Paddling Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Women’s Sea Kayaking Retreat, Sept. 29 – Oct. 2, 2016

Only 2 hours from Williamsburg you’ll find pristine wildlife preserves on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I just returned from my longest kayaking expedition yet: 4 days, 3 nights in the Hehl Wildlife preserve near Kiptopeke, VA. Dianne Campbell of Mobjack Kayaking planned and guided 9 of us on this Women’s Paddling Retreat. Our total mileage was almost 36 miles, most of it on days 2 and 3.

Marsh on Magothy Bay, Eastern Shore of Virginia


Day 1 – Paddled 1. 2 miles (it felt like 6!)

We met at the Eastern Shore Visitor’s Center, just over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and caravanned to Wise Point Boat Ramp to put in. I had no idea that I’d be launching from a place named after my maternal ancestors, who landed in that area in the late 17th century. I hope their boat was bigger than mine!

We expected a short, 1.2-mile paddle to our retreat house on Holly Bluff Island, but outgoing tide and 25 mph head winds had us paddling very hard for what seemed like an hour—none of us could check our watches for fear of losing ground. I think I raced the same blade of marsh grass for 10 minutes! The effort was well worth it when we got to our quaint guest house. It was the first time I’ve stayed in a house with no electricity and gas lights. Carla and Carl Hehl were gracious hosts in the best Southern style.

Main house on Hehl Wildlife Preserve, Eastern Shore of VA

Day 2 – 12.8 miles

The weather improved dramatically and we set off in calm water. Early in the day we explored a side creek and saw two eagles flying loops and gracefully catching a fish.

We continued on to Mockhorn Island, where we explored the abandoned Cushman Farm and World War II watch towers. All of the scenery was beautiful and we saw many waterfowl, including herons, egrets, and ibis.

Day 3 – 15.7 miles

We headed down the Atlantic Ocean side of the Eastern Shore and paddled under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, braving some 1.5-foot waves and riding some fun currents. I was glad to be in my 16′ Dagger to enjoy the action of the waves. On the way to Cape Charles we were delighted to encounter a pod of dolphins! They swam all around us and we followed them for a couple of miles.

Rounding Cape Charles and heading north up the Chesapeake Bay, our goal was to see the abandoned cement war ships at Kiptopeke State Park. “Cement ships,” you ask? Yes, it’s about water displacement, not the weight of the construction material, my smart friend taught me. They’re falling apart and home to many a pelican. I’m told that the fishing is very good around this sea break. We enjoyed lunch at the park before heading home. It was an action-packed 15 miles and worth every paddle stroke!

Day 4 – 8.2 miles

We loaded up our gear to head home, but got in a few more miles across the bay to Smith Island. We spent a couple hours collecting seashells from the bounty there and enjoying a beautiful, cool morning. I think I caught a glimpse of a loggerhead turtle as it turned abruptly to avoid one of our paddlers, but I wasn’t quick enough with my camera. Something to look for on my next visit to this beautiful area. We paddled back to the takeout at Wise Point, loaded our boats on our cars and headed up the road for a farewell lunch. I miss the ladies already. Can’t wait for our next adventure!