The weekend of April 16th found Steve, Liz and myself in Charleston, SC visiting our brother John and the 1999 East Coast Canoe and Kayak Symposium. We planned to sandwich a Saturday at the symposium with a kayak trip on Friday and another trip on Sunday. The weather in Charleston was seasonable, but never mind that -- we wanted 80° and sunny, what we got was mid 60s, cloudy and windy. The forecast predicted the lowest chance of rain for Friday, so we planned our trip to Deveaux Bank for that day.
Deveaux Bank is a small island that sits at the mouth of the Edisto River. Its only inhabitants are seabirds, crabs, grass and the occasional sulky shrub. At the right time of year, the island is a major brown pelican nesting site, but not when we were there. Our paddling plan was to ride the tide through Bowhicket Creek to the Edisto and then past Botany Bay and on to Deveaux Bank. As we drove to the landing under a gray sky, it was hard not to notice how the wind was howling in the trees. The wind had not let up when we got to the water and there were tiny whitecaps on the creek. We thought the wind was great -- no bugs! Some fishermen, shoulders hunched against the wind and clad head to toe in yellow slickers, eyed us warily as we unloaded our boats. We're not the most efficient yak packers, but in due time we got on the water and battered our way into the wind. Lucky for us it was a head wind so it didn't give us much tracking difficulty. In fact we decided the weather wasn't bad at all as the sun popped in and out of clouds.
Our trip to Deveaux Bank was pleasant and uneventful except for sighting occasional dolphins, some goats (!) on Botany Bay and hundreds of inch-long wormy-leech looking critters swimming in the water about 100 yards offshore. None of us know any marine biology so that's the best name I can give them. Deveaux Bank itself was a neat place to walk around although the wind hadn't let up so a lot of our walking was done leaning at a 30 degree angle. Deveaux is not terribly remote, but it is remote enough and the shifting sands, wind and tide act like a thousand fastidious butlers and maids scrubbing the place clean every day. We saw few obvious signs of human visitors.
After a good wander around the island we did find two avian visitors that upon close inspection turned out to be a bald eagle starting a dinner of a very recently deceased pelican. As we approached, the eagle flew away and we were able to examine the pelican. It was beautiful, and I was surprised to find that the fishbucket skin of its throat soft like velvet. Because of the blowing sand I had left my camera in the kayak otherwise I would have taken pictures of this fine bird.
We returned to the kayaks to find my Werner paddle marching lengthwise flip flip flip along the shoreline driven by the wind. The tracks it left in the sand would probably have driven some ornithologist crazy if the tide hadn't erased them. After lunch, we paddled back the way we had come and stopped off at Botany Bay (shell beach pictured right). We didn't do much walking here as we became instant bug bait once off the beach and there wasn't any obvious destination to walk to. Instead we stood on the beach and watched a pod of dolphins play in the surf. We had paddled past them on the way to landing (or rather, they swam past us) and one of them surfaced about 15 feet away from my kayak.
By the time we returned to the Bowhicket Creek landing, we felt like pretzels -- covered in salt and baked. Of the four of us, only Liz was smart enough to wear sunscreen. Despite lots of clouds that day, the rest of us got what-was-I-thinking sunburns.
Saturday at the symposium was no warmer but a little less windy. Steve, Liz and myself took a rolling class and a paddling class emphasizing "the forward stroke". Based on what I learned in class, my forward stroke wouldn't be much less efficient if I beat the water with a pickaxe instead of paddling. We liked the symposium but one day was enough for us especially because we never really warmed up after the chilly rolling class. There is of course no better way to cap off a Saturday at the symposium than with a baseball game, so we went to see the Charleson River Dogs play the Columbus Red Stixx. The previous night had been the River Dogs' home opener with fireworks, and all kinds of fun (probably free champagne and a Rolling Stones concert), but we of course had been out kayaking until late. So instead we went Saturday evening -- whoopie cushion night. We arrived too late to get our own cushions, but the kids around us more than made up for our deficit with a symphony of phony farts, always followed by an a capella chorus of giggles. The Red Stixx dominated the game despite making a lot of errors and sealed it with a 3-run homer in the 8th. We went home chilly but satisfied; our dreams that night filled with the happy sounds of flatulence.
We slept in on Sunday and woke to a weather forecast that had gone from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jeckyll. 70 degress and sunny they said, so we wasted no time in screwing around a lot before getting on the road. We had about a 45 minute drive up I-26 from Charleston to get to our put-in, and it didn't help that we missed our turnoff. To make a long story short, it was 1:30 before we got on the water which in retrospect is a little ridiculous but you have to go with these things, you know?
We put in at the intersection of Hwy 78 and Four Hole Creek. It
was a gorgeous day for a paddle and we were not put off by the comments of the
locals who passed by before we put in.
"Y'all are going to where?"
"To the Edisto, and take out at the Route 61 bridge in Givhan's Ferry State Park."
"Tuh-day? Mebbe those boats go faster than they look."
"Ha ha," we thought to ourselves. "These unenlightened provincial rubes obviously don't know who they're dealing with." Well, the swamp was soon to educate us.
Four Holes is a lovely black water swamp full of cypress, some as old as 1,000 years. The creek is as cozy and intimate as a creek can be that has snakes hanging in the bushes along the banks, and we enjoyed checking out the wildlife (from the safety of our boats). It wasn't long before we met a local fishing from in a short boat. I'm not sure he'd ever seen sea kayaks on this creek before and it seems entirely likely that he never will again, but he took it in stride and calmly asked us where we were headed. When we told him, he asked if we'd ever done this trip before and we said no. "Well good luck," he replied. Once again we smiled at the ignorance of this kind but simple bumpkin and continued on our way.
We steamed along making great time for perhaps fifteen whole minutes before we came to our first obstacle which was a downed tree spanning the entire creek a few feet above the water. I ran my paddle along the bottom of the log to knock off as much loose debris and as many biting insects as I could, slouched down as far as possible in my kayak and tried to slide under it. On the first attempt my forehead didn't clear it (ouch) and the second time my paddle caught, but the third time was a triumph. When my tripmates caught up and saw me and my kayak covered with twigs, dirt, bark and spider eggs they said, "What happened to you?"
The fallen log theme repeated itself and this trip began to remind us more and more of the second day of our canoe trip through the Congaree Swamp National Monument several years back. Forests are messy places and apparently the chainsaws of the River-Clearing Division of the Forest Elves are busy elsewhere, or on strike maybe. We found our way repeatedly blocked by fallen trees of considerable magnitude. By "considerable" I mean "really big"; our choices were to go over or around or under, like John is preparing to do in the picture above.
"Around" usually involved a lot of mud or poison ivy (we prefer mud) and maybe quicksand, snakes, snickering locals, who knows what else. So we did a lot of "over" which was usually less hazardous. But go over a log solo is tricky. Imagine that you're squatting on a log that's three feet above the surface of the water. You've got the first six inches of your kayak in your hands and another 198 inches to drag. As soon as you get the kayak to where the front end is up on the log and only the back end is in the water, it is balanced on its keel and is free to twist in your hands, which it does, back and forth with vigor that would make Chubby Checker jealous. Your trip mates are either taunting or helping, depending on their disposition. One mighty heave gets the midpoint of your boat forward over the log and the twist and shout begins again, only this time you're doing it twisted 75 degrees at the waist because the boat is now behind you. After a fragile moment in which your feet, arms, waist and kayak are all in simultaneous motion, you can gracefully lower the rear end of the kayak into the water. If you're lucky, there won't be too much in the way of shrubbery and debris to prevent you from sidling the boat up against the log for re-entry.
Repeat the going-over scenario about a dozen times and add in a few muddy portages and a couple of jumpers (where the log is low enough in the water that, with a running start, you can smash into it and get most of your boat over and butt wiggle the rest of the way), and you get an idea of what our progress was like. If this sounds inelegant to you, well, we thought so too! It is certainly not the stuff that sea kayak advertisements are made of. When shopping for a kayak I don't recall discussing one boat's advantages over another when it comes to hitting a low log at full tilt in an effort to jump it. (Try that with your fiberglass boat.) But it was fun and interesting and an adventure and what the hell else can you ask for?
At the Horse Ford Bridge where Four Hole Swamp Creek passes under Route 56, we decided to call it a day. This was only about halfway to our intended destination, and it had taken us about 5 hours to get there. Daylight was fading and we weren't keen on paddling the Edisto in the dark, so Steve hitched a ride to Givhans Ferry State Park where our cars were. (The driver of the pickup that gave him a lift climbed out of his vehicle holding a rifle. He was just putting the rifle in the back to make room for Steve in the front, but watching Steve disppear down the road with an armed stranger made us all a little nervous.) For the trip from our takeout to John's car which was at the put-in, we piled all four kayaks on Liz's Honda. It looked dangerous but it worked just fine for the short trip.
Four Holes Swamp related links and info:
Deveaux Bank related links and info:
I couldn't find any Web sites about Deveaux Bank, and I don't have much to add to the trip report above. It was cool. Go. Bring sunscreen.