The Great Adventure

On May 16-17th PDR #856 the Terror of the Sea took my two girls and I on a great adventure into salt water for the second time. We planned to join the Carolina Kayak Club's outing to Cape Lookout National Seashore for a weekend camping trip in the North Carolina Outer Banks. The kayaks left Friday morning from the Harkers Island Visitor Center, but we couldn't miss school so we set out Sat morning. It was a 3.5+ hour drive to get to the island. Then we unloaded the boats and got ready to leave around 2 pm. It was low tide and we had to drag the Terror of the Sea through mud and over rocks to get out of the narrow channel from the beach. We sailed off with Fiona (4) and I in the Terror pulling Molly (8) behind us in a Jim Michalak Toto. We sailed well until we had a toy bucket go overboard near buoy 31. We sailed around in a circle and picked it back up and then stopped on a sand flat near marker 30 because I spotted one of the Core Sound 17s from the club trip there. I chatted with the guys briefly and dragged the boat around the edge of the sand bar. At this point we entered the rage tide:

Quote from the Cape Lookout Website: Most paddlers will want to avoid the rage tide, the time when the current flows the hardest, as ˝ of the total water volume passes through inlets during the third and fourth hours of tide flow. During this time, flatwater will turn to whitecap waves and intermediate terrain can become expert.

The water was flowing past my legs like a good river at this point. I got both girls back into the Terror of the Sea and just towed the Toto with gear along behind for fear of swamping. Little did we know at the time that Molly had left her crocs at the little puddle on the “island” and the high tide would carry them away. We started to battle our way toward the lighthouse, but the wind and the tide were both against us and we made very little progress sailing back and forth in shallow waters. We needed to have the leeboard mostly up which limited our pointing ability. Finally the girls were getting cranky, tired and hungry (and sick of eating just crackers) so we made for Morgan Island with thoughts of camping for the night. We finally made shore only to realize the island is a bird sanctuary and closed to visitors. With falling spirits we got back in the boat and headed toward the lighthouse island but with sights set for the closest we could make it with the wind and the tide which ended up well north of the lighthouse. Molly started chanting a song about how we were never going to make land again, but we finally made the shallows due east of Morgan Island. Unfortunately there was no place to camp as the whole area was marsh grass. I jumped into the shallow water and started to pull both boats south into the wind and tide. Nearly 3/4 of a mile later we finally found a narrow spit of sand that would fit the tent and we made shore. The girls started rolling in the sand and having a great time. The crossing had been difficult, but that made the tiny camp that much more special. We were more than 1.5 miles north of the lighthouse and due east of the Great Marsh Island. During the crossing we saw a small shark, quite possibly a sea turtle, a skate and a puffer fish. When we finally made camp near 7 pm there were many beautiful shells, hermit crabs in the shallows and 4 very large dead horseshoe crabs – one of which was the largest I’ve ever seen. We also had boat-tailed grackles and red-winged black birds, ibis and many gulls. Camp was a beautiful, quiet, isolated place – a spot where very few people stop. It would be very difficult for motor boats to get to because of the shallows and being so far off the beaten path.

I cooked up a bag of Mountain House lasagna using the new Jetboil stove and we had some dinner. The no-seeums started coming out so it was time to retire to the tent, but the girls were covered in sand and wet, salty clothing. I heated up more water and gave each of them a freshwater rinse before getting them into the tent and dry clothing. A little more hot water for hot chocolate and then it was off to bed.

Here's a shot of our little camp with the two boats and the Cape Lookout lighthouse in the distance the next morning

The next morning we did more exploring along our little stretch of beach. The tide had gone out leaving us a little more land to explore. Molly paddled the Toto around in the shallows a bit as I cooked breakfast and packed up the tent and all the wet clothes. Finally we started off again. I rowed the boats as there was no wind and the water was flat. As we neared Morgan Island again we ran into the rest of the kayaks making their way back as well. The wind started to pick up and we chatted briefly with the other Core Sound 17. We put up the sails and slowly started making our way back to shell point. The kayaks outpaced us. When we finally made it back they were packing the last of the kayaks up onto the cars. The tide was going out against the wind which made for some chop right near Shell Point at the end of Harkers Island which combined with boat wakes to make Molly sea sick. Fiona had also been complaining of sea sickness, but as she was in the boat with me I had gotten her some Dramamine. Despite the rocky end to the trip both girls said they would go again. It didn’t go according to plan, but sometimes those are the best kind of trips.

I continue to be amazed at the big adventures such a little plywood boat can take us on.