The Classics: Sea Kayaking, Georgia Coast
Author: Fitz Cahall
November 19, 2012
Location: Tybee Island, Georgia
Season: You can paddle the Georgia coast year-round, though winter can be a bit chilly if you're not used to kayaking in cold weather. January and February are the coldest months, when you can expect air temperatures from 30-60 degrees and water temperatures in the 50s.
Tybee Island is a picturesque wedge of coastal sand nestled up against the South Carolina border along the north-east tip of Georgia's coast. To get there, head east out of Savannah on Hwy 80 or the Island Expressway (both roads eventually merge into one). This is the only road out to Tybee Island, so simply stay on the highway and you will reach your destination.
What You Need:
If you've never sat in a kayak before but still want to experience the joys of paddling Georgia's coast, you've come to the right place. Tybee Island is great for beginners because of the multitude of shops offering kayak rentals and guided tours. Most shops can provide you with everything you'll need to be on your way. If you're an experienced paddler looking to spend a couple of nights along the coast, you don't need much more than you would take on a sea kayaking trip anywhere else. There are, however, a few particulars that will make your trip to the Georgia coast more enjoyable. Few natural fresh water sources mean that it is critical to pack enough water for drinking and cooking, or plan for water resupplies along the coast. For navigation, bring not only charts but also aerial photographs and topographic maps, as these give a better perspective on small landscape features such as hammock islands. Low elevation and relief often make it difficult to pinpoint location from the seat of a kayak, so a compass is a useful tool for navigating brushy creeks and marsh. Make sure to bring the right gear to handle the coast's legendary insects - a bug-proof bivy, headnet, and long clothes to cover exposed skin will allow you to enjoy the magic stillness of twilight while your less-thoughtful partners suffer. Don't forget that the expansive marshland between the mainland and the sea is a world-class riparian zone, and a good pair of binoculars is great if you want a closer look at the myriad sea birds that inhabit the coast. A small field guide is worth the weight and space for identifying plant and animal life. While a kayak cart might seem too bulky to bring along in other locations, when the high tidal range and shallow relief on the Georgia coast leave you several hundred yards from tide line or a suitable campsite you'll be glad you packed one.
If you're out for a multi-day trip, be careful about where you choose to camp. Many islands along the coast are state or federal wildlife refuges and have specific access and camping policies. Some islands allow free camping, but some require a fee and some are privately owned and don't allow camping at all. Check your intended campsites with staff at a local kayak shop before your trip to see if you'll have any problems. Also be sure to check tidal flows along your intended route, as tides can range from 7-9 feet, creating strong currents and leaving many small creeks and channels dry at low water. No trip to the Georgia Coast would be complete without a Low Country Boil - the quintessential coastal dish in these parts. Every local you talk to will give you their own spin on the recipe, but the basic ingredients are potatoes, corn, sausage, shrimp, and Old Bay seasoning. Boil the potatoes, throw in the rest of the ingredients, and in a few minutes time you'll be ready to enjoy a classic and delicious meal while you squeeze soft sand between your toes and listen to waves whisper quietly along the shore. If you're looking to chow down back on Tybee Island, Huc-a-Poos is the place to chat with locals and enjoy good pizza, while the Tybee Island Social Club features an eclectic mix of fresh tacos on their menu.
If you have some extra time after checking out Tybee and Little Tybee, some other classic paddling trips along the coast include the Cumberland Island National Seashore, a day-paddle to Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge, exploring the Savannah, Ogeechee, Canoochee, Altamaha, and Satilla coastal plain rivers, and venturing into the Ebeneezer Creek backwater swamp.
"Sea Kayaking on the Georgia Coast is a classic journey. Yeah, it's fairly accessible and easy to get to, but once you're out there you feel like you're a thousand miles away, like you could be on the other side of the world." - Nigel Law
Photos by Nigel Law