A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Long Weekend on Tybee Island

October 26, 2018
Emilie Phillips

We flew to Tybee Island Georgia for an end of summer paddling trip. We’ve paddled Tybee two other times, once at Halloween and once at Thanksgiving.

My parents provided all the kayaks. Isaac has learned to paddle his own boat, so we no longer needed a tandem. Isaac paddled my Mom’s skin on frame. Dad and I split his skin on frame and his Ilaga. Mom paddled her Rebel Naja, which she loves. As for Tyson, well, my parents don’t own enough Greenland kayaks, or one big enough, so he got my Dad’s old Delta 17.

Tyson, Isaac, and I only had a long weekend for the trip, so we flew down Friday morning by jet plane and back Monday morning. That gave us two and a half days of paddling. Both Friday and Saturday we faced 15 to 20 mph winds spinning around a tropical depression to our north. It’s hard to sit out a day on such a short trip, so we paddled anyways. Us adults did ok, but the wind was dreadfully frustrating for Isaac. Not only is he weaker and less skilled than us, but his boat was too big and caught the wind. Kayaks are supposed to weathercock for proper handling. Isaac found, as Mom and I have found before, that ill fitting kayaks turn alee. We adjusted our plans to compensate.


Friday, the tide and wind pushed us from the put in on Tybee Creek out to the beach at the southern tip of the island. There, one adult supervised Isaac, who hunted for shells and splashed in the water, while the other adults played in the waves. The waves were two feet tall. In the end, we all got a chance to surf.

Emilie playing in small waves

The skin on frame my Dad lent me, has less primary stability than my Tahe Greenland, but more secondary. I nearly capsized several times before figuring out the stability profile. Next, I found it didn’t turn in response to an edge like my Tahe. But I never figured out the sweet spot, even after two days paddling.

Tyson said, he was just going to ride one or two waves then rest his list of joint complaints while watching Isaac. I saw Tyson ride down the face of one curved, spilling wave. He says he capsized and rolled, but next time I saw him he was enjoying another ride. Then I saw him rescuing my Dad.

John caught a wave

As Tyson described it, he looked over to see John’s bow pointed straight up the back side of a wave and stern sunk deep in the water. Dad’s rear hatch had popped off, and the wave flooded his rear compartment. Dad said he didn’t even try a roll because he didn’t know if he would stay up afterwards. We suspect operator error closing the hatch.

Trudy found the nice surfing spot

My Mom got her turn next. She found the best spot with consistent good waves. Her rides were short, but she lapped more times than I could count. The Naja has been amazing for Mom. Before the Naja, Mom rarely ventured into surf. Now she confidently finds her waves and takes care of herself.

Isaac, meanwhile, forded the channel separating his sand bar from Tyson on the beach. He said he wanted to do what Dad was doing. Never mind that he left his kayak behind, forcing Grandma to tow it over. Then Tyson worked with Isaac playing in the gentle waves. Isaac rode several waves and showed off his low brace.

Tyson helping Isaac try for a second ride

We met one other kayaker, another visitor from the north east. He introduced himself as Richard Cohen. Tyson chatted with him and they determined we have several paddling friends in common.

Our other adventure Friday came shortly after launching. As I said, the wind and current were pushing us out. I launched first to mind Isaac while the other adults caught up. All was well until I noticed the current sweeping Isaac and I towards a long fishing pier. Then Isaac capsized trying to paddle away from it.

Isaac lept from his cockpit before the boat was over.

“Grab my bow,” I hollered to him.

I pulled the skin on frame on my boat; kept pulling, but the bow was too full of water for me to lift; more pulling until the boat teeter tottered bow-down into the creek, sloshing some water out. Then I noticed how close the pier had gotten. No time to finish emptying or get Isaac back in. I laid the skin on frame along my boat, and with Isaac’s help swimming, I paddled us away from shore.

Once away from the pier, I finished emptying the skin on frame by rocking it back and forth on top of my kayak. Then I lowered it into the water and held it while Isaac climbed in. This was my first skin on frame rescue. They sure get heavy with no bulkheads to keep water out.

Friday’s Photos

Friday’s GPS Track


Freighters headed into Savannah

I wanted a longer tour Saturday, but the tide schedule and the continued 15+ mph winds were against us. Tyson, ever the realist, sided with the tide and wind. Unfortunately we didn’t resolve this disagreement until and hour into the paddle, but we had a fun day anyways.

First off, we saw dolphins jumping over the waves near Jack’s cut.

Then, at high tide, we paddled through the marsh channels and flooded grass near Buck Hammock. Egrets flew out of the grasses and settled, 10 at least, on a tree. The same tree they perched in last year. We spotted a heron in a neighboring tree. And a B-17 flew overhead on a sightseeing tour. Isaac, though, was busy with the grass.

When presented with open seas, he paddles straight. When in a narrow stream, he turns sharp left to avoid the right bank. Then notices the oncoming left bank and turns right to avoid it, pointing himself back at the right bank. Thus he drunkenly weaves down the stream, all the while concentrating as hard as he can on going straight.

We ate lunch on the beach at the entrance to Buck Hammock Creek. Then we checked out the main sandbar at the mouth of Tybee Creek.

Tyson holding the kite at the edge of the wind cone

Richard Cohen had said high tide earlier in the week had covered the sand bar, but when we landed, a line of debris marked the last high tide and the sand above was dry. The sand was smooth with no sculpted pools, unlike last year. We flew our kites. The parafoil kite pulled so hard at times Mom and I skidded across the sand. The wind blew streams of dry sand across the island.

Storms moving out to sea

Dad watched the sky.

“Look” he said, “the weather has changed completely while we’ve been here. The wind has blown the dark clouds out to sea.”

He was right, by dinner, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Saturday’s Photos

Saturday’s GPS Track


Tybee Island Light

Sunday was the beautiful day. Blue sky, calmer wind, and under 1 foot waves. The morning was a bit crisp. We dragged our feet until 11AM by climbing the Tybee Lighthouse. It was forecast to warm up to 71F late in the afternoon.

The put in was busy Sunday. Ten kayakers and two guides landed as we launched. Another solo paddler launched (faster than us) and started practicing rolls.

Isaac attempting to right himself from a balance brace

Back out at the sandbar, we tried to get Isaac to roll. For the first time, we let him wear a spray skirt and made him demonstrate he could pull it off. Then I tried to teach him a balance brace. It didn’t work. Just like with our initial wet exit attempts last year, he was terrified of the water. Holding his hands was the solution for the wet exit. I need to find a similar solution for the balance brace. We let Isaac keep the inflated paddle float while the rest of us practiced our rolls.

Trudy working on her balance brace

Dad proudly announced to us that he’d done a butterfly roll, but none of us were watching. He also worked on his reverse sweep roll. Mom did a few rolls on her own before Tyson and I came over to coach. She worked on her balance brace, with and without a paddle, and improved her core body control of the boat. I was kept busy shuttling between everyone else, so I didn’t have time to roll until a minute before snack time. I managed one on-side hand roll, failed an off-side hand roll, and then worked on my off-side hand balance brace until that was solid.

After snack, Tyson led us out to the outer breakers coming in off the ocean. We found gentle waves spilling over a long sand bar, two feet under the surface. Easy to catch, and tame by my tastes, they were perfect for the group. Beyond the waves, we spotted dolphins surfacing.

Isaac riding the wave

Isaac was now catching waves and riding them all by himself. He flipped twice, so I got more skin on frame rescue practice. But worse, since we’d taken his spray skirt off for safety, his boat kept filling with water. I emptied it at least four times. Next year’s goal — spray skirt.

We surfed until we were tired and the tide turned — around 4pm. Tyson and I shared the duty of towing Isaac home. Back at the put in, we found Richard and another paddler practicing rolls. He was surprised to hear we had found such good surf.

Sunday’s Photos

Sunday’s GPS Track