By Trent Tibbitts

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Little Tybee island is just south of Tybee Island Georgia and lies  across Tybee creek. Though just a few dozen yards away, it is world’s apart. The island is truly a grouping of 18 small islands bisected by marsh and tidal creeks. It is only  accessible by private boat. There are no facilities of any kind, a true wilderness. At 6,780 acres, it is twice as big as the historic beach destination of Tybee Island.

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John and I had become quite the kayaking adventurers. We had several trips down the Raccoon, Etowah,  Cossa and other rivers that you can read about in other  articles of mine. I  had also enjoyed several extended overnight trips in the Okefenokee Swamp. A few solo trips into the swamp, one four night trip with Sarah and one trip with Brandon and Sarah . I  like kayaking camping because you do not carry your supplies on your back like when hiking, plus you can carry more items that make the trips little more enjoyable.  John and I packed up his truck with gear and tied down the boats. Trips to the river had taught us how to pack and haul our kayaks. Tybee Island, our launching point, is 5 hours from the house. We pulled out around 7 on a Friday morning.  The trip down was uneventful. Lunch was early at a Subway and a last minute stop at a Kroger before arriving at Alley street, the site of the boat ramp. I am always good about preparing for trip, I have maps and a detailed plan.  But not so for this trip. There is so little information on the island that it was hard to know what to expect.  We were using Google maps on our phones, I  know, bad idea. Phone dies or drops in the water like mine did in the Swamp on the trip with Brandon  and Sarah, and you are lost. Not really. It’s an island.  We could see the other islands when on the back creek, follow the tide out if we were inland or head north if we were on the beach. I wasn’t to worried about getting lost.

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We arrived at the boat launch that was no more than a sandy incline into the tidal creek between the two islands.  We could see our goal just a few hundred yards away.  The lot was a public pay parking. We made sure to load the meter with plenty of money for the three days we would be gone. It was winter and we both had brought out wetsuits, the weather was nice and the forcast was favorable, so we left them in the truck. However, we both had our Magellan jackets and pants on, they are extremely warm, block wind good and are somewhat water proof. We would have been in trouble with out them. We had water proof duffel bags straped to the back of our boats and other supplies in the front storage areas. One last check and we are off. We paddled southwest down the back creek. We came in contact with dolphins right away.

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John’s boat was off balance due to the water he was carrying, so we used someone’s dock to rearrange his load. We knew we would not have fresh water so we were both hauling a lot of water.  As we paddled,  there were houses and docks on our right and the uninhabited Little Tybee on our left. More dolphins were seen as we made our way around the island. We really didn’t have a destination, just taking it as it comes. We passed the last house and the sun was starting to get lower in the sky.

20171229_172333_108453846307090 Using our phones and online maps, we found a Creek that we hoped would bisect the island. Not only was the sun going down but so was the water, as the tide was going out. Most of the area we were in was low, marsh and no trees. I knew we had to get to high land before we ran out of water. The water was low and we couldn’t see over the grass. It was as if we were in a watery maze. Then we turned a sharp corner and spotted the most wonderful camping area up on a small bluff. The top of the bluff was ten feet or so above the water. A very small beach, just big enough for our two kayaks, welcomed us to our secluded private island.

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The sun was just setting and we were able to behold the glory of the Lord as we viewed it over the marsh. Our campsite had been used many times before but was not abused.

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We were on a thin finger of high sand held together with pine tree roots. The strip of land was 30 feet wide at most and stretched into the marsh maybe 100 feet.

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We set about preparing our site. We were able to find downed wood for making our fire. Several trees had fallen into the marsh and with the water down we were able to collect dry wood that was sticking up. We were also able to pull several large logs up to burn. We layed out a tarp and strung up a line, to dry out our cloths.  The fire got a little to big and burned our line into. A quick repair and we were back in business.  A small cluster of high ground and trees is called a hammock and we normally would sleep in our hammocks, but not knowing what we would find, we used John’s Big Angus tent instead, we have only used it one other time up to this point, it was on another winter camping trip close to home when the temperature dropped to 16 degrees.  Not that cold on this trip but it was down in the high 30’s at night. The sky was cold and clear. A great night for star gazing, surprisingly something we have done quite a bit together. As the night got later, the creek we paddled up shrunk down to a stream. Oyster beds were exposed and small sharks could be seen swiming with the light of our flashlights.

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We awoke to a high tide that was starting to go out. After packing up and getting on the water we could tell the water was dropping. We knew we could only make the crossing at high tide. We continued following the creek into the center of the island. Not having a map and only using Google earth,  it was trial and error.  We made it to the center of the island to an area that was a small pond. The water was draining out fast. Soon this area would be a mudflat and we would be stuck.  We finally spotted a small one foot wide 2 inch deep channel of water running out the other side.  It ran about 20 feet and dumped into a 6 foot wide creek that we could tell was our way out. We tried to navigate this sliver of water running over the mud. The kayaks quickly got stuck. We tried to push our way through with our paddles with little success . We tried to scoot ourselves across but the back and forth motion just made the kayaks sink into the mud more. We could see the water in the little creek was dropping. In my mind it had become the moment to do something to get us out or we would be here until next high tide.  I could tell the mud was deep just from us trying to use the paddles to push the kayaks, I also knew people had gotten themself stuck in Fluff mud like this before and had to be rescued. It was not at all a faint descision to exit the kayak. I  stepped into the cold mix of water and mud, trying not to put a lot of my weight in one spot but trying to hold myself up with the kayak as much as I  could.  My boat was in the front and John was right behind me. I pushed my boat ahead and with John’s help, pull his boat forward. We worked this way until both boats were in deep water. The mud was just over my knees and I lost one shoe.  I was able to reach into the mud and retrieve it.  We paddled out of the area to where another creek joined ours, where we did not feel pushed by the receding water.  My legs and boat was covered in mud. I washed off best I could while still in the boat.

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The interwater way continued to grow in size as it snaked it’s way to the sea. The sun was out and the sky was blue. We were enjoying our easy paddle out with the tide. Along the way, we started seeing crab trap bouyes. We decided to pull one up and check it out. I pulled it up on my boat and it was full of Blue Crab. It was then decided that we like crab and we should take a few for ourselves.  Removing crab from a 2 foot square basket in a kayak is not that easy.  While getting one out, it got me with its penchers. I had a hold of the basket with my other hand. John had to get it off for me. We took 4 crabs and put them in a dry bag we had and stored them in the forward compartment of my boat.  We returned the basket, still full of crab, to its place.

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When we reached the Atlantic Ocean there was large beach on our right that went up into the inlet. The tide was at it lowest. We beached our boats and made our way into the dunes for some protection from the wind. We found a small group of palms but firewood was harder to find. We were able to burn a few palm branches but they were not that good.

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We at out lunch and rested while waiting on the tide to come back in. We could see a channel of water heading north just behind the beach. We checked it out on the satilite map and it went a long ways. The surf was to rough for us to try and paddle. So we thought we would use this avenue. After an hour or two we loaded up again. The inlet was very wide and we decided to try out our sails John had bought us for Christmas.  They attach to the front of your boat and the wind pulls you along. I had difficulty but John did well with his. We had a lot of fun trying them out. I believe if you had a boat with a rutter that you control with your feet that it would be easier.

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We went a good amount of time up in the back beach water way before coming to a dead end. The tide was still rising so we waited 30 minutes or so for water to fill more of the channels.  We then paddle on for a good ways before being stopped again. We did this 2 or 3 more time and the ran out of luck. We got out of the boats and scouted a head. We could tell this was the end of the waterway. The beach was several hundred yards wide between us and the ocean.  We drug our boats across.  Once at  the waters edge, we could see there was a sand bar 40 yards out. The waves were breaking on it. This made a calm tidal pool a foot deep that we could paddle in next to the beach. We were able to do this for a little ways. Then the sand bar ran out or the tide got to high and we started getting bigger waves. I started pulling my boat in the surf. John tried to paddle out past the breakers. He was quickly swamped and rolled over. Most of his gear was tied down so it was easy to recover. John was now soaking wet. It was getting well into the afternoon and getting cooler. We checked out the map. There was a big inlet coming up. We were tired and wet and thought it best to find a camping spot.  We drug our boats 50 yards up on the beach, well beyond the high tide mark. We unloaded our gear and started our hike to the woods, about another 150 yard away. We crossed a small marsh before the pine tree maritime forest. I made one more trip for supplies while John set up camp.

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Our site had a commanding view of the Atlantic.  The beach was and is as it had been for thousands of years, void of any human impact.  We needed a fire to dry our cloths.  We setup a line and had items hanging everywhere we could find. We found several big logs and had a good fire going for the evening.  Most of our time was spent moving and checking on our cloths as they dried. We had packed our backpack camping chairs so we were comfortable in camp.

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The night was very cold. We awoke to frost out in the marsh. Our crabs were exposed to the cold all night . I thought the were dead so I threw them out into the marsh.  As the sun got higher and the day warmed up, I started to hear the crabs craw around. So I gathered them up again. When we got to our boats we drug them on down to the inlet where we thought the crossing would be easier.  The water was still cold when we crossed over.

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The surf was calm and we were able to paddle our boats out into the ocean about 80 yards off shore.  It was an easy and enjoyable paddle north. A lot of sea birds were active. As we made our way, I could tell that we were being pulled out to sea. Not wanting to get lost at sea, we paddled for shore. Once we felt safe again, we continued north. We arrived at a sand bar at the mouth of Tybee Creek.  There we beached our boats and ate a snack. Soon we were swarmed by Sea Gulls that we were feeding crackers. After about 40 minutes a weather front moved in. We could see the line of clouds coming.  That is we we decided to head to the truck not know how bad the weather may turn. It was a short paddle up Tybee Creek to John’s truck and the end of another successfull adventure.

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We did stop at tha Crab Shack on Tybee for a great meal before heading home. We did try steaming the crabs at John’s house with his brother Josh but we didn’t have much luck. Just one other note, you want to do this trip in the winter when there are no biting insects.

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This is a trip I would do again.

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