On Section 4, the Gauley and the Grand Canyon, wise paddlers come to terms with the river gods, especially those residing in the undercuts and deepest-light sucking holes. Sea kayakers who venture much off-shore must reach a similar accord with Agloolik and Aipaloovik; and, those who ply the barrier islands must read those chapters of the Bible written by Alignak. He reaches down from the moon and pulls the water back and forth 4 times a day; we know his chapters as Tide Tables.
Enough of philosophy and Inuit mythology, I am writing this to record the saga of my pre-Christmas trip around Little Tybee with Tommy and his 12 year-old son TR. We’ll get back to Alignak and his powers later in the essay.
It’s only a 5-hour or so drive from Atlanta to Tybee; so in spite of the mandatory visit at Sea Kayak Georgia (recently acquired by Ronnie and Marsha) we were able to launch from Alley 3 by 16:00. Whoops! Isn’t that pretty late to start a multiday trip in December?
Risk management plan? No problemo. The weather was good, there was no wind, and it’s only a mile or so across Tybee Bay/Tybee Creek to Myrtle Hammock on Little Tybee. The beaches are huge and protected, offering easy landings and launchings. As back-up there are several good B & B’s and many hotels on Tybee. If worst came to worst, I imagine Ronnie would let the right sorts of people crash at Sea Kayak Georgia.
Myrtle Hammock is tremendous. It fronts a large marsh and a large lagoon with beaucoup wildlife. You can camp on the beach across from Tybee or paddle the perimeter of the dread Triangle, do a surf landing and camp in the dunes. If you elect this latter approach, remember that what was a calm, protected landing during the late afternoon can change dramatically the following morning.
We got up early the first morning for photo-ops and were butts-wet for our next camp, on Long Island Hammock, well before noon. Our destination was Williamson Island and we could have paddled there directly along the coast except the wind had come up, was out of the west, and the sea was running between 3 and 4 feet. This equals fun open-water paddling, except it’s not quite so fun in a fully loaded boat right at the beginning of a five-day trip; also, the interior route along Tybee Creek is more aesthetically pleasing.
There’s only one little trick to this scenic route: finding the inlet to Mosquito Ditch, the route to Long Island Hammock. Purists will use a nautical chart; alternatively, Sea Kayak Georgia will sell you a nice laminated aerial image of the area; or, you can download satellite images from Google Earth. True aficionados will use charts to practice coastal navigation and plot positions relative to the turn-off by triangulation utilizing various landmarks.
The photo images are nice because they directly represent what you are seeing from the water (like the various hammocks). Wimps will use a GPS into which they have preloaded waypoints. No matter which method you use, keep track of your surroundings, especially the turns, side creeks, and Long Island Hammock’s bearing. It’s no biggie if you miss Mosquito Ditch because it will soon become apparent (well, sooner or later) that you missed it and you can turn around. Oh, I almost forgot: consult the appropriate passages in Alignak’s Tide’Tables.The Ditch is a high tide passage. At high tide it’s 6 feet deep; at low tide it’s knee high mud; we did it at around a 12.
Long Island Hammock is one of the more interesting destinations on Little Tybee and I’ve spent several days exploring it on previous trips. However, our goal on this trip was to circumnavigate Little Tybee and spend some time in unexplored areas.
So, we got a relatively early start the next morning and paddled south down Mosquito Ditch to its confluence with Little Tybee Creek then out to the ocean. Good news, bad news. The sea was still running but the tide was rapidly ebbing, the break was several hundred meters out and we had protected shallow water to paddle in so we turned southwest along the coast figuring it was best to make Beach Hammock rather than camp on Williamson, as originally planned.
The paddle was pleasant enough, the water was a little over a foot deep and we forgot all about Alignak as we made the southwest tip of the island, ignored a fantastic camp site on Beach Hammock and continued up a creek that we assumed would lead to an even better campsite. Never assume; it makes an ASS of U and ME; and, never (I repeat NEVER) make your mind up that, no matter how bad it gets, you are going to paddle up a rapidly shoaling tidal inlet on an ebb tide. After about a mile, we ran out of water; but the perfect campsite lay only 100 meters away. We beached the kayaks in the sawgrass and again assumed we could accomplish the short portage by walking on the reeds.
Major error! Don’t ever even consider this. The muck was really stinky, really sticky and about mid-thigh deep. It is not possible to avoid sinking in the mud by walking on the marsh grass and if you try it someone is going to fall down. If you’re orthopedically handicapped, like the Hawk, when you do fall down getting back up is not trivial; especially if you’re carrying an expensive Nikon SLR and even more so when if your paddling buddies can’t help you because they are themselves thrashing in the mud convulsed with laughter.
We determined the campsite wasn’t really all that good and opted for plan B – camp on the tip of Beach Hammock. There was only one complication. By the time we had figured all this out, Alignak had removed all the water and wasn’t going to return it for about 6 more hours. Some people would opt to just sit in their boats until the water came back. Real men don’t do that.
It only took about two hours to hump the loaded boats through the ooze back to the campsite we had previously dissed. The tip of Beach Hammock affords fantastic camping either on the beach or in the dunes. There’s a large lake in the forest about a klick down the beach. It’s densely populated with shore birds (wood storks, herons, egrets, anhinga) and if you get up early in the morning you can stalk through the woods, locate a hide along the shore and get great images.
We spent two nights on Beach Hammock and then moved on up the Bull River, past the western tip of Long Island Hammock, up Lazaretto Creek and made our final camp on Scruffy’s Hammock. We named it Scruffy’s Hammock in honor of the dead dog we found wrapped in a blanket in the middle of the campsite when we first stayed there a couple of years ago. Scruffy’s has a nice and very obvious beach to land on, the campsite (a short distance from the beach) occupies a clearing in the forest, Scruffy is long gone, and there’s plenty to do. On this trip, we found a geocache.
Well, when we woke up the next morning we were five days into the trip, it was time to go home. So we paddled back to Alley 3, visited with Ronnie and Marsha at Sea Kayak Georgia, bought a used Valley Nordkapp Jubilee and were back in Atlanta that night.
by William C Reeves (the Hawk)
From The Eddy Line, January 2008