NE Fork Cape Fear River

02/20/2024
NE Fork Cape Fear River

On the cool and cloudy afternoon of Sunday, February 11, 2024, Janet instigated a kayak trip for us in our recently discovered Holly Shelter game land on the border of New Hanover and Pender Counties.  We put in at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission boat ramp on the northeast branch of the Cape Fear River. I paddled my sleek and efficient but delicately balanced and a little bit intimidating Nigel Dennis Romney Excel 16 ½ foot kayak. Janet paddled her wide and short fishing kayak which was comfortably stable.

We were both taking somewhat of a risk by paddling in 60-degree air and 50-degree water temperatures with less than full exposure protection.  Hypothermia was a clear and present danger if either of us capsized.  I had on a full wetsuit with a neoprene cap, gloves, socks, and shoes, which was a lot of protection.  But I would have been safer in a dry suit, which I cannot afford. Janet was even braver, wearing only street clothes. When we discussed the merits of our clothing outfits, Janet stated bravely that she will not turn over and get wet.

Janet’s dog Gracie was not with us since it was cold, we expected to paddle several miles and Gracie is suffering from such strong arthritis in one of her legs that she limps all the time.

The river had little discernable current. But the wind was moderately heavy and gusted strongly enough to occasionally push us backward. We never determined which way was upstream, so we paddled first against the wind for several miles. This direction turned out to be downstream, which would normally be backward.  Then we turned around due to my sciatica pain getting bothersome and made our way with the wind pushing us back to the dock.

Another issue is that my kayak was made for rolling self-rescues.  I cannot do that maneuver, but I still have a seat back which is almost non-existent and not sufficiently supportive for my weak back.  With my good friend Bill Webb’s assistance, I added a foam block to the rolling seat back, but it is not wide enough or soft enough for me to paddle comfortably. With more help from Bill, we are plotting how to renovate the seat back to make it wider, taller, and softer.

Ever since winter arrived here this season, I have been a little anxious and fretful about if, or when, I could fall in cold water and have a problem. As bad (or good?) fortune would have it, when I was exiting my boat at the take-out, I made the mistake of driving my boat too far up the ramp, which made the bow tippy and changed the balance point.  When I sat on the back deck, I did not have the middle width of the boat in the water to give me proper balance, so I fell in the water up to my neck.

I was surprised by how much protection I got from the wet suit. I certainly felt the cold water but had no trouble with a bad shock or being unable to save myself.  Fortunately, I did not have to do a real deep-water self-rescue.  So, I walked out of the creek and up the ramp. I felt better that I had gotten wet with no terrible repercussions.

After the paddle, we ate a picnic that Janet prepared sitting in the sun on the grass by the dock. Pleasant and refreshing.  A good time was had by all.

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GPS Coordinates: 34 32 55,-77 48 57

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.