Cumberland Island, Georgia, is an amazing destination spot for kayakers, campers, hikers and thousands of vacationers each year. Cumberland Island is a barrier island, which means it stands between the ocean and the mainland surrounded by the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW), marshes and estuaries. The coastline, marshes, islands, sand bars and estuaries around Cumberland Island are alive and constantly changing with the weather and tidal action; and the wildlife on, above and around Cumberland Island just adds to the thrill of being there. All of the things that make Cumberland Island special and beautiful, however, can also present challenges for the unaware or unprepared. Here’s what you need to know to make your trip to Cumberland Island a safe and fun experience you will want to repeat often!
There are essentially three-things you need to really understand before kayaking to ANY island in ANY ocean: Wind; Weather; and Tides. The waters around Cumberland Island are relatively warm year-round, but weather and tides can turn calm waters into turbulent, choppy seas in a matter of minutes. In addition to these three-things, you will also want to be pretty comfortable in a kayak – and confident in your abilities to navigate and physically complete the journey you’ve chosen. Because paddling to Cumberland Island means paddling in marshes and in the ICW, being able to get back in your kayak in deep water is another essential skill you will need in the event of a capsize.
I realize this seems like a lot to know. I promise you it is. And you aren’t going to learn it in one article, in one book or on one guided kayak trip. The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert at all of these things in order to kayak to Cumberland Island; but you do at least need to ask an expert about the factors affecting the kayak trip you’re planning. Check weather forecasts for the area and dates you plan on paddling and know what your limitations are. Strong winds can be very difficult or even impossible to paddle in, so ask local experts about coastal winds and how they affect that area. And check with local kayakers about tidal information. Tidal currents around Cumberland Island can exceed 6-mph – you can’t paddle very far against that. Tides are available online and from any bait or fishing store; but it isn’t uncommon to find different tide charts with somewhat different times – differences that may not affect power boaters, but could have significant implications for kayakers.
I certainly recommend studying these subjects if you plan on kayaking in this environment. But, at least ask a local expert to brief you on these topics and how they could impact your trip – as well as briefing you on projected wind, weather and tide information. But keep in mind: The person giving you information is not responsible for your understanding or decision-making. Also, weather and winds are often difficult to anticipate along the coast; so, even if you have a current forecast, it is still just a guess based on observations and mathematical models and anything can happen. Raise your hand if you’ve never been surprised by the weather… See? No hands. And, finally, you will also want to go over your proposed trip – using a map or chart – with someone who has paddled the waters you are going to be paddling (nobody else has any useful information for you). Ask this person what you will definitely need know and to bring with you; and pay attention to ALL of the advice offered. It won’t help you if you don’t hear it AND use it.
All of these things are important for a safe and enjoyable experience, but the most important thing you will need in order to kayak to Cumberland Island is common sense. If you are not at least an Intermediate-level kayaker, you do not need to attempt this trip without a professional guide – not just a buddy who did it last year. So, if you don’t want to hire a guide, simply take a couple kayak classes and learn the basics and some advanced essential skills for paddling in open-water – like kayak re-entries, assists and rescues, for instance. With this instruction under your belt, you will be more comfortable, confident and efficient on the water, and you will be able to safely kayak – by yourself and with others – to Cumberland Island and to an entire planet full of exciting destinations. Visit www.UpTheCreekX.com for more information about kayaking in Southeast Georgia, Northeast Florida, the Okefenokee Swamp and to Cumberland Island. If you have questions, you can also e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at (912)882-0911. Happy Paddling!