Today I paddled around Wrightsville Beach with friends Lydia aka Wildwoman, Roberto aka Sharkbait aka Bobby Love, and Ryan (the nicknames were our radio handles when we guided for SMKC). Looking ahead at today's forecasted warm weather, light wind, and small seas I had originally proposed that we do the sea buoy paddle again, but after looking at the tides we realized that a circumnavigation might be better. So we met this morning at the WB drawbridge and launched at 10. We headed north up the ICW to Mason's Inlet, which is a shallow water inlet I've surfed many times. There was a decent waist-high wave breaking, which was a surprise given that the Frying Pan Shoals buoy registered less than a foot this morning. Once again, I feel so fricking lucky to have the paddling partners that I do. Everyone else on the trip holds ACA certification and has extensive ocean-side kayaking experience. One of them is an instructor (http://www.watersmythkayaking.com/), and one has two world kayak surfing championships under her belt. They're all very capable, they give me information and advice without being pushy or preachy, they trust me to take care of myself, and they've got my back if I get into trouble.
This was my first shallow water inlet navigation, so I was slightly nervous when we got within eyesight of the inlet and I could see waves breaking. From the calms inside the inlet it was hard to tell how big the waves were. I commented to Lydia that I couldn't tell if it was 1' or 4'. We proceeded forward into the mouth of the inlet at a slow pace to assess the situation and look for a channel. We never found a clear channel, but after pushing through a couple of waves I could see that I only needed to cover about 30 more yards and I'd be out, so I paddled hard and cleared a few more breaking or broken waves. I feel great about how my boat handled pushing through. It was fun to punch through and then drop down the back of the wave. The hull slaps down into the water with a loud "boof" noise. Lydia's advice to me was to "point your nose into them and paddle as aggresively as you can." I did and it worked fine. We all got out reasonably dry and headed south, staying just outside the surf zone (Roberto rode a few in). At Johnny Mercer's Pier Lydia paddled in through the breakers for a beach landing (she left a car in the lot there so she could cut out early). The rest of us continued south, straying a little further out onto the open water. Eventually we rounded the end of the jetty at Masonboro Inlet and landed on the south end of the island for lunch. After the lunch break we paddled up Bank's Channel to Mott's Creek to the ICW and under the bridge to where we began, arriving around 3 pm. All in all we were about 5 hours out, and we covered about 9 miles (WB is 4 miles long, so there's 8, plus getting from the ICW out to the ocean and back). If you click on the Google Earth image above it looks like we paddled through Figure Eight, or portaged, but we didn't. Those images don't reflect the movement of the inlet from just above the hotel (Shell Island Resort) to well north of there, about .5 miles (a guess). It was a beautiful day to paddle, particularly on the ocean. I can't wait to get out there again.