laura paddles delmarva

Circumnavigating 650+ miles of Delmarva's shorelines

Eastern Shore NWR, Kiptopeke State Park, Cape Charles, and Smith Island, VA

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo celebrate 1 happy year of married life, Brian and I headed south for a quick, 3-day camping trip to Kiptopeke State Park which is roughly halfway between Cape Charles, VA and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. We got there on Sunday morning, just as the weekend crowd was leaving, allowing us to get the best campsite – furthest from the bathhouse and with our own personal trail leading to the beach!

Kayak Adventure #1 of 3:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter we set up camp Brian dropped me off at the boat ramp at the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge. The plan was to paddle just 5 miles, around the southernmost tip of Delmarva, and finish at our campsite. The tide was running hard making the first half mile intense. I was paddling as hard as possible and barely moving at all. I had to pull over to a sandy shoreline just to take my camera out to take some photos.

Once I got out of the channel and within 100 yards or so of the bridge, the tidal flow wasn’t nearly as strong and I could relax a bit. It was a pretty cool thing to paddling under the first span of the CB Bridge-Tunnel. Although I’m only about 25% finished my ultimate goal, it definitely felt like a decent milestone. As soon as I rounded the tip the tide and the wind were at my back.


homes at altitude!

homes at altitude!

As I cruised back to our campsite, there were two things that I saw that are worth noting. One was the elevation of the shoreline! I realize that these shorelines are probably eroding at an alarming rate, the shear drop from the houses above to the water below was 30 feet in some places! Since when does any of Delmarva have such elevation?

pound net (one of many)

pound net (one of many)

The other thing I noticed were the astounding number of pound nets!  Every 100 yards or so I was crossing over another pound net.  I will say this now, that I have a weird phobia of being in a body of water and touching something man-made that is covered in aquatic plants and grime.  Every time I paddled over a net my stomach lurched at the thought of getting caught or falling out right on the net.  Ugghhh my god, I’m cringing at the thought right now.  Okay time to chance the subject:

Kiptopeke pier

Kiptopeke pier

ships off Kiptopeke

ships off Kiptopeke

As I approached Kiptopeke, I got a good view of the fishing pier and the many old ships that have been placed just offshore from the pier. I learned earlier in the day that the now fishing pier, was the original pier for the ferry that used to run to Norfolk before the bridge-tunnel was constructed. The ships were placed to create a safe harbor and cut down on wave action. Now, the pier is part of the park and the ships make for great fishing!

When I pulled up on the beach near our campsite, I was reminded of the elevation. Brian was out catching bait so I had to pull my kayak up over the dune by myself, up the steep trail and back to our site. Doing that was harder work than the 5.5 mile paddle!

dragging my kayak up the hill

dragging my kayak up the hill

Kayak Adventure #2 of 3:
On Monday, October 6, I actually paddled WITH Brian for a change! Although our path wasn’t part of my original plan in rounding the peninsula, it is definitely worth including since we spent most of the day on Smith Island, another one of the amazing, undeveloped barrier islands in Virginia.

The plan was to launch at the free kayak launch at the Refuge, but since the tide was too low and there wasn’t enough water in the creek, we launched at the boat ramp. The guy working at the boat ramp was a brat and wanted to charge us the $10 launch fee. Seriously, dude? You’re going to charge us to launch kayaks here when your stupid free kayak launch area is inaccessible? Neither of us had any money (or a freaking checkbook! yes, he said they accepted checks) we said we’d go to an ATM when we got back. Maybe he’d be gone when we got back – we WERE planning to be gone almost all day.

approaching Smith Island light

approaching Smith Island light

From the channel we headed straight across the bay towards the Smith Island Lighthouse (built in 1892!). Brian has had to stay out here for work a few times so he already knew his way around and that we could actually climb the lighthouse! 242 steps later, we were at the top, taking in the amazing views of the island. Although my mild fear of heights and the 12 mph winds made me a bit uneasy, it was still well worth the climb. Once we got to the bottom, Brian showed me his fancy accommodations when he stays out here for work. Not. Jealous.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then high tailed it through the marsh and back to our kayaks (mosquitoes were wicked in the grasses). We headed down around the south end of the island and to the ocean side. Brian carefully chose his fishing spot for the day and I spent most of the time beachcombing. For an island that is so remote, the beachcombing wasn’t spectacular. On the other hand, the fishing was decent as Brian caught a small red drum (although it was still too big to keep – if they are over 27 inches you have to release)!

After a few hours on the island, we started to head back. However, the tide had come in and the wind had picked up so I was a bit worried, particularly about launching into the swift tide and choppy water. I was so worried that I put my camera and phone in my dry bag, put all my loose items in dry hatches, and then carefully plunged into the water. Somehow I was successful and even stayed dry! Brian says I worry too much. I just figure I’m cautious and well-prepared!

When we got back to the launch, that stinkin’ boat ramp guy was STILL there! Dude, get a life! After we loaded up we actually went to an ATM, came back to the refuge, and he didn’t even have change for a twenty. He tried to tell us to give him the twenty and we could come back to tomorrow for free but Brian refused and just left. Hopefully he didn’t take down our license plate info, but still, I think we grounds to fight if we get a citation.

Kayak Adventure #3 of 3:
The last paddle of this trip was on Tuesday, October 7 from Cape Charles back to Kiptopeke. The wind was supposed to get up to 17 mph, coming from the south, so I would have preferred to paddle from Kiptopeke up to Cape Charles. However, that would have tied up Brian waiting for me at the dock, so instead, after he dropped me off, he was free to fish the ships at Kiptopeke. Plus I could use the workout and a challenge.

As I paddled out of the marina, I passed the huge concrete plant. It seemed to be a pretty heavy construction zone so I made sure to keep my distance as I rounded the corner and headed south.

Once I got out into the open bay I realized that I should have worn my paddle jacket as I was getting splashed with every other wave. Shortly after passing the concrete plant I found a sandy beach to get out. I successfully landed on the beach, but hesitated in getting out of my boat and the next wave to come in got me drenched! I even had to use my bilge pump to get a bunch of water out of my boat. As I was digging my jacket out, I saw a golf cart heading towards me, just over the bank. Great. I stop for 1 minute on someone’s private property and I get yelled at. I pretended I didn’t see them coming so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact and quickly put on my jacket and then my PFD. When I looked up, the golf cart had already passed me – maybe they didn’t even see me?

The next couple miles were tough. The wind and the swells were coming head on and I couldn’t even stop to take photos because I thought I would capsize if I stopped paddling. However, paddling against this wind wasn’t miserable. It was even fun as my kayak bounced over the waves. In addition to it being a physical workout, it was a mental workout as well. I had to calculate how I was going to tackle each swell that came towards me. Although I felt as though I was making hardly any progress, my overall speed for this trip was 2.9 mph which isn’t bad considering I usually average around 3.5 mph.

my helicopter friend first spotted at the ramp in Cape Charles

my helicopter friend first spotted at the ramp in Cape Charles

One thing that I noticed about this section of Delmarva is the air traffic! Commercial airliners, military jets, helicopters, you name it. Honestly it kind of got old. I like peace and quiet when I camp, not roaring jets above and constant rumbles in the distance. However, there was a helicopter (military-looking, I’m not up to speed on that kind of stuff) that kept flying over me, traveling up and down the shoreline. Probably passed me 15 times! I tried to imagine what the guys up there where saying about me. “She’s barely moved since the last time we passed her!” or “Wonder where she’s going” or “Is she freaking stupid fighting this wind??”

I finally came around a point on the shoreline and the ships at Kiptopeke were finally in sight! Only a mile or 2 and several pound nets separated me from solid ground and lunch!  Somewhere in the last mile or so, I saw a first (for my Delmarva paddling trips): dolphins.  Now I don’t usually get mooshy-gushy about dolphins, but I do when they are a couple arms’ lengths away from my kayak!  Some of their faces came out of the water and I got to hear their blowholes.  So cool!  However, I couldn’t keep up with them, within a matter of minutes they were way ahead of me and I lost sight.  I scrambled for my camera but only captured random shots of the water.  Woo.

So anyway, I completed my journey back at the campsite.  This is the longest post ever so I’m going to stop talking now and you can look at this map with all my kayak adventures from this trip (20.25 miles) in one spot:

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