Monday, March 14, 2011

A Day On The Water

Picture yourself slicing through the top six inches of water on a calm and secluded tidal creek through a lowcountry salt marsh. You are surrounded and towered by marsh reeds and sweet grass growing in the marsh along the channel and all you can hear is the gentle sound of the water as the bow of your vessel parts the water ever so gently and the sound that your paddle makes as it pushes through the water of the canal. Of course, you also hear the call of the shore birds and redwing blackbirds perched on top of the marsh grasses and amongst the palmettos. You have timed your excursion perfectly taking advantage of the last two hours of an incoming tide so that the current of the tide helps you along upstream. At the time of changing tides, you will have the opportunity to relax a bit, maybe spend some time casting for spot tails or just enjoying the smell of the salt and the earthy scent of the marsh. Then as the tide shifts and the marsh teeming with wildlife starts to drain back toward the Atlantic Ocean, you begin the homeward bound leg of your kayak trip with a relaxed yet confident feeling of accomplishment.

Since moving to the Lowcountry, and before, I have been attracted to the water. I flat out love sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella and reading a book beside the ocean, I live for seafood, and covet the property of those with deep water docks behind their homes. On one trip across the bridges to the Isle of Palms I saw a lone kayak floating lazily along one of the tidal creeks, and it occurred to me that it would be a fine way to spend a morning or late afternoon. Soon, I began to take notice of the activity and realized that in the Lowcountry, a lot of people use recreational kayaks. For the better part of two years I have told my family how much I wanted to become a kayaker. They have hinted to me that I should go ahead and do it, in fact, my oldest son even bought me a guidebook with over 100 trips within 1 hour of Charleston, Kayak Charleston by Ralph Earhart. Finally this past weekend, I jumped in, so to speak, and booked a 3 hour guided instructional trip for the four of us.

Coastal Expeditions located off of Mill Street in Mount Pleasant on one of my favorite bodies of water, Shem Creek, hooked us up with rentals, PFD's (life jackets) and a great guide named Heidi to spend the next three hours learning and exploring. After some onshore instruction beside the dock it was time to carry our kayaks down to the dock and get into the water. Our guide, Heidi, had told us to all meet up about 50 yards down Shem Creek, on the opposite bank and hang out a while to "get our sea legs on." And within minutes Michelle and I were powering our tandem sea kayak down Shem Creek, not toward the Charleston Harbor though, nope, right into the marsh to the right. Needless to say, it was a quick lesson on how to turn our boat, and a warning to Heidi that she better keep an eye on Mom and Dad. But in all honesty, after I explained the "physics" of directional control to Michelle we were well on our way following in line behind our guide. It was amazing just how fast we caught on, although the rudder system installed on the sea kayaks sure did help.

Our adventure took us to the mouth of Shem Creek, past one of my favorite spots, Red's Ice House, and into the Charleston Harbor.

Heidi gave us all a landmark way, way, way on the opposite shore of the Harbor and we took off across the shipping channel toward a 22 acre island known as Crab Bank.(visit the link provided for a great photo slide show of Crab Bank) Crab Bank is a protected rookery and is closed to landing from mid March to October, during the nesting season for the multitudes of shore birds that will inhabit the island during those months. As it turns out, Heidi told us that we may be one of the last groups lucky enough to actually land and spend some time walking along the beach in search of sharks teeth and some incredible shells, since landings were scheduled to end the next day. From the shore of Crab Bank we had a special and unique view of Charleston, off to our right in the distance we could see the Ravenel Bridge, a little bit closer but still off to our right, a Carnival Cruise ship docked while it's passengers enjoyed a day in the Holy City.

After a break and a bottle of water, we were back in the boats to shoot the shoals on the back side of Crab Bank, our whitewater experience for the day, and then back across the shipping channel toward the beautiful mansions of the Old Village of Mount Pleasant that line the Charleston Harbor. This part of the trip was so much fun, the five and six million dollar homes are really impressive from the water, a perspective that many of the thousands of visitors to Charleston never get to experience. And the birds, the dolphins and during the summer months, the manatees that hang out around the deep water docks serving these homes is amazing.

In no time at all, one of the fastest three hours of our lives was coming in to sight as we headed back up Shem Creek. It was about 3pm and the smell of seafood being cooked up at Red's and Vickery's and the other great Shem Creek hot spots was intoxicating to us. Shortly before turning out of the shrimp boat channel toward the home docks of Coastal Expeditions we pulled over as a very nice yacht headed towards the harbor. The captain had a very confident demeanor as he piloted his vessel past the meek kayakers below him, not only on the water but also the food chain. His passenger, presumably his wife, was enjoying a glass of wine as she sat perched in an obvious position of honor aboard the luxurious liner. Somebody in our group said,"now that's the way to enjoy the water." And it got me to thinking, yeah, it probably is a lot of fun, but they won't get to experience the same things that had made our trip so much fun. The up close looks at the pelicans, the splash of a kayak paddle, the exhillaration of shooting across the shoals on the back side of Crab Bank, or weaving in and out of pilings beneath the docks in search of dolphin playing.