|She was the first hurricane in the 2008 season and perhaps she was a little confused. Hurricane Bertha had come up the middle of the Atlantic ocean and stalled out over Bermuda. Now she was wandering off the shores of Newfoundland. But her children were still making their way onto the beaches of the eastern seaboard of the U.S. It was our chance to get some long period swells coming on the Virginia Barrier islands instead of the short period, confused, curling dumping stuff we normally get. Pacific ocean conditions would be with us for a few days before the swell subsided.
We got down to Nassawaddox, a really small village on the Virginia peninsula on the southern shore. An elongated spit of pine and sand hanging from an equally improbable piece of Maryland stuck on the bottom of Delaware, the area is still largely old time farming, waterman community. The signs of development are beginning to creep in as housing projects are advertised starting first at the southern tip of the area where the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel leaves for the long water crossing to the Norfolk, Virginia area. Our friend Harding grew up here and still owns a house that would be the center of our weekend.
For our first day of paddling, we started in Wachapreague, a small waterside community now given over to antique stores, tourist restaurants, charter fishing boats and kayak rentals. Only small signs of the seafood industry that once dominated the place remain.
We launched at the free ramp on the left side of the large restaurant perched on the banks overlooking the marsh. The single slot ramp is concrete with a small unloading area in front of it. Parking is along the street. There are no facilities of any kind here. It really needs a bathroom facility as all that is available now is private at the marina on the other side of the restaurant. The marina has its own ramp for which it charges a fee and the facilities are reserved for its own patrons.
The paddle out to the ocean from Wachapreague is about 6 statute miles. You can follow the channel out which is slightly longer 6.5 miles to cut across a shallow bay like we did. Both paths lead you to just south of Wachapreague inlet between Cedar and Paramour islands. The strong current was with us this day as the tide had turned just an hour before our launch with the ebb shortening our transit time to just over an hour and a half.
We stopped on the spit of sand just before the ocean to snack, look at the surf and gear up for the action on the other side. Our weather was perfect, with air temperatures in the 90s water temperatures in the low 70s. A bright blue sky and warm sun topped it off. Only the numerous and persistent green head biting flies marred the scene.
Out in the ocean the forecasted 3 foot east swells at 11 second intervals came marching onto the beach in a long straight line, spilling consistently along a broad front onto the gently sloping beach. it was the type of surf we seldom see here. Usually a jumble of wind driven waves is coming ashore, curling and dumping, waiting to chew you up and grind you into the sand at the slightest error. Once over another was on you in 4 to 5 seconds making rolling back up all the harder. These were like the surf of the Pacific ocean. Lots of time to prepare and maneuver between crests, much easier to time as their size and break position was so consistent. And they were spilling with small little piles of foam beginning on a gently sloping fore that grew in a few seconds to about one third the height of the waves. Even with their greater forward speed, they were easy to catch as the slope up to the crest was long and shallow. Once on the wave there was no steep drop to bury he nose of the kayak into the water and spin or trip the boat around. In short they were perfect.
So we started our runs in. Julio took off first and caught a good sized one. I waited two crests and then took off also, slightly to the right of his position. i caught the wave easily and picked up speed. As the wave ahead of me dissipated, I saw that Julio had gone over and I was headed right for him. I let the wave turn me and I whipped into a broach.....and went over too. I rolled up in a few seconds an marveled at how wonderful it was to have so much time before the next wave came in. I was able to clear my eyes, nose, reset my camera and turn and paddle all before the next crest arrived. it was the only time I went over the entire day, although there were a few hurried braces and some near misses.
We left the ocean swells about 4:00 PM and rode the tide current back into Wachapreague. That night we celebrated our great day at El Maguey, the Mexican style restaurant in Exmore.
The next day we drove down to Kiptopeake and paddled out to the southern tip of Smith Island. Yesterday's swells had died somewhat and the wind waves were now contributing a more confused sea to the action on the beach. We played for a while in the wave against tidal current, but the rides were not good. We spent the rest of the time surfing the beach break, but it didn't come up to the great conditions we had the previous day.