|Cedar Island ferry terminal|
Until I got seasick. If you’re ever considering getting seasick, I have some advice: Don’t do it. Few things can ruin an enjoyable day of paddling more than the firm conviction that you’d rather die than spend another minute in your boat. In my limited experience with coastal paddling I’ve encountered seasickness about one out of every 5 times I paddle. So my advice isn’t entirely facetious; I have now decided that a 20% chance of being miserable isn’t worth the risk, and I’ll be taking Dramamine before every coastal paddle. I’ve never yet gotten seasick on a day when I’ve taken it, so it seems to be effective for me and has no apparent negative side effects. Unfortunately, while I had packed Dramamine in my first aid kit and even had a pill accessible in my pdf “ouch pouch,” I had decided not to take one prior to launch. Which leads to my second bit of advice: If you do get seasick, let your fellow paddlers know right away. It’s somewhat embarrassing to get seasick on a paddle like this—it is sea kayaking, after all, and hard to accept the fact that your body just can’t handle the “sea” part—and the inclination is to keep quiet and hope beyond reason that it’ll just go away. It won’t. In fact, it will almost certainly get worse. It’s far better to let your group know about the problem before you’re utterly incapacitated. Once I knew things were going downhill I drew up alongside Lee to let him know, at which point we all discussed options and planned to adjust our course to head toward the Core Banks and shallow water. This would take us a bit out of our way, but we’d still be heading in the right general direction.
|Pitstop in shallow water in the Sound|
|Setting up camp on Portsmouth Island|
|Portsmouth Island campsite|
Once on the ocean side we headed northeast along the Ocracoke coast, directly into the wind. Fortunately the wind was as forecast, around 15 miles per hour. Having dealt with worse wind before I felt that we were making decent time, probably moving along at 3 miles per hour or better. But the markers on land seemed to tell a different story. After several hours of paddling we appeared to be making little progress, and decided to make a surf landing to take stock of the situation and get some food and rest. The landing was not entirely uneventful; the second boat in got tumbled in the surf after landing, coming up on top of the first boat and causing some minor damage. An important lesson learned: Spacing and timing are critical for surf landings. With so much beach available to us we should have been spread out much more. Also: Loaded boats and surf are a risky combination. It’s hard to control a loaded boat once you’re out of it, and the surf never seems to care that you haven’t quite gotten your boat out of the water before the next wave breaks.
On the beach we consulted Lee’s GPS, and were dismayed to learn that we had made it only about one third of the way up the island. We were barely averaging 2 miles per hour. Over the remainder of that day we pieced together an explanation. We had been fighting not only wind, but strong littoral or “longshore” current caused by swell approaching the coast at an angle. The northeast wind had been blowing for several days, building up 3 to 4 foot swell coming from that direction, nearly right in our faces. The associated current was running against us parallel to shore, and had been slowing us much more than we anticipated based solely on the wind. This effect was later confirmed by some other boaters we ran into, who commented on the strong longshore current to the southwest. Some quick calculations revealed that even if we kept up our current speed we wouldn’t reach Hatteras Inlet until the tide had turned against us. We discussed the possibility of continuing onward and camping instead at the north end of Ocracoke before entering the inlet, but we soon rejected this option. It would have gotten us in late after a grueling paddle, we didn’t know what would be available in terms of campsites, and (most problematic) we had all planned only for enough water to last through one night and couldn’t be guaranteed resupply. So the group opted to head back; we would reenter Ocracoke Inlet and camp at Springer’s Point, where we had originally planned to camp on the third night.
The experience presented a sobering lesson in the importance and challenge of accurately judging speed in conditions. The strength of the littoral current and its effect on our progress was surprising to all of us. Had we not been near shore with ample opportunities to judge land speed using obvious markers (water towers and other structures), we could have seriously overestimated our distance traveled and been in real trouble mistiming tides at the next inlet.
After launching through the surf we headed back to the southwest, flying downwind (and down current) and topping out at speeds over 6 miles per hour. We re-entered the inlet the same way we exited—cautiously, looking again for the path we had taken on the way out. We hit a bit more surf in this direction, which John took as the perfect opportunity to execute his first combat roll. After rounding the point it was a smooth paddle, mostly shielded from the northeast wind, to a calm beach landing at Springer’s Point. After setting up camp we walked through the nature preserve into Ocracoke and rewarded ourselves for 18.5 miles of hard paddling and judicious planning with pizza, beer, and ice cream.
|Springer's Point beach|
Just one quick note on the ferry from Ocracoke to Cedar Island: It is outrageously inexpensive. One dollar gets you on board as a walk-on, and bikes cost a mere $2 more. Kayaks, mysteriously, are free.
Tides again worked for us at Bogue Inlet on Monday morning; we let the tail end of the outgoing tide carry us out in the morning, and rode the beginnings of the flood back in the early afternoon. Surf was at about 2-4 feet, perfect for a few hours of practice catching waves, bracing, and perfecting our rolls. John and I, both relatively new to the surf zone, found the conditions just right to challenge ourselves and build confidence in rougher water. At the start of the flood tide the water just outside the inlet turned confused, with a small area of clapotis and waves breaking from multiple directions, ideal for practicing timely bracing and boat and blade awareness. It turned out to be a fortuitous addition to the trip, something we wouldn’t have gotten had conditions not forced us to deviate from our original plan. It was a great end to a great weekend--challenging paddling, fantastic early summer camping, and good group decision-making made for an enjoyable trip and a valuable learning experience.
|Taking a break from the surf at Bogue Inlet (photo by John Keeter)|