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October 2009 Waterside News Column

Paddling Day and Night in the Low Country

(Exploring the Low Country by Kayak) -Michael Neal

Fall is finally here. I love the days of warm and the nights of coolness. Many visitors ask what the best month to visit the area is, I always tell them October. One of my favorite activities is this time of year is kayaking. Coastal Georgia has so many different areas to paddle.

One of the easiest and most beautiful areas to paddle is the tidal creeks and rivers that wind through this area. I usually launch from one of the boat ramps or if that is not available then from the docks of a marina. When launching at a boat ramp you always have to remember that you will be likely sharing it with power boats launching and loading. Be courteous, minimize the time you are using the ramp and make sure you don’t get in the way. These boats, trailers and trucks are much bigger and can accidently run you over. If a boat ramp is not available and you launch from a dock make sure you receive permission and realize it can be tricky getting in and out of the boat depending on the height of the dock.

Now we are in the water, what is there to see? Being one of the most diverse and rich ecosystems in the world, it just depends on the day, area and tide. Being at the level of the water, while sitting on the kayak, gives you a unique perspective that is hard to duplicate in any way.

At low tide, I enjoy watching the egrets and herons feeding along the banks of the creek. They wait so patiently for their meal to come by. Another favorite sight is the fiddler crabs that scurry about. These are the small crabs that the males have one big claw and when they wave it looks like they are playing the fiddle. Really, what they are doing is trying to attract the females. But the females being pretty smart come check out the burrow, the home, if it doesn’t meet her criteria she moves on looking for a better partner, sounds pretty smart to me.

At high tide, you can explore further in those winding tidal creeks and find new passages to other creeks or perhaps to some of the hammocks; the islands in the marsh that provide sanctuaries for birds and animals away for the development of the coastal mainland. I enjoy getting out of the kayak, stretching a bit and taking in the lushness of these oasis’s of beauty. It is easy to imagine that this is the same sight and feeling that the Native Americans had while wandering in these same waters and exploring these same hammocks. Some say that the word hammock is derived from the Native Americans meaning “garden place”

Another favorite encounter while paddling is seeing dolphins. The first time one comes up near you and clears their blowhole can be quite startling. To see the dolphins gently breaking the water, swimming along, as you to glide through the water silently is a feeling hard to beat.

That is one of the unique aspect of paddling is the connectiveness you feel with the water and environment. Every stroke you take moves you in a way that makes you part of this fluid world. Recently, I was part of a group of friends and family that did a full moon paddle. We watched the sunset as we launched our kayaks. As darkness approached, the full moon rose over the marsh. As we paddled, the moonlight made it a world of shadows. Parts of the group would disappear into the darkness. It was a peaceful feeling with liquid motion of movement of the water, the quietness of marshes and the company of old friends.

I encourage you to explore the world of kayaking. If you don’t have a kayak and don’t want to borrow one there are a number of local companies (Moon River Kayak Tours) that offer guided tours and a couple that rent them. Remember safety when paddling, wear a PFD and at night be sure to have the proper lights. Also remember that you are low in the water and power boaters may have a hard time seeing you. Avoid the centers of the rivers, stay on the sides if possible. This area has some of the largest tides on the east coast so take that into consideration when planning your adventure.

Happy Paddling….


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