Kayaking on Merchants Mill Pond, NC


Swamp, Alligators, and Turtles

With some trepidation, I joined a group of friends at the end of October to paddle Merchants Mill Pond in North Carolina. Though it was an easy 2-hour drive to this beautiful state park from Williamsburg, my concern was about the alligators who live there! This pristine park is the northernmost habitat for alligators, which live in only two places in the world: China and the Southeast United States.

Researching extensively before I agreed to go, I was assured that the alligators don’t like people and move away when approached. Since temperatures were getting cooler, they would most likely be hibernating, so I put on a brave face and joined the fun. I’m glad I did—we saw no alligators, but enjoyed lots and lots of turtles sunning themselves.

The visitor center had good exhibits about the history of the Mill Pond and the flora and fauna in the area. The prettiest hiking trail had been damaged by hurricane Matthew and was temporarily closed, so call ahead if you plan to hike. The pond, stream, and swamp felt far removed from civilization for a contemplative wilderness experience.

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!


Make Your Own Kayak Storm Cag

So many friends ask me where I go kayaking around Williamsburg that I’ve decided to add a kayaking section to Williamsburg Native. Today’s tip is not about where to go, but a way to be ready for bad weather if it comes up while you’re on one of our lakes, creeks, or rivers.

Why spend more than $200 on a Gortex storm cag, when you can adapt a Frogg Toggs $18 poncho to fit your kayak’s cockpit? Lightweight and breathable, your new storm cag will stow away easily in your gear to be ready in a moment’s notice. Just pull it on over your life jacket, place the elastic skirt around the rim of your cockpit, and keep paddling, safe from the rain or wind.

This video shows how I did it:

Kayaking in Poquoson, VA

Rens Road Boat Ramp

A favorite paddling put-in location for one of my Meetup.com groups is the public boat ramp at Rens Road in Poquoson. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Williamsburg. The Hampton Roads Kayakers group is very active and we sometimes gather for after-work paddling sessions there to enjoy the sunset and moonrise. (If you’re not familiar with Meetup.com, check it out – there’s an activity, hobby, or interest for everyone!) The members of the Hampton Roads Kayakers have taught me a lot about kayaks, equipment, and paddling. They love the sport and are generous with their knowledge, especially with beginner paddlers.

I took one of my favorite photos when we got out for a stretch break one evening on Racoon Island:

Sandy Bay panorama by Laurie Brown, copyright 2016, all rights reserved.
Racoon Island in Sandy Bay, off of the Poquoson River, VA. Photo by Laurie Brown, copyright 2016.

Round trip from the boat ramp to the Sandy Bay and back is 6 – 7 miles.

img_0559 george_laurie_selena_052616

We’ve seen eagles, ospreys, egrets, isis, and oyster catchers, plus lots of jumping fish. At times, I’m told, you’ll even see dolphins.

Learn to Kayak from a Master Paddler at Waller Mill Park

Waller Mill park rents kayaks and offers classes for beginners/intermediate and advanced. It’s a great way to learn how to be safe on the water, control your kayak, and enjoy beautiful scenery.

Another Chance to Kayak

If you thought my first kayaking trip looked like fun, you have a chance to try it this Saturday, Oct. 16 at New Quarter Park. It’s the last BYOK event of the year (Bring Your Own Kayak), so give it a try. If you don’t have a kayak, you can rent one for $25. Here are the details from an email from leader Sara Lewis: [Read more…]

Kayaking on Queen’s Creek

Even though Williamsburg has several places to go canoeing and kayaking, I’d never gotten around to trying kayaking until Saturday. The announcement in the local paper was too good to pass up. I could pay $25 to rent a Kayak from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and get a free membership to the foundation. Plus, I’d be in a group led by New Quarter Park tour guide Sara Lewis for a 2.5 hour paddle on Queens Creek. I figured that with a group, there would at least be witnesses to tell my next of kin if I capsized and floated out to sea. So, I called my adventurous friend Rhonda and off we went. I think I deserve extra credit for managing to video and learn how to paddle at the same time! [Read more…]