Blackbeard Island

Each year, my friend has a fishing trip with the guys from college at a house on the north end of Sapelo Island, the part that is completely wild with hogs and rattlesnakes and alligators. Except for one other small house owned by  Georgia’s DNR, my friend’s house is the only house on the north end, and it is in the woods at Raccoon Bluff. The wild hogs and other animals come right up to the house, especially at night.

The house is only occupied a limited number of days per year because the island is protected and access to the property is limited by DNR for good reason. The ecological and historical and cultural value of this wilderness barrier island is enormous.

Sapelo Island
Blackbeard Island trail heading north. Blackbeard shelters the north end of Sapelo from the open sea, and so there are larger live oak groves on Sapelo, but there are also larger pine burns thickly regrown with palmettos. 

Each year, a few of us always kayak across to Blackbeard Island on the last day, which is even more isolated than Sapelo. Blackbeard is smaller and is a protected National Seashore. We paddle down to the strand of beach at the southern tip of Blackbeard and then back up the river a mile or two to the dock at the ranger station. Then we hike north from there to the northern tip.

On the bluffs at Blackbeard Island.
On the bluffs at Blackbeard Island. We saw a glimpse of what the southeast coast looked like before the Europeans came. Just up the bend the bluff is steeper, and the trees taller.

This year, I paddled over with a couple of the guys who both happened to be Eric and who both happened to be great outdoor photographers, one professionally. Eric S. had his camera and took these photos.

I used a small child’s kayak as a challenge, and with my weight and day pack, it was always in danger of tipping and had to be held steady like riding a bicycle. It flipped on me twice, and I got to face my phobia of being in deep water where there are bull sharks and I can’t see them, but I stayed up right pretty good for the day, in spite of having the wind in our teeth all the way home.

The only alligators I saw while paddling were less than six feet and wary of people. I’ve not seen any big ones there over the years, but Jay has.

Kayaking Blackbeard Island
Kayaking Blackbeard Island

I paddled directly under a bald eagle sitting in a dead pine, and later when I was paddling up the river, she flew right over me, maybe ten feet up. At the time, I was laid all the way back and resting and looking straight up into the sky. The eagle was soaring into the wind and moving slow, and so it just held right there over me, and I got a good look.

North Tip Blackbeard Island
North Tip Blackbeard Island

Blackbeard Island was hauntingly beautiful like it always is, and it was rough going and hot and grueling like it always is, but we had a good time and drank all the beer we could carry.

I bonkified my nogginbone
I bonked my noggin 10 days before the trip. This is me 7 days before the trip. I slept for 2 days after the ER, and then did 7 full days of garden work. By the end of the week, I spent most of the day shoveling with a high pulse rate to make sure if I had any issues, they were discovered before I got to Sapelo.

The paddling this year was particularly tough for me because 10 days before I had a lumber-jacking accident and got knocked unconscious by the butt end of a big branch while I was up a ladder sawing it.  I took the stitches out of my head two days before the trip, but I still had a cracked rib and both wrists still a little sprained. It made paddling back with the headwind more or less a test of manhood.

A little alligator
A little alligator near Jay’s house. I don’t like “nature” shows where they pick an animal up to show what a man they are. There’s too few animals left for that bs, and this was a young animal in a very dry spell, and so I didn’t get any closer. My son wasn’t there, and so I was glad to get the picture to show him.
Native American village
Walking Bourbon Field on Sapelo Island at twilight, where a Native American village once stood. My whole body ached from paddling on top of injuries all day long. My walk through the uneven hoof prints of the wild cattle was like a stumbling dance.
Raccoon Bluff at sunset
Raccoon Bluff at sunset, looking across the river marshes at Blackbeard.