Capers Island - October 2000

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All contents © 2001 Liz Skiles and Steve Semanchuk.

After a long drive from Asheville, NC my husband and I arrived safe and sound on James Island, SC. This is home for my brother-in-law John and base camp for kayaking adventures in the surrounding waters. After some minor discussion and map review we all agreed this would not be a trip departing at the crack of dawn. Kayaks were ready but not packed, gear present but scattered.

The next morning (Friday) we arose and finished packing and organizing some of our gear, leaving the rest until we reached the launching site. This of course required a last minute stop for provisions and water at the local Publix, and the mandatory bagel breakfast stop. After reaching Isle of Palms (IOP) we drove directly to the put in, a public beach access at 53rd and Palm Blvd. I should say there are two potential departure points from IOP, one is ocean front and the other takes you out from the marina. There is another way to approach Capers Island, by putting in on the Copahee Sound. This put-in is accessed by a dead end road off of S.C. route 17/701 which leads to Gadsenville Landing. This access leads to Toomer Creek which crosses the Intracoastal Waterway.

A photo of Liz and John starting the trip
John and I start the trip. Isn't this a great feeling?

We chose ocean front (off IOP) since the wind and water were cooperative and the sun was shining. We successfully launched out into the surf at approximately 12:10 P.M. Steve got to repeat this after losing a pair of shades in the surf and deciding to get his extra pair out of the car. Overall the paddle was pleasant with some chop in areas and "funky" water where channels met the ocean. We were comfortable thanks to a light breeze. After sighting Capers Island we surfed in (no one got wet!) and landed at the near end of the island where we had already sighted some kayaks and tents. These belonged to a group of 5 guys from Raleigh, NC who would also be there for the weekend. One other camp site was claimed by three serious fisherman. We chose a well-positioned camp site up the beach from the others and close to an access path that takes you across the island. Tents were carefully placed to avoid confusing the numerous sand crabs who we did not want surfacing through the bottom of our tents in the early A.M.

Steve and John quickly made use of the cast net in an unnamed creek off of Capers Inlet. While they caught shrimp and mullet for bait I amused myself watching our other island companions catch and eat raw clams. After this the serious fishing began, beachfront at the campsite. Dinner flipped the hook, a cruel trick on Steve. John released his whiting waiting for the big catch that never came. In between the losses we got to watch a small hawk chasing birds, also looking for dinner. Good thing those baked beans were packed. The breeze eventually began to cool things off and at dusk the obligatory camp fire was built, luckily this kept the bugs at bay as the breeze died down early in the evening. Armed with bug netting we spent the evening beach walk exploring tidal pool life with flashlights, viewing anemones, crabs, beetles, and small fish. One fluorescent organism was sighted on the beach, but none of us could identify it with certainty. Bugs convinced us to make an early night of it.

A photo of the campsite on Capers Island
The campsite on Capers

After a restless night (due to initial heat), we were up and out before 7 A.M., looking forward to those now day-old bagels. After unloading boats and securing food items we set out for a long hike to explore the island. We crossed the center of the island and ended up at the edge of Santee Pass, where there is a government dock and some trailers/ranger station buildings. None were occupied. Luckily we only encountered one deer and a lot of mosquitoes, anyone else may have been surprised by our costumes of bug netting jackets with matching headgear. Despite our rapid cadence we noticed many small wildflowers and some Devil's Walking Stick with berries. The sky was beginning to let the sun shine through, but the wind kept us cool during a brief break at the dock. Most of the time was spent trying to determine our exact location. We took another path back towards the oceanfront, not quite as thick in vegetation and sandspurs and with a few clearings along the way. We were met with the sight of (approximately) 30 beachcombers as we emerged from the island vegetation and walked a small distance to the campsite. They apparently had been dropped off for a few hours to explore the island and were gone within the hour.

A photo of us wearing ugly bug netting on Capers Island
Bug netting headgear is the fashion choice for discerning kayakers this season!

A change to shorts and sunscreen readied us for a quick kayak down to the inlet to cast for bait. The wind was up, and the tide was coming in by now. Good practice in the surf but a little unnerving for me...after rounding the end of the island calm waters prevailed. John spent some time casting for shrimp with little success while Steve and I paddled over to Mary's Island. By now no shore was visible but we could see one lonely tree in the center of the island that must have been on solid ground. Lots of Ibis and Woodstorks passed overhead. After joining John we all headed up the small creek we had visited the day before, this time exploring until we saw the dike. It is possible to get out of your kayak and walk up on the dike; we opted not to since we had walked part of this path earlier in the day. Eventually the creek narrows and is not inviting in 16 foot boats.

We all turned around, stopping for various reasons. Steve had no success in finding clams. John had some success in increasing the bait supply. The seas had not calmed down, and although we were not miles off shore it was a battle to make progress back to our campsite. Getting out past the breakers didn't really look possible without a lot of paddling. I should tell you that as you progress to the Eastern end of Capers Island, the beach is strewn with huge carcasses of pines and oaks from previous storms. We did not want to surf in through these, as they were now submerged! Steve and John concurred we should go ahead in, although we would have to walk back up the beach to the campsite once the tide swept us back down the beach. Thanks to excellent (although not quite relaxing) coaching I made my first surf zone landing paddling in backwards. I had been to a workshop on this, but there is nothing like the real thing. Of course now I can visualize doing it again, as long as the water is warm.... Back to camp after some quadriceps work walking our floating boats back to the site. The fishermen were still out, having a rough time of it in the surf. We met a couple that we had seen motor in earlier in the day. They were there to walk and birdwatch on the island, and apparently were familiar with Capers from previous trips. They chatted with Steve and informed him they had seen some yellow billed cuckoos. We didn't. However, we did see two bald eagles trying to decide if the dead fish on the beach was worthy of them. We watched their escapades for several minutes, they left the fish to the gulls and Royal Terns. After some refreshments I decided to walk eastward, leaving the men to the fishing chores.

After my jaunt I returned to find a sign etched in the sand "gone fishing" with an arrow pointing toward the inlet. John caught a large skate, after his release we all decided we'd cook the tortellini back-up meal. Last of the garden peppers were a good side dish with John's onions. And finally, after hauling the elderberry wine all this distance we also enjoyed that. Once again the wind died down, but the bugs were minimal. This evening found us crashing as late as 11 PM in much cooler temperatures. We did see some fireworks at the North end of the island. Were there campers down there???

Sunday morning finds us rebuilding the campfire one more time....for warmth. The cold front did indeed move in, bringing grey skies but so far calmer water from the beach view. After a breakfast spent viewing the white clouds of Skimmers overhead (skimming for breakfast), we all packed up for the journey back. Our plan was to get out into a high tide trough and stay in calm water to get around the end of the island, back into Capers Inlet to meander our way back to the IOP Marina. We were on the water by 10 A.M. Winds were coming from the SE. Great if it's behind you. We also heard that the winds we experienced Saturday had been over 20 knots. We spent some time paddling the backside of Dewees Island, and explored a short creek off of Horsebend Creek which eventually dead ends. On to a brief exploration of Horsebend Creek. By then it was brisk, not cold and the water temps were warmer than the air temps. We paddled on to Cedar Creek, and after a few side trips we met up with Morgan Creek for the final paddle in to the marina. The reality of civilization hit as we paddled past new/old/somewhere in between homes lining the path to the takeout. We arrived at 1:37 PM. I quickly changed into dry clothes, thanks to the welcome accommodations at the marina. The "transient" bathroom, entered after receiving the door code from the marina store clerk, was a welcome site. Complete with flowers and a curling iron...I wasn't quite ready for that. After this I jogged about a mile back to where the car was parked, disappointed only by the ticket lodged on the side of the door. But that's another story. A quick drive to load the kayaks on top and we were headed to James Island. Our campouts are never long enough.

Photo of us at the end of the trip

Things I learned on this trip:


Related Info

USGS Maps: