Tag Archives: trip reports

Bald Head Island Circumnavigation

Last weekend, two paddlers and I circumnavigated Bald Head Island. We camped Friday night at the Carolina Beach State Park, so that we could get an early start on Saturday morning and paddled South down the Cape Fear river towards Southport, then headed around the Southern Face of Bald Head Island and paddled ocean side back to the Carolina Beach State Park.

Cape Fear River to Fort Caswell

We stopped on this unnamed island briefly after about 6.5 miles of paddling.

After getting up at 4:30 AM, we were able to break camp and were on the water a few minutes before 6 on Saturday morning. This allowed us to take advantage of the ebb tide, along with a boost from the Cape Fear River, as we made our way South.

We were, however, facing a reasonably strong South-South West wind as we paddled, which had been blowing for several days, so we had a strong wind and swell in our face the entire first leg of the paddle. We stopped on a small unnamed island briefly after about 6 miles, then paddled and did a beach landing on the Fort Caswell, just inside the inlet.

Despite the wind and swell in our face, we made good time on this leg of the trip, averaging about 4.9 MPH moving average, over a distance of about 13.5 miles, with a max speed of 7.2 MPH.

Cape Fear River Crossing to Bald Head Island

A shot of Bald Head Island from Fort Caswell Beach.

After a short stop, we set a ferry angle to counteract the wind and swell and headed over to Bald Head Island, landing just inside of the inlet, so we could scope things out.

We paddled at a much more leisurely pace here, averaging about 3.3 MPH over the 1.5 mile crossing.

Paddling the South Face of Bald Head Island

This picture doesn’t do it justice, but shows the shoaling happening at the corner of Bald Head Island.

Going into the paddle, we knew the Southern face of Bald Head island would likely be the most difficult part of the paddle, as Magic Seaweed had Holden Beach, the closest Southern facing beach they track, at around 3.5 foot swell, building to over 4 feet later in the afternoon, and our path would put the strong wind and swell on our side as we made the crossing.

In addition, this beach can be very steep and with the large swell and wind, doing a beach launch would likely end up being difficult. So, once we started paddling, we knew we may be committed to paddling the entire 4+ miles without a beach landing until we made it around the cape.

Another wild card was Frying Pan Shoals, which is on the far side of Bald Head Island, and often gets pretty crazy. We were expecting some clapotis seas and rough water when we made it to the Eastern point of Bald Head Island. Due to the conditions leading up to this, we realized we might not be able to get out to scout or even stop to discuss a plan for breaking through the shoaling.

We stopped for a few minutes just inside the inlet and found a small, but reasonably clear path through the shoaling that typically occurs at the corner of an inlet, before doing our beach launch. I made it around the corner without incident, although my buddy, who was about 20 feet to my left and closer to shore, got caught by three large waves. The first back surfed him and the second side surfed him, but he was able to stay in his boat and keep paddling.

The swell was very large here, but mostly breaking closer to shore, so we were able to paddle the rest of the stretch without incident, although it required a lot of mental energy and our heads stayed looking to our right, so we could keep an eye on the 4’+ swell.

As we got closer to Frying Pan Shoals, we saw a very clean opening and pushed through around the Shoals of Cape Fear easily, finding ourselves in what was almost a lake, which was in stark contrast to the conditions we had faced only a few minutes ago. We did a beach landing here, so we could take a break.

Despite being very conservative here, I had my fastest speed of the trip, clocking 8 MPH. We averaged around 4.4 MPH over the 4.3 Mile leg.

Bald Head Island to Kure Beach

Just below Kure Beach Pier

Due to the winds that had been blowing in generally the same South-South West direction for several days, we had a very nice following sea for the remainder of our paddle. The swell was about as close to parallel to the beach as you are going to get and for the first time, the wind was at our back, so the second half of our paddle was much easier.

The paddle from Bald Head Island to Kure Beach, where we stopped for a short break at the pier, was 11.5 miles and we had a moving average of 4.6 MPH, with a top speed of 7.2 MPH.

Kure Beach to Freeman Park

After a short break, we launched and headed North to Freeman park, where we stopped briefly before heading into the inlet. Freeman park is a private beach, which allows people to purchase permits and drive their vehicles to camp and swim.

As we were approaching, I noticed a group of swimmers had lost their inner tube and given up on chasing it, as it was moving out to sea. I scooped it up on my way to shore and carried it in as I did my beach landing. This proved slightly difficult, as I had to paddle one handed, back paddling, so as not to surf in. Right before landing, I threw it towards the beach and side surfed in, with my boat catching the inner tube again as I surfed and keeping it from going back out.

This portion of the trip was about 5.4 miles and we averaged 4.3 MPH, with a top speed of 6.5 MPH.

Freeman Park to Snow’s Cut

We were able to pass through Carolina Beach inlet without incident and little swell. However, as soon as we turned the corner, we were back to having the wind in our face, which slowed us down a great deal. We had timed it so that we were mid cycle and had some boost from the tide, but the wind made slow going.

We averaged about 3.8 MPH over the 4.7 miles back to the campground, with a max speed of 6.7 MPH. We passed through Snow’s cut and got a bit of a reprieve from the wind, due to how steep the walls are here, but still had it in our face.

Overall Statistics

  • Total Distance: 41.2 Miles
  • Top Speed: 8 MPH
  • Paddling Time: 9:15
  • Total Time: 12:48
  • Moving Average: 4.45 MPH
  • Average: 3.25 MPH

Favorite Part of Trip

The entire trip was quite enjoyable and we got to see parts of North Carolina that few people have ever seen, let alone spent time on.

In terms of paddling, I think my favorite part was coming around the Cape and passing cleanly through frying pan shoals. We had expended a great deal of mental energy leading up to this and had to stay extremely vigilante, as if one of us came out of our boats here, it could have been very serious. Due to the conditions, we weren’t able to scout the area and communication was limited, so it was a bit of a wild card. However, in the end, we saw a clean opening and powered through and basically ended up in a lake after 4 miles of white knuckling it through some very heavy swell. In the future, I probably wouldn’t do it again when magic seaweed has it at 3’+, but it worked out well and was an awesome experience!

Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro Island Circumnavigation

This weekend, I, along with three other paddlers, did a circumnavigation around Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro island. Our original plan had been to start at Trails End Boat Launch, then circumnavigate Masonboro, camping one night on Masonboro Island and then doing Wrightsville Beach the next day, returning to Trails End Park.

However, one of the local paddlers was kind enough to let us stay at his house, so we opted to do them as two day trips and enjoy the comfort of some air conditioning and restaurant cooked food.

Wrightsville Beach Circumnavigation

On Saturday, we put in at the public boat ramp under the draw bridge that crosses the Intercoastal Waterway to carry you onto Wrightsville beach. From there, we paddled about 3.5 Miles North to go out Mason Inlet.

Tides were with us, so we made good time and there was only mild chop going out the inlet. We then traveled south about 5 miles ocean side along Wrightsville Beach, making one beach landing, before paddling around the jetty and through Masonboro Inlet.

There were some confused seas coming around the jetty, which were fun, and after we made it around the jetty and out of the boat lane, we practiced a few rescues, before doing another beach landing. Even though we were protected from swell at this point, the area where we stopped was right on the corner heading out to sea and got a lot of boat swell, which created some fun confused seas.

On the way back to the put-in, we stopped at Dockside Restaurant, which is a local bar/restaurant that has a dock for boaters to pull up to, for some burgers and shrimp.

There was a chance of thunderstorms during the day and we got rained on a bit, which was nice given the heat. It was also overcast, so we didn’t get a ton of sun. Despite the chance of rain, the beach was still very crowded and we had to take extra care doing our beach landing, so as to avoid hitting swimmers.

Our total distance was 13 miles for the first day.

Masonboro Island Circumnavigation

At our break before heading
out Masonboro Inlet
On Sunday morning, we put in at Trails End Park Boat Ramp to start our circumnavigation of Masonboro Island. We were on the water by about 9:30 and headed South towards Carolina Beach Inlet. The tide was not in our favor, so we ended up fighting about a 1 mile current for most of the first stretch. After about 7 miles of paddling, we took a short break on a sandbar before heading out Carolina Beach Inlet.

Carolina Beach Inlet is close to the Cape Fear River and so, the water is a mix of river/ocean water hear, creating a neat dark brown color. There was a little confused seas going out the inlet, but it was relatively calm.

Two of our members had opted to use a Tandem Kayak for this trip and decided to try surfing/playing a bit in an area of shoaling by the inlet. They ended up wiping out and swimming, but were able to stand and recover their boat. One paddler lost his paddle, but we were able to retrieve it. While waiting for them to recover, I played a bit in the surf.

We then paddled about 8 miles North, making a beach landing right before the jetty going into Masonboro Inlet. Seas were relatively calm and weather was a lot warmer on Sunday, as there was little wind and cloud cover, unlike the previous day. However, about the time we stopped for our last landing, the weather changed and we got sprinkled on a bit, making the last hour or two of paddling a lot cooler.

After a short snack break, we got back in our boats and headed around the Jetty going into Masonboro Inlet. We had timed it so the tide was working in our favor here, having switched around 12:30 to start flowing into the inlet. As a result, we got a nice push on the way back to Trails End Park.

Our total distance for this trip was 19 miles.

A 20 Foot Boat on a 15 Foot Car.

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.

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!

Summersville WV Paddling Trip(or Picking Up the New Boat)

I’ve been paddling for while now, close to 4 or 5 years, but I didn’t really start skilling up relatively recently. I was already a very competent paddler at that time, but had become comfortable in my local river runs and didn’t push myself too much past that.

During my progression from casual to addicted kayaker, I made it to the pool every week during the winter learning/practicing my roll, was fortunate enough to meet a highly skilled ocean paddler who dedicated a lot of his time to helping me learn how to approach the ocean(and paddling in general) safely, stepped up my boat game, and started to do some skill based classes, including a really fun swift water rescue class, whitewater skills class, and a level three ACA sea kayaking assessment. I was also introduced to kayak surfing, which is quite fun.

I have been wanting a new surf boat for some time now and after attending a symposium last summer, have been focused on an NDK Pilgrim. I’ve surfed a great deal in a Romany and it is a fun boat, but wanted the Pilgrim because it is a bit smaller. The knee bumps it has were also a big driving factor as in addition to just feeling really comfortable, it helps me stay in a low volume boat more comfortably, whereas the low volume Romany I tried was not a good fit height wise.

Finding the Boat

I spent a bit of time calling around to some of the NDK dealers and kayak outfitters on the East Coast, but was unable to find any used Pilgrims…only several Pilgrim Expeditions(the longer version.) I did find one on Paddling.com that looked perfect, but it was unfortunately in Ohio and and about an eight hour drive from me. I talked with the owners back and forth for a few weeks and was hopeful that we would be able to get the boat to the East Coast for an upcoming Charleston SC symposium, but we were not able to find someone to transport the boat.

During one of our talks, I had mentioned that anything South of Washington DC would be an acceptable meeting place for me, because I could do it as a day trip, whereas driving to Ohio was going to be at least an overnighter. The owners, who turned out to be very cool folks, suggested a meeting place of Summersville Lake, which is in West Virginia and feeds the Gualey river(in addition to being close to the New River and a bunch of awesome looking water/country.)

So, with the place set, we picked a date that worked for both of us to meet at the lake.

Paddling Trip

I, along with I think the owners, couldn’t justify driving five hours and not paddling, so we met at Summersville Lake and spent several hours rolling and paddling around. They were big into Greenland paddles, where most of my experience is with a Euro blade, and so after we got back, they spent a bit of time working with me on some Greenland paddling techniques.

Ultimately, I spent 2 more hours on the water than I should have and coupled with pretty heavy rain, didn’t get home that night until almost 10PM. But, it was totally worth it! I met some really cool people, who I hope to get to paddle with again, and picked up an awesome new boat!

One of my First Rolls in the Boat

Some Pictures of the Lake

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.

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.