Trip report: Albemarle Sound hang
Suddenly three dolphins emerge off our kayak bows, rising in unison, blowing and diving again as if guiding our way. They turn back to investigate, diving ten feet in front of our boats and emerging with a loud “phew” behind our backs. We sit in awe as the dolphin circle and then swim lazily off to the west.
Having launched at Mashoes, Andrew and I are midway in our short three mile trip through East Lake to the east end of Durant’s Island when the dolphin appear. Ten-knot winds are forecast, with a good chance of thunderstorms for the afternoon. We expect a wet evening.
Our plan is to camp one night on uninhabited Durant’s Island (a private hunt club where we have permission to use their island), and then make the ten mile crossing to Bay Cliff on Colington Island in the morning. With a few puffy white clouds above, for now the weather is stunning.
To our surprise, East Lake is full of dolphin. The fishing must be good. Andrew follows one pod off to the West; I follow another pod to the East. Many other dolphins are surfacing in the distance.
It is disturbing to note a solid line of drowned trees by waters edge. When I first paddled this area in 1997, there were a handful of dead trees. Six years ago, a few more. Now, there are many dead and drowning trees lining East Lake. I have read that the low-lying areas around Alligator River will be among the first harbingers of rising sea levels. The waters are clearly rising. I wonder what this area will look like in ten years. Get here while you can enjoy it!
The wind freshens as we laze away the afternoon. Soon, the wind picks up again. We are kayaking in some very frisky seas. Confused waves simultaneously break from two different directions … a phenomenon I have only experienced in East Lake. I call this area the “Strait of Confusion.”
With a stiff breeze at our backs, we easily surf through haul-over channel to the calm waters of the Albemarle Sound.
While stretching our legs at the spit, Andrew finds a turtle nest that had been disturbed by river otter. It must have been quite a feast.
Expecting the arrival of thunderstorms, we hurry west along Durant’s Island seeking a campsite. Guarded by tall trees at each end, a perfect little cove with wide white sand beaches appears. Hoping the trees will attract any lightning bolts that Thor hurls our way, we set camp about thirty feet away. We check the beach but find no signs of bear activity (we had bears in camp on this island last year). To the north of our waterside site is a stunning view of the Albemarle Sound; looking over a large marsh to our south we spot smoky remnants of the Pains Bay wildfire still smoldering in the distance.
It is a challenge finding a good site to hang. The only “trees” have drowned years ago and widow-makers abound. I consider going to ground but elect the trees with the fewest dead branches. Andrew, a ground dweller, is considering a switch after trying my WBBB.
With the sun setting dramatically in the west, we sit by our beach campfire munching crab sandwiches. A brilliant multi-tiered lightning storm passes on the northern horizon with bright streaks of yellow surrounded by pink, orange and grey clouds. As the lightning show drifts eastward, a dusky orange orb rises from the marsh behind us … the waning gibbous moon.
Crab sandwiches by a beach campfire, sunset, lightning display with an orange moon rising … does it get any better? We laugh when somebody asks, “I wonder what’s on TV tonight.”
With the moon shining brightly overhead, we fall asleep to the sound of waves gently lapping the beach not three feet from our shelters.
Breaking camp in the morning, Andrew and I perform a final inspection to make sure we leave no trace on this beautiful site. Then, we set off on our ten-mile slog across the Albemarle Sound to Collington Island.
The monotone voice on the weather radio predicts ten-knot Southwest winds, rising to fifteen in the afternoon, one foot seas with the ever-present chance of thunderstorms.
My leg cramps up as we approach Mashoes. I think, “This cannot happen! We still have miles to go.” After too many minutes painfully fidgeting in my kayak, the cramp miraculously disappears. Whew!
The skies are clear and breezes mild as we set off across the sound. We silently fall into rhythm with the only sounds coming from our paddles dipping into the cool water and a wave softly gurgling off our bows.
Knowing that we have some distance to cover, I try to concentrate on technique … sit up straight, bend forward slightly, rotate at the hips and push with the upper hand. Stroke after stroke I think, “Rotate, push … rotate, push … rotate, push … rota …” My mind quickly wanders … “Wonder what those gulls think of us? Look! Is that a white pelican? I have never seen one of those. The far shore seems to be a long, long way off.”
Soon, I realize that I am resting my back on the comfortable seat, ineffectively pulling on my paddle making little headway. “Concentrate!” I think, “… sit up, rotate, push … rotate, push … rotate, push … rota …” until my mind wanders again.
On we go. I try to concentrate but my mind darts back and forth like a sanderling feeding on the beach.
The breeze freshens as the predicted one foot seas grow to two feet. We must quarter the waves to maintain stability.
On we go. “Rotate, push … rotate, push … rotate, push …” My mind wanders. “Concentrate! Sit up! Rotate, push … rotate, push … rotate, push … rotate pu …..” It is a mind numbing routine. Ugh! I am tired.
A lone crabber passes … the only other person we have seen on the water. Finally, the far shore starts to grow larger, but it is still a long way off. “Concentrate! Sit up! Rotate, push … rotate, push … rotate, push … rotate, pu …..” Ugh! I am very, very tired.
After what seems to be an eternity, we finally reach Collington. It feels wonderful, absolutely wonderful, to stand up.
A switch clicks in my mind … all is forgotten. “Wow! That was great! What a beautiful day! It didn’t take long at all! What fun! Wahoo!”
Beautiful weather; no rain, no bears … an evening to remember. I am ready to go back and do it again.