East Sandusky Bay is the body of water framed by the mainland and the Cedar Point peninsula. From overhead it looks like an asymmetrical trapezoid drawn in high school geometry class. The parcels in it and surrounding it have a variety of historic and honorific names - too many to list in a scouting report. If you go there, call it the back bay and the locals will know what youre talking about.
So why paddle East Sandusky Bay?
In summer and fall 2006, my friend John and I paddled our sea kayaks on several loops around the back bay. We enjoyed the variety of scenery. Its size is manageable, allowing for custom trips depending on your schedule. ESB also can be an entryway to Sandusky Bay or Lake Erie.
Cedar Point amusement park crowns the northwest corner of East Sandusky Bay. The back bay is surrounded by dozens of homes and condominiums, a lighthouse, public nature preserves, a working private airport, boat docks, a marina, at least two restaurants and a hotel with an indoor water park. In summer, these facilities attract thousands of people. This frenzy may sound unpleasant, but only a relative handful of visitors are out boating on ESB. Despite the hubbub, the back bay also supports plenty of trees, grasses, reeds, water lilies, fish and birds. Its an ecosystem good enough for the bald eagles who raise their young nearby. You might like it too.
The nature can be fun. One trip last summer we stopped for a snack at Erie MetroParks observation platform along the south shore. Then we ventured into the mouth of Plum Brook, or tried to. The water there was thick with water lilies - choked with them. Once we got in, the stalks stood too tall to see over and too thick to turn a boat. When they surrounded me, I did the easy thing and lost my sense of direction. John found open water and used his paddle and kayak like a kettle drum, pounding a steady beat for me to follow out.
Later in the shallows we found dozens of carp content to nose around the muddy bottom for food. John and I developed an uncanny ability to sneak up on them ... when we reached out to touch their tails, they snapped back with a hull thump. (Not to worry: No animals were harmed in the making of this report.)
In calm conditions, paddlers can use the back bay for a workout or to watch a sunset. When Lake Eries surface churns with a small craft advisory, ESB may be the best place in northern Ohio to practice handling your boat in strong winds. Below the surface, the back bay is scarred with holes and channels, some quite deep. But much of it is shallow, less than a foot deep in spots. In gusty winds, it will get choppy but you can paddle without worrying about six-foot whitecaps breaking over your head.
Powerboats and personal watercraft are probably the greatest hazards on the back bay. Dress to be seen. Large powerboats generally stay in the dredged channel that runs in the back bays western end. Some PWCs and water skiers will venture out to the center of ESB. Paddlers generally will be safest in the shallower areas, but remember those shallow areas before you set out. After a few days of winds from the south, some parts may look more like East Sandusky Mud Flats than a navigable waterway.
The back bay also offers big water access to anyone willing to paddle a bit. Near the launch area, the dredged channel runs from the back bays southwest corner to a bridge in the Cedar Point Causeway. Paddle under that bridge and youre in Sandusky Bay. Be careful! This is also the main route for powerboats. There is another, more southerly bridge in the Cedar Point Causeway. It appears high enough to accommodate paddlecraft and low enough to deter powerboats, but I did not get to check that one last year. Finally, a low bridge sits at the back bays northeast corner. On the other side is a channel running behind a condominium complex and leading to Lake Erie.
For a great introduction to ESB, launch from the Pipe Creek Wildlife Area and paddle along the southern shore and follow the coastline around roughly counterclockwise for a nice day on the water. Using a roadmap, pencil and ruler, I calculated a straight-line circuit that would run about 8.4 miles; that does not account for the bays and inlets and coves that would change your route from as-the-crow-flies to squiggly line. This route remains within sight of land, so if you stay in the back bay its tough to get lost. Take water and a snack and enjoy the trip.
One more possible hazard: Last year the launch at Pipe Creek Wildlife Area was stacked with broken glass. City of Sandusky staff are working to clean up the launch area; the city and Erie MetroParks also want to improve public access to ESB in 2007. The city aims to create a state-sanctioned East Sandusky Bay Water Trail. As of this writing, theres even a dedication paddle planned in June. Go there this spring and say you were on the back bay before it was cool.
The launch area is split between the ODNR, which calls it Pipe Creek Wildlife Area, and the city, which calls it Big Island Preserve and Landing. The parking lot is small but Ive never seen it packed. The put-in is close to the lot. Wear shoes and watch for broken glass.
If youre hungry, paddle or drive to McDonalds or TGI Fridays at Castaway Bay. Or on land, stop at Louies. Several other gas stations, restaurants and hotels are located along Cleveland Road (US 6) in Sandusky.
Put-in is free. Ive never seen law enforcement on the back bay but park rangers could be on patrol. On Sandusky Bay you may run into city police, ODNR watercraft officers or the U.S. Coast Guard, so carry your boat registration and safety gear.
Sanduskys city streets can be difficult to navigate. If you can find Cedar Point amusement park, you can find the Pipe Creek Wildlife Area. Once youre on Cedar Point Drive, turn right at River Avenue. That intersection has a stop light. Look for the McDonalds restaurant, 2102 River Ave., on the right-hand side. Once on River Avenue, go past McDonalds and Louies Tavern ... about a block down, look for the small sign.
I have not found a chart specific to East Sandusky Bay, but one may be out there. Otherwise a chart of Sandusky Bay or Lake Erie may have some details. The roadmap from the Erie County Engineers Office gives a birds eye view; Sanduskys aerial photo also is a nice view, but both are scant on nautical details.
www.ci.sandusky.oh.us: website for the City of Sandusky. Click on the link to East Sandusky Bay Water Trail
www.eriemetroparks.org: website for Erie MetroParks.