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Thursday, June 13, 2013

A final goodbye and a new beginning.

Mother's Day (5/12/2013) had extra meaning this year as family gathered on the docks at Turner's Cove for a kayak outing into the marsh to scatter my sweet wife's ashes in the one place she loved more than any in the low country.  Diana fought a valiant battle against cancer for 3 1/2 years and held strong right up until the end.  One of our first dates was kayaking on Skull Creek in Hilton Head, SC and she immediately fell in love with paddling.  One of the requests she wanted me to handle was to scatter her ashes in the marsh that she viewed every day from our townhouse window.

The family needed to make travel plans but we wanted to have the best weather possible.  All week long the forecasts were checked on a variety of weather sites.  The prevailing projection was partly cloudy, 30% chance of rain and light winds.  Acceptable but not the ideal conditions we hoped for so plans were made to give it a go anyway.  Saturday ended with family in town but the weather very much as predicted and the anticipation of a less than ideal day loomed in our minds that evening.  There should have been no worrying based on the positive believer our Diana was - Sunday dawned clear, blue skies, just the right temperature and a cool breeze with perfect water conditions.  We timed the launch an hour before the full high tide, which was scheduled to be at 8 feet, perfect for accessing the middle areas of the marsh around Turner's Creek.




The launch was made from the docks with Diana's two sons, my son-in-law and myself in the kayaks with the rest of the family lining the outer dock platform for viewing.  Turner's Creek meanders a bit as most low country creeks do and I headed out to try a point of access I'd scoped out ahead of time.  It was a narrow inlet that wound it's way into the center of the marsh and I thought it would connect but 3/4 of the way in, we hit some high marsh and could go no further.  The tide was still coming in and we could have eventually gotten through but there were lots of other access points we wouldn't have to wait on.  It was challenging to back 4 kayaks out of the narrow inlet but once back on deep waters we proceeded down the creek to an area completely in flood stage and an easy paddle to the center of the marsh.


I serenely paddled through the grasses in the mirror like waters of the protected high marsh, looking for the perfect spot to release her ashes and offer a clear view for those on the docks.  The timing of the tides was perfect and I stopped directly across from the docks and in a an area Diana would admire daily from her top floor vantage point of the townhouse..  I backed my kayak into an area of Spartina grass and anchored with my paddle deep into the pluff mud, signaling the others that this was the place.  The others gathered around, anchoring their kayak paddles into the mud.  After an opening prayer by my son-in-law (who also performed our marriage ceremony two years earlier), each of us released a portion of her ashes along with words of love and farewell.  We followed up her ashes with colorful flowers that she loved.  At the same time, the family on the docks released their portions of her ashes and flowers, each having their own personal moment with our beloved Diana.



As we finished up, each of us paddled back individually, lost in our own thoughts of the day and the event.  Leaving the confines of the high marsh and back on Turner's Creek, we were joined by a mother and baby dolphin cruising the creek on their way to the Wilmington River.  This was very appropriate because Diana loved watching the dolphin any time we were near the water.  We took this as a sign of nature welcoming this lovely person home.  As lovers of the water, we strongly believe in the cycle of life - something that's constantly in motion.  Her ashes becoming one with the organic mud of the marsh, nourishing the marsh grasses which provide food for the variety of organisms that thrive in that environment.  Eventually creating food for the graceful dolphins and the marsh birds, further enhancing the enjoyment of life as we view our world.



I returned to the dock area first and was greeted by several family and friends who were excited about seeing us on the water and the closeness to nature the kayaks provided.  Diana's best friend, who we had tried to entice into kayaking with us on several occasions, decided to give it a try.  After some tentative paddle strokes to get a feel of the boat in the water, she paddled out to meet up with the others.  Soon there were several members of the group wanting to give kayaking a try.  Everyone that spent a little time on the water that day are now anxious to get out and do it again.


Special thanks to my son-in-law for his excellent photographs of the event.

We were excited the day turned out so well with the weather and water conditions.  I was worried the weather wouldn't cooperate but now know Diana was right there, ensuring everything turned out the way we planned it.  We miss you Diana but know that whenever we see water in its natural state, we're reminded of the joy of life you shared with all of us.










marsh photos

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tides, winds & sandbars

The afternoon was waning as we drove through the tree lined streets leading into Palmetto Bluffs. The outfitter store was about to close as we arrived but there was still time to get set up for a short paddle before sunset. The tide had just turned and was rushing its way inland.  Out goal was to paddle to the sandbar (with the many other Blufftonians) on this balmy afternoon. It had been months since our last outing due to both of us recovering from surgeries and our excitement overflowed. The paddling was easy as we started out in the protected area of the dock and we slowed to talk with a family who's boat ran aground and were waiting for the tide to bring in a few more inches of water.

As we moved out into the main channel, the true nature of the river notified us of it's presence with a quick flowing tide and a stiff breeze in our faces. I started pulling hard on the paddles and headed for a point of land, feeling exhilarated by the movement of the kayak through the water. As I slid the boat into the shallows, I turned to see my companion struggling against the tide and wind. I paddled back to provide assistance and guidance, but just ended up giving more hints than she could grasp and still battle the elements. Slowly we worked our way across the channel to the far shoreline and a little protection from the wind.

Eventually, we reached the sandbar with all the boats, families, beach chairs and coolers. I pulled the kayaks several lengths onto the sandbar, knowing the tide would begin to make it's way over the exposed sand. We shed the PFD's and strolled down the sandbar enjoying the festive atmosphere. We only walked a short distance before turning back toward the kayaks. Already the water had risen to the back ends of the boats so we just sat on one of the kayaks talking and watching the people. Figuring it was getting time to head back we turned to find the other kayak drifting away with the tide. I waded out in nearly waist deep water to retrieve it and towed it back to shore. The paddle back to the dock was a completely different experience with the tide and wind at out backs. What took us nearly 45 minutes to paddle out, now pushed us easily back home. We were nearly at the dock and I turned to find my companion heading further up the river. When we caught up with each other, I asked where she was heading and she thought the dock was much further away  because it had taken so little time to get back.

We docked, cleaned up the boats and sat up on the bluff to enjoy the fading light as the sun dipped to the horizon. Another perfect day on the water and a new beginning for us after the recoveries from the medical problems.




(Pictures courtesy of Matt Richardson of Low Country Unfiltered.)

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

A flash back to an earlier Florida trip


Sometimes when the weather is cold and the skies are overcast, my mind wanders back to more pleasant conditions and favorite adventures on the water.  This is such a day and as I relax with my feet up in front of the fireplace, I find my mind taking me back to a paddle trip on Turkey Creek in Palm Bay, Florida.  My daughter and son-in-law had come from South Carolina for a visit to the old man.  With both of them being avid kayakers, it was only natural for them to bring their boats down with them.  It was a perfect Florida day with the sun shining and the warm weather so we loaded up the roof racks and headed a short way south on US 1 to the end of Turkey Creek where it empties into the Indian River.  Turkey Creek is one of those best kept secrets for paddlers because the waters are protected from the harsher conditions found in the more open waters of the Indian River. 

We launched at the public boat landing at Turkey Creek Park and began the meandering journey back up the creek towards the dam at Lake Washington.  There are a myriad of channels a paddler can take with each joining up with the others at some point.  It can be confusing but other paddles have posted directional signs at some of the intersections to help point the way.  The waters were glassy with only a slight breeze to help cool us off as we glided through the variety of landscapes the creek offers.  At times, there are houses with docks lining the shore, other times you can find yourself completely surround by the most natural environments unique to the Florida waterways.  Since the waters are only minimally effected by the tides, there is always an abundance of wildlife just waiting to be observed or photographed.  Sometimes it is the uniqueness of a dock owner that provides interesting views to the passing paddler.  On one such dock we came across an odd collection within an old crab trap with a discarded baby doll peering back at us from within the trap). 


Further up the creek, it winds through a housing neighborhood created back in the 70's by the now defunct General Development Corp.  They had a reputation of selling lots sight unseen to buyers in cold northeast areas.  Their presentations and photo's made it all seem like a paradise and people bought into it in droves for a while.  Once they made the move south to Palm Bay, they found extremely poor constructed houses build with an emphasis on cost cutting.  Outwardly, it still presents itself as a nice Florida getaway but the homes have changed hands often and much self improvements made by the owners that stayed.  Regardless of the exploitation of the land and waterways, Turkey Creek is in pristine condition and aside from seeing mostly manicured back yards, the wildlife is still there.  The warm waters of the creek are a favorite of manatees, those slow moving, lovable creatures also known as sea cows.  They are often seen just below the surface of the water, swimming slowly and grazing on the vegatation on the bottom of the creek.  My daughter had been watching all day in hopes of seeing one but no such luck up to that point.  We rounded a wide sweeping turn in the creek and came up to a "Y" where one arm went down to a dead end, but still gave the lot owners waterfront (back-yard) access.  All at once, the was the manatee she'd been looking for.  At first we weren't sure what it was we were seeing because the creature was 1/3 out of the water and grazing on the tender grass shoots along the water line.  As we paddled closer, we realized it was a large female manatee who had found some choice tidbits to graze upon.  It is rare for a manatee to come out of the water like that, thus a real treat for us and a perfect picture opportunity.  As my daughter paddled slowly to get a closer view, the manatee would slide back into the water and swim to a safer area.  The lure of the sweet grass and realizing we were not a threat, she returned to the bank for more grazing.  It was a truly unique and memorable experience and one my daughter (or the rest of us) will not soon forget.

Once past the housing development, the creek again becomes a nature perserve.  Paddling along and observing the banks we saw footprints of raccoons, otters, birds and even a few alligator slides in the muddy banks.  The closer to the dam we got, the quicker the water flowed and we had to pull a little harder on the paddles to move ahead.  We had not seen a soul the entire time out on the water but as we rounded another bend, we met a kayaker coming the other direction.  She was moving along briskly and obviously had made the same journey we were on but had started her paddle considerably earlier in the day.  The current was assisting her and there was a brief exchange of "hello's" and "it's a beautiful day to be out here", then she was gone as quickly as she'd arrived.  As we neared the waters around the dam, paddling became more difficult and we decided to turn back and let the current push us home.  The paddle back to the launch area took us much less time than the paddle out, but it was even more relaxed as we sat back in our boats with our feet dangling in the water.

By the time we reached the public boat landing, traffic on the creek had picked up considerably and we had to share the waters with other canoes, kayaks and powerboats.  With the kayaks securely lashed to the roof racks, we were on our way home, tired but filled with long lasting memories and photographs of a perfect day on the water.
   

Friday, February 12, 2010

A sunset paddle on Skull Creek




We had been wanting to get back out on the waters for a while but busy schedules and poor weather provided many excuses to do other things. This was a day when we were both free from any encumbrances and started it off with a leisure bike ride from my house, down to the gate at Palmetto Bluff. It was sunny and the temps were hovering in the mid 70's - perfect for doing things outside. After the ride and some lunch, I checked the tide chart and found it would be high tide around 6 PM and the weather showed no storms or wind. It was immediately decided that this was the day to get back on the water.
We arrived at the Hudson Seafood Restaurant docks around 5 PM and conditions couldn't have been much better. I pulled a 14' Wilderness Systems Pungo off the rack for DL and selected an older 15' Wilderness Systems Cape Horn for myself. The Pungo is more of a recreational boat but at 14', it is very stable and tracks nicely. The Cape Horn is a light touring boat that can be a bit tippy for an inexperienced paddler but I'd been out in it a dozen times and knew the feel of it well. I launched DL off the floating dock and let her use my Werner paddle to help compensate for our different paddling skill levels. Soon, we were gliding through the glassy waters out into the main channel of the IntraCoastal Waterway (Skull Creek). There was very little boat traffic that time of day and it wasn't long before we edged into the spartina grass on the Pinkney Island side. Conditions were perfect with the sun starting to slowly drop toward the horizon, sending reflected beams of reds and yellows along the mirrored waters. It might have been nice to have a little breeze because the NoSeeUms were out in force with nothing to blow them away. I've seldom experienced them out in the midde of the creek but there was nothing discouraging them this day except for our constant paddling and moving.
We were able to observe a couple of dolphin out for an evening feed but they showed zero interest in us and moved along in their own world, oblivious to the two excited paddlers above them. Since it was high tide, there weren't many birds around and many that were had found the tops of pilings to roost for the night (mostly pelicans). We paddled quite a way North in the creek toward the Port Royal Sound but the sun was setting soon and we headed around a far shell bank to return to the marina. It was quiet as a church during prayers out there on the water, which is unusual with the fast paced activities of the Hilton Head resort island. The only sounds we heard were the dipping of our paddles and the gurgle of the water as the boats glided along. Suddenly, we heard the screeching call of the one bird we'd been looking for but hadn't seen, the Oyster Catcher. As we cleared the end of a grass island, there they were on a tiny shell bank just barely above the water line. It was a pair of adult birds and they were not happy to have us anywhere near, plus my attempts to get even closer for a picture were greeted with more shrill warning cries. I was able to use the zoom on the camera to capture the moment before we headed back in. As we neared the docks, the colors in the sky and on the waters were fantastic and enjoying the sunset from the tranquil waters more than made up for the multitude of gnat bites on our arms, legs and hands.
It was a glorious end to a wonderful day, made all the more special by the company of beautiful paddling companion that I think likes being on the water almost as much as me. :-)

sunset photos

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kayaking new waters


I started writing a blog when I lived in Florida but in a short period of time, lots of things changed and I ended up moving to Bluffton, SC. Although Florida offered excellent waterways for kayaking and exploring, the Lowcountry of South Carolina is another gold mine for paddling opportunities. I got a job working as a kayaking guide for a company located on Hilton Head, SC which allowed me to get paid for something I loved doing for free. The training I received from the Outfitter provided me extensive information about the waters and wildlife in this area. The more I learned, the more I wanted to dig deeper into the history of the area and to become more in tune with the wide variety of the local birds, fish and plants.
The unique aspect of paddling in the Lowcountry is the tides. The Intracostal Waterway in Florida around the Melbourne and Vero Beach area is minimally effected by the tides and seldom experiences more than a few inches of tidal changes on any given day. Here in the Bluffton/Hilton Head area, extreme tidal changes are experienced every 6+ hours that change up to 8-10 feet between high and low tides. The waters are always navigable but where a person can paddle becomes limited during periods of low tide. The types of wildlife also change with the tidal movements. For example, high tides bring mostly diving birds such as Pelicans, Cormorants and Osprey. As the tides go out, the longer legged wading birds begin to show, like the Great Blue Herons, Great White Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Green Herons and Oyster Catchers. Nature has adapted each species with unique abilities to survive and find food in this area that changes drastically every 6 hours.
I miss the clearer waters of Florida but there is a mystery with the living, murky waters of the Lowcountry that makes each outing on the water a truly interesting and learning experience. I look forward to writing more about the kayaking in these new waters to share with everyone.
Art Prints

Friday, February 1, 2008

Kayaking the Intercoastal water

I'm an avid reader of many of the outdoors, canoe or kayaking magazines and I enjoy the many articles from all around the globe. The problem I encounter though it that most of these locations are limited to the few that are fortunate enough to live close by or those that have an endless supply of money and don't care how they spend it. I for one have a limited income, actually work for a living and will never have the opportunity to travel half way around the globe to paddle an exotic location. I do however, have the blessing of living on the Florida coast, near to the intercoastal waterway and would find it hard to trade this location for anything I've read about in the magazines.
The climate is temperate and the waterways are only minimally effected by tidal changes, which means I can paddle nearly any day of the year and at any time of the day. These are protected waters from the Atlantic ocean by the barrier islands which makes the water extremely friendly to all levels of paddle sports enthusiasts. The Indian River Lagoon, as the intercoastal is called in the mid-Florida coastline, doesn't appear that way to the viewers eye but the waters are very similar to that of a limited access and protected lagoon. There are many side creeks that flow into the lagoon, such as Turkey Creek in the Palm Bay, FL area. These creeks and marsh lands are home to a wide variety of wildlife and a stopping off point for many of the migratory bird species. The waters teem with many different species of fish, which makes it an ideal location for fishing and birding.
I'll take a minute and describe one of my recent outings on the Intercoastal. My son in law and I launched at the public marina at Vero Beach, FL around 3:00 PM. It was a balmy day with the temperature in the mid 70's and low humidity. A slight breeze was coming in from the East, not enough to create waves - just enough to make paddling in the late afternoon comfortable. We paddled North along the marina creek and marvelled at the many sailing yachts at anchor in the marina. These are mostly "snowbirds" from up North that sail South in the winter and live on their boats while enjoying the warmer climate for a few months. As we paddled further upstream along the banks of the many small islands, we noted there was still a lot of debris from the two hurricanes that hit the area in 2004. I saw part of a picket fence half submerged on the bank and of course there were a number of trees uprooted, showing their tangled root systems. The water was like glass and paddled easily, making very little noise and only leaving a line of wake in the water as we passed. Several pelicans were perched on old pilings as we passed and only gave us a casual glance, knowing we were no threat and probably more important to these birds - not a food source for them either. After an hour of pristine paddling we took a cut through between two islands and found a winding creek that let into one of them. Except for the sounds of the birds and the splash of fish, it was like moving into another world. No sounds of cars, other boats, radios or anything else associated with civilization. The creek narrowed as moved on through the island until we reached its end in a small bay. The only things we disturbed as we paddled were several large fish that splashed their escape from our gliding hulls. The creek had played out but pulling up on the sandy shore, we could see the Indian River (Intercoastal) barely 30 yards away. Instead of paddling back the way we came, we just pulled out the boats and portaged them through some light underbrush and were in a totally different environment again. This time we were on the main lagoon side of the islands and away from the protection and flat water we'd been enjoying. The waters were still calm but the openess of the large body of water did allow the breeze to create ripples on the surface. We paddled out of the small inlet we were in and into the main part of the river, still keeping close to the shoreline. There were more fish here than we'd seen previously and were actually expecting one of them to end up inside one of our boats, the way they were leaping from the water. As we pulled around a bend of the island, we noticed a deeper channel nearby and a lot of fish activity on the other side. We paddled our way across and found a huge sandbar, created by the channel and deeper, larger fish were having a hayday with the smaller fish that flittered around the edges of the sandbar. We anchored our boats and waded knee deep around the sandbar in the crystal clear water. As the sun was beginning to get low on the horizon, we sat on the edges of our boats with our feet in the water and toasted the occasion with a cold bottle of Shiner Bock beer that Matt had brought back from his trip to the Shiner brewery in Texas. The rest of the trip was equally as peaceful and pleasant but we were racing the dying sun and wanted to be back at the marina before dark since we had no lights on the kayaks.
Back to my original comments about the far away and exotic places the magazines seem to put all their efforts into - they might just take a look in their own backyards for places the majority of readers might actually be able to go to and find a piece of paradise like we have here at the Lagoon.
Paddle Dude