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Gerrish Island Circumnavigation, 8/30

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A large group of solid level 3 paddlers left Odiorne State Park after a great beach briefing by our fearless leader, Paul Sylvester. The sky was cloudy, the air quite cool for August, and there were forecasts of 15+ knot winds. Most in the group looked forward to finding some conditions after a very tame summer.

The group was a varied mix of Euro and Greenland paddlers with a full compliment of plastic kayaks, composite kayaks, and one beautiful strip-built kayak. The river was shallow, and the incoming tide made for a slow warm-up as we headed out into Little Harbor. The Harbor was quiet and our first channel crossing short and uneventful. As we peeked around the breakwater, the group was disappointed. There was little action among the rocks and shoals on the ocean side of the breakwater and no real swell coming from the East. With much discussion about which nooks and crannies around the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor might have something to play in, the group set off towards the Island.

As we crossed the entrance to the Harbor, the pod darted from one set of island/rocks to another. Occassionally, the search was rewarded with a little surge among rock and seaweed gardens, however, nothing really entertaining, so before long we were approaching the shores of Gerrish Island. The swell was a bit more apparent here, but in general, the waves weren't standing up until they dumped right on the rocky shore. Finally, we came upon some rocks and shoals that had waves breaking much farther out, although erratically.

Most in the group tried to catch a ride on these small breakers, not easy as they kept disappearing for minutes at a time. Sometimes one would catch a wave only to have it abruptly disappear from underneath the boat. This left many frustrated surfers in the middle of what had only seconds ago been the surf zone. Then the inevitable happened.

One avid rough water junkie (as evidenced by the NSPN decals over holes) had a wave evaporate mid ride while a second equally enthusiastic surfer with a much newer boat caught another wave. The second boat picked up a lot of speed on one of the best waves of the afternoon. Fortunately he was headed well away from the first boat - that is until his boat broached and turned abruptly.

Meanwhile the first surfer finally gotten something out of the boomer that he was sitting atop. This was just the sort of excitement he was looking for as the wave surfed him backwards - directly into the path of the second boat. From where I was sitting, all one saw when they met was the tops of the two waves and the bottoms of two white hulls. A few people who weren't on the sea side of the waves saw the first surfer calmly grab the bow of the second boat in one hand and pass it over his head. Then both boats capsized. The first surfer's helmet came off at the same time making many in the group even more nervous about possible injuries.

The first paddler tried to roll up only to discover that he had slipped partially out of his boat. He sculled a few times to get air, and then signaled for an eskimo rescue. The second paddler failed to roll and became the first swimmer of the day.

Both of the rescues went well as the closest paddler to the first boat immediately moved in for the rescue. Due to the high probability of another wave he had to be cautious, but he did get there before the victim ran out of air and patience. The second paddler was quickly rescued with the usual 'T' rescue. Fortunately, neither paddler was injured, and we continued on our way.

It wasn't long after this that when we encountered a small powerboat meandering somewhat aimlessly in front of us. We stopped to wait, and when the boat came close enough for us to see that it was a middle-aged couple out fishing, the man piloting it throttled down and veered away. Although we couldn't really hear what he was saying, we could see that he was ranting and raving about something, presumably to his wife who was seated in the bow. As we resumed our paddling he continued to yell and gesture while she seemed to ignore him. The occassional intelligible words that we caught gradually made us realize he was yelling at us. I changed the channel on my radio in case we were about to become victims of sea rage, but eventually he drove off.

Not long after, we approached the quite beautiful harbor at the north end of Gerrish Island. Due to the shallowness of it's entrance, there were lots of breaking waves. An assistant leader was sent to scout it out. After he reported that there was a navigable route through, we followed him without incident. This tiny harbor has many attractive landing spots, but apparently some of the landowners are not happy about boaters stopping there for lunch, so we chose a marshy area that nobody has had problems with so far. The sun was breaking through the clouds as we landed on the muddy and slippery shore. We lunched at the much drier trees boardering the marsh, and fought off some very hungry salt water mosquitos.

The creek behind Gerrish Island is only navigable during the highest part of the tide, so we had a schedule to keep. The creek is a lot like Fox Creek behind Castle Neck except even more sparsely populated. It weaves back and forth giving us paddlers the opportunity to play around with many varied turning strokes. Some Euro-paddlers borrowed some GPs for part of the trip, and at one point the screech of a hawk echoed from high above. With the hot sun and shelter from the wind, the air felt 20 degrees warmer than before, and many periodically sculled down to cool off.

Just before the creek widens dramatically, it passes through a large culvert. The current was really moving here, and there wasn't really enough room in the culvert to paddle, so each of us had to take a running start to get through before we got swept back into the creek. The other side of the culvert was calmer and the group decided to stop for a little rest and play. Many spectators were on both sides of the shore as some members of the group demonstrated recently learned kayak tricks to other paddlers.

From this point on, the creek gets gradually wider and busier with lots of residences, docks, and moorings on the mainland side and even a restaurant with a dock (perhaps a good place for kayakers to eat on a future trip?). It ends right in Portsmouth Harbor where we saw a windsurfer make a quick trip to a nearby island with two children on the board with him. The channel crossing(s) were a bit trickier this time due to much more traffic, but this group had the best line formation I have ever seen on an NSPN trip.

We played a bit in some of the rocks along the shore, and one assistant leader managed to leave quite a bit of gelcoat on some rocks he was stuck on for several minutes. The entrance to Little Harbor was a quite aa bit more interesting than on the way out, but the group didn't linger for too long. Soon we were taking out at the boat ramp. It was a fun and somewhat unforgetable trip that I, for one, thank Paul for putting together.

Dee Hall

Impex Currituck, Blue over Smoky Ivory

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