Describe a memorable overnight canoe trip.
well, you asked for it. this oughta at least keep you sorta amused.
this was the weekend before thanksgiving day in 2011,
as the weather had been forecast to be very pleasant this weekend before turkey day, highs in the upper 70's and lows in the upper 50's, we had decided to spend three nights canoe/yak camping on one of the deserted barrier islands near savannah.
so the saturday before thanksgiving, at 7:30am, we showed up at a boat ramp on Tybee Island to depart across the back river to little tybee.
it ain't much of a boat ramp. more like a road that dead ends into a tidal flow. a half mile wide tidal flow. with a 4kt current.
did i mention that this part of the world has an 8 foot tidal swing every 6 hours? one had best pay attention to the tides.
Little Tybee is not a specific island, it's a complex of several small, low lying barrier islands with a few dozen hammocks, hopes and islets in the marshes behind the barrier islands and all crisscrossed with 30 or so miles of tidal flows locally referred to as "creeks" or "sloughs".
low tide was at 8:03am. wind was supposed to be 7kts but was 15 from the NE. right down the tidal flow on a long fetch.
a bit brisk for canoeing across open waters.
turns out that a very heavily loaded 18' canoe doesn't like a tail wind. kept wanting to turn broadside. not a good thing in a chop.
was a HIGHLY amusing trip across.
many a "&*%$@^%" and "where the #@^! are you going?" and "paddle faster" was said often and a "&^)@" and "$#!*" or two was heard as well.
got there about 8:45am and wuz tired already but still had to hump all the equipment across a couple hundred yards of sand and then pickup the yak and canoe and carry them to safety over the dunes. but i digress.
we'd gone around the front of the barrier island where we'd scouted out a spot a week or so ago.
protected against surf at low tide by two big sandbars.
just over the ocean-facing low dunes and right up against the tree line.
just into the tree line was one of those enormous live oak trees that have branches that droop down to the ground and then climb back up. quite a spectacular speciman. the kid had a wonderful time climbing up those immense limbs.
got the camp set up and started wandering around. since it was early on saturday and the wind/wave situation wasn't ideal, there were no other primates on the island that we could see. high tide was about 2pm or so and when the water finally made it over the sand bars in front, the surf was quite impressive.
of course there were racoon footprints everywnere but there were some other weird looking foot prints, too. kinda of dog looking but more round. claws not retracted. could have been a large dog. dunno what that thing was. the spousal unit was thinkin' maybe bobcat but the claws not retracted indicated a lack of feline qualities. dunno what it was. someone's mother-in-law running amuck, perhaps.
also found the first deer tracks i've ever seen on that particular particle of land - the "myrtle island" part of little tybee.
as i'd mentioned previously, little tybee is made up of 20 or so low islands of multi acre size (some named and most not) and a few hundred hammocks of much smaller size.
i've never seen deer out there or any track of deer.
until that saturday.
may have to revist and invite bambi home for dinner.
in any case, as usual, spent a lot of sat'dy rounding up firewood and generally poking around.
as to the camp site, once we dug up and burned about 3 tonnes of prickly pear, it was a great place.
we had a battle all trip long with the cactus.
figured the coons were trackin' it into camp.
you'd clean out one spot and the next day there'd be little nobs of the damn things in the pathways again.
maybe it was stalking us. difficult to tell.
sunday morn, right before dawn, as we were standing on the dunes drinking coffee and watching the eastern horizon turn purple, pink and gold, a barefoot man walked by on the beach.
the first sign of humanity we'd seen. our man Friday.
about 30 minutes later he was trekking back by and we greeted him, spoke a moment or two and then offered him a cup of coffee.
he came up to the camp site and was talking about traveling light in a yak. didn't have coffee or sugar. said something about not having hot food of any type.
turns out he was from the western part of virginia, a construction person (did heavy equipment bridge demolition) and was currently laid off.
had a place in pittsburg and a girl in some place west of blacksburg. never did get the story completely straight but it didn't really matter.
he had come to tybee island 'cause he'd heard of little tybee (one of the few remaining wild places in the eastern coastal u.s. where you can camp, build a fire and not be bothered by authorities) and he wanted to play in the surf with his yak.
he had come over at just about dead high tide when the surf was running hard and so we knew that either he was lucky or skilled to have made that landing without issue.
he was barefoot, wearing shorts and a t-shirt and had one heck of a virginny mountain backwoods accent. we had quite the interesting conversation about coastal georgia and winter in chicago and pittsburgh - the two towns he'd been working in for the past few years. we laughed and traded stories for a bit.
after a while, he thanked us for the coffee and wandered away back to his campsite.
an hour or so later we hiked up past where he had his camp site way back in the dunes. we waved as we walked by - we were headed towards buck hammock crick and keeping an eye peeled for firewood. turns out keeping a fire going for 3 meals a day requires a fair amount of drift wood scrounging.
found a great clam bed which we'll visit again later and saw more of those weird foot prints. dunno what they were.
on the way back the virginny guy was loading up his yak to venture forth and walked over to greet us.
not exactly sure what his job was back in pittsburg but he had a top of the line yak, a serously expensive dry suit and a handmade greenland style paddle that he said was custom made for him and the other equipment we saw was all expensive stuff.
not your basic backwoods peckerwood with a bass pro plastic yak and no clue.
he said he was heading around the front of the island and was gonna travel to the south end to make camp. then was gonna go play in the surf.
we only saw him once briefly after that but he was really fun to talk to. had a real dry sense of humor and was quite the story teller. he was going to travel another island or two south in the little tybee complex and would return in a few days. as a side note, when we got back to the boat landing, there was a Ford F-150 Platinum Edition pickemup truck in the parking lot. Pennsylvania plates. dunno what a "platinum edition" truck is but i'm guessing it isn't the economy version. i guess he ain't runnin' a wheel barrow on them construction sites.
that afternoon, a friend of mine and his lady friend canoed over and we wandered around a bit more, showed them the tracks (they had no clue either) and sat at the campsite and bs'ed a bit until they went back to big tybee.
next morning we did the firewood scrounge thingee again and walked all the way to the south end of the beach at low tide. something really cool about having a couple of miles of wide open beach to ourselves.
numba 2 son brought the daisy bb gun and about 700 bb's. shot about every shell and dead horseshoe crab in site. he's getting pretty good a shooting a bb gun with no sights. what more does a georgia boy need other than a loaded weapon and loose "adult" supervision.
monday eve, 8pm or so, pitch dark and a bit before low tide so the waters were calm, a small boat passes by us running right by the shore. no running lights but shining a bright spot light. about a quarter mile down the beach past us, they slowed and turned to shore.
they started shining the spot light up and down the beach and then landed.
then there were 3 bright lights on the beach, pointing here there and yon. the lights moved inland over the dunes and up to the tree line then split up - generally moving in our direction. one light would be near the beach, one about halfway to the trees and one in the edge of the treeline.
they would move generally in our direction and then join up, shine the lights in our direction for a few moments, split back up and move slowly towards us in a meandering fashion.
thinking that surely they had seen our fire and lights when they passed by, we could not decide if they were coon hunting, smuggling, burying a body or what. perhaps they were looking for amelia earhardt or judge crater.
running at night with no lights and then searching the shore, dunes and trees. made us all very curious and also a bit nervous. after a half hour or so of watching and discussing the situation, i decided to get the wife and the kid to move away from the camp a bit and i headed down the beach. as i got closer to where they'd landed, the dunes obscured my view of the area they were in so i had no clue where they were.
got to their boat and then turned in towards the dunes where they'd gone in.
about the time i got close to the dunes they came out and realized i was there. they were a bit taken aback as i came up out of the dark.
i walked up to the three of them and said "what in the WORLD are you doing? coon hunting or what?"
they laughed a bit nervously and said they were just looking for a place to camp.
they were in their mid to late 20's, looked sorta like ex military, and said they were from Statesboro so i assumed they were Georgia Southern students after having done a hitch but that may not have been correct.
we talked a bit and i then told them about another good camp site a few hundred yards up the beach. even walked them to it.
told them that if they were gonna camp, they needed to be dang sure they had that boat above the hight water line and they assured me that they'd drag it up. it was a 15' tracker aluminum jon boat with a yamaha fourstroke 9.9. no registration numbers on the hull.
looked a bit suspicious but i, too, have run a boat with no registration numbers back when i was a college student. and some even after then.
they did say that they had a chain saw with them and would be cutting some firewood and wanted to be sure the racket wouldn't bother us.
i assured them that it wouldn't so to have at it.
i again told them that the surf on that beach was gonna be ugly before dawn at high tide and left them to their devices.
got back to the camp, got the beejeebus scared out of me by the wife coming out of the shadows.
probably exactly what i'd done to them college boys a few minutes earlier.
we watched the lights wander around for a bit more, heard the chainsaw crank up and after a while saw one heck of a bonfire in the dunes.
i'll bet you could have seen that fire from space.
we laughed about the situation and the various reactions to the scenario and then hit the sack.
next morning around 6am, just before dawn, the early riser made a pot of coffee, we got a cuppa and wandered down the beach to see what we could see.
i was curious about that boat. did they really drag it a 100 feet up the beach where it wold be safe...?
got about 3/4 of the way to the campsite i'd shown them and came across the boat.
bow pointing to sea, canted off on the port side and had more than a couple hundred gallons of water in it and another 50 gallons of sand.
so much for listening to advice.
the engine didn't look damaged and the gas tank wasn't submerged so perhaps all wasn't as bad as it looked.
we went back to our campsite to begin to break camp as we needed to catch the incoming tide at 11am - and needed to be ready to go before the tide covered the sand bars and the surf did to us what it had done to the jon boat during the night.
we kept a watch on their campsite looking for signs of activity but the sun rose higher and no sign of life...staying up late and drinkin' will do that to college students. so i recall. but the memories are a bit hazy....
around 10-ish or so, one of them got up and headed towards the beach. shortly after he went back to their camp site and brought the other two to see the boat.
i grabbed a 5 gallon bucket and headed up the beach. when i got there they had tried to splash some water out and pick up some sand with their bare hands and then were contemplating using a paddle as a crude shovel and water moving device. i reckon they'd have been finished by christmas or so.
i asked them if they'd like to borrow a bucket. they assented and got to work. the boat owner bailed for a bit then handed the bucket off after joanna suggested that perhaps the crew should work a bit if they expected a ride back to the other side of the bayou.
as we watched the crew sweat a bit, the owner asked me if there were any completely black racoons around.
particularly any with no tail.
he said something had been rumaging through their trash pile during the night.
he got up and shined a flash light on it and whatever it was bolted.
we said we'd not heard of black no-tailed racoons nor bears on little tybee but had seen some odd tracks.
dunno what is wandering around out there.
the loch ness monster could move in, shack up with a yeti and both could easily stay hidden out there for years.
do you hear banjos?
an hour or so later, they had to boat emptied. took off the motor, dragged it down to the water held the bow up to drain out more water and then hooked the motor back on.
lo and behold, it ran.
they brought me my bucket and said they were headed out. the boat owner said everytime he took that boat out he learned something new.
i guess so.
we finished up breaking camp and headed back to the world.