A Solo Paddle to Cape Lookout

I rolled over a few minutes before 5:30 AM and glanced at the sky. The stars are beginning to disappear, but bright above the eastern horizon were Jupiter and Venus, separating from their conjunction a few days earlier.  Although I wasn’t planning on it, I dozed off and woke at 6 AM. Not wanting to miss the sunrise, I jumped up, quickly dressed, and trotted across the island to the ocean side. I’d missed a sunset the evening before as cumulonimbus clouds covered the horizon. After dark, these clouds produced a spectacular lightning show on the horizon. Thankfully, the storms stayed well inland.  
As I crossed the dunes, the sun appeared. It was a beautiful start to a lovely day.
Paddling Over
I had paddled over to Cape Lookout from Harker’s Island the day before. I started paddling approximately two hours after high tide, assuming I would ride the falling tide out through Barden’s Inlet. I wasn’t counting on 18 mile-an-hour winds out of the Southwest. The wind in my face made for a tough paddle. As the wind was against the tide, it created a chop on the water. The paddle across took two hours, twice as long as I thought it would take to make the 4.5 miles paddle. My plan had been to camp on the beach side, but the wind was high enough that I found a nice place a few hundred yards south of the lighthouse. After walking around the lighthouse grounds, I fixed dinner at sat watching the night fall as several sailboats along with a Coast Guard cutter and a trawler moored for the night in the safety of Lookout Blight. As the skies darken, I could see lightning in the clouds to the west, but the sky above was clear and full of stars. Shortly after dark, crawled into my bivy tent. I was tired and ready for rest. Sleep came quickly. I woke up a couple of times, looking up at the summer stars as Scopious and Sagittarius climbed higher in the southern sky. 
Lighthouse and assistant tenders home
After my early morning walk out to the beach to catch the sunrise, I came back to my camp and fixed breakfast (oatmeal and perked coffee). I enjoyed a pot of coffee, as I began to read Billy Beasley’s newest book, Home. 
After packing up my gear and pulling my kayak beyond the dunes so it was not too noticeable, I set off on a hike. While I have been to Lookout many times, including camping in the woods north of the Lighthouse, I have never explored the island. Those late fall trips, which were always with others, main purpose was to fish. This time, I wanted to walk around the cape.
snake beside the water
Stuffing a water bottle and some food into a pack, I headed south along the inlet side of the island. Along the way I saw pieces of old ships that had floundered in these waters. I passed a number of old fishing shacks as I made my way to the village that once contained a Life Saving Station (where those in attendance would take surf boats out to save the crew of ships floundering in the offshore shoals). Later, the Coast Guard maintained a station here, and during the Second World War, the army stationed troops here and built machine gun bunkers as well as maintained artillery capable of firing upon enemy submarines offshore. They even had a landing strip and kept planes that were used to spot submarines in the shallow water

flowers among the dunes
part of a hull of a wrecked ship
Old Life Saving and Coast Guard buildings
I walked through the wooded areas which are covered with pines. I found the trees odd for a maritime forest, as they generally consist of more hardwoods like live oaks. But a historical interpretation sign indicated that the pines were planted between the 1940s and 70s.  My first stop was at the jetty, a rock wall jutting out into the ocean to control erosion and to keep the inlet from closing in. I stopped for lunch, and then took off my shoes as I planned to walk back in the sand along the water.
From there, I headed toward the cape. Along the way, I picked up several old balloons to properly dispose. I wish people realized the danger of letting helium balloons go as they often end up in the ocean where large fish see them as jelly fish. Thinking they are getting a snack; they eat the balloon and die.
At the cape, there were a many people who had backed up their trucks and were fishing. These trucks would have been hauled over on a ferry to the north end of the island and then driven south to the cape. I only saw one fish caught, a small shark. I continued walking north, along the ocean, toward the distant light house. 
the lighthouse from the cape
Horse on Morgan Island

After walking probably 8 or 9 miles, I got in my kayak and paddled over the Shackleford Banks, a barrier island that runs east to west. I hoped to see some of the wild horses on the island as I paddled around it. The tide had just started coming in and the waters were very shallow. I final found several horses on Morgan Island, but to the reach them involved walking my kayak in inches of water, as I was on the shallow side of these islands behind Shackleford.  I arrived back at Harker’s Island at 7:30 PM. I quickly loaded my gear into the car and stowed the boat on the roof rack. By 8 PM, I was off to find something to eat on the mainland. Later, as I tired, I stopped at a hotel in Kinston, breaking up the drive back to the mountains. 

20 Replies to “A Solo Paddle to Cape Lookout”

  1. Just wonderful, soothing, Jeff. I loved your photos and prose. Thank you for sharing this healing balm of a trip.

  2. It sounds like you had a really good trip.
    I did enjoy seeing all of your photographs 🙂

    All the best Jan

  3. I just got a whole group of post notifications from you in my blog reader! (which clearly works at times and not at others) Love these photos. I assume that’s some sort of sea snake?

    1. It looks kind of like a Gardner Snake, but I am not sure. I haven’t seen one in salt water and when I tried to investigate, it dug itself into the mud

  4. Thank you for this trip down memory lane for me. That part of the NC coast has been a “home away from home” for me since I was an infant. Part of my heart will always be in that part of NC. However, I’ve never kayaked those waters; only power boated and SCUBA dove them. The underwater ship wrecks are awesome to see with all the corals and fish.

    1. This was my first time kayaking out to Lookout. I have often been out there via power boats and have fished off Lookout, the jetty, and Shackleford Banks

  5. What a great adventure, Jeff. Glad you had a good time and I appreciate you sharing all those wonderful photos.

  6. Ooh, looks like a lovely spot to be in. I was about to comment on how peaceful it all was, then kept going and read about the soldiers in World War II! I hope it stays peaceful from now on…

    1. In the first year of World War 2, German submarines were a real challenge to American shipping (in these days before pipelines, oil was brought up the coast in tankers from the Gulf and Venezuela). Often the submariners would even spent their days sunbathing on the beach, but soon the response was to have crews on the beach and aircraft and artillery to attack subs when found. Before WW2, the “life saving station” was responsible for getting crews off ships floundering in the shoals.

  7. I was also outside at 5:30 am, saw those two bright stars. I didn’t know what I was looking at, but it must have been what you said–Venus and Jupiter. They’re positioned as you described.

    A connection, Jeff…

    1. Yes, the sky is the same if you have a dark enough sky. Venus and Jupiter appeared close to each other in late April, but are now moving further apart.

  8. Always enjoy reading your paddling adventures. They always sound recharging to the soul. But I noticed that your brief nap after waking up initially at 5:30 AM was quite long by my standards if you truly didn’t wake back up to 6:00 PM!

    1. Thanks, I’ve corrected that. It would have been a real treat to watch the sun rise at 6 PM! Can I hire you as a proofreader? 🙂

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