Thursday, July 2, 2009

Offshore Sea Kayaking in South Carolina - July 2009

Living in the mountains of Virginia, it's a special treat for me to be able to paddle my sea kayaks offshore in the open ocean off South Carolina a few times each year. My 14' Heritage Sea Dart and 17' Heritage Expedition are made for kayaking offshore, with their sleek Greenland lines, speed, and inherent stability.

Paddling offshore is an entirely different beast than poking around western Virginia lakes and rivers. One must take into account winds, currents, waves, tides, and a whole laundry list of other factors before hopping in the water and powering offshore. It's more serious, and the implications of making a mistake more fatal. So before I go, I make sure the winds, tides, etc. are favorable for an offshore outing, i.e., you don't want to head out if there's a strong offshore wind - onshore winds are much better.

I also take advantage of my boat's storage by stuffing it full of survival gear, such as a waterproof floating marine VHF radio, cell phone, survival kit with basic fishing gear, wind-up flashlight, plenty of water, food, a NWS weather radio, extra paddle, my sail, nautical map, GPS receiver, strobe light, compass, basic med kit, thermometer/anemometer, batteries, and more. I want to be reasonably well prepared should a sudden storm or unanticipated current push me far offshore.

Breaking waves washing over the bow can easily strip away items strapped to the deck, so I've learned to stow almost everything before setting out - as well as the fact that it's quite easy to capsize in the surf zone, and over the years I've lost things like hats, sunglasses, and water bottles which were not properly secured.

I typically stay within a mile or two of the shoreline when I venture offshore. The part of the coast I paddle sports several remote island sand banks as well as numerous salt marshes, estuaries, and rivers. It is great fun to explore some of the deserted islands to look for shells or to simply enjoy the solitude.

Paddling offshore is a fine location for using a sail. Although it's not necessarily great in rough conditions, my Spirit Sail can be an advantage in calmer water.

In my case, I paddle into the wind for a while, perhaps rounding an island, then use the sail on my way back to shore.

Two novice paddlers perished in the area I paddle two years ago. Apparently, two men who had little or no paddling experience rented a tandem sit-inside kayak and ventured offshore in very unfavorable weather conditions, i.e., a strong offshore wind and strong offshore current. They capsized, the boat swamped, and they were carried as far as 5 miles off the coast. One person was found still clinging to the swamped boat, while the other was never found. Their experience illustrates the danger of venturing offshore unprepared and with little or no local marine knowledge.

The dangers of paddling offshore are real, but the rewards are worth it for experienced, knowledgeable paddlers with the right equipment.

1 comment:

David said...

I have to tell you, paddling out of site of land on a little kayak, or big kayak for that matter, would make me a little nervous, although I'm sure its a great feeling.

Steve, I don't know how I deleted your email address from my computer, but email me again at and we will plan a trip later this or next week.

Keep those blog posts coming.