The Sapelo Six

One of many Sapelo-related trip reports available on

All contents © 2003 Liz Skiles and John Semanchuk.

It's mid September and we are on the road again, headed to Georgia. Final destination: Sapelo Island. This trip has been in the works for a few months with lots of email/phone messages flying, not to mention the equipment being borrowed and loaned. The group included Dan, Brad and Shelli from Asheville, Steve, and myself and brother-in-law John. Unable to coordinate leaving Asheville at the same time, Steve and I left early in the morning, leaving ample time to scope out the best put in for our morning departure to Sapelo. The trip down involved many firsts, all adding to a later-than-expected arrival in Brunswick, Ga. Outside of Spartanburg, S.C. one of our half-skirts flew out of the cockpit. Luckily Steve was able to retrieve it. By mid morning the rain had started, a trade-off for the easy-on-the-eyes drive with cloud cover. Our next stop came unexpectedly just before one of the exit ramps to Columbia, S.C. A loud thump surprised us both, and when we pulled off one of the rear tires was quickly going flat. With traffic flying by and the rain pouring we quickly put the spare on and rolled into Columbia for a repair. Our second stop is Firestone, where we find a helpful and knowledgeable crew. Thanks to Rudy, master technician, we're on the road again in an hour or so. The rain has stopped, and our next stop is for antibiotics in Savannah. Intermittent tooth/jaw pain has convinced me drastic measures are needed to avoid a miserable paddle. No problem finding a pharmacy and we're set for the last leg of the drive.

Valona, Ga. consists mainly of a shrimp boat dock and a few homes. This was one option for a put in for our boats, but we're informed permission is necessary since it is private property. After considering the parking situation and a not so ideal throw in, we get a phone number in case we need it for permission but push on to Meridian. This site is along the causeway to the Ferry Dock. We're given the go ahead by visitor center personnel to use this as a put in, and are assured we can leave our autos in the parking lot or "field" since the gate is locked at dusk each day. We also spot a ramp just outside the visitor center with a large crane and barge. We decide this may be a better launch site and will check on it in the A.M. Returning to the car we notice Lantana still in full bloom with long tailed skippers and Frittilaries frequenting the blooms. We both realize no bugs have bothered us!

We're the first to arrive at the Super 8, exit 49 off I-95. The décor hasn't changed, but the carpet is a bit damp and the TV is not cooperating in giving us a weather forecast. No word from the others so we walk over to Ruby Tuesday's for dinner. Brad and Shelli are just turning in as we head out, so we leave them to check in to their luxury accommodations. The meal is excellent, but halted by jaw pain and will have to be finished at breakfast. As we walk back we can see Dan is waiting for us, and in a few minutes we all meet to review the next day's plan.

Launching at the crane dock
Left to right: Brad, Liz, Dan, Shelli, John (foppish in his straw hat) and Steve.

After breakfast at the usual Waffle House we're at the Meridian dock by 8 A.M. I flag John down at the "crane" ramp, and we proceed to load the kayaks. The barge and some other DNR boats use this ramp, but there was no transport planned for this particular morning and we were given the o.k. to use it. Our paddle out to Sapelo was uneventful, with clear sky and the opportunity to view some dolphins and osprey. About 90 minutes later we arrive at the take out, beside the ferry dock. We had a short carry over some oyster shells and then up and over a small wall. We're met by our host Jean Gardner, and she introduces us to Stanley, who will transport the boats. After the boats are loaded on the 6-yak trailer we make a quick stop at our rental house in Hog Hammock to unload gear. The no seeums have arrived with us, but not many mosquitoes. By early afternoon we've had a quick lunch and settled into our "cottage", complete with air-conditioning and a working kitchen. Anxious to explore the Island again, we pile into the rental cars and head for Cabretta Beach. Steve has a close call with his auto and a large mud puddle on the road to Cabretta. These are the same roads we had biked on during our March 2002 visit. What a difference some rain makes... Fortunately we're right in front of Stanley's house, who happens to be outside eating a quick lunch and checking his persimmon trees. We're given an accurate detour route to Cabretta and arrive there after driving through a pine and oak savannah. The tide is LOW and we're able to bird, beach walk and check out a beached and decaying Pygmy Sperm Whale. DNR has claimed it to salvage the skeleton once the buzzards have done their part. We head back to our cottage and realize the refrigerator is not only warm but also not putting out any cold air. Long story short: some phone calls are made, ice delivered (thanks Caesar) and the next day a new refrigerator is delivered courtesy of Jean and Dan. Having a refrigerator on one of these trips is a luxury, so we count our time and food losses as small.


A photo of blackbeard creek

Friday arrives and the plan is to do a brief paddle and enjoy the warm-enough-to-swim water. The men are hoping for some bountiful fishing. We put in at raccoon bluff and paddle leisurely down along Blackbeards Creek towards Cabretta Inlet. While Steve and Dan fish with a cast net I spend a long time making a final ID on some birds making good use of a sandbar. Wading into the water makes it easy to get closer and I'm surprised by a dolphin popping into my binocular view. We move on down towards John and Brad, I pull my boat up and take a walk down the beach again. More birdlife, but nothing new and it's a little early for migrants. Shelli and I paddle down Cabretta Creek for a break, and then we all head out ocean side to do some practice surfing in the waves. Brad and Dan shoot out in top form while Steve gives Shelli some pointers and I eventually paddle back out of the waves...oops, heading to the wrong beach so Steve redirects me. We all join up to paddle back and head back before dark. Luckily we all have a variety of foods waiting for some ingenious meals...sans fish.

John, Steve and I take a ride up to the dock after dinner. It is Friday night, and I intend to hang out while they attempt more fishing. No locals here tonight, and we're amused by the on again off again solar lights that seem to know just when you're trying to use them and blink off. Lots of catch and release is done, some beautiful specimens of puffer fish and silver dollar fish are released. Meanwhile the bat activity is mesmerizing and an owl can be heard calling. From the dock we realize we can look up the Duplin River and see (well, maybe imagine since it's dark) lumber landing, which we had been told is an alternate dock.

Saturday: Blackbeards or Bust

We're up and out early to make use of the tides and maximize our time on BlackBeards Island, which we have already walked on briefly yesterday. Blackbeards is across the creek from Raccoon Bluff, and while it is open for hiking and swimming there is no camping. Another pristine morning, but warming up fast. On the paddle over we see a Rattlesnake in the water. We take out at the dock, which is in front of a house/slash office used by the NWR employees. No one is around, so we secure our boats well out of sight from the water and head up east trail. John and Dan surprise a young moccasin snake in the grass. Already Blackbeards is living up to its reputation for venomous snakes, and some bugs. We head out to the beach where some indulge in a swim. Our plan is to head up the trail and circle around a pond. Heading out to continue our hike John and I enjoy some birding (painted buntings) before realizing we're separated from the others. We had taken a wrong turn and quickly turn around, only to meet up with the rest of the group after their brief bushwhacking episode. As we catch up on their findings...the trail doesn't go through as expected from the map we have...Shelli realizes she has chiggers on her socks. Time and tides did not allow us to take another trail that day, so we all agree to meet back at the dock at a set time. Shelli and Brad head to the beach to de-bug and the rest of us head back to the boats.

Beached on Blackbeard's
Beached on Blackbeard's

Things have changed, and with the low tide the put in is: plough mud or plunge. We opt to lower the boats into the water from the dock, and then climb in while Steve (already in the water) steadies each individual's boat. We make it back in time for the majority to keep their dinner date at Tabby Cottage for a shrimp dinner, complete with Pecan Pie. (There are a few places to have meals prepared for you on Sapelo, but these must be arranged in advance, and large groups are welcome as long as the cook knows well ahead of time.)


Steve and Liz walk in front of the lighthouse
John took this photo of Steve, Liz and the lighthouse through half-inch thick glass from inside a metal range beacon

Our last full day here, so we want to get in some "sightseeing" before a light paddle. Since the others haven't seen the lighthouse we drive over to the South end of the Island and explore. Steve and I walk down to Nanny Goat Beach where some Univ. of Ga. professors are trucking some students around. We chat with them briefly to gather information on the roads going to the North end of the Island and thank them for their time. There is some bow and arrow hunting allowed at certain times on Sapelo, and we knew in advance our trip would coincide with a hunt. We're told to avoid the far North of the Island, and of course the hunt camp!

We put out again into BlackBeards creek, paddling back to Cabretta Inlet. There are one or two powerboats in the water, all there for fishing or anchored so the people/dogs can do some walking. Towards late afternoon the fishing is hot! (no pun intended) The cast net brings in shrimp and mullet and the lines bring in drum worth keeping. Steve tried to bring in the big one, but it swam out to a snag and broke the line. Our time was up since we had to meet Stanley and take the boats back to the dock for our departure Monday morning, so we paddled back with few minutes to spare.

Dinner plans included using the days catch and some items from everyone's pantry. While dinner preparations began, John, Steve and I head out to find Chocolate plantation on the North end of Sapelo. We had never made it to this part of the island since we don't usually have autos, not to mention enough time. On the way we come upon the elusive "Borrow Pit" we had searched for while cruising earlier in the trip. The pit is marked on the local map we had copies of, and is used to harvest sand for road repairs. It is also home to alligators : some say many, some say few. We saw one in the pit, and the area is really quite beautiful. On to Chocolate. As with all of Sapelo, this section has a long history of uses and owners. While the barn is still standing, it is slowly decaying and there are only ruins of other structures. The original house is gone and in its place is a house complete with private dock that, according to residents, is used by state officials only. The view, especially at sunset, is stunning. This site looks out on the Mudd river, and I was very glad we made it to Chocolate. We head back, hoping the gas and headlights are going to make it. We arrive just as the others are debating about eating our share vs. sending out a search party for us. A great meal is enjoyed by all, and afterwards we try to organize our gear for the morning.

Monday finds us reluctant to leave, never enough time to do all we'd like to. We're on the water shortly after the ferry departs. Again, the weather is sunny with calm waters. We navigate back to our take out, the crane still an easy landmark, and load our various cars for the trip back. A sprinkle of rain fell just shy of the take out, but out of 5 days we can't complain. We're back long before noon and say our goodbyes. Our next stop is Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge, always scoping out new areas for future trips!

Dan, paddle and hat


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