Bill and I just finished an abbreviated trip to Shackleford Banks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We had planned the trip for over a month and intended to spend two days paddling and camping along the Outer Banks near Cape Lookout. Part of the reason we planned the trip was to practice what I learned in Bill’s sea kayak navigation course that he teaches from time to time at our Charlotte store.

This was my first overnight trip in a kayak and it required a bit more planning than just throwing the kayaks on the truck and heading out for the day. I’m ordinarily not a planner, but I took Bill’s advice and not only downloaded the checklist he helped create, but I created my own for this trip. This was a huge help and the only thing I forgot was my toothbrush and that’s because I forgot to put that on my checklist. In addition to working with a checklist, I took time to review the tide charts for the area as well as the area weather reports.

As I reviewed the weather reports beginning about a week prior to the trip things did not look promising. The weather forecast all last week for the area looked less than spectacular. Depending on which service I consulted the weather varied anywhere from partly cloudy with a light breezes to t-storms with high winds. When Bill and I met on Sunday morning, we briefly discussed the weather and decided that the forecast still left enough margin to make the trip possible.

When we arrived at Harkers Island on Sunday afternoon, the weather was marginal with winds around 10 to 15 knots and seas around 1 to 2 feet. After packing the boats we headed out into some of the chop just to the edge of Core Sound to warm up and get a feel for conditions. To conserve energy we decided to hug the lee side of Harker’s Island as long as we could until we were ready to make the run across Back Sound to Shackleford Banks. With the wind at our backs and an outgoing tide, the trip across the sound was lively. We caught a mostly free ride to Shackleford, sometimes paddling as fast as 7 miles an hour. This was my first time paddling a fully loaded sea kayak and it was a blast riding out the chop and then surfing onto to the beach. After a short break on the beach we jumped back in the boats and kayaked to the ferry landing to camp for the night.

The weather deteriorated overnight, with the wind at 17 knots around 11pm and the rain moving in around midnight. As a side note, if you plan to camp here I highly recommend taking sand stakes for your tent as added insurance against the wind. When we got up on Monday the forecast and conditions weren’t any better. The rain had stopped but the wind, blowing at a sustained 23 knots with gusts higher, was not letting up. After consulting our charts, reviewing the weather, and discussing our options we decided that it would be better to call a ferry to come pick us up. The ride back was choppy, not surprising considering the whole area was under a small craft advisory, and it confirmed that, while we probably could have made the trip back to Harkers without any major problems, we made the right decision to call the ferry. Special thanks, by the way, to the folks at Calico Jacks on Harkers Island for running a boat out to pick us up.

If you have never been to Shackleford I highly recommend it. Despite the less than ideal conditions, I had a great time and it was a wonderful learning experience. I know I’m going back as soon as I can to explore more and maybe next time the weather will cooperate so I can actually kayak to the Cape Lookout lighthouse.