A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Tybee Rough Water Thanksgiving

November 23, 2017
Emilie Phillips

Isaac says we kayak Tybee Island every fall. In truth, this was only our second trip. Isaac wanted to see the dolphins again and surf in the waves. I was looking forward to a pleasant Thanksgiving with my parents. We drove down with our own kayaks, and my parents brought my mother’s small skin on frame for Isaac to try. They also brought the turkey.

Thursday morning at Tybee was raining and 55F. Magic seaweed predicted 2.5′ waves at 9 seconds with 10 to 18 mph winds from the northeast. Rough conditions, but with the wind onshore and high tide mid-morning, we decided the sandbar at the mouth of Tybee Creek was a safe play spot. Not a day for Isaac to try the skin on frame. He and Tyson would take the Bullitt tandem and the rest of us our solos. No other paddlers joined us in the water, though a steady stream of cars drove out to the boat launch, looked at the gray water, gray sky, and gray rain, and then drove away.

Rain on the water

Out of habit we let Tyson lead, but he was so stiff as we paddled out to the ocean, he couldn’t turn around to check on the group. A frothing strip of water rolled in from as far as I could see on the left side of the creek entrance. In front of us, where the water must have been deeper, the waves calmed a little. To the right, ridges of waves crested and rolled over the submerged sandbar, finally subsiding in the open channel beyond. Tyson and I picked the waves on our right because of the safe exit on the back of the sandbar. These waves also looked more predictable than those on the left. However, even over the sandbar, the occasional wave would ricochet off an unknown feature on the ocean floor and sweep sideways across the other waves.

We barely had time to make a plan before the incoming tide and wind pushed us into the waves. My parents went first while Tyson and I back paddled. They disappeared over the waves. I would have to wait my turn to surf through and discover if they needed a rescue. Tyson and Isaac were next, but before Tyson could paddle into the surf, a reflecting wave rolled in from the side. I saw Tyson go over stiff as a board. His hips weren’t loose enough to stabilize the boat.

“Isaac, swim out!” hollered Tyson as they went over. I paddled over to rescue them out of the water.

“Where’s your paddle?” Tyson asked Isaac.

“Right here,” Isaac said, wiggling the submerged paddle in his hand. He was proud he had held onto his paddle like he had practiced in our flat water wet exits.

I reached the front of the tandem and pulled to drag the bow on top my kayak and drain the Bullitt. But it was heavy with water and didn’t budge. We keep a floatation bag up front preventing the bow from sinking, but not from filling with water. I reached down to try again.

“Watch out” Tyson cried from the back “we’re headed into the breaking waves.” No time to empty the boat.

“Swim up here” I told Isaac, “and climb in.” I didn’t think Isaac could keep hold of the deck lines once the waves started crashing over us. And I didn’t want him swept away. Once again our practice sessions helped. Feet in first, a little shove from me, and Isaac was in. That was the end of everything going as Isaac expected from the practice sessions.

“The foot rest is floating away” Isaac screamed, “Mom, the foot rest is floating away.”

We had a moment before being swept into the breakers, so I raced to the foot rest and stuffed it in front of Isaac’s feet. Tyson and I knew what was coming next. I leaned over the Bullitt to keep it upright and held fast to Isaac’s cockpit. Tyson, still in the water, held the sterns of the kayaks together.

Crash. The first of the breakers hurtled into our backs and broke over our heads. “Get the water out of the boat!” Isaac screamed dismayed the wave had filled the boat with more water. Slam. The next wave submerged us and wrenched the Bullitt trying to pull it from Tyson’s and my grasp. Isaac turned around in the following trough. “Dad, get in the boat! Dad, get in!” he yelled. The next wave came too fast for us to answer, so we took a deep breath and braced for it to wash over.

Tyson and I knew the pummeling waves would push us over the sandbar and into the calm water beyond. A few waves later, Tyson’s feet touched ground. Our heads were now above water, but it was still too choppy to let Isaac out and empty the Bullitt. Tyson climbed into his cockpit and paddled us to safety while I continued stabilizing the Bullitt.

I loosened my grip on Isaac’s cockpit, but it was too soon. One last parting wave picked me up, washed me over the Bullitt, and dropped me upside down half on the Bullitt.

“Time to do a proper Greenland roll,” I thought. “Roll up with whatever is at hand.” No paddle, no norsaq, only a deck line trying to escape my fingers. I didn’t realize my kayak laid across the Isaac’s coaming, but, as I rolled up, Tyson shoved my kayak away from Isaac with his paddle.

Isaac safe out of the Bullitt

Meanwhile, my parents had surfed through safely. I’m not sure what they saw when they spotted us, but after second guessing himself, my Dad decided that, for the first time ever, we weren’t going coming to rescue them, they needed to rescue us. They met us in the chop over the sandbar.

John and Tyson emptying the Bullitt

With my parents’ help, we emptied the Bullitt and settled Tyson and Isaac back inside. From there, it was a short paddle to the beach for a rest and snack.

Isaac was excited he had done everything we taught him during practices. Tyson was happy we had worked together as a team. My Dad felt immensely more confident having now rescued someone in real conditions. My Mom was proud she had surfed the waves without capsizing. And I was sore from clinging to the Bullitt, but that was ok. We even saw some leaping dolphins as we paddled home.

Thanksgiving dinner

A couple hours later, we were back at the rental unit enjoying smoked turkey, potatoes, cranberry sauce, broccoli, and garlic bread. The smoked turkey was delicious. It tasted even better than a regular turkey.

All Photos

GPS Track