Saturday, November 15, 2014

Paddling around Wassaw Island

Coming ashore on the south end of the island
The weather was perfect for early November.  The temperature, while in the mid-50s in the morning, would warm up well into the 70s.  The morning skies were clear.  The tides were running high (9.9 feet total) due to the full moon being a day away.  The wind was calm and the waves promised to be less than a foot.  Five days after I had paddled in the Okefenokee, I was ready for another adventure.
click to enlarge (I realize my point to Delegal isn't quite right)
 At 9:30 AM, eight of us gathered at the Delegal Creek Marina with our kayaks and supplies for the day.  Before 10, we were in the water and paddling fast through the creek and into the Ossabaw Sound, heading for open water and the south end of Wassaw Island.  The water from the extreme high gave us an extra push as we made great time, arriving on Wassaw in less than an hour of paddling.

North end of Wassaw
A number of shrimp boats were working the south end of the island and on the point, hundreds of birds of a number of varieties (the most elegant being pelicans) gathered.  Because the surf was minimal on the falling tide, we rounded the point and pulled up on the beach.  Taking a thirty minute stop, we explored a bit, walking around to regain feeling in legs desiring to be stretched after being cramped inside boats.


Leaving the north end of the island, we paddled out into the ocean and headed north.  We figured it would take about an hour and a half of paddling to cover the seven miles along Wassaw Island and that about half way, we would stop for lunch.  Although Rudy (the only guy not paddling a red boat) had organized the trip, he had not paddled this stretch of beach, nor had any of the rest of us, so we had no idea what we would find.  We paddled against a light breeze, watching fishing jump about us and seeing a few porpoises.  At what appeared to be half-way, we headed to shore near what we thought was beached buoy. 
Lunch stop

Checking out what seemed to be a buoy from a distance, we discovered a stack of plastic chairs, the perfect lunch spot.  We all wanted to know if Rudy was going to have someone from a club drop by with wine and sandwiches.  Although the island is mostly owned and is a protected wildlife site, the family that has owned it for over a hundred years and who sold it to for a million dollars (well below appraised values) several decades ago so that the island and marsh would be protected, still owns a 200 acre slice in the center of the island.  These chairs belonged to them.  They also have a home on the island, and we walked down the road toward it, through a tropical looking forest of pines and palms.  No trespassing signs kept us well away from their private retreat.
Road leading to private property
Heading toward Cape Charlotte
After lunch, we stacked the chairs and left the place as we found it and began to paddle north.  The tide is beginning to turn and before I can get my spray skirt in place, a wave breaks over my boat.  I paddle out beyond the waves and remove the spray skirt and sponge out most of the water, then resume paddling north.  As we approach Cape Charlotte, the waves increase in size from what we’d experienced when out in the open water, but they are still relatively tame.  Here, the island is being eaten away by the ocean currents and a ghostly graveyard of former live oaks forest that juts out into the water.  We pass the point and paddle by the ruins of the Spanish American battery and pull up on the sandbar west of the point.  As we stretch out legs, a number of porpoises swim by.  Here, we all have decent cell phone signals so before we head out, we make calls to have people pick us up on the Priest Landing Marina. 
North End of Wassaw

Porpoises playing

I am the last to leave and my lollygagging provides me (and a couple of others) a treat.  As we paddle toward Rommey Marsh Creek, we spot a number of porpoises playing (or mating) in the wrack (dead marsh grass that floats on the water).  As we approach, we see them roll with each other and jump out of the water. Others blow water out of their blowholes.  I only have an old waterproof camera available (my DSLR is safely secured in a waterproof box inside a dry bag inside my kayak).   The waterproof camera is slow and I am not able to get a good shot, but I enjoy the show.  At times, the animals are just feet from my kayak. 

I arrive back on Skidaway a little before 4 PM.   We had paddled 17 miles with 3.5 hours of paddling, but we also had a good tide pushing us out toward the south end of Wassaw and then back toward Priest Landing.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Home Sweet Home

I have shown lots of photos around the island upon which I now reside, but I haven’t shown any of my home here, so let me welcome you to this little getaway.  I love the entry way.  I am not sure what kind of azaleas that bloom in the fall, but there they are.  There are many larger azaleas in the yard and I am sure that in the spring the yard will be wonderful.  There are also a number of large camellias and in a few weeks, they will be providing quite a show (there are 100s of bulbs on each).
Inside, there is a large living area (you are seeing about ½ of it).  Since there is an office with bookcases plus the bookcases at my office at work, plus the bookcases we brought with us, there are more than enough bookcases in this home.  The Harvey Dunn print (The Prairie is my Garden) is one of my favorite.  On the wall to the right is an oil painting by a friend of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.  I insist there be no TVs in the living room (the same goes for my bedroom).  This fireplace is gas.

Divided from the Living Room by French Pocket doors, the Den is quite comfortable.  This is a wood burning fireplace and on the mantle is a lantern that my granddaddy used around the barn when he cured tobacco with a wood fire and would have to sleep at the barns to keep the heat up throughout the night.  The print is one of the Lost Mountain Store.  To the left of the fireplace is the big screen TV and at the back corner of the den is a wet bar!  That was a luxury I never thought I would enjoy.

I find it ironic that now that I am here, where the temperature seldom drops to freezing, that there are two fireplaces!  I would have enjoyed two fireplaces.   In addition to these rooms, there is a breakfast area, a formal dining room, kitchen, four bedroom (one is used as an office and another is being reserved as a hotel room and it is being booked up for the winter by friends from the great white north), and three and a half baths.  Behind the house (with large doors off the master bedroom, living room and den) is a large deck.  This house is more than we need, but I am going to give it a real workout in mid-December when I invite all my staff and their spouses over for a Christmas party (if everyone comes, we’ll have over 30 people here).  

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Paddling in the Okefenokee

One of my bucket list items has been to paddle in the Okefenokee Swamp.  Ever since high school, when I purchased my first canoe, I had thought about paddling the swamp.  Moving here made it a much easier goal and last week I seized the opportunity.  My father, who took up kayaking a few years ago, was visiting.  On Thursday afternoon, we drove down to Folkston Georgia where, early on Friday, we headed out to the swamp’s east entrance at the Sewanee Canal.  We were on the water a few minutes after 9 AM. 
Click to enlarge the photo (and really see the gators)

The first two miles were spend paddling straight down one of the canals that attempted to drain the swamp.  Prior to the late 30s, when the swamp became a National Wildlife Refuge, the swamp was logged and seen as a place where, once drained, the land could be farmed.  But the drainage never worked and since then, the swamp has been allowed to return to its natural state.  We were greeted right away with herons and cranes. It was wonderful to hear sandhills cranes again.  I feared I had left them behind in Michigan.  We were also able to see evidence of the fires that are a part of the natural state of the swamp.   There were terrible fires in 2007 and again in 2011. 
About a mile down the canal, we passed a sign designating the wilderness area boundaries.  About the same place we saw the first alligator swimming across the canal maybe a hundred yards ahead.  We would see numerous such beast, maybe 50 or even more, by the time we called it a day.  But the gators don't bother us.  Most slowly and quietly submerge when we approach, much like a submarine drops below the water at the approach of a destroyer. The dark stained water is the perfect hiding place.  The temperature must have been just cool enough for the snakes to stay hidden as we didn't see a single one.

We first explored Chesser  Prairie, a vast open area filled with lily pads and shallow water.  Mixed in within the lily pads was the occasional brilliant white flower.  Next, we found the portable outhouse (built up on a platform as there is little solid grown in this part of the swamp).  This was important as I needed to relieve myself of my morning coffee. 
My dad with his cooler (he wanted ice in his drinks)


At places, the channel constricted.

That's me in a prairie

We paddled onward toward Coffee Bay, where we planned to enjoy lunch on the shelter there.  The canals became narrower and the gators more frequent.  A few places where we were able to get out of the channel and explore the swamps surrounding the canal, we did.  We see a variety of trees.  Where there is a sliver of high grown, long leaf pines can be found, as well as sweet gums, live oaks and water oaks.  Cypress and juniper are found throughout the swamp, growing in the water.   And Spanish moss, dangling like the Taliban's beard, is everywhere.

After lunch, we headed back toward the landing, taking some time to explore the Mizzell Prairie and another section of the Chesser Prairie We were back at the launch by 4 PM, having paddled 14-15 miles.  On the way back to Savannah, I decided we’d stop at the Folkston funnel and learn about the large number of trains running in and out of Florida (but that will be covered in another post). 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy birthday, Nevada

If you have read much of my blog, you will have noticed that I have a real love for Nevada.  Now, I don't mean Las Vegas, but the rural, less populated parts of the state.  My love for the state grew from the year long internship that I did in Virginia City during the late 80s.   This Friday (October 31) will mark the state's anniversary.  On 31 October 1864, just days before the Presidential elections, Nevada was ushered into statehood in time to cast its electoral votes for Lincoln.  In honor of the "Battle Born" state, I submit a collection of my photos which have appeared in my blog over the past ten years.

You can click on the photo to enlarge it and to see the sites.  Here they are from the top middle, working clockwise:

  • Austin,
  • Eureka,
  • locomotive at Northern Nevada Railroad Museum in Ely
  • the Nevada Club in Ely
  • two other shots from the Northern Nevada Railroad.  The ruins are in Treasure City (near Hamilton---another ghost town, south of Eureka
  • me backpacking in the Ruby Mountains
  • Highway 50 (there are two shots of different sections of this road)
  • the train station in Caliente,
  • Boulder Dam 
  • Las Vegas.
  • Rachel
  • the bottle house at Ryolite 
  • a desert rainstorm along US 93
  • the Goldfield Hotel, Goldfield
  • the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah
  • Joshua Trees
  • Virginia City and Mt. Davidson
  • the Virginia and Truckee Railroad engine in Moundhouse
  • Marlette Lake (near Tahoe)
  • Julie, former bartender at the Union Brewery in Virginia City
  • Pyramid Lake
  • railroad in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Solo paddle to the north end of Wassaw Island

Playing tag with this sailboat
I push away from the muddy beach around 1:45 PM.  Leaving the marina at Priest’s Landing at the same time is a large sailboat.  He motors out ahead of me maybe 200 feet, cuts the engine and raises his sails.  The tide is running out but against it an off-shore wind provides some resistance to my paddling and forces the sailboat to tack.  I keep paddling straight.  His first tack is right in front of me and by the second tack, he is behind me.  I paddle the two and a quarter miles through the Wilmington River and into the Wassaw Sound well before the sailboat.

Paddling toward Cape Charlotte
Entering the sound, I am in big water (the sound is two plus miles wide).  I set course for my destination, Wassaw Island, passing the wide mouth of Rommey Marsh Creek and some ominous sounding high ground known as “Dead Man’s Hammock.”  A large bird flies across the sound.  It’s not till the bird is almost above me that I notice it’s a bald eagle.  I wish my camera is ready, but it flies over and is quickly in the sun.  The sky is cloud free, but the unhindered sun isn’t able to warm the air much above 70° F.   The wind picks up in the sound and the water becomes a little rough with the tide running against it.  I keep paddling, passing several hundred yards from the mouths of Blue Bank Creek and Crooked Creek.  

Mill Creek
My target, the north end of Wassaw and its heavy vegetation becomes more distinct.  I pull up on an exposed sandbar near Mill Creek (was there ever a mill here?).  It feels good to stretch my legs.   I’ve paddled over five miles into the wind.  It’s 3:30 PM, in fifteen or twenty minutes, the tide will turn.  I pull my boat way up toward the dunes and begin to explore the area, walking a ways up into the creek and then over the dunes and back to the shore.

Horseshoe Crab (RIP)

Fort Morgan

As I walk toward the point, I come upon the ruins of Fort Morgan.  A battery of guns were placed here during the Spanish American War to secure Savannah from an attack up the Wilmington River, a back channel into the Savannah River.  After a year, the guns were removed and the only thing that remains are concrete ruins that are being slowly reclaimed by the tides.  The concrete mix included a lot of oyster shells, showing the ingenuity of those building the fort who used what they had on hand.  

Wassaw Island, looking toward the point

The north end of the island is slowly being eaten away and it appears that at high tide, the water would be up against the woods.  Around the point, named Cape Charlotte on the charts, the remains of trees stick out of the sand, evidence of the southward erosion.  These islands are always in flux and as the north end erodes, sand is being added to the south end creating wide sandy beaches.  

Pines on the Island
I've been told these pines are related to those on the Bahamas

Selfie taken on the island
After exploring the north end of the island, I head back to my boat.  The tide is now rising and although I know I have pulled my boat way up on the beach, knowing that the days’ tides will be running around 8 feet, I don’t know how fast it might rise.  Of course, when I get back to the boat, the water is still way below the boat so I sit on a cushion and make some notes in my journal, while watching some boats run through the inlet.  There are now two boats anchored 25 or so yards offshore from where I am at. One appears to be a group of teenagers, although they maybe older, who are drinking.  In the other, two African-American men, who look to be father and son, are fishing. I see them pull in one fish, but I can’t tell what kind of fish it is.

At four-thirty, the water is rising closer to my boat.  The wind has died and the gnats are out.   I pack up and begin the paddle back to Skidaway.   Shortly afterwards, I see what I think is an osprey dive for a fish.  The bird misses its target and as I takes back to flight and is over head, it does a funny dance, flicking up its tail feathers as it flutters its wing, obviously an effort to dry itself off.  The big bird sails high and, once it’s over Mill Creek, makes another dive.  This time, when it takes off, there is a fish in its talons.  Dinner will be served in his nest this evening.

I had hoped that I would have had the wind to help push me, but my luck has run out.  I still have the incoming tide, but when I reach the wide mouth of Rommey Marsh Creek, I find the tide now works against me for the water is pushing into the creek and I have to paddle harder for the next half mile or so.  Once I’m back in the main channel of the Wilmington River, I can see the marina at Priest Landing in the distance.  The sun is bright, but quickly dropping in the western sky.  When I pull up on the beach at Priest Landing, named for a former Benedictine Monastery on the Island, sunset is only a few minutes away.  It has been a nice afternoon.  
In open waters, paddling home