Years ago, a super calm day fishing turned into a nightmare. A powerful front with tons of lightning and 70 mph gusts that flipped our boat. We were “lost” for 24 hours. Thank GOD we eventually swam to land and were able to live to tell about it.
I can tell you that spending the night on an upside down boat 10 miles out gives me a unique perspective on safety. As a result, I try to prepare for the worst on my offshore 4-5 hour ocean paddles.
Before there were GPS watches and Lorans
I learned how to navigate on the ocean from when I was young. I looked for landmarks: water towers, hotels, etc. For a looonnng time ago, we went offshore with a compass, stop watch and watched our MPH. But even when you know how to use a compass, things can go wrong. On one trip, my Dad and I followed some friends in from 20 miles out fishing and we noticed a red water tower. We said, “there isn’t a red water tower on Wrightsville Beach.” Long story, short, they put something with a magnet beside their compass and it threw us off course and we ended up coming in NORTH of Surf City—30 miles off course. So you can never be too safe. Anything can happen.
I also used to race sailboats. We learned how on a crosswind you can find angles in which the craft just gets though the chop better and faster. All of these life lessons on the water have helped me be better prepared for paddling, for making the most out of ocean conditions, and preparing for the worst.
The Paddle to Topsail
For this paddle, I headed from Wrightsville Beach to Topsail Island. For the 95 degree heat, I brought 4 electrolyte bottles and 1 plain water bottle. I also packed electrolyte gels and oat bars. My GPS and compass helped me keep my distance/course when I couldn’t see my destination.
Preparing for Plan B
I kept a waterproof ditch bag (in case I’m in a storm and get pulled of the board) with strobe, whistle, $20(?) and life proof cased phone.It was my plan B, which was get to dry land if it really blew up. I monitored the storm cells during my paddle with the “storm” app by WU. It shows wind flow and projects where storms are heading.
**Most importantly, I told someone my course and ETA.
The heat and deteriorating conditions
The whole thing was a dream(really hot dream) until the last section when a squall was approaching and turned the wind on and crossed up the runners real bad.
The dip to the shore in my track was from that squall.
Crossing the inlets on a falling tide you could really notice the chops and back currents. The compass really helps and it’s nice if you know the landmarks of your run.
I started looking for the water tower and watching the clouds off Lee Island. At one point I spotted the water tower at south topsail and knew my heading. But then a shower covered up all my visibility ahead. It’s nice having a heading when you can’t see the finish. I would hate to get in a fog bank and not know which way home is. I saw some guys fishing once who had no idea which way home was and they were just two miles off the beach. They were lucky I could tell them. They may be in England by now.
It was a haul, but I arrived safely. Paddling in the ocean can show you things you never believed, just be safe and be prepared for anything. And consider bringing a compass.
James Bain is the owner of Epic Food Company and one of the organizers of the Carolina Cup in Wrightsville Beach, NC. You can follow James on instagram at: https://instagram.com/surfsalt/
About Epic Food Company
The Forum, 1113 Military Cutoff Rd, Wilmington, NC 28405