I apologize in advance for the lack of photos from this day. We were all pretty miserable. I was unwilling to loose dozens of yards I had gained in a headwind to stop to take a photo.I listened to my marine radio before heading to bed around midnight the night before. NOAA had changed the forecast for the following day. The winds were now predicted to be 15-20 knots from the North East- our direction of travel. We went to bed late that night knowing the following day would be long and hard. We got up at 6am to get on the water by 7am.
The first mile wasn't so bad- we were still protected by large stands of marsh grass. But as we came around the corner, the North East wind blasted us. Our first target was the now abandoned Carteret Hunting Club on South Core Banks. It's about 5 miles from our starting point at Great Island Bay, and several miles south of New Drum Inlet. I like to stop here with my groups to get out of the kayaks and eat a snack. It's also a good place to hide from storms. We pushed and dragged ourselves against the wind. It typically takes around an hour and 45 minutes to get from Great Island to the hunting lodge. At 9:45 (2 hours and 45 minutes) we still had a little over a mile to go. In the shallow bay on the approach to the lodge, there is pretty good clamming to be done- and we ran into local guys wading in the water clamming. When their buckets would fill up they would empty them on their nearby anchored boat and keep working. Tony paddled over to them to chit chat and let them borrow his knife. He held onto their skiff to keep from loosing precious ground. We weren't even a third of the way into our journey for the day and I was desperately wishing they would offer us a ride to our next stopping point. I was already exhausted. We landed at the hunting lodge around 10:00 and decided to only rest for 15 minutes. When we landed it was apparent that everyone needed a physical and mental break from the headwind. The howling wind combined with the overcast skies and general wetness that comes with sea kayaking was making me cold. I wished my PFD had handwarmer pockets for the first time. I stalked around the hunting lodge trying to find a way inside which would give me relief from the cold wind. As soon as I rounded a corner that was sheltered from the wind, swarms of mosquitoes assailed me. I sprinted back to the shore where our kayaks were beached to try to get away from them, even running into the water. Now I had brought the mosquitoes over to torment everyone else. They guys decided to rest longer here, hoping that more rest would give us the fuel we needed to get to our next stopping point. We decided to leave at 10:45. For me, the minutes dragged by because I was so cold. I hated standing around and shivering so I scrunched down in my kayak - I can nearly lay down inside it- using the boat to shelter my unprotected legs from the wind. My ears and mind on the other hand were unable to find refuge from its constant noise. Tony and Drew asked me if I had more clothes. I was only wearing board shorts and a long sleeve quick dry shirt, along with my PFD. I did have more clothes- I had one pair of long pants and a lightweight fleece pullover. Tony suggested I put them on. I refused. First, I was warm when we paddled, but cold when we stopped. If I put them on and paddled, I would be too warm. Second, if I wore them while paddling, they would get wet and when we arrived at our final destination I would have no dry clothes to wear. I decided instead to endure being cold knowing I would have warm dry clothes when we stopped.
Our next stopping point is a place we call Bird Crap Island- its in the middle of Core Sound, due east of Atlantic. It is about 6 miles or so from the hunting lodge. Once you get there, it's another 7 miles or so to Long Point Camp- our final destination for the day. When you sit in a kayak at the hunting lodge, you can't see Bird Crap Island - you've got to get up on the dock to be high enough to see Bird Crap on the horizon. We walked down to the end of the dock to show Dave, Mike and Phil where we were headed before shoving off.
We set off, grinding and pulling ourselves against the constant 15 knot headwind, pushing harder when it gusted to 20. I was relieved to not be cold anymore but I'd traded warmth for exhaustion. We pushed and pushed. We paddled between marsh islands- relishing in the tiny reduction in wind they provided, before hitting the open sound where we could see Bird Crap. Out on the open sound the waves picked up and the wind was worse. Our little group stayed close together in case someone flipped or needed a tow. In some areas of the sound there are nets strung up across the water, held up by large posts driven deep into the sand. We clung to the posts to take a rest from paddling and relieve ourselves from the solitude of paddling in high winds. Even when you're several yards away from someone, conversation is impossible. It's a mental relief to have a conversation. Eventually we left the posts because we were spending too much energy hanging on and staying upright as our kayaks violently bobbed around in the waves. We each found a pace and maintained it almost mechanically. Resting for even a stroke or two meant a loss of not only momentum but several yards of distance we had fought hard for. As we pushed North, we noticed a Coast Guard helicopter flying South over Core Banks. They flew low, like they were looking for something, but weren't circling. I assumed they were on the lookout for boats and swimmers in need of assistance because of the unexpected turn in the weather. I don't know for sure, but I would think that they would monitor risky areas when things start to get crazy, even if no one is yelling "mayday" on channel 16 yet. By 12:30, officially afternoon, we were still 3 miles or so from Bird Crap Island. I yelled over the wind to Tony that I thought we weren't going to make it. His response was that we still had 8 hours of light left and we could make it to Long Point. Even if we didn't make it all the way to Long Point, there were other places along the mainland we could stop for the night, so we kept paddling. The Coast Guard flew over Core Banks again, this time headed North. They must have been doing patrols. I have to say our little group was pretty self sufficient. Even the National Park Service says that sea kayakers are the least likely to need rescues in their area because they tend to be the most prepared. We go out prepared to support ourselves and rescue ourselves and there have been fewer than a handful of times when we've bitten off more than we could chew. As a sea kayaking guide, I'm looking out for the sometimes large group of sea kayakers I'm in charge of. I find it extremely comforting to see that Coast Guard chinook fly by and know someone else is looking out for me. So anyway, on with the story. The coast guard flew North as we continued to struggle North East. The large waves with whitecaps we were battling seemed to grow a little bit. It took a little more push to get up and over them. I felt the wall of wind I had been pushing against all day get a little heavier. Not sure if it was exhaustion or an actual change in weather, I motioned for Drew and Tony to meetup with me. We paddled toward each other to get close enough to yell.
"Is it just me or is it picking up a bit"
"I was thinking that too. It seems like its getting rougher."
"Do you think we can make it to Atlantic?"
"It's 1:30 now. We still have what, 2 or 3 miles to Bird Crap and then further to Morris' Marina. How many hours is that? And there's no real campground there."
Tony and I looked West to see the house with the copper roof- our reference point to get us into Cedar Creek where there was an established campground and knew it was the right call. We were all beyond exhausted and I was cold. We gathered together, told the new guys what we had decided and headed West. It seemed like as soon as we turned the wind picked up. I think it was blowing 20-25 knots with gusts from 25-30. It was some of the worst wind I've ever paddled in. The waves were over our shoulders and crashing over the decks of our kayaks. Because the waves were now at our beam (next to us) we had to be extremely cautious to keep from flipping over. Sometimes a wave was so big I would pull myself up onto it and then hold my paddle out of the water to keep my balance. Our nylon spray skirts weren't enough to keep the all the water out. We were each paddling with 3+ inches of water in our boats. Our decision was bolstered by a third Coast Guard fly by- and this time their flight path changed and they ventured out over the sound and closer to us. Sitting in our kayaks we figured they were signaling to us that we needed to get off the water, and sizing us up in case we needed a rescue. I'm sure those guys (and girls) in that chopper thought we were crazy. There were no other boats anywhere to be seen. By 3pm we were finally entering the calm waters of Cedar Creek. The water was glassy smooth and I was relieved to not have the wind howling in my ears. Phil on the other hand, was not relieved. He sat in his kayak yelling and cursing "God f***ing dammit I'm so f***ing wet! I've never been this f***ing wet in my LIFE! I HATE BEING WET. F**K this S**T!!!" We couldn't help but laugh. We all deal with the misery in a different way- and it was so funny to hear him- a sea kayaking guide of all things- complain at volume about being wet. And after the danger and misery was over! We finally landed at 3:30 and much to my relief the sun came out. I changed out of my wet clothes, strung up a clothes line, and lay in the sun to bake. When we looked out to the sound, there were giant whitecaps everywhere. It was definitely blowing 25-30 and I was happy we'd made the call we did.
We paddled from 7am to 3:30pm- a total of 8 1/2 hours. A typical relaxed pace is about 3 miles/hour. So in that amount of time we would normally be able to travel 25+ miles. How far did we actually go that day? 8 miles. A measly 8 miles in 8.5 hours.
So we had a miserable day- many people ask now why we did it. Why would we put our guides through such torture? For one, we wanted the mileage. The more miles we got per day, the faster we could get through the trip. But that wasn't the only benefit of paddling in such crazy conditions. All the new guides were fantastic. Their mental and emotional states were pretty stable at the end of the day. Such a day is miserable for a guide and impossible for a participant. On days when it gets a little rough (15-20 knots), our guides will be comfortable while our participants endure the same misery our guides endured on the guide trek. This is so crucial- our guides need to understand what participants are going through- and to get that from a guide often takes a higher level of wind and wave height to achieve. Often guides will call base camp (read: me) for assistance in making weather based decisions. They call me for advice- even though I'm not there on the water looking at the conditions. Sometimes we have guides call off a day of paddling when they should have gone out. I knew that when Phil, Drew or Dave called me to say it was blowing like crazy and they couldn't take participants out they actually knew what "blowing like crazy" was.