MD - Half Delmarva - 2004/06/16 to 2004/06/27 - 316 miles

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Great Chesapeake Bay "Trail" from Havre de Grace, where the Susquehanna births the Bay, around Cape Charles, at the mouth of the Bay, and back north along the Virginia Sea Isles to Assateague Island National Seashore. For those interested in a trip with big mileage, this is it.

Day 1 - Havre de Grace to Tolchester - 26.3 miles

I like long paddles. The only thing better than a full day out on the water is a series of them back to back. While the Chesapeake Bay is mostly about day trips, it is possible to put together a long trip of several hundred miles. When my family scheduled a vacation at Assateague Island in late June, I decided to paddle there. I would paddle the entire length of the Bay, from the Susquehanna to Cape Charles and then up the coast through the Virginia Sea Isles to meet them at the State park at Assateague, about 300 miles of paddling. A trip around the entire Delmarva (DELaware MARyland VirginiA) peninsula, a popular rite of passage with small boat owners, is more than 500 miles. This would be a "Half Delmarva". The portion of the full Delmarva up Delaware Bay between Ocean City and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal is rather boring and difficult to locate camping spots.

I started my trip early on the morning of June 16th. It was a warm, humid grey day typical of summer on the Bay. I arrived in Havre de Grace at the mouth of the Susquehanna at 6:30 A.M. I packed my kayak with 12 days worth of supplies and camping equipment. Unlike the 700 mile month long trip on Lake Powell last September, all the gear went into my kayak with room left over. Of course I had already test packed the kayak the day before, but it was still an auspicious start when everything went in so smoothly.

I pulled away from the small beach next to the Tidewater Grill at 7:15 A.M. The Acela train rumbled over the bridge as I lifted the heavy kayak into the water. The river was glassy smooth as I passed the anchored small sailboats and the tourist paddle-wheeler at the dock along the shore.

I headed out the channel and soon turned to the southeast to cross the broad but shallow bay called the Susquehanna Flats where the sediment of the Susquehanna River has deposited into a several square mile rectangle of shallow water. Once covered by a massive grove of submerged aquatic grasses, the turgid water now chokes the life from the once prolific region. The natural filtering processes of the once impressive grass mat are now overwhelmed by the nitrogen load washed off of farms and lawns coming out of the huge drainage basin of the Susquehanna.

The foggy calm day concealed the high banks of Elk Neck on the east edge of the flats. To the south, the first retort of canon fire rolled out from the Aberdeen Proving grounds, a military base that tests artillery. In just under two hours, I had turned the corner at Spesutie Island, swinging wide to avoid the restricted zone around the secure Army facility. The whole west side of the upper bay is occupied by the base and is restricted from entry. You must paddle outside of the marked zone that extends almost half way out into the bay. I was planning to paddle down the east side of the Bay anyway.

I angled over toward the shore, coming in along the high red clay banks at the mouth of the Sassafras River, just a few miles from Betterton. My friends and I had done a two day paddle along this section last year. I was planning on staying the same place we had stayed last year, a camp just north of Tolchester Beach.

A five knot head wind cleared some of the fog and provided some welcome cooling on this humid day. I stopped briefly at a quartz sand beach along the way. I arrived at my proposed camping destination early in the day at 3:30 PM. Since I was unsure that there was any other place to camp further south, I decided to stop early. I exited my kayak in knee deep water because the beach at low tide was covered with basketball sized rocks. The broad beach above it provides a more hospitable landing at half tide or more.

There under some oak trees was a swimming platform that had apparently seen its last days. It made a smooth, hard place to pitch my tent. The breeze continued all afternoon and the sun came out strong to dry my gear spread out over the branches of the scrub oak. A nap filled several hours of the late afternoon. Clouds rolled in once more and a grey sky formed a window through which the setting sun passed rays of gold that lit the bottom of the clouds. I had forgotten my cockpit cover so I made a substitute from my spray skirt. Last year a mouse had raided Julio's boat and chewed up his PFD strap.

The mosquitos appeared briefly at dusk. It was almost the summer solstice. It didn't get really dark until 9:30 P.M. Safe from the blood suckers behind the netting of my tent, I watched the barge traffic traverse the narrow but deep channel just 100 yards offshore. Most of the traffic was headed up the Bay to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. During the night I would hear several tug and barge combinations pass by as I tossed and turned on the implacably flat and hard wooden platform. Next time I definitely will put the tent on the sand.

Day 2 - Tolchester to Tilghman Island - 30.1 miles

The next morning dawned grey once again with a light headwind. I broke camp and started paddling by 7:30 A.M. to Tolchester Beach, a once thriving amusement destination community. I was planning a long mileage day to Coaches Island and needed to get an early start.

I saw several bald eagles fishing the waters as I passed the few houses along the beach in Tolchester. Last year we saw nearly thirty different individual eagles on our two day trip and I had seen eight yesterday.

I followed the coast south to Rock Hall. Just before the coast turns to the east into the harbor of Rock Hall there is a small section of oak and mimosa trees with a nice beach that would serve nicely as another camping spot. I could have stayed there, another five miles farther along.

Once again the wind died out and a curtain of grey descended on the Bay. It became a surreal scene as sky and water merged and everything looked the same in all directions. Only the stark posts of a fish weir provided any contrast in the disorienting monotone off Eastern Neck Island as I headed up the Chester River.

I passed under the high bridge carrying Route 50 over Kent Island Narrows. The early history of the island was quite contentious. William Claibourne claimed it as part of Virginia and several skirmishes were fought for possession of the rich farmland there.

The current was moderate as it was close to slack tide. The current can get quite strong through this narrow passage between the Chester and Miles rivers. I paddled on by the Chesapeake Exploration Center, one of the Chesapeake Gateway sites and out into the wide opening on the other side. I had paddled here with a large group earlier in the year.

I went between a small inhabited island and the mainland. This island, Parson's Island, was once attached to Kent Island and was known as Parson's Point or Parson's Neck. The peninsula was first recorded as an island in 1847. in the early 1900's the DuPont family of Delaware rented the island for hunting. Henry Bryer, of Breyers Ice Cream, owned it briefly, but sold it after two years to the McCormick Spice company. they utilized the island for testing their line of pesticides and for testing spice production. They briefly used it to grow turkeys but that enterprise failed when the one cold winter caused the river to freeze over and all the turkeys walked off. McCormick later used the island as a hunting lodge for executives and corporate guest. The island is currently owned by Parsons Enterprises, a development company. Parsons Island loses 4.5 acres per year to erosion.

I headed for an even smaller island to the west. The island was surrounded by a wooden bulkhead and provided a hauling out place for seagulls and several hundred cormorants The stench coming off the little island was overwhelming. A small break in the otherwise impassable sea wall would provide a place to land, but there is no tree cover and birds cover every square foot of the 1/4 acre island. It provides no place to camp. This little sub acre parcel of land is known as Bodkin Island and like its larger neighbor was also a point. By the mid 1700's it was an island of about 1000 acres. By 1847 it was down to 50 acres with a farm house and barn. It shrank to less than thirty acres at the turn of the century. Abandoned for farming, it used to be heavily forested, with a large heron rookery. The bulkheads are the remains of a $100,000.00 project started in 1982 by attorney Richard Eagle to preserve the island for a summer retreat. The home he constructed there was destroyed by storm the first winter. Vandals finished the job in 1985 when the entire island was burned. The island would be entirely gone if not for the bulkhead work. The island remains barren and the large quantities of Monarch butterflies that used the island as a stop over no longer visit the tiny sand island.

I headed down the Miles River toward my evening objective, Coaches Island. A part of a group of islands known locally as Poplar Island Pot because of the shallow bay enclosed by three islands. Originally named for a Richard Popely one of William Claibourne's exploration party, it was probably renamed for the large tulip poplars that used to grow on the island. When I was a boy, we used to anchor in this island group as we sailed between Annapolis and Oxford. The largest island, Poplar Island, once covered by tall pines, had totally washed away, opening the "Pot" on the western side. The State of Maryland has decided to restore the island with sediment dredged from the ship channel. There is now a large construction project going on, with earth moving machinery creating a rock clad island that will eventually be turned into a park just as Hart Miller Island east of Middle River was. The smallest island, Jefferson, was utilized as a retreat for Democratic elite from Washington as a hunting and social club. It hosted Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. The club burned in 1946 ending that illustrious era.

One of the more amusing pieces of Bay History was the 1847 attempt by Charles Carroll, a prominent family in Maryland history, to raise black cats on the island for the Chinese fur trade. He purchased a thousand black cats for a quarter a piece and moved them onto the island. When a cold snap froze the waters between Poplar Island and Tilghman Island, the deliveries of fish for the free range black cats on the island could not be made. The cats walked across the ice to Tilghman's Island in search of food, avoiding their fate as decoration on Chinese coats. The island was purchased by the Smithsonian Institute in 1967. It became a refuge for ospreys with as many as thirty nests. A large rookery of herons inhabited the tall pines before the reconstruction began.

A strong head wind of 15 knots had developed as I headed down the Bay. On top of that, an opposing current of 2 knots was coming up the Miles River. It was going to be a long afternoon getting the final eight miles to my camp.

As I was progressing ever so slowly down the Miles River, clouds were building behind me and I began to hear thunder in the distance. Hugh convective clouds were building, the heads butting into the stratosphere, spreading out anvils of smooth cloud shinning in the sun 30,000 feet high over their dark grey base. They kept getting closer. It was clear that they would reach me before I made it to my camp. I began to look for an alternative. The shore on the north end of Tilghman Island seemed to be sparsely built upon. I changed course to angle over toward that shore. I wasn't making much progress anyway.

When I reached shore, I found a section of pines between two farm houses. A small patch of beach barely above high tide provided a landing for the otherwise steep eroded bank guarded by fallen pine tree trunks. I unloaded my kayak, set up my tent, carried my kayak into the pines, turned it upside down and retired to the tent just as the storm hit. I had located the tent in a small clearing near an already toppled tree, avoiding the dead snags and trees that might be brought down in the strong winds of a summer thunderstorm.

The wind veered around into the north and blew 25 knots. The waves quickly rose and beat against the bank, sending spray up into the forest. I had pitched the tent some 50 feet back from the bank. It was just enough. The spray fell about 10 feet from the front of the tent. It was just a few minutes after 4:00 P.M. It was to be another long session in the tent. When I awoke from my nap, the rain had stopped. I went outside to check the kayak for racoon proofing and to retrieve my relief bottle. I had to retreat back to the tent as the mosquitos appeared at dusk.

Day 3 - Tilghman Creek to James Island - 25.6 miles

The next morning was dripping wet with heavy humidity in the air. Last nights storms were gone. The wind and waves no longer beat upon the shore, replaced by an oily look of calm winds. I got up a little late to let the mosquito population return to bed and was paddling by 8:30 A.M. I followed the coast down along the northern section of Tilghman and then cut over into the reconstructed Poplar Island "Pot". Coaches is a privately owned island on the southeast side of the Pot. It has a small trailer located on the north end. On the south side of the island are some tall pines where blue heron roost. There are some sand beaches there as well. There is a lot of construction activity on the new dredge filled island nearby, with trucks and heavy equipment running up and down the barren rock lined island. It should be an excellent spot to stop once the construction is done, the fill has settled and the island prepared for campers.

I continued past Poplar Island and past the entrance to Knapps Narrows, a small community on a channel through Tilghman Island. This cut is frequently used by small boats entering the Choptank River from farther north on the bay. An old bridge over the waterway is one of the few not replaced by a fixed bridge. Current through the cut can be stiff, but today I was continuing past, following the west shore of Tilghman Island. Just before leaving the southern end of Tilghman Island, I could just make out the group of three islands, including James Island, just off the opposite shore of the mouth of the wide tidal Choptank River (I forgot to wipe the droplets off the camera lens.)

The calm paddle to the island was very hot as there was either no breeze or 3 knots from behind, meaning that I was paddling in a dead calm. With not even my forward motion providing any breeze, I dipped my hat into the water and wetted my shirt in order to keep from overheating. I was starting to get dehydrated, so I began drinking water every 15 minutes instead of every 30. I wasn't thirsty, but I knew that my dehydration was a problem because I had felt no need to urinate all morning. I forced myself to drink although I really didn't feel like I wanted to do that either. My forced increase in liquids finally took hold. However, I soon added an electrolyte replacement drink to my intake to replenish the salts I was losing through my sweat. In a kayak, there is no shade other than a good hat. Sun stroke and heat exhaustion are definite threats (See Other Medical Considerations in the Basics section.)

James Island on the southern lip of the mouth of the Choptank River is one of the nicest places to camp in the Chesapeake. Julio and I had camped there last year the last night of our trip from Crisfield to Cambridge. There is a long beach facing the east with a broad area of coarse sand well above high tide. You can also camp in among the pines, although the mosquito problem is much more severe among the shaded trees. A shallow sandy bottom slopes away from the beach perfect to sitting in the cool water.

James Island was originally connected to Taylors Island, now a half mile to the southeast. Now split into three separate islands with shallow water in between, the islands continue their rapid erosion. The homes, school and store once erected on this island are all long gone. The islands are home to one of two Sitka deer populations in Maryland. The diminutive elk ( not deer actually) look like deer fawns with permanent spots on their coats. They are imports from Japan where they were almost exterminated for their horns, thought to be a powerful aphrodisiac.

Speaking of aphrodisiacs, June is the season for skate mating. It was in full swing as I landed on the northern portion of the beach. The large females cruise along the surface of the water, the tips of their wings curled up like two cruising sharks. Behind them are two to six half sized males continually attempting to mate. After being hounded for hours, the females try to escape with a great burst of speed, skipping across the surface of the water, sending spray in all directions. The respite is good for only a few minutes, as the males soon catch up to press their relentless advances once more. The water broke every 10 minutes or so as another female attempted an escape.

Once again I had arrived early in the day, 2:30 P.M. and was faced with some serious tent time. The biting flies and green heads drove me into the tent, except for brief dips in the water after the hot temperature in the canvas tent drove me back outside. Eventually the sun got low enough to provide shade from the pines one hundred feet in back of the tent. Late that night, I got out of the tent to look at the stars and the faint trail of the Milky Way. All the bugs had gone to bed. It was quite pleasant to sit out and watch the sky.

Day 4 - James Island to Honga River - 25.7 miles

I awoke early the next morning and as soon as the sun cleared the horizon sending that mornings mosquitos off to wherever it is they spend the day (probably the woods), I packed and headed south once more. But, miracles of miracles, there was a stiff 15 to 20 knots of wind coming from the Northwest. I was headed south, with a free ride from the 2 foot white capping waves.

I flew down along the coast with a fair current, catching waves and speeding along at 6 and 7 knots, sometimes stringing consecutive rides on the sharp little wave fronts. I lay back on the rear deck, transferring my weight as far aft as possible to keep the back of my kayak buried in the wave to forestall or deny the wave from broaching me into the trough. This was really fun.

The good ride lasted a couple hours until I got into water so shallow that the waves weren't quite high enough for the laden boat to pick up. Although I did find out that you can surf a 6 inch wave if the water is only 12 inches deep. The shallow water ground effect that creates so much resistance when paddling will lift the kayak onto a plane even with the diminutive breaking waves.

I got trapped in the loop of a dredge pipe and had to hop the kayak over the almost completely submerged pipe. I dangled on the pipe for a few seconds and had to low brace on the way down the other side as the back of my kayak slid off the pipe. It probably would have been smarter to paddle hard up wind and current to exit out of the far end of the loop of pipe, but I made it OK.

I continued past Barren Island opposite Tar Bay where brown pelicans frequently nest, but I did not see any of them there this year. The fourteen farms, with their barns and houses, that once dotted the island were long gone. I was on the wrong side of the island to see the remains of the large hunting clubhouse on the western side of the island. The invading waters first damaged the clubhouse in 1987 and by 2002 only foundation and pilings remained. The island is now a bird sanctuary under the management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Just beyond the island, the tall fixed bridge at Hooper Island provides access to the Honga River, a wonderful place to explore by kayak. I paddled into the river and took the long loop of the river around the marsh. I came ashore at the launch ramp at the extreme end of the road on the island. There I emptied my portable toilet, filled up with water at the marina and dumped my garbage. My amenities were now renewed and I was good for another 5 to 7 days.

On the very tip of Hooper Island I found a small grove of pine trees with dry ground in the otherwise marshy landscape. Unfortunately, the ground was covered with poison oak plants, new and freshly green leaves sprouting profusely from the heavy pine needle duff on the forest floor. I set my tent in a relatively sparse area, covered up the few plants in front of my tent with additional dead pine needles, and stepped gingerly around the other plants. I don't "take" poison oak or poison ivy easily, but if you do, this is no place for you.

I walked the small beach and saw many pieces of iron, shards of pottery, broken and smoothed pieces of coal and brick, all evidence of occupation of this site. I saw what might have at one time been a foundation, but it was so scattered and decayed I could not be sure that that was the location of the dwelling. Hooper Island was a much more substantial place when the Bay provided a bounty of oysters in the late 1800's.

A ruby sun set through the pines as the wind continued to blow out of the north northwest, promising another good day for my continued southerly course on the morrow.

Day 5 - Honga River to Tangier - 26.8 miles

During the night the wind shifted to the northeast, blowing on the side of the tent instead of in the front. The wind kept the mosquitos at bay, so I was able to get up before sunrise and begin my packing, being careful to avoid the poison oak as much as possible. The stiff 20 knots would provide some more surfing if the direction was right. The temperature was much cooler today with lower humidity and a bright blue sky.

I paddled out to the southeast with beam waves to the point were Hooper Island ends. I could not see the low Pone and Bloodsworth Islands that were my next objective. I took a bearing with my hand held compass, noted the relative position of the large steel light beacon to the south southeast and started out on my nearly south course. The waves were quartering so I would surf for a while then paddle in the trough, zig zagging my way south. I soon picked up the first bump of low land just to the left of my bow. The wind had decreased and there was not enough wave height to surf, so I stroked along just inside the current rip marked by the accumulation of foam along the surface. To the left of the foam line, the lighter, turgid water from the river moved south, to the right the colder clearer, darker waters of the open Bay moved north. Life was good on the open water. Across the Bay, the mouth of the Potomac River was just visible.

I made landfall on the north end of Pone Island and I continued on along the western side of the low lying island. The low marshy Bloodsworth Island would offer little place to stop. besides it is the property of the U.S. navy and they have used it for bombing ranges and Seal raining. It is closed to the public. On the northern side of the largest piece of the archipelago, was a fine piece of shore front property. This little fixer upper would probably sell cheap!

The string of islands continues on south, eventually coming to the settlement of Ewell on Smith Island. Holland Island, now uninhabited, used to have a thriving population of 360 people on it. The community framed and hunted, but mostly worked the prolific oyster beads of Tangier sound. At one point there were "eight pungies, thirty-six bugeyes, fourty-one skipjacks and two schooners" based at the island, mostly enjoined in the oyster harvest, but also in the crabbing and shad fisheries. Erosion and the rising Chesapeake waters forced settlers to move their houses, barns and even fences to the mainland at Crisfield. Cambridge and other Eastern Shore communities. The island was abandoned in 1922.

I stopped on the nice beach on the north end of Smith Island. Owned by the Nature Conservancy, they vigorously defend against camping on this deserted beach, heavily utilized by nesting turtles. I had seen many turtle tracks on the beaches. In fact, I had seen tracks on James Island and a looted nest of broken leathery shells at last night's camp. The Honga River is filled with turtles, so in spite of the predation by raccoons on many breeding beaches, the turtles seem to be surviving.

I passed the settlement without going into the long walled entrance to Ewell. I didn't need any supplies, having taken care of all the necessities at Hooper Island. The wind had now swung around to a 5 knot headwind. I was unsure of the next camp site. Julio and I had come up the east side of the islands between Tangier and Smith Island. Because of the shallow water, we had stayed well to the east and had not verified the usability of the beaches between the two inhabited islands. If there was no place to camp, I would need time to reach an alternative.

There are low beaches on the southern end of Smith Island on the western shore. But they are backed by marsh and sport an impressive population of green flies and biting flies that seem to fly out to the kayak to greet me well before reaching shore. I kept going.

At the first small island/sand bar south of Smith, I pulled into an absolute riot of birds. Gulls, cormorants, pelicans and oyster catchers in great numbers filled the air with their cacophonous voices. It looked like thousands of pelicans were nesting on this nice little island. Their ugly grey fuzz covered chicks sat in little depressions all over the broad sand beach. Unlike the other small island in the Miles River, the smell here was not too bad. In spite of the wonderful beach here, I decided to continue on and find a place where my presence would be less of a disturbance to the nesting birds.

The scene was repeated on many of the little sand bar islets strung out like pearls on a necklace between Smith and Tangier Islands. I have never seen so many sea birds on the Chesapeake. Gulls filled the air overhead, the pelicans ferried fish from the wide Bay to their half grown chicks, sandpipers ran up and down the beach and oyster catchers flew in little groups along the shoreline.

With Tangier in sight over the now calm waters, I pulled into the beach at a narrow place on one of the sand bars where the concentration of birds seemed low. A few gull chicks waddled up the beach to get away from me. Defenseless little balls of grey spotted with black, I chased one down for a picture. He attempted to escape into the water, but I cut him off and forced him back up onto the beach where I am sure he was convinced he was going to die. He went immobile on the sand where his color and camouflage made him almost invisible. I left him untouched to rejoin his fellow chicks huddled some hundred feet down the beach.

Near where I hauled the kayak up onto the beach, a long abandoned nest held two gull eggs and a third buried in the sand. Built too low or too close to the high water mark, it must have been lost several weeks ago as all the other chicks were of the same age.

A strong sun was still shinning at 5:00 P.M. when I set up my tent. Still a little damp from the rain storm two nights before, it quickly dried out in the strong sun and dry conditions. I sat in the little patch of shade at the back of the tent and watched the birds soar overhead. The sun beat upon the unshaded shore. I reflected on the harshness of life here on this narrow spit of sand. No shade, no water, barely above the high tide line, open to the winds and rain of thunderstorms. But at least there were no predators here, no foxes, no raccoons, no dogs. Perhaps not such a bad place after all.

The sun slowly set into a clear western sky, providing a series of striking sunset shots. No-see-ums appeared shortly before dusk, but there were few flies here and no mosquitos. The place smelled fine with very little guano on the sand. Perhaps it was all washed clean along with all the tracks by the strong rain of two nights ago.

Day 6 - Tangier to Davis Wharf - 25.5 miles

This morning the winds were blowing 15 to 20 knots from the south - another headwind for my long paddle across the open water of Tangier Sound. I battled the strong winds for the six miles down to Tangier. On the south end of Tangier is a long spit of sand dune that would have provided an excellent camping site. I should have continued in the low winds of the day before. It would have shortened this day's paddle significantly. I looked out into the wide expanse of the Bay south of Tangier. The strategic position of Tangier for the British during the War of 1812 was evident.

I started out on my southward course, angling slightly to the east toward the Virginia peninsula that I knew lay off in that direction. The winds were strong and the steep wind waves built to 2-3 feet in the long fetch ahead of me. Progress was slow as my kayak pounds into a head sea because of the buoyancy in the bow section, unlike Greenland style kayaks which slice through oncoming waves. It soon became apparent that I would not be able to maintain my course for the 25 miles crossing that I had planned.

I changed my course about 20 degrees to the east. At an angle, my speed against both the wind and the waves was much increased. Further, the distance to shore was much shorter as I crossed the open water to the land which nearly paralleled my course. In about five hours of difficult paddling, I made landfall about 4 miles south of Onancock. There I found a nice beach where I put up my tent and took a much needed rest. I had something to eat and a short nap. Feeling better and with plenty of daylight left, I packed up the tent and continued down the coast for two hours to Davis Wharf. There I found another nice beach where I camped for the night.

Day 7 - Davis Wharf to Cape Charles City - 23.2 miles

The next morning I continued along the shore headed south toward Cape Charles City. The coast along this section is sparsely settled. The water is shallow. Commercial watermen use flat bottomed skiffs to crab the wide shallows extending well off the shore. A 15 knot wind from the south southwest pushed waves onto the shore and the small waves broke well out from the coast. Sometimes I paddled outside the breaking waves and sometimes inside between the breakers and the shoreline. There were many beaches and camping opportunities on the outer shore which was broken by many heavily wooded rivers. it looked like a great area to explore by kayak.

I paddled steadily throughout the day and by mid afternoon I had reached Cape Charles City. On the outskirts of the harbor, I stopped at a campground to refill my water bags. With a full supply of fresh water, there was no need to go into the town, which looked to be undergoing a significant building boom. On the south side of town was a large concrete factory. No doubt this facility was used in the construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. it was still in operation making supports and other concrete castings, possibly some of which went for replacements on the bridge.

Several hours more brought me to a nice wide beach about 4 miles south of Cape Charles City. I pulled up on the beach at a good looking spot. When I got up on the beach, a stench of a huge 100 pound rotting fish made me relocate several 100 yards farther upwind on the beach. Several deer came walking along the beach, bounding up into the small oaks and pines once they spotted me.

I had just retired to the tent prior to mosquito time when abruptly the cicadas that had been filling the scene with their high pitched grinding all shut off as if a switch had been thrown. Thirty seconds later, the back end of my tent leapt into the air as a 35 knot wind came roaring down the beach. The cicadas had sensed it coming and gone for cover before the winds struck.

I had put all the weight of my gear in the front of the tent to hold it against what had been the days prevailing 15 knot southerly wind. I dove to the rear of the free standing tent getting it back down on the sand. Moving my water bags from the front of the tent to the rear kept it in place.

Now I had another problem. The fine sand of this beach, whipped by the strong wind from the rear of the tent, came up the sloping back of the tent and through the bug netting of the rear window. It showered down in a fine powder all over my sleeping bag. I discovered that the design of this old tent was flawed in that the flap covering the mesh zipped up on the sides only. This left the top of the flap open. This wasn't a problem in rain as the window was covered by as horizontal flap. But in these conditions the wind pressure kept the top of the inside flap open. Sand continued to pour over the top edge. Worse than that, the vertical aluminum zippers did not lock. With the shaking of the tent in the high wind, the zippers quickly opened, exposing the entire window.

I got out my emergency kit. With a piece of string from the kit, I tied the two zippers together, which kept them from descending. Then I stuffed my nylon wind pants into the pocket of the window. This stopped most of the sand. By this time, the wind had decreased and there was not as much sand blowing about. Now I turned my attention to the other problem that had come up. The dead putrefying fish that I had camped upwind of was now downwind. The smell was stifling. I went outside, walked down the beach and dragged the carcass out into the water. The wave action and current floated it down past my camp and off downwind.

Day 8 - Cape Charles City to Ship Shoal Inlet - 27.4 miles

In the morning the wind from the north was gone, replaced by a light southerly breeze of 5 knots. I paddled off from the beach and headed to the east side of Fisherman's Island, the last part of land on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel begins its 18 mile crossing there. A strong tide was ebbing out the Bay and I rode the 2 knot current, making the 8 miles from my camp to the tall bridge in just 90 minutes. As I rounded Fisherman's Island, the south wind quit. I exited the Bay into the Atlantic Ocean in a complete calm.

I paddled north along the coast outside the breaker line formed by a decaying swell from the southeast. This line was well offshore. I passed the Cape Charles Lighthouse and three World War II observation towers. Why they needed three of them side by side I didn't understand. Each had three stories of observation decks. How many people did it take to spot a naval invasion? I passed an anchored charter fishing boat and a small open fishing boat that had stopped to discuss the local conditions. They were anchored just outside the breakers in the south flowing current.

I was paddling along contemplating the military strategy of watch towers, when to my ocean side, a larger than usual swell rolled in and began to form a curl just 100 feet from the kayak. It was clear that I was caught in this one. It formed quickly. A long line of curling foam that could not be paddled away from came rushing at me. As it arrived, I jabbed my paddled blade into the face of the wave in a low brace. The wave broke on me sending cold water down my arm pit over the top of my nylon spray skirt. The wave was thin and I easily broke through on the other side. I had leaned into the breaker a little too hard and had to use the brace to keep from rolling over on the back side of the wave. I pointed the bow a little farther outside the breakers ahead so that another wave would not catch me in "no mans land".

I headed up along the shore, paddling outside the breaker line. Once past the open water of the inlet, I was able to paddle closer to shore, but the shallow sloping sea bottom still kept me a 1/2 mile from the beach. I was struggling against a south bound along-shore current. Then the wind picked up out of the north east - a head wind once more. My progress slowed to a what seemed like a crawl. The low, monotonous sea side shoreline seemed unchanging. I was getting nowhere fast. I stuck it out until Ship Shore inlet, making only 8 miles in four hours.

I turned into Ship Shoal Inlet, against a strong current flowing out. The weather was looking a little dicey. I had a feeling there was some bad stuff coming.

The beach at the inlet was very shallow and the high tide mark was well up the beach. The lower beach was paved with clam and oyster shells. I exited in knee deep water and gently brought the laden kayak up onto the sand, lifting one end and then the other up over the hard edges of the shells. Once clear of the wave action, I unloaded the gear and carried it up the beach to the edge of the dune grass line. Just above the 8 foot wide line of rotting sea grass, I pitched the tent. There were no mosquitos out but the flies were thick. It was only 2:30 P.M., but I went into the tent for respite from the little pests. Later in the afternoon I walked several miles up the beach, seeing not a single foot print. Late in the afternoon, a squall came in from the north and the wind blew strong from the north. I was in the tent without a care, happy to not be struggling up the shore to make the next inlet.

Day 9 - Ship Shoal Inlet to Quinby Inlet - 23.7 miles

The next morning was grey and overcast with intermittent light rain. I packed up the wet gear and stuffed it into the kayak. It always seems to be twice as much stuff when it is wet. I packed the kayak on the waters edge and lifted the ends of the kayak into the small waves rolling in off the nearly calm sea into the inlet. Just after leaving the shore I saw the head and about half the body of a huge sea turtle. The turtle's large eye must have been two inches across. It quickly ducked back under the surface when it spotted my boat.

Heading west along the low marsh grass, I paddled back into the interior behind the low barrier island. With a north headwind and yesterday's experience with the southerly current, I had decided to alter my plan of paddling on the seaward side of the islands, opting for the longer, but hopefully more interesting passage up the backside of the islands. The water in the sounds in the Virginia Sea Islands is quite shallow at low tide. In fact a good bit of it goes dry. I headed north in water varying in depth from 1 foot to 3 inches. In places I had to alter course to find enough water to float the kayak. The shallow water slowed my progress as the bottom drag effect made paddling seem like peddling up hill on a bike.

I saw a man out clamming on the shallow mud flats. He had obviously arrived some hours ago as his boat was sitting on top of the mud, no water around for hundreds of feet. He slowly worked the clam rake through the mud, bending down to pick up the shells of the clams brought to the surface. He had several large burlap bags laying on the exposed mud bottom. He was covered in mud. I paddled close as I navigated the shallow water. The man didn't look up.

"Hows the market this year?" I asked.

"Not bad" he replied.

"How did you do in the storm last night?", he asked.

"I was on the beach in my tent." I said.

"We saw you down at Fisherman's Island and we were hoping you were OK out there."

My experience with watermen is that they view kayaks in a mixture of amazement that any one would do something like that in such a small boat and skepticism about whether a paddler has any idea about what he is doing. However, it was good to know that they were looking out for me in the same way that men working the sea watch out for each other when conditions turn sour. I paddled on without further comment.

I continued up the inside of the islands, passing Great Machipongo Inlet in the rain. The markers in the inlet channel seemed stationary as I struggled to make progress out the inlet. The current rushed by them, making progress out the inlet and on up north quite difficult. I finally passed the inlet and was once more on the backside of the islands, paddling along the marsh grass islands.

I paddled all afternoon to brightening skies. By late afternoon, blue skies and hot temperatures had returned. I paddled across to the north side of Quinby Inlet and camped on the spit of sand there. I picked a steep portion of the beach for my camp. That way I had a short haul to the kayak for my gear instead of the 300 yard hike that can result when the tide goes out.

Day 10 - Quinby Inlet to Chincoteague - 47.5 miles

The next morning I packed up and started up a small lead through the marsh that my map indicated flowed through to the north, rejoining the sound behind the barrier island. I followed the narrow leads through the marsh grass which mostly blocked my view of the surrounding marsh. After an hour I finally admitted to myself that I had either made a wrong turn somewhere or my map was incorrect as I could not find a lead that continued on. The two different leads I tried seemed to take me to the right place, but neither one went through. I turned back and two full hours after leaving the camp, I was back again, with 6 miles of paddling and nothing to show for it.

I regained the marked channel and headed northwest continuing on my way. The only shortcuts I took were those where I could both see markers in the distance and was absolutely sure that there was no marsh grass between me and the markers. many of them stood so clearly above the marsh grass, inviting the unwary to head directly for them, but they actually were separated from the open water by 100 yards or more of low lying marsh. Several times I was happy to have taken a conservative approach.

The current was with me as I paddled along the alternating open shallow sounds and narrow channels. The current was with me in flood as I ran in toward the mainland. When I got to the mainland, the marked channel led back out toward the ocean just as the tide turned to ebb. I had hoped that this would be the case from the timing of the tides that I had observed, but it is always a treat when these things work out. I paddled along making great time until I came to the islands I had planned on camping on. Every ten feet there was a sign about this being a regulated area because of bird nest and to not even think of landing here, much less camping. I kept paddling.

The miles kept going by and I was still feeling OK. There was nowhere to pull out and camp. The marsh was everywhere with its low lying mud banks flooding at high tide. Soon I was paddling in the area of Wallops Island, a military weapons test center. The ominously sparse signs were less than hospitable to any place that might have served as a campsite, even though none appeared. I kept paddling.

And so on and on I paddled until I finally cleared Wallops Island. Ahead of me across the bay was Chincoteague Island. The tidal current had finally turned against me and my old friend the headwind had returned. I struggled to finish the last several mile to landfall on the southern end of Chincoteague. I paddled into the arbor where the commercial fishermen keep their boats. next to a large shrimp boat, I pulled my boat up onto the beach, pitched my tent behind the dumpster next to the parking lot and headed to the porta potties across the way. After a quite and simple dinner, I hit the tent exhausted from a long day of paddling with my highest mileage ever. Long hours of daylight, a favorable tide and necessity had all come together to create this personal best mileage day.

Day 11 - Chincoteague to Sinepuxent - 15.0 miles

I awoke early to get packed up and on the water before anyone really noticed my presence. I suppose the watermen noticed but they really didn't care. I headed out of the little harbor and started up the shore on the west side of Chincoteague Island. The currents here can be quite strong. As I came to a point, sneaking up the eddy along the shore, I had to enter the current and stroke hard to make any progress as the ebbing tide whipped around the shallow point. The paddling was hard for five minutes, but I kept gaining ground and eventually moved away from the swiftest water.

I continued paddling north among the long docks built out into the shallow bay. Right in town tied up in the deep channel just after the bridge to the island were a number of large shrimp boats. Most of them were from North Caroline but some were out of Panama and other Caribbean nations. Their large net riggers tower above the decks of the salty looking vessels.

Leaving the town of Chincoteague, I paddled past million dollar mansions being built right along the fragile shores of northern Chincoteague Island. I wondered how they would fare in the next big hurricane that will definitely hit here. It made me a little mad to realize that my insurance premiums on my house subsidize the stupidity of building such large, lightly used status symbols in so precarious a place.

I paddled across the bay and investigated a couple of islands close to the mainland. Studded with pine trees, each had a private home dominating the five to ten acre isles. I paddled on. I stopped at an uninhabited island with a small oyster shell beach. It was the only beach I had seen in the past 15 miles. I knew that there wasn't much of anything campable further on in Assawoman Bay. After resting awhile, I decided that since I was ahead of schedule because of the big 47 mile day, I would stop here and leave a slightly longer paddle for the next day. A pink sun shown faintly through the clouds and humidity.

Day 12 - Sinepuxent Bay to Assateague State Park - 19.0 miles

The next morning I packed up for the final time and made an early start for the final day. The wide, open and shallow Assawoman Bay stretched out to the north. I paddled along the western side of it, following along the channel marker by alternating day markers. I stopped to investigate a small creek where an oyster catcher posed on a stake for his picture. I got out to stretch my legs at a public landing called Public Landing. Back in the kayak I paddled on up the bay, making the rendezvous point for my pickup just 15 minutes before the scheduled time. I pulled into the busy ramp, unloaded my kayak and waited until my ride came. This adventure was over.




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