Afloat

This morning, Hugh helped me repair the hull of the S.S. Diet Dew and then he, Hank, and I went for a paddle.  Of all the pleasures of summer in Rodanthe, paddling around in the sound reigns supreme in my personal hierarchy.   There’s something so amazing about skimming effortlessly over waving forests of eelgrass, watching the prehistoric shapes of horseshoe crabs, as they scoot away from the shadow of the boat.  It’s like flying, but better, because the gentle rocking of the kayak is as soothing as a cradle.

Pamlico Sound is 17 miles wide here; the nearest shore is Stumpy Point, the largely uninhabited eastern boundary of a giant swamp.   There is a boat channel, somewhere out there, marked with buoys, but it’s rarely used; fishing boats out of Manteo go through Oregon Inlet, and of course, the southern fishing fleet uses Hatteras.  Our section of the sound belongs to kiteboards and kayaks. 

This morning, we were the sole boats out, and we first visited the remains of a barge, wrecked just southwest of us for the purpose of creating marine habitat.  Today nothing much was happening around it – a couple of fish jumped, but no spider crabs or blue crabs were in evidence.   We rocked gently in the breeze and drowsed.  Something about paddling the sound takes the words out of you – eventually you just grow quiet and listen to the chuckle of water around your boat and the occasional cry of a gull or curlew. 

Hank and I paddled up into the Pea Island wildlife refuge, because I wanted to visit the only deep hole I know of in the sound.  It’s such a mysterious thing – a truly deep hole about thirty yards wide and perhaps fifty yards long, tucked right into a small arc of Pea Island.   The sound, as previously noted, is actually very shallow.  Even in the boat channel, it’s barely over ten feet deep.  Most of the time, it’s between one and three feet – perfect for watching crabs scuttle and tube worms worm.

But the deep hole is something else.  It drops off quite suddenly, so the kayaker goes from watching the sunny bottom to looking into blue-green nothingness.  I have no idea how deep it is – my paddle is seven feet long, and it’s deeper than that.   I have no idea what formed it;  it doesn’t lie at the mouth of a runoff channel, where one might expect it.  The cordgrass goes right to the edge on the landward side, and a ridge of sand billows up on the sound side.

In between is this amazing hole.  It’s been there for years, despite storms from all directions that might fill it with sand.  It has no outlet, but is ringed with shallow (we’re talking six inches deep) water or land.  It looks like some giant has made a hole in the muddy pillow of the sound with a huge pencil. 

I’m fascinated and horrified at the same time.   I love the feeling of flying out over the edge, but I’m not comfortable staying there.  In the sound, you get used to seeing the bottom right there below you, and when it drops away, it’s . . . unsettling.  No telling what’s in the depths, blinking its ancient eyes at the unfamiliar shadow of a boat.  I paddle out and go find Hank.

He is sunbathing on a white beach known only to gulls and herons.  It’s hot.  The only sounds are the occasional cries of birds in the tall grass, and even the water-creatures have headed for cooler places.  The bottom of this shallow cove is littered with perfect scallop shells, and I wonder how they got here, since scallops are deep-water animals from the ocean side of the island.  Birds, I guess.  The occasional drifting crab claw, minus the rest of the crab, indicates that the herons and gulls dine well.  Maybe they somehow fish the scallops out of the ocean side and drop them here?  None are broken, all have been eaten.  It’s another mystery.

We paddle for home, and since we’re going with the wind, the heat feels like a slap.  I stop my boat and let the wind catch me again, pushing me gently toward our dock, a cool shower, and lunch.  It makes me wish this was my backyard all the time.

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