I posted the entire article of our June 2011 50 mile ocean expedition. From my experience, this was one of those few trips in the life of a paddler that fundamentally changes their perspective of their place on the water. On the first day, our group encountered the roughest ocean conditions we had ever faced, far beyond our comfort zones. As we found our place in the landscape of these hostile waters, I learned to work with the dynamics of the sea to paddle with greater confidence rather than fight and react to the relentless pounding of the waves. In a later article I will cover what I learned. I hope you will enjoy our story.
On the final weekend in June 2011, 5 paddlers came together to fulfill a longtime dream for one. Lee had long envisioned an ocean paddle expedition on the Atlantic from the banks of his house in Swansboro, North Carolina to the most eastward extent of the shoreline at Cape Lookout, Into a notorious region known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" for its legacy of storms, battles, pirates, and many shoals causing unusually nasty waves having wrecked more than 2000 ships and boats of all types over the last 400 years. Much of the region along the Shackleford Banks has changed little in 400 years. Lee was anxious to complete the ocean paddle to take care of "unfinished business" from a similar failed expedition last year, where strong storms kept us off the ocean and hunkered down on an uninhabited island. Lee invited four additional paddlers : Dawn, Barrett, Chris, and myself. All quite experienced.
The ocean beyond the inlet was sharp pointed waves, breaking whitecaps at times, with 17 mph winds from the southeast which gave us following seas over our right shoulders the remainder of the day. Smoother seas were forecast the next day. The seas were very rocky. We saw no other boats for nearly the entire first day's distance. Shaken by our passage through the inlet, we sought safety in deeper water, angling our kayaks parallel to the deep rollers on the trip out which kept the boats level as we moved away from the shore to a distance between 1.5 and 2 miles from shore. The ocean turned from green to a deep clear blue, leaving the sediment of the surf and breakers behind. We then turned straight east running down the coast, our speed increased with the following waves to between 4.0-5 mph. Shaking off the turbulent start, and feeling relieved to be under way, all of us began to settle into our new environment at sea. For the first time, we took in the views and enjoyed the splendor of the rising sun over a vast emptiness. The sea reflecting its twisting rays on the heaving waves. The land was far away and featureless, disappearing in the trough of the large rollers. The waves even at 1.5 miles out were blown very sharp and tall by the wind. On one occasion, I planted my paddle down, and it did not hit the water. Occasionally, wave-tops would break over the side of our kayaks. So we spread our formation to prevent the waves from tossing one on top of another, but kept close enough to ensure everyone was safe. Rarely, could you see everyone at one time as we constantly moved over the waves through the troughs. We were reassured by our arsenal of safety equipment including VHF radios, satellite tracking beacons, horns, flares, and family monitoring our progress on the internet.
Anyone traveling on the ocean in a small craft will soon notice its rhythms. Waves exist in groups of different sizes known to mariners as "wave sets". At times, a set of waves 10 to 12 feet would hit broadside forcing us to frequently brace our kayaks. As the day progressed bracing became more of a subconscious action. Calmer sets afforded an opportunity to take care of various tasks, grab a fist full of trail mix, a couple of crackers, or sip some water from the hydration unit. Each task was quickly handled since one hand off the paddle would leave the kayak vulnerable. When reaching for food, I would store several bites in my mouth and consume the food over the next couple of minutes. I was relying on my 3 liter hydration unit to last most of the day. When depleted, I had several bottles stored under my sea-sock in my cockpit to fall back on. I had a bottle for bathroom breaks at sea. My pantry was in my deck bag, as was some safety equipment during surf passages. My Feathercraft K1 was designed for the sea, but I still worked a small safety brace in with each stroke for safety. We were well over a mile out and the last thing you wanted to do was go over and possibly put another paddler at risk attempting a deep water rescue. Everyone at all times kept a wary eye on the unsettled wave train for rogue waves cracking over our heads and other bothersome waves. Over the course of first day, several waves broke over our kayaks. Each time, we were
quick with the low brace.
As the day progressed, the tall wave sets became less frequent and we were putting several miles behind us. However, at 15 miles into the estimated 32 miles, the pounding of the breakers in the inlet and the large rollers far from shore had taken its toll, and Lee requested a surf landing. Also, Barrett's rear storage compartment taking on water. At the time of the decision, were still 1.5 miles off shore and could not see the surf, but we all knew it would be bad, and dreaded the looming confrontation. Two miles later as we came close to shore, the waves grew behind us. The surf was breaking far out from the beach, we ran the gauntlet one by one. Lee and Chris made great surf landings. The rest of us met with misfortune on the way in and were tossed from our kayaks. When near shore I looked over my shoulder, and saw Barrett's kayak nearly vertically standing on its nose on a monster wave and feared for his safety. However, he made it to shore none the worse for wear.
Despite the rough landing, we all made it to shore and enjoyed the beach for nearly an hour. Beach goers admired our equipment and posed for photographs in front of our kayaks. Barrett emptied his kayak and secured his hatch, and Lee was feeling much better after replenishing his electrolytes and felt able to complete the journey to Shackleford Banks. I replenished my on-hand provisions, topping off my hydration unit with one of the two 3 liter tanks in my storage hold. We ate lunch since it was 11:00 and the only time we would touch land until the day's paddle was over after 17 more miles. I was rather surprised how much water I had consumed at sea. Once our break was over, we readied our kayaks for sea and launched through the rough surf which relentlessly pounded us for nearly 100 yards out.
We took a much overdue swim and prepared to cook a wonderful Fajita dinner. Barrett and Chris had bought some thick stakes which Lee had sliced and froze the night before. The steak and vegetables were put into a flexible cooler and packed for the trip. We carried along 2 frying pans. I brought along my Jet Boil with an attachment to accommodate the large pans. Lee was the master cook for the night and made simply the best outdoor dinner I ever remember having. We walked around to the ocean side and checked out the Shackleford side of the inlet for our departure the next day, and turned in early from what was very remarkable day. As the last of the daytime boaters left, peace and the gentile sound of the water descende on our camp site. A gentle breeze cooled the approaching evening. We were tired. The distanced paddled in the ocean was the farthest that Lee and I had ever done in one day, and was the furthest offshore any of us had paddled.
Copyright 2012 Lyman A Copps