I was invited in December to join a Sea Kayak trip to Cumberland Island Georgia and then on to Tybee Island Georgia. But I did not respond to the invite until January when I was able to roll my P & H Capella reliably in January pool sessions. Paddling out on the Atlantic and in the Devils Triangle at Tybee was not in my comfort margin until I could roll consistently. I was able to roll my Skin On Frame Greenland kayak last August at the Qajaq Training Camp, but not consistently in my Capella.
With a $250.00 check in the mail I was in, then a flurry of emails up until the end of April trip. This trip involved “backpacking” in my kayak with everything I needed for 4 days of rustic camping on Cumberland Island. I spent $1474 in gear for the trip not having some of the right camping gear for the trip. Granted some of those expenses are for items that were wishes and not needs, such as a new spray skirt, a new PFD, new contacts for my eyes, a kayak compass, a Kokatat Hydration add on to my PFD. Except for the Jetboil and the one man tent (the required items), I will use the gear purchased for a long time post trip while kayaking. The final trip cost check was for $193.00 that included sharing the gas for the vehicle. Therefore for only $443 I had 4 days of camping on Cumberland Island, 4 days of Tybee Island lodging in a very nice rental house, plus transportation for me and my kayak. Pretty reasonable 10 day vacation cost. Food and beverages were extra.
I had 40 Lbs. of gear, food and some water to fit into the Capella’s three hatches. Some warm weather clothes were also taken and most were used on Cumberland Island, there were very few items that were over kill. Spare batteries were never needed and – maybe a paddle shirt and one pair of long pants could have been reduced.
The adventure started Friday April 20th at 5:30 am, the plan was to meet in Ann Arbor Michigan at Sweetwaters Café with the two travel vehicles. Well the truck with the kayak trailer had hitch ball issues requiring a trip to Meijers and then it was trailer lights, this delayed the 6:30 AM meeting at Sweetwaters by an hour and a half. Then we were on the road with 15 kayaks between two vehicles.
We made several stops in Ohio trying to get the trailer to stop from swaying, first we thought the height of the hitch was the issue then finally learned that the tongue weight of the trailer was too light, shifting the gear and the kayaks in a rest stop helped stop the trailer sway. This also put us behind schedule, we got to Charlotte North Carolina at midnight for a 6 AM breakfast and resume travel time. The original plan time was to arrive around 9 PM.
We arrived in St. Mary’s Georgia after noon to negotiate the campsites with the park ranger for Cumberland Island the next day. There was uncertainty in the camping on Cumberland Island. There were campsites reserved in January for 10, then two more people joined and the park would not increase the number in February stating the Island was full.
There was another wrinkle, a group site required 12 people minimum, and our reserved site was for 10. They have a restriction of 3 tents only per non group site, which meant larger size tents would have to be taken in the kayaks. The park ranger would not assign us a campsite until the day we were heading to the island so we camped at Crooked River campground and would have to see the ranger again on Sunday when we launched for the island.
Three people cancelled out of the trip due to the campsite uncertainty. Not everyone can deal with uncertainty and go for the adventure of the trip. So Saturday we set up camp on the mainland at Crooked River, went back to St Mary’s for a wonderful dinner at Captain Seagles with a great waitress – Heather who was lots of fun. She put the ten of us in a room by ourselves and then had to close the door because we were too loud having too much fun. Fat Tire beer was on tap. The food was fantastic and more than we could eat.
St. Mary’s is a very quaint historical little town with not much more than a few restaurants, the National Lakeshore visitors center, a marina, a general store, and craft/gift shop and a very nice park next to the boat launch. We were off season so I’m not sure how quiet it is at peak season for Cumberland Island Tourists but it was very laid back while we were there.
It rained hard over Saturday night and in the morning getting our tents wet before we returned to St Mary’s for the launch and another visit to see the ranger. The tent I was in took on water over night getting some of my stuff wet due to the lack of stakes available for use on the tent. I could not find my rain gear which was a little disappointing at the time since I knew I packed it. The rain gear turned out to be in the bow of my kayak still there from the packing dry run before the trip. Since the kayaks were still on the trailer at the campsite I was not able to look for it until later after it stopped raining and the kayaks unloaded.
Once back at the National Lakeshore visitor’s center we were given a group site and all issues about the number of people and tents vanished. The ranger was very nice and tried to help us as much as he could. It appears there were many cancelations and getting the campsite we wanted was not an issue. There is no camping except at the campsites, this is enforced and there is a large fine if caught camping elsewhere on the island. This fact limited where we could paddle to in a day’s time around the island. Cumberland Island turned out to be pretty vacant. Sometimes you just have to go for it and take some risk with a trip like this, not everything can be planned out.
In advance we had storage lined up for the trailer and the kayaks not being used at Cumberland Island. This turned out to be a problem with the code not working at the gate, nobody answering the phone being a Sunday. We did find an alternate storage location. Just one more item not planned but in the end worked out.
We had close to a 2 hour paddle over to the Island, finding the right water way was a little difficult. There were small craft warnings and high winds predicted however we did not experience that on the paddle over going with the tide made it an easy paddle. About 500 yards from the dock we did get hit with a downpour making it hard to see the dock and getting us soaked from the kayak skirt up. Once we all got the kayaks beached we huddled under the dock until the rain stopped. Then the sun came out and acted like it never rained.
Negotiating the boats and the gear up to the ranger station was fun. There was a big wall between the shore and the land. We stored the kayaks behind the ranger station and the gear was put into carts for the approximate ½ mile walk to the campsites. A wedding party was just leaving after having the ceremony at one of the campsites; they did get rained on also before they left the Island via the ferry. It was funny to see people dressed up on the island. Before the sun came out it was also a little cool.
The next day was to be paddle day exploring the island; unfortunately the wind was at 20 MPH gusting at times higher. This made it too difficult to paddle not to mention unsafe, so we rented bicycles for the day and explored the island by bike instead.
This turned out to be very interesting touring the old Thomas Carniegie summer mansions that were on the island circa 1880’s to 1925. We were told they only spent about 6 weeks on the Island during the year but had a staff of 300 maintaining the place. The Island mansions were self sufficient having gardens and fruit trees, a small farm.
The next day the wind was down to 10 to 15 MPH so we headed out going up the Cumberland shoreline against the wind. It was tough going and the constant noise of the wind was tiring. We stopped for lunch near the Stafford house and found out that we were on private property and got yelled at to leave. This was after we had lunch so we did not mind much and then discovered the tide had gone out and we had a long muddy walk to get the kayaks back to water. Just one more part of the adventure.
The paddle back was much quicker with the wind. We did not get as far up the shore as we wanted but we had a good work out and we happy to get the boats back out and go relax at the camp site. We had showers at the camp but not hot water, now the cold water felt good and refreshing. All the dinners at camp were great, more food than we needed as some very experienced kayak campers were in our group and brought some good homemade dehydrated food. The wine and conversation flowed.
The next day it was already time to pack up and get the kayaks re-loaded for the crossing back to the mainland. This was the warmest day yet, winds were low, sunny. While we crossed a submarine was going back to the nearby sub base at Kings Island. We even got to paddle through sub wake. Then we were circled by two different government helicopters. Seeing 10 kayaks from the air must have been interesting to them.
Back to St Mary’s for loading the vehicles again for the 3 hour trip North to Tybee Island. We had another good meal in St Mary’s at the Riverside Café before leaving; we eat on the porch with a great view. A blog to follow on the Tybee part of the trip adventure.