A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Sea Kayaking in North Carolina

June 25, 2019
John Phillips

My sister Ruth has a house in Bogue, North Carolina, and it had been far too long since we had visited her and her husband Andy. However, our ideas of “fun things to do” are pretty far from theirs. We came up with a visit schedule that worked for all of us. Each day we went our separate ways and then enjoyed the evening together.

Our idea of “fun things to do” was to take our sea kayaks out into sounds behind the barrier islands running from Cape Lookout on the east to Cedar Point / Hammocks Beach on the western end. What follows are short descriptions of our paddles for each day.

Day 1 Rachel Carson Reserve

The Rachel Carson Reserve is a compact set of islands, marshes, channels, and shoals out in front of Beaufort NC. As with any new-to-us area, the first question is finding a boat access point. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has a nice interactive web site, https://www.ncpaws.org/wrcmapbook/baa.aspx, with access points. The site makes a distinction between access points with canoe/kayak access and those without. But the distinction is really only about parking, as many sites have large parking areas set aside for vehicles towing trailers, and limited or no spaces for cars. This a long explanation to why we started this day’s paddle from the northern end of Radio Island, adding a couple of miles to the day’s paddle.

We paddled around Radio Island, dominated by a terminal for very large barges for bulk material, and then entered Taylor Creek with luxury boats to the left and the nature reserve to the right. We found that the closer ramp would have worked as well and marked it for future use.

We had poked into a promising channel leaving from midway along Taylor Creek and after rounding the eastern point of the reserve, we hunted for a returning channel. After crossing through the reserve and regaining Taylor Creek, we decided to go around Radio Island on its north east side. No shorter and possibly a little longer, but the size of the ship traffic was less intimidating.

  • Paddle time 5 3/4 hours
  • Paddle distance 13 1/4 miles

Day 2 Cape Lookout National Sea Shore

With some confidence in our ability to cover distance, the next day was a test of our navigation over larger sections of open water. We left from the park visitor center at Shell Point on Harkers Island headed toward Codds Creek on Core Banks. We both had deck compasses, and Trudy was the principle navigator with a chart strapped to her deck. I had my inReach GPS recording a trace both for navigation backup and shared with my sister.

Our paddling plan was to head ESE toward Core Banks and then turn NE along Core Banks. We both found that estimating distances to the flat shoals of sea grass to be very difficult. We would alternate between over and then under estimating their distance. With confirmation from the GPS, we did find Codds Creek.

In what was to be a recurring problem, the promised “dock” and “easy walk” to the ocean side beach were nowhere to be found. It seems that a lot of infrastructure is still not rebuilt after last year’s hurricane damage.

  • Paddle time: 5 1/6 hour
  • Paddle distance: 10.8 mile

Day 3 Bogue Inlet and a Little Surfing

Up to this point, the trips were flat water to chop, so we committed to find a little surfing. From our experience with sand bars at Tybee Island, we headed out to the Bogue Inlet. As expected, we found sand bars at the opening to the inlet. We arrived at low tide, and all of the wave energy was breaking on shoals much further out.

The plan was to tour along Bear Island, and wait for the rising tide which would drown the outer shoals and leave some energy for our selected sand bar. This worked pretty much as expected, with time to play with waves reaching ~1 ft before cresting. Trudy did well, but John got dumped right onto the sand bar, and found his “sand roll” needed some practice. So Trudy had a chance to perfect her “T-rescue” skills.

After the rescue, the tide coming in shifted the pattern, and we both agreed that the refraction waves were getting too confusing. We finished with several rolls in the mixed wave and chop mess on the back side of the sand bar.

Notable conversation for the day. A woman paddled up on her paddle board and thanked me for building her Greenland paddle. It seems that she mistook me for one of the park rangers.

  • Paddling time 5 1/3 hours
  • Paddling distance 11.1 miles

Day 4 Shackleford Banks

The last day was more navigation practice paddling from Taylor Creek to Shackleford Banks. After exiting the eastern end of Taylor Creek, we headed SW to a dock and vault toilets. The new dock was there, but again last season’s hurricanes put the toilets out of commission.

Looking out toward the sand spit on Beaufort Inlet, we saw a continuous crowd of beach parties and decided to head east along Shackleford Banks. Since we did not want to share the North River Channel with power boat traffic, we picked our way through the shallows to a secondary channel on the east side of the Middle Marshes.

Notable conversation for the day. As we were about to set off, a man introduced himself as a fellow Greenland kayaker and was admiring our boats. His boat was the Tahe Marine Greenland, an earlier version of my Ilaga.

  • Paddling time: 5 1/3 hour
  • Paddling distance: 11.1 miles


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Comments (2)

  • Sounds like a fun trip. We are planning to pick up Isaac’s new kayak this weekend. Then we can get into kayaking for the summer.

    • That is great. I was beginning to worry that his kayak was lost in the rest of their business.