The past several weeks have been quite stressful. I needed some time on the water, and was thankful that my friends at Lowcountry Unfiltered were willing to provide that distraction. For our Second Saturday paddling trip this month we would be heading down to Savannah, Georgia to paddle out to the Cockspur Island Lighthouse and out to Fort Pulaski.
I was really looking forward to the trip, and gave careful thought as to which boat to take. Since it was open water, and possibly choppy, I knew it would either be my 14.5 Tsunami, or the Dirigo 120. This was to be a relatively short paddle, so either would work. I knew getting out at the lighthouse would be a challenge, so a more open cockpit would be better. I also wanted easy access to cameras,etc., so the Dirigo won out over the Tsunami. I had it loaded up Thursday evening in anticipation.
I had taken Friday off from work. I went down and spent some time with my mother, then headed on down to spend the night in Savannah. We were to be on the water at 7:30 to catch the tide, so I figured this would need to be an overnighter. Craig Lee had also driven up from Florida, so we met and headed out to Tybee Island for a incredible meal at the Crab Shack.
The next morning we got up and headed back out through Savannah and out to Tybee Island. As we drove through the old city and morning fog I kept wanting to stop and take photos. I may have to spend several days here sometime soon and do just that.
Our starting point was the landing at Lazaretto Creek. James Martin arrived shortly thereafter, and we began unloading boats. A fat, friendly tabby cat kept us company.
The rest of the LCU crowd eventually arrived (albeit somewhat later than the appointed time.) All told, fourteen of us would be going on this trip – quite a crowd. As it turned out, several of us had the exact same Old Town Dirigos.
We set out at high tide, paddling through the salt marsh on Lazaretto Creek. A large shrimp boat passed us heading upstream. As we rounded the bend we passed the Lazaretto Creek Marina and the Highway 80 bridge.
As we passed the shrimp boats at the marina, and passed under the bridge, we caught our first glimpse of the lighthouse.
It didn’t take us long to cross the channel, and soon we were all clustered around the structure. Dismounting was a challenge, as Brian provided stability for our boats as we tried to climb out. The current and waves didn’t help.
This is a small lighthouse, only 46 feet tall. However, lack of perspective at high tide can make it seen larger than it is. This is especially disorienting once you enter the lighthouse and try to climb to the top. The spiral stairs are very narrow. From the mid-level platform a ladder leads up to an entry hole that didn’t seem large enough for me to crawl through with my life vest on.
The upper level with the light is only large enough for one or two people at most. To get out onto the railing one must crawl through a door about the size of a doghouse door. The railing itself is a bit rusty, and I wouldn’t trust leaning on it.
However, if you’re willing to brave the waves and tricky dismount, the close quarters and tight squeezes, and the rickety rails, the views of Lazaretto Creek, the Savannah River, Fort Pulaski, and the surrounding islands are quite spectacular.
Most of the group made it to the top, and we gathered around the rail mugging for photos, goofing off, and enjoying the view. Unbeknownst to us, though, our kayaks had come loose and started floating out to sea, driven by the tides and fast currents. Brian and Steve had staying in their boats to take photos, and they had to rescue our boats and the various bits of gear that also came loose.
We were a bit ashamed for calling them wimps for not wanting to climb the lighthouse. We were just glad that we weren’t all trapped up there.
While we were watching the boat retrieval, we also noticed that the tide was going out, and that it was time to leave. It took longer to load up than it did for everyone to climb out of the boats. The boats were tied in a certain order, so we had to load in that order. Once again, Brian served as an excellent kayak valet as we climbed back aboard, racing to beat the tide.
From the lighthouse we paddled a short distance up the Savannah River to Cockspur Island where we beached the boats on an oyster mound. From here a trail wound through the woods back to Fort Pulaski, our next destination. Even though it was early, we stopped for lunch at a picnic table in the woods. The setting was great, but the sand gnats and biting insects were a pain.
We wandered up the trail pausing to take photos of the lighthouse and fort from various vantage points. A few people passed by, and only a couple were intimidated by our motley crew.
It had been nearly 40 years since I’d visited Fort Pulaski. I could see how this place would appeal to a 10 year old who loved to climb over and through stuff. The fort is surrounded by a moat, and the entrance is through a series of mounds, each with embankments, walls, and underground chambers, and most of it accessible. It was a rambler’s dream.
There seemed to be lots of re-enactors while we were there. Fort Pulaski saw most of its action during the Civil War, and started out as a Confederate fort. However, it was abandoned after being shelled from Tybee Island, then taken over by Union forces. All of the troupes today wore Union uniforms. There were also women in period garb attending to the soldiers.
The thing that impressed me was that the re-enactors stayed in character most of the time, with only an occasional lapse. Perhaps our motley crew brought out the worst of them.
We wandered through the fort, and even ventured up onto the walls. We were surprised that there were no handrails or safety features. In a way it was refreshing that the walls had not be cluttered with these. I took several panoramas of the interior of the fort, and we were able to get some shots of the lighthouse in the distance.
By this time we were getting tired, and we had a long hike, then a long paddle to get back. We hiked back down the trail to where we had beached the boats. Of course, but this time the tide had gone out even more. I had to pick up my boat and step gingerly over sharp oyster shells before I could launch it.
With the tide out the lighthouse looked even more accessible. I think this was the time to paddle out to it. You could beach your boat on the exposed ground and not worry about bouncing into the steps, or having your boat float off. A couple of our folks went back while they were waiting for us stragglers to launch. Of course, waiting would have meant paddling back against the tide, too.
As we headed back we looked back at the lighthouse just in time to see a huge container ship steaming out of the Savannah Port.
We paddled on back, and made it safely to Lazaretto Landing. It wasn’t a long paddle – only five miles or so, but we did a lot of exploring around the lighthouse and fort. It was a great trip, and one that I really needed.
I apparently took 569 photos on this trip with the various cameras I brought. Some were combined for HDR and panoramic shots. In all I uploaded 170 photos to Flickr. Here’s a slideshow of all of those photos. Enjoy!