Having arranged to rent a house in Sandbridge for a long weekend, I made sure to pick up my newly purchased Liquidlogic Pisgah prior to leaving. Wanting to get some seat time in, I planned for a lengthy (at least for me) paddle down to False Cape State Park and back.
Checking in on Thursday night, I noticed a house across the street that was on a canal and undergoing construction and decided that I was destined to use their sandy beach area as my launching point during the weekend. Back Bay of which North Bay and Shipps Bay are a part, is the body of water between the mainland of Tidewater Virginia and the barrier islands. It runs down to the North Carolina line where I believe the name changes to Currituck Sound. Similarly the barrier island becomes the North Carolina Outer Banks, but there is no road access down the islands.
I had some work to wrap up remotely on Friday morning, so did not get on the water until about 10:45 a.m. Once out of the canals and into North Bay I made sure to take note of some landmarks as there were several canals shooting off that looked similar. I also used the first duck blind out in the Bay to take a compass reading off of.
The wind was blowing out of the North/Northeast at 5 to 10kt. As I had been warned, wind out of the North can push water down the Bay and leave lower than expected depths. Back Bay is a broad shallow bay, rarely more then 5 feet deep and in many areas just a foot or two. Several of the areas on the chart that indicated 2' of water, were actually so shallow this day that it interferred with my normal stroke. The boat weathercocked moderately so without a rudder or skeg, found myself taking a left sided sweep every 6 to 10 strokes to stay on course. Waves were about 1'. The chart made it easy to follow my progress and pick out landmarks along the way.
I chose to stay close to the Eastern shore of the bay and paddle between the barrier island and Long Island, which is approximately 2 miles long. About half way down Long Island you see the Back Bay NWR launch site, which would be another put-in option for a trip to False Cape.
Plenty of cool marsh and water fowl to look at during the paddle, but with a little wind and a new boat, I kept pretty busy staying on course. Just before reaching the park, I pulled into a sandy beach that was on the lee side of a point, stretched and ate a quick lunch. Lots of rustling in the woods, but other than a few birds did not see any wildlife.
Paddled on down to the Barbour Hill Boat Dock which was inaccessible because of low water. Decided to paddle to the sandy area next to the bulkhead instead, after about 50' of crabwalking the boat, I got out in ankle deep water and walked in. The Barbour Hill area has bathrooms with plumbing, there is a private residence (apparantly occupied by a park ranger) adjacent to it.
Trail maps indicated it was 1.5 miles to the Ocean side of the barrier island so I made the trip. There is even a small contact center/gift shop about half way down the trail. I passed two different groups of tent camp sites. Very remote feeling for a Virginia state park less than 20 miles from the resort area of Virginia Beach, helped no doubt by the access limitations. Saw a red fox scurry across the trail and several snake moltings. The beach was pretty and I have to assume relatively empty even during the season.
Wanting to get back and not be accused of being totally anti-social, I hiked back to Barbour Hill and after a quick trip further south to check out an Inlet, I headed back north. Luckily the wind had shifted and died down some, now blowing out of the east at about 5. Thank goodness.
I did the paddle back without stopping and by the time I got back to the top of the bay I was beat. The going was slow, progress hampered by my fatigue, poor technique brought on by fatigue and the frequent shallows. I tried to stay further out to avoid the shallow water, but still ran into areas where the shallows reach out from the mid-bay marsh further than I expected or the charts indicated. I was glad to have paid close attention on my way out, because even so I had to really think through which canals led me back to the put-in.
This was about a 16 mile paddle all together, which with a 3 mile hike thrown in left me quite bushed at the end of the day. It was about 5 pm when I carried my boat across Sandpiper Dr and back to the rental house. My wife and I plan to head back this summer or fall to camp at False Cape, but will put in at the Back Bay launch for a much shorter trip.
False Cape State Park has tent camping sites. The park is only accessible by foot or paddling with the exception of 2 hour visits via a special "crawler" during the season. You must reserve camp sites ahead of time.
I used a private put-in, but the trip could start at the Little Island Park Launch Site. From Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach head south on Sandbridge Road.
Back Bay & Upper North Landing Tributaries "slick map" available through Wild River Outfitters.