Kayaking on Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a well-known passion of mine. But I’m not worried about my secret spot becoming overrun by kayakers because it’s getting mighty lonely paddling around out there all by myself. Save for the bald eagles, osprey, great blue heron, kingfisher, and assorted other shore birds that migrate through the area, that is, so actually it’s not lonely at all, just really wonderfully peaceful and relaxing ! Having paddled Westerhouse Creek almost daily now, going on 9 years, the number of times I have encountered another soul I could count on both hands. This small saltwater inlet from the Chesapeake Bay near Machipongo, Virginia in Northampton County has an absolutely pristine shoreline and is edged in the softest way by thick stands of tall green spartina grass. I have yet to become jaded to the sublime beauty of this place, and especially its lack of disturbance by human encroachment. Although others live along the shores of this beautiful channel, near sunset or sunrise it seems to be mine alone.
Launching my 17 foot long sea kayak into Westerhouse Creek from my backyard finger pier is a breeze. I climb down a short ladder to balance before scooting into the cockpit, sitting as comfortably as if I was lounging in my living room. All is quiet, the sun is starting to set and shortly a full moon is due to rise in the east. The beauty of paddling a kayak lies in its unobtrusiveness in the natural surroundings and ease of movement through the water. I feel at one with nature as I glide upon the fluid surface. This little salt water estuary is really a miniature Eastern Shore creek, with all the features shrunk down so that an hour’s paddle takes you through the various topographical features that comprise an entire healthy ecosystem. The headwaters of the creek are wetlands that capture the drainage of fresh water from as far away as Lankford Highway (Rt. 13) which runs along the spine of the Delmarva Penninsula. The marsh soon gives way to open water as the opposite banks of the stream open wider and wider apart. Behind the spartina grow thick stands of long and short needle pines and hardwood trees. In the fall, the change of color of foliage creates a rainbow along the both shores, pine greens contrasting with the brilliant hues of reds, orange, pinks and yellows of the hardwoods. In the early spring, the white dogwood blossoms are the first flowers to appear through the leafless branches, a welcoming sight.
My goal each trip is to paddle the length of the entire creek, passing out between the sandy shores of the mouth where the creek empties into the Chesapeake Bay. There, when the wind is blowing strong from the northwest, I love to catch the waves and virtually surf the kayak back homewards into the mouth of the creek, almost California style.
One evening in early May, in a fairly stiff breeze, I paddled out through the breaking 2-3′ waves and turned to catch one back to shore, but a rogue wave hit me sideways and and for the first time ever, tumbled my boat upside down so fast I hardly knew which direction was up. I found myself suddenly immersed in an inverted position and I literally fell out of my kayak and rose to the surface sputtering water from my mouth. It was cold water, too, and the waves were breaking all over, and I was a little worried about being slowly pulled out into the Bay by the falling tide. Luckily, a couple of weeks earlier I had finished a series of four classes in a YMCA pool in Virginia Beach to train on how to perform a kayak self-rescue and of course, as always, I was wearing a life vest. The cold water was starting to sap my strength but I stripped off my waterlogged sweatpants, gathered my thoughts and planned my every move. Relying on an inflated bag fitted over one end of my paddle to steady the tippy craft, I climbed aboard in the breaking surf and rolled inside the boat. Using the bilge pump, I emptied the water from my kayak and steadily started paddling back towards the mouth of the Creek. Whew! What a relief to be afloat again and heading for home! Maybe, I thought, on the next windy day I will just turn around in the Creek and not head out into the Bay to surf back on a wave. Or……… maybe I’ll just keep on being adventurous !
This evening, however, the water was quite calm so my paddling was as peaceful and easy as could be, total relaxation. The sun began painting the waters in vivid shades of purples and pinks. And out in the Bay, I gazed up and down that beautiful shoreline, then turned my kayak for home, spotting the white disk of moon peeking above the distant treeline.