Sunday, June 5, 2016

Beyond LA--Kayaking fun in Nassau Sound between Talbot and Amelia Islands, Florida

Here's another trip we did while vacationing in Amelia Island, Florida in early June, 2016. Earlier in the week, we kayaked up Simpson Creek to Nassau Sound, and we really enjoyed the sound (see previous entry: So we did this trip to enjoy the beauty of the sound: the northern shore of Talbot Island is wild and beautiful; Bird Island is simple and peaceful; we wanted to explore the southern tip of Amelia Island and its nearly deserted beach; and we wanted to enjoy the calm-but-open waters of the sound itself. It was a lot of fun-probably the best of the three trips we took on this vacation.

I won't repeat everything I said in that previous article about the tides, but I will stress the points again: Conditions were very calm on the day of our trip, and you don't "see" the tide moving through the sound. But it was. On this day, low tide was between 1pm and 2pm, and we couldn't wait that late to take advantage of tide change. We simply dealt with the outgoing tide for the whole trip. Most of the time, we were paddling at nearly half of our usual paddling speed, but this was very much a sightseeing trip, not a destination-oriented trip. Also, we did experience 3 or 4 spots where the interaction between the outgoing tide and the changes in topography made things a little interesting. I'll mention those as I describe the trip. An interesting phenomenon we witnessed was the large outgoing tide interacting with the sand bars out at the mouth of the sound: Off in the distance, for most of our paddle, there was a standing wave spanning the entire mouth of the sound. It was far enough away, and low enough, that it was really the white tops that made it clear what it was. It almost looked like one of the flood walls they've built in around the coastal areas of New Orleans. 

I'm sure these sand bars/shoals contribute heavily to why the sound itself is so calm so much of the time.
Here's the trip and launch info:
We launched from a public boat launch ($2 per person) on the northwestern tip of Big Talbot Island, on Sawpit Creek. This launch is accessible at high and low tide. You drive to the ramp, unload, then drive back to a parking area and make a pretty short walk back to the launch. 

Amelia Island is to the north and east, across the bridge.

We launched at about the mid point of the tide cycle, into Sawpit Creek, and the current was pretty strong. We assumed (correctly) that the current would be less intense in the sound, and even more so on our return in a couple of hours, and that it was a pretty short trip to the sound. So even though we knew the tide would still be going out,  we weren't too concerned about having too much of a struggle on our return. 

Here's the route we paddled:

Four islands, four very different beaches. 

From the launch, we followed the sandy beach on our right, under the fishing pier and the bridge spanning Amelia Island and Big Talbot Island, and out to the sound. Once you enter the sound, the beach of Talbot Island becomes much more than just a sandy beach. By the way, "Talbot Island" is divided into "Big Talbot Island" and "Little Talbot Island" by Simpson Creek. I'll sometimes be lazy and just call it "Talbot Island". The northeastern shore of Talbot Island is beautiful, and quite different from many of the other shores or beaches you'll see around here: There are nice sandy beaches for walking, but you can can see that this is a wild, wooded island being worn away by the sea. It's very rocky and littered with the trees that have "fallen off the cliff" and are now lying on the beach or in the water. The only access to these beaches is by water or foot, so it's pretty deserted and feels very isolated and wild. 

kayak talbot island nassau sound

kayak talbot island nassau sound

kayak talbot island nassau sound

kayak talbot island nassau sound

You can see from the pictures above that the water was very calm and easy, and we didn't really notice the tide current that much. But, when we decided to head over to Bird Island, we did start to see the dynamics of the tide flowing over the changing terrain below the surface. On the northwestern tip of Bird Island,  there was a stark, visible change from smooth to "boiling" water until we reached the eastern edge of the island. It was still calm and safe, but for about 70 feet or so, the water was bouncing up and down, and then instantly, we were back on super smooth water again. 

You can see the instantly smooth water in the top right of this picture. 

kayak nassau sound bird island

We paddled past Bird Island and headed over to Amelia Island. This is a short crossing of maybe 3/4 of a mile, and very calm on this day. We encountered no other traffic at all(it was a weekday morning). 
kayak nassau sound amelia island

kayak nassau sound amelia island

During this crossing, we hardly felt any sideways push from the tide going out--once or twice I felt a slight weathercock (no rudder or skeg) and once or twice I felt a slight drift to my right, but hardly anything of notice. Until....right before we landed, when we passed through a very small, but pretty strong, tide race. Really, to call this small area of turbulence a "tide race" may make some folks laugh, but for this very short-perhaps 20-30 yard span, we were suddenly being pushed very hard to our right, and our boats were trying to turn 90 degrees left, and go backwards.  Pictures don't nearly do it justice, but our landing on Amelia Island was a little trickier than I expected. In the route picture below, you can actually see our course suddenly shift as we approached the island, and getting out of the kayaks was kind of fun. I let go of my kayak for an instant and had to go catch it. Probably, a more trained eye would have predicted this rush of water by looking at the charts: Amelia Island's southern end does create a headland, pointing right into the tidal current. When we re-launched, we dragged our kayaks a few feet up the beach to make our launch easier. In the image below, some of what appears to be water was low-tide sand that we took a stroll on. This beach was beautiful, and on a late Thursday morning, practically deserted. Where we turned around on our walk, I could look north up the beach and see the condos and hotels.

kayak amelia island nassau sound
Once we wrestled the kayaks ashore, we took a short walk along the beach--some of which shows as water in this image.
kayak nassau sound amelia island

That is not a wave coming in (above); that's a fast right to left flow.

kayak nassau sound amelia island

Once we left the beach of Amelia Island, we headed back towards the bridge, and the opening of Sawpit Creek. As we moved from the more open water of the sound, toward the convergence of the Amelia River, the Nassau River, and the gap between the islands, the energy in the water picked up a little bit and we were paddling pretty slowly.

kayak nassau sound amelia island

kayak nassau sound amelia island

We passed under the bridge and pier, into the mouth of the rivers, and decided to follow the bridges back across. Even though traffic was pretty light, we felt the bridge would help us with any traffic as we fought the current crossing our beams as we crossed back over.   Understandably, this is where we finally felt the strong effects of the tide current. The water got a little turbulent, and we had to put some effort into staying parallel to the bridges. My partner, with very little experience in these conditions, got pretty nervous, and I had to focus on staying near her and not getting taken back out, under the bridges. You had to keep moving forward, or you'd move sideways instantly. This is also where I made a typical "Chet mistake", and we made a wrong turn. In my effort to fight the flow across our beam, and to shorten the crossing for her, I pointed our boats at an angle into the flow of the tide, away from the sound. This worked at keeping us straight (we were moving slightly sideways this way, but it kept us parallel to the pier), but, it also took us around the wrong side of the unnamed island at the mouth of Sawpit Creek. I didn't study the maps well enough to realize or remember that the fishing pier is not exactly parallel to the bridge. I knew we just had to follow the bridge across to Talbot Island, but the fishing pier breaks off and stops at the unnamed island (if this island has a name, I haven't seen it yet). I followed the pier. 


That's not the right beach! 
You can see the short detour in the image above. At least two positives to this mistake: it worked to get my partner into water she was comfortable with more quickly,  and (knowing my incredible sense of direction) I brought my GPS. We thought we were back along the shore of Talbot Island, but the beach was all oyster beds and marsh, instead of the white beaches we expected. Thinking it was just a change due to the receding tide(that was MY thinking and poor memory), we continued for a few minutes, expecting to see the launch. When we didn't, I turned on my GPS which set me straight and we enjoyed a good laugh. My partner is used to my sense of direction by now. She also guessed, before my GPS told me, where we were, based on the one or two times she looked at any maps.  We decided to not continue around the island, as that would mean more paddling against the flow of the tide, so we turned around, corrected course, and found the sandy beach of Talbot Island that we expected to see:

As if to help me be sure this was the right place, those two guys were sitting in exactly the same place as when we started. 

A lesson I learn every few months is that no matter how simple a route may seem, study the maps and charts and bring your GPS. Better yet, print portions of the charts and bring a map holder. 

From here, as expected, the launch was right around a left-hand curve, and the current was much, much calmer, so we were out of the water within minutes.

This really was a great trip. As I've said before, ALWAYS check conditions and make sure you, your partner(s) and boats are right for those conditions. But I have to say, Nassau Sound is really beautiful and offers a great variety of water conditions and beach conditions. I wish I lived closer.

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