This past summer I was the High Adventure Director for a Boy Scout camp in North Carolina. Before I could do this, I had to get nationally certified as a trek leader. In order to do this, I had to spend a week out on the coast of North Carolina, sit in a classroom forever, but we got to go on a little trip. We originally planned on paddling from Harkers Island to Cape Lookout, camp there, then paddle up to Ocracoke, camp there, and then paddle back to Harkers.
We got out to Harkers and had 19 mph sustained winds with gusts up to 26 mph. This gave the sound 2-4 foot swells. Definitely not the ideal paddling conditions. Of our group of seventeen, four of us wanted to go out. A few of the guys in the course were from land-locked states, and did not want to chance tides and rough conditions. Two-thirds of the sound are less then three feet deep, but there was no convincing the rest of the group. Instead we went to lunch in the town of Beaufort, walked around a bit, saw a cemetary from the 1700s, then went to Fort Macon and took in a little more history. After scoping that out, we went to the Croatan National Forest and set up camp along the White Oak River. The next morning we got up packed everything into our kayaks and went for a leisurely paddle to the "sea".
Most of my experience kayaking is whitewater, small boats that turn quickly and fast, unforgiving water. This trip was my first experience in one of the big ol' bus-like touring kayaks. The first thing they asked our group was "who has paddling experience?" Then the next thing they said was "if it was whitewater, throw everything you think you know about paddling out the window, it won't save you here". For instance, whitewater boats have solid pegs to brace off of to aid in balance, but touring boats have pedals that turn a rudder to help steer the huge contraption they call a boat. Well this put a huge damper on balance, every swell we hit when trying out the boats in the bay, I would try to brace for it and just end up turning. Not cool. Very frustrating. Fortunately, we didn't have to worry about swells on the White Oak.
I love to help and lead, so getting started I helped everyone get in their boats, get their sprayskirts attached, and put them in the water. I was the last one in, then immediately paddled to the front to see what was going on. Then paddled to the rear to see how far we were spread out. The guys in the back were just floating, not wanting to waste energy, boring as could be, so I paddled back to the front. I started to get hot, so I took my PFD off to take my shirt off and it felt so good I didn't want to put my PFD back. I ended up paddling the last two miles topless, and it was amazing!
After we got off the White Oak, we went up to Emerald Isle, NC and put the boats in the ocean. Waaaaaaaaay harder than I expected. You have to time the waves (which come in threes, I learned) and paddle like hell. Only about eight of us tried, only two succeeded. My problem was my sprayskirt. It wasn't neoprene like my whitewater skirt, so when the breaker came over the boat, it would pop the skirt off. The next wave would fill the boat with water. This makes balance almost impossible. The next wave would flip you, if you hadn't flipped already. One of the guys from a land-locked state had never gone swimming in the ocean in his life. He had never heard of a rip current before. Needless to say, my younger brother and I went baywatch style out to get him. Now, you never, ever go out for someone if you're not properly trained. Fat and I were both in PFDs from playing in the boats and know a thing or two about the tides. I've never had anyone thank me so much in my life as this guy did. When we explained to him what was going on, he said "shouldn't the ocean come with some kind of a warning?" We spent a little more time playing in the ocean before heading to a steakhouse where our instructor bought everybody's dinner. Super nice guy! By the end of the trip, I was talking to the camp director (who is a personal friend of mine) about acquiring one of the camp's old boats. Definitely a good idea for the Charlotte area where there is a shortage of nearby whitewater. Even better for the Dallas area where there is lack of hills so there is NO whitewater. I think everyone should give a try. Hope you enjoy the pictures!