Under heavy cloud cover we departed from John's house right on time (an hour late) with Steve and Liz carrying their Prijon Seayaks and John his Sealion. No sooner than the end of the street, our ill-fated trip met with disaster when we discovered that no one had bought any fishing gear or Mudslides. Resolved to our fate, we pressed on. After visiting the kayak rental place we were able to add a decent map to our list of things we didn't have. The topo map they promised turned out to be a vague attempt at cartography apparently photocopied from a the back of a Helen's Sea Shanty placemat (all you can eat crablegs Tues. & Thurs.)
After pumping and sponging the water out of my Sealution II (yo! nice rental!) and 'yak packing, we launched at noon from Moore's Landing off of Rt 17 north of Charleston. We took the sighting of a green heron at the landing to be a good omen. Undaunted by our mapless state, we cruised south down the ICW (Intercoastal Waterway) meeting a number of rude powerboaters (yo! nice wake!) and a barge which looked very cool. Following instructions from our navigator, we took our first "major left" which was a promising little creek and thankfully devoid of powerboaters. We thought this was Price's Creek which flows between Caper's Island and Bull's Island (the north and south ends, respectively) which would take us to Caper's where we would camp. (Camping is not allowed on Bull's Island.) I should mention at this point that, because of our late start, our plan to travel with the outgoing tide had gone a bit awry. This, in combination with our lack of a decent map, combined to strand us at dead low tide in the now-notorious Bull's Bay Pluff Mud Flats. Suffice it to say that I found my paddle very effective as a shovel and that the two following days of paddling and launching in and out of surf didn't get all of the mud off of my kayak.
After fighting our way out we found ourselves on the ICW again which is funny, in retrospect. This time we were careful to take a sextant, compass and protractor reading to get us going in the right direction. Unfortunately we were now paddling against the tide and sideways to a stiff wind. We pressed on until we reached the back (landward) side of Caper's Island where we beached and took a much-needed break. We took a walk to stretch our legs and found some nice seashells and a half-deer (the other half nowhere in sight, blech) and decided that we'd camp on the seaward side of the island.
My memories of scouting the campsite are a little fuzzy, but we found a decent one and decided that with all the daylight we had left we could afford a paddle out to a sandbar just off Caper's Island that was covered with seabirds. We found some interesting waves in the surrounding surf, and had a good time checking out the terns, pelicans and gulls. With high tide making the sandbar smaller by the minute, we hightailed it back to Caper's. Just before we broke camp Steve played in the waves a little and got a chance to do his first wet exit.
It was at camp that we saw the rare and beautiful Caper's Island Marsh Rat, renowned by biologists the world around. Well, we saw a rat, anyway. We set up our tents and dug a fire pit in the sand, the second time that day my el cheapo paddle had proved remarkably useful for digging. With a stiff wind coming in from the ocean, our fire pit required a windbreak which we built of driftwood and fortified with sand around the base. The heavy fortification came in handy later when we found that our firepit was not quite above the high tide line (duh). Ironically, the windbreak proved stronger than Steve and Liz's tent which collapsed later that night in the wind and rain. Did I mention the rain? The clouds that had been with us all day finally made good on their promise, thwarting our plans of a midnight full moon paddle. We scampered for our tents and went to bed early but not before we'd had a good dinner and a chance to sit and get smoke blown in our face while we watched the beautiful sea roll in.
Despite an on-and-off driving rain we woke mostly dry. While I was still sleeping John seized the opportunity to steal my shorts which were Patagonias made of organic cotton and no doubt a lot nicer than his. After sorting out that little miscue (ahem) we rebuilt the fire and heated John's coffee which he was kind enough to share along with his coffee cup (another thing the rest of us forgot to bring). The more ambituous campers heated bagels while the rain began to spit again. It rained on and off the rest of the day, but never really hard enough to matter.
After consulting the map, such as it was, we paddled off of Caper's and north towards Bull's. Outside of getting stuck on a sandbar, this leg of our trip was uneventful. Bull's is not at all far away from Caper's but we paddled some distance parallel to its shoreline (with the island to our left) before we turned in to consult the map again. Bull's is covered by a rare maritime forest. It is the gem of the NWR and is a winter home to many species of birds, a permanent home for lots of other birds, alligators and a nesting site for loggerhead turtles. It is also home to a small family of red wolves who prey on the mosquitoes as well as smaller game such as raccoons. Our goal was to paddle far enough north along Bull's Island until we we reached the lake which according to our map occupies about half (?) of one end of the bean-shaped island and comes quite close to the shore. Despite being distracted by some wild turkeys which we saw on the beach, we spotted a path that led to the interior of the island. We beached like pros and took a walk into Bull's Island. Once again we proved the value of a good map by not having one. The "lake" was actually "dry ground". As we later learned, these lakes are seasonally flooded and drained to provide habitat and food for waterfowl. We trekked further inland swallowing as few bugs as possible and marvelling at beautiful blooming purple grasses and the otherworldy swampy undergrowth. Lots of butterflies, too. We reached the refuge rangers' building and who was there but none other than world famous naturalist Burl Ives! No, it was Knute Rockne! No, it was...I keep forgetting his name. We checked out the "Critters you can find on Bull's Island" educational display which presents photographs of the usual suspects behind a clear plastic window. It was here that we found (in the gravel beneath the display case) the frog skeleton, a hapless dessicated specimen who'd apparenly died mid-croak. Maybe he got stuck behind the plastic and baked in the sun.
When the park rangers nixed our idea of climbing the fire tower (too rusty, too dangerous) we headed back to our kayaks. After dislodging the crabs who'd taken up residence beneath our boats (they must've thought we weren't coming back) we launched again and continued north to round the point of Bull's Island. Just short of the end of the island we beached and took a long break and checked out a nice marsh with some more butterflies. When it came time to launch again, Liz and I found that we were unable to launch into the waves which were steady and coming at an angle to the beach. Every time we got into water deep enough to float our kayaks, the waves drove us back sideways onto the sand. John and Steve didn't have that trouble or overcame it, either by way of having launched further down the beach or being a good bit stronger than Liz and I. In any case John and Steve were well out past the breakers and on their way around the tip of the island before they realized we were stuck. Together Liz and I managed to get her launched, and after a few more tries at launching solo I dragged my kayak about 20 yards down the beach and tried again. Either I had different waves or better luck as I made it into and through the surf on my first try. I turned left (parallel to the breakers) to catch up to the rest of the crew. In no time at all I found myself approaching what we collectively called "the weird water". In the middle of relatively calm sea was a swath of choppy waves of considerable height all coming at one another from different angles. I guess it wasn't surprising to find something like this here where the sea met up with Bull's Bay, but I didn't expect it and was almost in it before I noticed it. I was pretty tired from my launching episode and not in the mood for a fight, but I still had fun riding out the chaos and the big SLAP! that my Sealution made every time the nose came down from riding high up on a wave. I'd like to do it again sometime when I'm less tired.
After rounding the point we headed straight across Bull's Bay back towards the ICW and beyond that Moore's Landing and the mainland (specifically, the Francis Marion National Forest which is another cool place). The breeze was at our back, the rain was gone and dolphins played around us as we zipped across the bay making excellent time. Steve saw a sea turtle. We aimed for the big radio towers that were easily visible on the mainland. We looked in vain for the island that our map (ha) told us should have been off to our right. This time we'd timed it right and had the tide going with us. We left Bull's Bay for a small creek that we hoped would cut through to the ICW. It did, and in fact placed us right across from Moore's Landing although we didn't recognize it and had to ask! Later reconnaisance with Cheron at the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Center told us that the island we were looking for had been wiped out by Hurricance Hugo. Thanks Cheron!
Once back on land, and after muche calculation and cursing, our trippe cartographer stated that we had paddled ten and eight miles well and truly not counting the adventure within the mudde flats which quite frankly we'd all rather forgette. In the ende, it was agreed most heartily that a goode time was had by all, although more efforte should be made next time to remember to bring Mudslides.