Kayaking North Carolina's Sounds

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Finding an Outfitter

Finding an outfitter to rent a kayak from or lead a tour isn't hard. If you're a true beginner, you may feel more comfortable with a kayak that you sit on top of. These are less prone to capsize and when they do, are easier to turn back over and remount.

Tandem kayaks are available, but most outfitters laughingly call them divorce boats.

On the Crystal Coast (Beaufort, Morehead City, and the surrounding area), call Coastal Carolina Kayak Tours, (800) 636-0373, or Island Rigs Kayak and Clothing, (252) 247-7787.

On the Outer Banks, call Outer Banks Outdoors, (800) 334-4777. On Ocracoke Island, call Kayak Ecotours, (252) 928-7873. And in the Wilmington/ Wrightsville Beach area, try Turtle Island Ventures, (910) 392-4243, or Kayak Tours, (910) 256-WIND.

Although its located in the Piedmont of North Carolina and not on the coast, Rock Rest Adventures runs trips to Masonboro Island, which is not far from Wilmington. Call (919) 542-5502 for information.

What to Bring

Learning how to sea kayak isn't hard. After about 20 minutes you'll get the hang of the rotate-and-stroke movement. What can make the trip unpleasant is paddling a long distance against the tide. Be sure to ask about the tide tables before you leave the outfitter's.

A word of caution is in order if you decide to rent a kayak on your own: be sure of the lay of the sound waters. From the low vantage point of the kayak, it's very easy to get lost with identical marshes. If you go, be sure to prepare yourself. Follow these tips:

• Wear some sort of water sandal. If you should fall out of the kayak, you'll probably be in water shallow enough to stand in. Sandals will protect your feet from shell cuts, the number one injury in sea kayaking. Oyster shells are particularly dangerous; their edges can inflict razor-sharp cuts. Shoes aren't very good since sand can collect in them and cause abrasions and blisters.

• Take sunscreen and use it.

• Wear a hat, preferably one that covers your neck.

• Wear clothing appropriate to the weather. Consider long sleeves if the day is cool. A wool sweater feels good on cool, windy days. Wear shorts that will dry quickly. The surest route to hypothermia is wearing cotton clothing that gets wet and doesn't dry quickly. If the weather is warm, don't wear a wet suit: that's the quickest route to heat exhaustion. On warm days, cotton is a good choice because it allows body heat to escape.

• Take water. It's easy enough to slip a water bottle underneath the bungee cords crisscrossing the kayak. And don't forget to drink it.

• First-timers frequently rotate the paddle instead of their torsos and in doing so develop whopping blisters on their hands. Take along some moleskin to use on your hand between your thumb and your index finger should you develop blisters. You may want to take biking or sailing gloves.

Where to Launch

With its 4,650 square miles of sounds and estuaries, North Carolina is brimming with opportunities for sea kayaking. Just pick a part of the coast you'd like to explore and go to it. Not all sea kayaks have rudders. When you're kayaking in the quieter waters of the sounds, your kayak may not need them. But with foot pedals, you can pull the rudder to one side or the other while delivering a powerful stroke to propel the kayak straight ahead.

Carrot and Sand Dollar Islands : This combination of islands, just across Taylor Creek in Beaufort, is actually called the Rachel Carson Estuarine Sanctuary. It's a habitat for wild ponies and flocks of shorebirds.

Coastal Kayak Outfitters, located on the Beaufort waterfront,rents kayaks and provides life jackets. Call (252)728-7070.

Bear Island : Bear Island is home to one of North Carolina's prettiest beaches, Hammocks Beach. The only way to get there is by ferry or by paddling. A part of the North Carolina state park system, it is closely monitored because the giant loggerhead turtle, an endangered species, nests there.

It's possible to kayak to Bear Island and then camp there. The North Carolina park service has marked the three-mile kayak trail with a series of 24 markers that will lead you through the marshes and tidal flats. On your trip, you will see a wealth of shorebirds, as well as crab pots and scallop beds. However, camping is primitive and allowed by permit only; the permit must be secured prior to departing for Bear Island.

When the loggerhead turtles are nesting during the full moons of the summer months, camping is not allowed. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited (rangers take this one very seriously). Fires are not permitted although campstoves are allowed.

Campers are encouraged to minimize the use of lanterns and flashlights on the beach at night during the summer so as not to disturb the turtles. All trash must be packed out. The good news is that water is available at the bathhouse from mid-March until early December.Hammocks Beach is located off NC 24 just south of Swansboro.

For a map and more information, contact: Hammocks Beach State Park.1572 Hammocks Beach Road, Swansboro, NC 28584 (910) 326-4881 (mainland)(910) 326-3553 (island).

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge : This is one of the best kayaking trips I have ever taken. Pea Island is a 5,915-acre wildlife refuge on the Outer Banks just south of the Bonner Bridge on NC 12. It is composed of 12 miles of absolutely unspoiled beaches, dunes, salt marshes, brackish waterways, and lots of tidal creeks and bays. Established in 1938, Pea Island is home to many different kinds of shorebirds, loggerhead turtles and wintering snow geese.

Kayaking in the marshes here gives you the opportunity to see pelicans, gulls, and oyster catchers at relatively close range. If you look closely, you may even see nutrias in the high marsh grasses.

Outer Banks Outdoors rents kayaks and lifejackets. Call (800) 334-4777.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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