A couple of times a year we make the five-mile kayak trip out to Bull Island in the Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge. I'm not going to go on and on and on about Bull Island, even though I really want to. It's my happy place. If you want to know why it's so special, read this book.
It's a tricky trip because we have to leave on rising tide and return with the falling. Bull Island has no shelter so the waiting period at slack tide is plenty to roast a person while exploring. The wind also has to be gentle and no storms on the horizon. Getting those four conditions at once in Charleston, and on a Saturday or Sunday, is rare.
Recently The Force was with us, so we packed some snacks and took off. I love the paddle out: birds are hunting oysters in the falling tide, big jumbo-jet carpenter bees follow us just to see what we're doing, and sometimes we see dolphins stranding. We usually see the loggerhead turtle that hangs around by the shark hole in Bull's Bay. He's shy, but I love catching a glimpse of his slippery head.
We had a great trip out, beached the boat, and had a long walk around to the boneyard beach. We collected some fantastic shells, checked up on the nesting birds, had lunch, and started home. We were so relaxed we barely had heartbeats - but that was about to change.
Usually we use an app called Navionics to leave a breadcrumb trail through the labyrinthine marsh. For some reason we didn't this time, even though we knew Hurricane Matthew had shifted some of the water trails. Somehow we missed a critical turn and wound up in a maze of oyster beds in about two or three feet of water. The tide was dropping fast, so the water was draining at an alarming rate.
About that time the sky starts to get dark around McClellenville in the distance, and we see lighting. After about 30 minutes of wrong turns, we can see that we're going to make a decision. Lightning is striking over Awendaw, and we figure we have about five minutes to find our way out. The other option is to brave the oyster beds and flip the kayak upside down with us underneath Oyster cuts are very, very bad and usually require a trip to the emergency room, so that didn't sound like fun.
About this time, the sharks show up. They aren't big - maybe 3' long - but they're still sharks. Then the shrimp start jumping in our boat to get away from whatever is trying to make them into a snack. We're picking up and tossing them overboard as fast as we can. One is under Will's seat and he's trying to get it without tipping us over. Lightning lights up the sky, but the shelf isn't above us yet. We eyeball our handheld radio, our footwear, and try to decide if we'd rather be nibbled to death or struck by lightning.
We're about to go for "nibbled to death" when we spot the turn. We are mercifully close to the Intracoastal Waterway, so as soon as we clear it we paddle like mad for the ramp. We don't say two words to each other - I pull the boat up and Will runs to get the truck. Loaded up and strapped down in record time, we climb in seconds before all hell breaks loose. There may have been some mad cackling.
Later, over emergency beer and fish sandwiches at Sewee, things seem less serious than they seemed when we were picking live shrimp out of our laps. We resolve to never leave without Navionics again. Even then, I can't wait to go back to Bull Island.