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Our usual early morning arrival at the Nat’l Seashore Ranger Station was less chaotic than usual, in part because we were a shrunken contingent with Topher en route to NorCal, Joel at Canoecopia and c2g absent as well. And in part because the ranger on staff was new and didn’t know the routine for park entry and backcountry permitting and omitted some paperwork, fees and signatures.
We were soon staging and packing gear at the Old Ferry Landing and it was quickly apparent that my e-mail attempts to coordinate common gear had failed miserably. I’m not usually one to argue about an over abundance of gear, but 5 stoves for 5 people seems excessive.
Low tide and an east wind blowing water off the bay shore presented the challenge of shallow water route finding, but with a short section of drag and push we gliding past the tip of Great Egging Beach and into the open expanse of Chincoteague Bay with the wind at our backs.
Paddling Assateague is all about wind. Not just helpful tailwinds, or daunting headwinds, but as much about wind driven water. The tidal currents away from the inlets are negligible and the water levels less predictable by tides than by wind direction; a west wind blowing across the 5 mile fetch of Chincoteague Bay will pile water onto the western shore of the island, flooding the marshes and creating what appears to be a days long high tide. Conversely an east wind will empty the marshes as it pushes water across the bay onto the mainland shore.
Friday’s northeast wind was at least blowing in our intended direction and Doug and I were underway under sail, he with a mid-sized Spirit Sail on the Explorer Solo and I with a full sized version on the Sea Wimp.
This was my first experience in using a bona fide sail rig and not a golf umbrella, tarp jerry rigged with spare paddles or rainfly stretched between two sticks. It was also my first experience sailing with a ruddered boat.
And I am smitten. That was nice. That was fun. That was easy. Just sitting back in the Sea Wimp, having a smoke, steering with my feet and letting the wind do the work. I could definitely get used to this.
A brief muckleup on the outboard side of Tingles Island, wisely deducing that the Tingles Narrows would likely be too shallow and we were back afloat. Kathy and I struggled a bit to maintain a course near enough the western shore of the island to discern familiar landmarks while Brian, CWDH and Doug chose the deepwater route far out in the bay.
Far out and further out; as we dragged and pushed across the occasional shallow sandbar our compatriots were cruising unhindered further ahead, and further out into the bay.
Further and further and further. So far in fact that by the time Kathy and I made landfall at the Pine Tree site our paddling chums had overshot our intended backcountry site by several miles and were still going. Going and going and going.
We carried our chairs out to the tip of a sandy peninsula, flashed them a signal using the bottom of a shiny Dale’s Pale Ale can and discussed whether they would be returning upbay into the wind that evening after realizing their mistake.
Some hours later they did stumble ashore, having overshot Pine Tree by a good 4 miles, turning an easy 5 mile paddle-in into a 13 mile adventure. That’s one way to move up the yearly mileage log.
This having been a long day on short sleep for all involved we settled in around a campfire for beers and conversation and were sooner than usual off to bed.
Another day in paradise, warm and sunny with moderate winds. We lingered around the campsite until noon, sipping coffee and watching Kathy, who needed to head back that day, pack her gear. A listen to the weather radio foretold of SE breezes, prefect for Kathy’s trip back to the Ferry Landing and boding well for a daypaddle explore of the Pine Tree inner-island sneak route.
After a photo op of Kathy sailing her kayak we packed our own boats for a jaunt up the inner channel. With the wind at our backs Doug and I were once again under sail, and once again out of sight of our Voyageur paddling brethren.
Wind and unburdened Voyageur’s do not make for a happy mix, and CWDH and Brian hunkered down to forage mussels while Doug and I sailed down to the lee side of a windswept point. Having effortlessly sailed downwind to this lee shore sitting spot Doug and I beat into the wind on the route back, arriving back acamp in time for a cross-island walk to view the Atlantic and a return to camp in anticipation of a steak dinner.
We had heard much about these beauties Doug had brought along for our feasting pleasure; richly marbled, perfectly marinated prime cuts of bovine flesh. Ummmm…
Ummmm, maybe not. We note that Doug is delving into coolers and food packs with increasing urgency. Desperation even. And then comes the anguished utterance “Where are my steaks?”.
Where indeed? Soon each of us are taking turns looking in the likely places. And then the unlikely places. Each cooler is searched repeatedly. Each food bag, each container, each bucket and barrel. The each cooler is searched again. Then the absurd places – inside tents, under sleeping bags, up in the trees. Where are the steaks?
There are no steaks to be found. Had Doug not shown them to CWDH that morning we would have doubted their very existence. What could have happened to them?
There’s only one possible explanation – Kathy stole them. It’s a devious vegetarian plot to deprive us our animal flesh. She’s sneaky. She took our meat!
Brian and CWDH pitch in and craft a replacement meal of kabobs, slicing shrimp, chicken and veggies onto skewers, cooking them slowly and carefully over the open fire while Doug decries the theft of his steaks, which by now have reached legendary perfection. Angus they were. No wait, Kobe. Dry aged.
No matter, the kabobs look delicious. Doug apparently did not share that kabob appreciation and, in a fit of pique, still muttering about his steaks – “Cut by the Emperor’s Royal butcher using an obsidian blade” he viciously kicked the kabobs off the fire and into the sand.
They were still delicious, if a bit gritty.
Awakening on Sunday morning to a New Hampshire bantam crowing “I’ve found my steaks, I’ve found my steaks!” (in his own ice chest, UNDER a layer of ice on the bottom – Kathy must have put them there eh) we coffeed up and headed out for another day paddle.
Brian and CWDH ballasted out their Voyageurs this trip and we again paddled the inner-island sneak route in search of last year’s dead pony site, hoping to find a bleached bone skeleton scattered on the sand. No luck; a flood tide must have floated the bloated carcass off into the bay.
A wandering walk, punctuated by occasional sit-and-sips brought us to a broad, circular mudflat with a tummock of grass in the center where we practiced our tracking skills following a set of raccoon prints. Doug and CWDH performed a bad pantomime of the Flying Wallenda Brothers, although I don’t remember the Wallenda Brothers concluding their act by rolling in the mud laughing.
The winds having shifted around to the northeast our return to camp was easy, and a pre-dinner cross-island bocce game was undertaken, Team Doremus-McCrea whipping the Sill-Wilhelm pair 31 to 26, largely on the strength of Doug’s long toss.
Steaks for dinner, along with white chicken chili, followed by a nighttime hike across the island to an abandoned hunt camp. One of the advantages of camping the Assateague backcountry is the terrific wanderability of the area. From the bayside marshes and long sandy peninsulas to the backside guts and channels to the inner dunes to the beachfront.
If you like to wander afoot or afloat, explore and investigate and poke around – what eastern shore watermen call “progging” – there’s no finer place than Assateague.
The time always goes by too quickly, especially when the forecast calls for continued magnificent weather for the rest of the week, although with another day of 60f temps and we would have been battling the dreaded March mosquitoes.
We took our time packing up and we’re on the water by early afternoon. Once again in the shallow, and once again with a bit of a tailwind sufficient for sailing
Crossing outboard of Tingles Island again we turned eastward and lost our gentle tailwind, which soon freshened into a not-so-gentle headwind, providing us with enough of a challenge to serve as a reminder that paddling Assateague is not for the weak or easily dispirited.
Racked and packed, a stop at the Unicorn used bookstore in search of old paddling guides, a caloric stuffing at Holly’s, complete with the traditional crab soup and fried green tomatoes and we were home before dark.
I’m sure I missed a thing or two, so fill in the blanks, embellish, correct or clarify meboys. T’was another good trip.
Doug's photos: http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/558169996lihKxy
Kathy's photos: http://community.webshots.com/album/558170822CbkDjE
Bent Shaft Canoe Paddles
Hardshell Kayak Sail Rigs