next day, we traveled around the point back to Harkers Island. On the way, we stopped at a cool island about 1 mile off the point of Cape Lookout, before heading back. There were some confused seas here and I promptly got sandwiched in between two waves and ended up flipping and after getting tossed around a bit, pulled the rip cord. After dragging my boat a back away from the breaking surf, one of the paddlers came over, did a T-Rescue, and got me back in my boat. I remembered to do the T-Rescue properly here and backed my feet into my boat, rather than going in facing the bow.

The rest of the paddle was mostly un-eventful, although I did end up cheating and doing a portage towards the end with one of the other paddlers. He and I were both beat and he mentioned that he was wanting to port over a dune to get into the bay. I decided to go with him, as it would of been a long port to do on your own and I was in need of a 15 minute break. This didn’t end up saving us any time, but we did get to relax and cool off a bit.

Ocracoke Ocean Paddle

Recently, several other paddlers and myself attempted to undertake a somewhat ambitious paddle around the North Carolina Outer Banks. Our initial plan was to start at the Cedar Island Ferry, paddle to Portsmouth, then ocean side around Ocracoke to spend the night in Hatteras. Then, paddle back to Ocracoke to spend the night, having completely circumvented Ocracoke Island.

Of course, as is often the case, we didn’t end up making our goal, as we hit a few obstacles. The first day put us in Portsmouth and we camped at a great spot facing Ocracoke, more or less in line with our goal. We ended up going a bit closer to shore than we had planned, but still made decent time.

Our venture closer to shore netted us ended up with a really cool picture of us standing out in the middle of the ocean, as we took a break by a duck blind. It was sort of surreal to be standing in chest high water several miles from the shore.

We are several miles from shore here, but able to stand and touch ground.
We are several miles from shore here, but able to stand and touch ground.
Campsite at Portsmouth
Campsite at Portsmouth

While we made decent time the first day, the second day proved to be much more difficult. We skirted across the bay and around the point of Ocracoke, making pretty good time. However, once ocean side, we ran into what we would later learn was a littoral current.

A littoral current, also sometimes referred to as a Longshore drift, is where you end up with a current running rather strongly at an angle to the shoreline, rather than coming directly at the shore. There are a few factors that come into play here, like wind stacking up, sediment from the ocean floor, and the angle of the shoreline in relation to the waves. The end result is you end up with a strong current running along the shore.

Of course, at the time we, or at least I, didn’t know this, but we did know that we were not making good time. We were doing averages of 1 and 2 miles per hour and at that rate, there was no way we were going to make our goal. Due to water issues we decided to call it and head back to Ocracoke, camping there.

To complicate matters, we had an incident during a beach landing, as I was too close to one of the other paddlers and when I got wiped out by a wave, my boat was pushed into a fellow paddlers, damaging his hatch, paddle, and likely foot pegs. I learned an important lesson here on the importance of not coming up too close or following a boater into shore. I should of been much more staggered during my landing. The landing itself went fine, however the steepness of the beach and the following times of the waves hit me before I could get out of my boat.

On the return trip, we went much faster and I even managed to right myself after being flipped by a wave, in one of the first times I didn’t have to swim after being flipped. We ended up camping in Ocracoke and taking the ferry back the next day.

The View from Our Camp Site in Ocracoke.
The View from Our Camp Site in Ocracoke.

Since we ended up coming in a day earlier than planned, we made the most of it and ate dinner and breakfast in Ocracoke and then stopping in New Bern for dinner the next day. The following morning, we decided to have a beach day and spend several hours playing in the surf in Emerald Isle, prior to heading back to Raleigh. This ended up being a great experience for me as, partly due to my much improved roll, but also just due to having a shorter boat, I was able to get in a lot of surf practice and for the first time, actually felt like I understood some of the mechanics of handling rougher surf.

This was my favorite day of the trip, as I got to spend the morning getting flipped by waves.
This was my favorite day of the trip, as I got to spend the morning getting flipped by waves.

Introduction to Sea Kayaking – I Think I’m Hooked

I’ve been kayaking for several years now and, if I do say so myself, progressed quite a bit in that time. However, up until a few weeks ago, my kayaking has been limited to mostly river yakking, with a bit of lake kayaking thrown in. However, recently while doing my weekly Neuse run, I met a fellow yakker who exposed me to an entire different type of kayaking…sea kayaking…and I love it!

While playing around in a rapid, I met a fellow who works in Raleigh, but also has a home on the coast near Emerald Isle. It was after we had had a good bit of rain and the Neuse river had been running really high, so I hadn’t been able to do my up/down run in awhile. So, as soon as the river started dropping I hit it twice in one week and both times I went out, ran into the same yakker. We spent some time playing in the river and talking both times.

He was kind enough to invite me out to his beach house and let me borrow a sweet sea kayak, while exposing me to some of the awesome bits of sea kayaking, such as playing in the surf, navigating currents, and doing water rescues(cowboy and t-rescue.) I have to say it was awesome and I really get the appeal of sea kayaking now!

Since I am mostly a river yakker, the pull of having a longer boat and flat water yakking never really appealed to me…or perhaps I just didn’t give it a lot of thought, but now I totally get it. This type of kayaking really fits with me as well, as it is a lot like the endurance river kayaking I enjoy.

So, I think I am hooked now, but the downside is that I need yet another kayak 😉