Thursday, July 17, 2014

Journey Across The Pamlico




The Pamlico Sound is the largest lagoon on the US east coast.  When Italian explorer Giovanni da Varrazzano reached the Pamlico Sound in 1524 he thought he was in the Pacific Ocean.  His report caused many errors in the naming of places on the map of North America.  Its vast size and numerous shoals present many dangers and rough ocean conditions.  For 2 years Lee endeavored to lead a kayak trip to cross the Pamlico Sound.  Such a trip would carry with it dangers inherent in an major open water crossing.  A paddler would have no place to bail out, rest, perform repairs, and have no shelter from storms and high winds.  The trip would also require a reliable weather window and excellent navigation practices.   In 2013 the time for the long anticipated trip came, but risky weather forced Lee to cancel the trip entirely.   He scheduled a second attempt the following year on July 12th, 2014 to leave from a public boating ramp at Stumpy Point on the mainland and cross the Pamlico Sound to the town of Rodanthe on North Carolina’s Outer Banks and return in the next 2 days when the weather permitted.  We estimated the crossing would be around 18 miles each direction with each crossing lasting a duration of 4.5 - 6 hours.  Our destination was Rodanthe Water Sports campground on the sound front and accessible directly by our kayaks.   To bolster our navigational tools, Lee studied surrounding landmarks that would be visible far out at sea.  He noted our destination was next to a water tank and near a radio tower.  He estimated the towers would be visible once we were 5 miles from shore on a relatively clear day.  Lee also picked out landmarks at our departure site to aid navigation home.  A water tank and a cell antenna a mile inland were the only distinguishing landmarks that could be seen 
at a distance for the return trip.  In preparation, I created two routes and downloaded them into my GPS a few nights before departure.  Lee had briefly contemplated leaving for Rodanthe from the port town of Engelhard which would  ve been an open crossing of 28 miles instead of the 18 miles we had planned if we had a south-west wind pushing us the entire way.  However, the winds that day were to be 10-15 mph from the north-east .  So we decided to depart from the originally planned site at Stumpy Point and deal with the wind and waves on our left beam.


Our departure point from the mainland was a wildlife
 ramp on a swampy rural hook shaped peninsula named Stumpy Point.  There were no stores or lodging facilities for 20 miles, so we staged our trip from the near by town of Engelhard which was dealing with a cleanup after hurricane Arthur passed by a a week earlier.  Mosquitos were everywhere, so the marina we had planned to camp at seemed even less inviting.  Soon after we arrived in Englelhard, we learned Chris would be meeting us at Stumpy Point for the departure.  On a whim, Lee and I decided to abandon our campsite plans and stay at the Hotel Engelhard overnight where we enjoyed good company and a hearty hot breakfast the next morning.    We started our day at 6:00 am and left for Stumpy Point after our hearty breakfast for a planned 8:00 am launch.  Driving the lonely road to the launch site we left civilization behind and contemplated the trip ahead as we stared into long empty road across a flat treeless landscape.  Chris was at the boat ramp as we arrived to begin the careful packing process of loading our kayaks for the trip.  Everything we needed along the way had to be easily accessible from the cockpit of a pitching kayak since we would not stop or get out of our kayaks until we landed in the Outer Banks.  All my food was in small plastic containers so I could grab them quickly from my day hatch.  I rigged 2 hydration systems with tubes inches from my mouth.  A 3 liter bladder strapped behind the cockpit, and a secondary 1.5 liter bladder inside my PFD.  I 
was not to use the water in my PFD until the 3 liter hydration unit was empty since it was my emergency water supply in case I was separated from my kayak and lost. I had both a VHF radio with an emergency location system and a SARSAT Personal Location Beacon.  I also carried 4 flares and a signal mirror in the front compartment of my PFD.  Attached to the side was my trusty whistle.  As we packed the NE wind penetrated the trees to remind us that this was not to be a calm day.  I worked hard all winter perfecting a bomb proof roll recovery at the pool and practiced often in the lake and during trips to ensure a good chance of recovery in the event of a capsize. 



We departed for our crossing at 8:45 am under the
morning sun through the tranquil waters inside the hook of Stumpy Point heading toward the point.   When we reached the point, the wind and waves were waiting for us as our kayaks slammed by the 1 ft chop on the left beam.  Once around the point, we set course to the town of Rodanthe on the Outer Banks far over an empty horizon.  The water flew over our kayaks, accented in gold by the morning sun.  For the entire trip each way I had my GPS route pointer displayed page.  Once my kayak was on course, I immediately took a compass bering to our destination in case my GPS should fail and checked it periodically along the way.  For the trip over we held to bering 120 degrees.  I found the compass was easier to steer my kayak by as the GPS screen was slow to correct 
 at times to the pitching kayak which made the route pointer seem to point erratically.   The waves and wind made their presence known as waves crashed into the port side of our kayaks and spilled over the deck.  My normally less stable kayak was a little bit more stable with the kayak loaded with gear and fresh water.  Despite the waves and wind hitting us, we were making way at a good 4.2-4.7 mph as our bows pitched over the waves.  The morning sun reflection from the waves and flying spray was beautiful.  With the pitching, we had to remain vigilant about staying on course with no visible landmarks to guide us.  Lee stressed that we should err our path to the
north to counter the inevitable southward drift of our kayaks caused by the wind and waves on our left beam.   I adjusted my paddle cadence to match the period of the waves to ensure my paddle was in the proper bracing position at all times to prevent a sudden capsize.  Lee periodically looked back to determine how far out from shore he could see our return trip landmarks.   As we moved beyond the sight of land I became more comfortable relying on my navigation instruments. 





At 4.5 miles out we sited the tall water tank next to our destination which was our landmark from the outer Banks.  Our kayaks pointed strait at the landmark as it was first sighted  reassured me my navigation instruments were spot on.  From then on we were able to visually navigate as we were most comfortable doing even though we were still a long way from spotting land.  The wind was a little stronger and the waves steepened as we were far from any shore.  As the trip wore on, the miles seemed to tick off slower as our landmark so far away was in no hurry to move closer.  We could not stop, so everything we did had to be accomplished very quickly and deliberately.  Every time a hand was taken off the paddle left us vulnerable to being knocked over by one of the constant barrage of waves hitting our beam.  Through the entire trip we always gripped our paddles firmly by at least one hand.  This trip was only the second expedition for my Epic Kayak and the first in rough water.  I found accessing my food more challenging than anticipated.  So I had to curtail my meals until the seas subsided enough to safely reach for my food.  The resulting loss of calories would later catch up with me. 


As we drew closer, we could start seeing more land features.  Radio antennas appeared from obscurity, later houses, business, and other land features appeared and at long last land.  The NE wind hitting us from the side all day was coming directly from the Atlantic, so as we drew closer to the Outer Banks the shrinking fetch lessened the size of the waves.  We could feel ourselves getting closer to the Outer Banks.  The beautiful sand dunes from the national seashore painted the island with a sparkling stroke of gold.   We saw navigation markers to the Oregon Inlet pass by as we directly headed to our destination.  Having no been able to replace the energy I lost was starting to take its toll and my pace slowed considerably
as I began to struggle the last few miles.  As we neared the shore, our kayaks passed into shallow water and saw jet skis, standup boards and the puzzled looks of people at play wondering where these three kayaks appearing from the abyss came from.  We landed on a gentle beach exactly 4.5 hours after launch and traveled 17.3 miles.  The staff on hand was kind enough to help us carry our loaded kayaks from the water’s edge to a grassy spot at the top of the bluff.  After nearly 5 hours we arrived and were starving hungry after a non stop trip.  We wasted no time unloading and pitching our tents so we could clean up and find some much needed food.   We walked next door to Lisa’s Pizza in Rodanthe where
 the 3 of us ate 2 large pizzas.  After which, we sat and savored the air conditioning for a while before leaving to find Chris some ice-cream.  We hit a few shops, then walked a mile north to see “Serendipity” where the movie “Nights in Rodanthe” was filmed.  The house had been moved from its romantic spot at the ocean’s edge to a safer lot inland.  We made our way to the beach and took in the sights of the beautifully quaint Rodanthe beach for a while and made our way back to the campground in time to watch a most beautiful sunset over the Pamlico Sound.  Before going to bed, we made preparations for a very early departure back the next morning.  This would be our only weather window since the
weather was forecast to deteriorate after noon.  For my part, I hoped and prayed for a calmer less rocky trip home.  After plugging in the route back on my GPS I started getting ready for bed.  We had a most exhilarating and satisfying day and slept well that night. 





The following morning, we departed Rodanthe at 7:15 am in crystal calm conditions.  The golden light of the sun cast a warm glow as we departed familiar surroundings into what appeared to be the imaginary realm of a dream where the sky  water were indistinguishable and objects real and imaginary appeared before us.  Waves at a distance refracted off the horizon and appeared as land before vanishing.  Clouds reflected off the water looked like a continuous sky above and below.  The silence was peaceful, but its emptiness lent it to a most surreal environment we passed into.  There were also the familiar sights of pelicans plunging after fish.  Once again we started with no landmarks and relied entirely on our navigation instruments.  I took my compass bering for the trip back across the sound .  We followed herring 300 back as we plugged forward through the dream like landscape.  We spotted many unexplained objects and anomalies.  What looked like a big block of pilings or a barge ahead of us was likely trees far over the horizon magnified by the air at the water’s surface.  As we paddled on, the tranquil conditions continued.  Unlike the trip over, we could actually converse in a normal voice as we found ourselves truly alone miles from anywhere. or anything.  We spotted a red marker on the same bering as our destination so we used it as a visual landmark knowing it was stationary, but not really knowing what it was until we were almost upon it.  It turned out to be a channel marker to the Oregon Inlet.  Once we passed it we once again navigated by our instruments until at 12.7 miles into the trip, we spotted our Stumpy Point landmark on the correct compass bering and backed up by my GPS route pointer. But It was very far away and we were a long way from spotting real land.  When visibility improved, we saw the lonely Bodie Island lighthouse to the north at a distance.  We were able to make our way back 
faster with the calm conditions and afforded more freedoms
to leisurly grab for food, drinks, lotion without worry of a capsize in rough waters.  But there was little to no wind to cool
us.  At one point Lee left his kayak and took a quick swim. I



considered rolling my kayak, but did not want to get my camera wet. 


After more miles ticked off, we could see tree covered
 land and soon after, a 5 mph South East wind kicked up.  As drew closer to our landmark, I noticed my GPS route pointer starting to diverge.  We were heading for what appeared to be the point just left of our landmark, but my route pointer was continuing to diverge.  I soon realized we made the error to use our landmark as a spot on marker for our destination when in reality,  it was a mile or so from our destination.  We corrected our course to my route which I set to a waypoint at the tip of Stumpy Point.  Finally, the end was near and the wind was picking up as though the Pamlico was not willing to let us go without a fight.   But soon we rounded the point and entered the protected waters inside the point and leisurely paddled the calm last quarter mile to the ramp and the end of our trip, arriving back at 11:35 am.  Very shortly after our return our weather window closed as we observed torrent water from where we came with numerous whitecaps. 


Over the two days of this trip each one of us had paddled the farthest we had ever done without stopping or setting foot on land. We had traveled 35 miles according to my GPS at an average of 3.7 mph.   I had learned much about navigation and the importance of researching landmarks in preparation.  Preparation will make your trip much easier.  I also was reminded of the importance of replenishing the calories burned.  Toward the end of the trip over, I found myself running low on energy and struggling near the end.   Know your body and give it what it needs.  We had a great time on Rodanthe and enjoyed good food.  The passages we well planned went well with no evil surprises.  Our passage home was a surreal experience at times.  One I have never experienced before.  In summary, we were rewarded with a intimate perspective and experience that only a kayak can offer: to be one with every nuance of the sea with a front row seat to her vast emptiness, might and brilliance.     


Equipment:
Kayaks:  QCC Q700X,  Epic 18x,  P&H Bahiya

1 comment:

  1. Great adventure with your kayaks. I hope I can do 2 days travel while paddling. Thanks for sharing this adventure. More power!

    ReplyDelete