Kayak Bug Out – A Vignette
It started with Tropical Depression Betty and ended with Hurricane Francois. There simply was no oil pumping or refinery capability left in the Gulf and along the Gulf coast after one category one hurricane, two category three hurricanes, one category four hurricane, and one category five hurricane in a three month period, all slamming the Gulf coast from Tallahassee, Florida to Brownsville, Texas decimated the systems.
To add insult to injury, the economy was in the process of tanking. Fuel was already reaching new highs in price when the loss of the Gulf Coast supply more than tripled them, and cut the supply to a fraction of normal.
The winter was forecast to be one of the worst on record. For some of the members of the Family Readiness Center Forum, it was the breaking point. But there were a couple of bright points. Easy Rider had made a standing invitation to all of the forum members to join him and his family at his homestead on Lake Seminole in southwest Georgia if they were in trouble in their local area.
Six-Up, and his family, in Michigan; Mulely and his family in Maryland; and loner Skip, in southeast Virginia; all decided to take Easy Rider up on his invitation for the duration of the crisis. It looked like a fairly simple operation. But it was not to be.
It was regular Saturday night chat…
Six-Up: “We’re going to have to be quick about this. The rumor is that there are only a few more days left before General Aviation is shut down to conserve fuel supplies. If I bring the plane, it has to be in the next two days.”
Mulely: “We’re good to go, starting tomorrow. Have all the equipment and supplies loaded up. Just have to get more fuel and we’re set. Shouldn’t take more than a few days to get there. You sure this is okay, Easy Rider?”
Easy Rider: “Of course. We have the room. You just need to bring supplies.”
Mulely: “We’ve got enough for at least a year for the four of us, plus a bit more.”
Easy Rider: “That’s good. We should be able to do some fishing in the lake, and next spring we’ll just triple the size of the garden.”
Skip: “I’m almost ready. Mulely, you want to meet up on I-95 and travel the rest of the way together?”
Mulely: “Sounds good to me. PM me and we’ll set up the rendezvous.”
Skip: “Will do.”
And so it was arranged. Except, the best laid plans of mice and men…
Mulely dialed his cell phone. At least it still worked. “Hello? Six-Up?”
“Yeah. That you Mulely?”
“It is. Any chance you can swing by and pick me and the family up? I’m about out of fuel and there is just simply none available.”
“Sure thing… But Mulely… I’m loaded down. How much stuff do you have?”
“The back of the Suburban and the roof rack is loaded, and I have a trailer, also full.”
“Geez, man! I can’t take all that! I hate to say it, but it’s going to have to be you or your stuff. Can’t take both.”
“Easy Rider can’t carry us without the supplies. It’s not fair to ask him. Give me a few minutes. I want to talk to Skip.”
“Okay Mulely. But hurry. I’m filing a flight plan in less than an hour.”
Mulely closed the phone and then reopened it. He waved at his wife and two children. They were getting snacks in the C-store of the service station. They still had junk food. Just no fuel.
“This is Skip.”
“It’s Mulely. Snag. We almost out of fuel.”
“I’m having the same problem. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to make it all the way. I’m not sure what to do.”
Mulely ran his left hand down his face. “I talked to Six-Up. He said he could pick me and the family up, but we’d have to leave our stuff behind. Probably get you, too.”
“Aw, man! Easy Rider can’t put us up with no supplies! And I can’t afford to get any when I get there, if I just fly in.”
“I know. I was thinking. You’re an experienced kayaker, aren’t you?”
“I’ve done my share. Why do you ask? They sure aren’t any good on land.”
“We’ve done some kayaking. My son even has his with us. What if we send the gear with Six-Up, and kayak from Chesapeake to somewhere south of Savannah and then go cross-country? I don’t know how, but somehow.”
“I’ve come up the east coast from Ft. Lauderdale to here. It’s a tough trip. You sure you guys would be up to it? Your kids are what, thirteen and fourteen?”
“Fifteen and sixteen now. And both are athletes. They’d probably do better than my wife and I.”
“Do you have the gear?”
“No. Have to get it. There should be some sporting goods stores in Chesapeake, shouldn’t there?”
“You have the means to get what you need?”
“As long as they still take American Express,” Mulely replied.
“That could be iffy. You really think we can do this?” Skip asked. “I’m pretty sure I can, since I’ve done similar before, but you guys…”
“We’ll make it. We have to. Do you have fuel to get to Chesapeake?”
“Okay. So do we. You’ll get there first. If you’ll look up a good place to get the equipment, we’ll meet you there.”
“That’s good. Where should we meet Six-Up?”
“I’ll let you decide. You know the area much better than I do.”
“Okay. Best will be if we start off on the Intracoastal Waterway. I think the best point will be the north end of Currituck Sound. We can transfer our gear to the plane and launch the kayaks, assuming we get them. I happen to have mine packed, since we were going to be on Seminole Lake.”
“Same with my son’s. But that isn’t enough for all of us, or the supplies we’ll need to take with us.”
“Well, I can give you some advice on the gear, but it’ll be up to you what you can afford to get.”
“Understood. Let me call Six-Up back and let him know where we’ll be. Just about sundown?”
“That should do it. Take care, Mulely. See you in a few hours.”
Again Mulely closed the phone and reopened it. He dialed Six-Up.
Six-Up picked it up on the first ring. “That you, Mulely?”
“Yeah. You sound worried. What’s up?”
“I don’t think we have three days.”
“Well, Skip and I have decided to send our gear and kayak down the coast and then find a way cross country.”
“You sure? People are more important than gear.”
“I know. But I’m not going to show up on Easy Rider’s doorstep with nothing. It’s just not fair to him or his family.”
“Okay. Where do we meet?”
“The upper end of Currituck Sound, just south of Chesapeake, Virginia.”
“I’ll find it. Water landing, I assume?”
“Yeah. Figure just before dark. Will you be able to take off again?”
“I’ll scout the area before I land. Make sure I can make a dark take off. I sure can’t afford to hang around. Fuel is going to be close, not to mention getting grounded by the authorities.”
“Okay. We’ll see you on the Currituck Sound this evening.”
“Okay. Bye. And good luck.”
“Thanks. We’ll need it.”
Slipping the closed cell phone into his pocket, Mulely went to talk to his family. There was concern, but all believed they could do it.
Five hours later…
“Skip?” asked Mulely of the young man sitting on the bumper of a Jeep with a small trailer attached.
“Mulely?” Skip responded, taking out the Forum’s special coin. Every member had been sent one, for situations just like this one.
Skip showed Mulely his own coin. It was official. They were who they said they were. Members of the Family Readiness Center Forum.
The two men shook hands and Mulely introduced his family to Skip. They walked together into the sporting goods store together.
It took three hours, but when the group left, Mulely’s family was ready for the trip. Skip had picked up a few things, too, for the long distance trip.
First off, they had chosen the kayaks. Based on Skip’s experience with his Necky Looksha IV, Mulely decided on a pair of two-person kayaks. The Necky Nootka Plus. They only had two, one red and one yellow. Not their first choices in colors, but all that was available.
Having looked over an exhibit of a pair of single seat kayaks that were fastened together catamaran style, Mulely and his wife decided to get the package to catamaran their new Nootka Pluses. It would ensure they didn’t get separated, and be far more stable in some of the choppy water that they were sure to cross.
With the additional stability the catamaran configuration had, Mulely opted for four airfoil sails to be used when the wind was favorable to provide some relief from paddling.
Skip opted to add an outrigger for stability to his Looksha IV, plus a sail. He picked up several rechargeable batteries and a solar charger to power his Garmin GPS. He also got new charts and a waterproof tide table for the east coast.
Mulely duplicated the batteries, charger, charts, and tide table for safety and in case the two became separated. Skip had most of the gear he needed, but Mulely had to buy everything. It was expensive, but American Express was still allowing charges to the card, so he got quality equipment.
A Garmin GPS with the coastal charts included, with a deck mount and dry bag for it. A deck mount lighted compass. Three pairs of Motorola FRS radios with dry bags. A Standard-Horizon handheld Marine Band radio and yet another dry bag.
Kokatat personal flotation devices with emergency beacon, knife, emergency kit, and whistle attached. Kokatat expedition dry suits, for all four of the family. Paddling gloves. Sandals to protect the dry suit booties. Seven take apart paddles, four for use and three spares, all with retaining leashes. One spare rudder and spare rudder cables for each kayak, hull repair components, a hand bilge pump to clear any shipped water. Plenty of dry bags for the things they were taking with them. Also plenty of extra cordage and bungees.
Between Mulely and Skip, they cleaned out the stores entire stock of Mountain House camping meals.
Mulely winced when the charges were totaled. But the American Express card went through without a hitch and the clerks started carrying things out to the vehicles.
It was already late afternoon and Mulely and Skip wasted no time heading for the upper tip of Currituck Sound. One couldn’t have asked for better timing. Six-Up was just bringing the Bombardier 415MP in for a landing on the sound as the two vehicles were brought to a stop on the shore.
With flashlights in hand, Mulely and Skip guided Six-Up to the beach. Again the challenge coins were displayed, despite there being little chance that anyone wasn’t who they were supposed to be.
“Man, oh man! You guys sure you want to do this? The weather is shaping up to be pretty bad the next few days. I can still take just you guys. Maybe you can work out something to come and get your gear.”
Skip let Mulely speak for him. “I just can’t do that to Easy Rider. We’re going to need that equipment and those supplies to make it in Georgia. Yeah, there are risks, but Skip knows the ways of ocean kayaking, and we’re pretty resilient bunch. We’ll make it. But see what might be done about meeting us on the Georgia coast, if you can, after you get to the estate. It’s going to be a few weeks, so something might turn up.”
“I’ll do it. Now let’s get your gear loaded. I’m going to be lucky not to get ordered down before I get there.”
It took better than a half an hour to transfer the gear and supplies that the kayakers weren’t going to take with them to the airplane. Six-Up’s family got out and stretched their legs while the loading took place. It was full dark when the loading was done.
Mulely and Skip didn’t like the uncertain look on Six-Up’s face just before he entered the 415MP, ready to take off. It was a long takeoff run, but the Bombardier 415 was a great workhorse of a plane and finally leaped into the air. Mulely and Skip both released the breaths they’d been holding during the takeoff run.
With Jim and Sandra, Mulely’s two children, holding the flashlights, Muley, his wife Janine, and Skip got the kayaks ready for launch. Every storage compartment was full, and the deck area of the catamaran assembly took more gear. Even the seating area of Mulely’s son’s kayak was loaded up and sealed with a spray skirt. It would be towed by the catamaran set of kayaks.
Batteries were put in the rest of the electronic equipment and radio frequencies set on the FRS radios. It was nearing eleven in the evening when everything was packed in the kayaks and everyone was suited up.
“Man! I hate to lose the Suburban and trailer. It’s been a good rig for us,” Mulely said, turning to look at the two vehicles and trailers.
“I made a few calls while I was waiting. Give me your key. I’ll put it with mine in the hidden key box on the Jeep. A couple of buddies of mine are going to try and pick up the rigs and hold them for us.”
“Aw, man! That is great!” Mulely said, grinning in the dark.
“No promises, but they are going to give it a real try. They owe me some major favors and this will pay them off, for good.”
The five boarded the kayaks, and using the GPS systems, headed south, staying fairly close to the shore. They paddled until almost three in the morning. Besides it being long hours the day before, and hard work during the night, Skip wanted to time things to cross Ablemarle Sound during the day time.
They did plan on mostly running at night and sleeping during the day. Things were tough, and there were already cases of those with obvious supplies being attacked for them. It wasn’t likely, but Mulely wasn’t going to endanger his family any more than he already was. Crossing some of the sounds and river mouths was more of a danger than people.
Mulely’s family was all avid campers. By four, the camp was set up on an isolated bit of shore, and everyone was in a sleeping bag inside a tent.
It was cool, edging toward cold, as the group made a hot breakfast. They were in no hurry to get started. Kayaking muscles don’t get much exercise unless kayaking. Even Skip was a bit sore, due to the rather intense dash they’d made the night before.
The solar battery chargers were set out and batteries put in to get several charged up. There were going to be days with little sun and it was important to have the GPS if they were going to travel mostly at night.
A bit of rearranging was done to make gear access easier. The night before, the emphasis was on just getting everything they had aboard and secure. With many days of paddling ahead of them, they wanted everything easyily at hand.
All took advantage of the camp time, getting all the rest they could before they loaded up that afternoon and headed southeast once again. They were able to take advantage of the off shore winds for a while, hoisting the sails as soon as it got dark. But the winds settled down to just the occasional breeze as the temperatures between the air over the water and that over the land equalized.
It was paddling after that. They took it a bit easier that night, letting muscles become loose and flexible. It wouldn’t do to overdo it. That would delay them much more than paddling slowly.
They broke about midnight, Skip bringing his kayak up to the other three. They all shared hot chocolate from a two-quart Stanley stainless steel thermos that Janine had prepared before they broke camp. But they didn’t break for long. Paddling kept them warm in the cold night air.
Happy with the distance they’d made, Skip led the way to another isolated spot on shore for their camp shortly after the sun came up.
Again they had a restful day, though the soreness was worse, all knew that the third day would be the worst, and then it would be smooth sailing, so to speak, with the paddling. And so it was. They stopped early when they were near Point Harbor. Skip was adamant about crossing the mouth of Albemarle Sound in the daytime. The water would be rough and though there was much less likelihood of other boats in the Sound at night, Skip thought the risk of being spotted was less than the physical risk of making the crossing at night.
They listened closely to the news reports on Sandra’s compact radio. Being spotted was now more of a worry than the general worry it had been at the first. There were travel restrictions over the entire area. Local travel only, be it by boat or car. There were no longer any aircraft flights, except government and military. All fuel was reserved for them and the emergency services.
There was a rather heated debate between Jim and Mulely over the situation. Jim maintained it was simply unconstitutional and could be ignored. Mulely, was just as adamant that it didn’t matter if it was. They weren’t going to chance a confrontation. Legal or not, right or wrong, they would lose. And the penalties were severe.
After getting a full day’s rest, Skip led the way from the camping spot near Point Harbor. Between the need to not be seen, and the rough water, the decision had been made to not use the sails. It would be paddles only. Hard paddling.
Skip steered a straight course for Roanoke Island. They had to fight currents and winds and were exhausted when they finally cut southwest and made it past the Highway 64 bridge to Roanoke Island. Rather than stop on Roanoke Island, they made their camp in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the mainland. They hurriedly set up the tents and got inside. The weather had turned foul, with freezing rain driven by a strong wind.
It was a good spot to camp and the group stayed there for a day and a half, recuperating from the crossing. They’d been lucky they had not been spotted and knew it. As soon as the weather broke, they were off again, staying in the Pamlico Sound, traveling well out from the shore each night and finding isolated shores on which to spend the day, charge the equipment batteries, and themselves for the next night’s run.
They listened to the radio every day. The situation in the US was getting worse every broadcast. Already profiteers were bootlegging gasoline and diesel fuel, mostly stolen from government storage tanks.
The cellular telephone system was still working, fortunately, and Mulely kept Easy Rider and Six-Up apprised of the group’s situation and location. Both men were trying to find a way to get to them and bring them back to the estate on Seminole Lake. But nothing was moving, except government, military, and emergency services.
People were getting desperate for food, though there were plans in the works, according to the broadcasts, to start the supply trucks running again for the essentials that were still sitting in warehouses.
Night after night the group made progress southwest, picking up the Intracoastal Waterway again near Merrimon. There were more grueling nights of paddling, particularly near Morehead City. Approaching the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, they left the Intracoastal, going outside the barrier islands, to decrease the chance of being discovered.
The passage was done as quickly and quietly as possible. Even the GPS units had Gorilla Tape hoods made for them to eliminate as much light exposure as possible. Again they made it without being discovered, and cut back inside the barrier islands for protection from the rough seas.
They had a bit of a wild ride crossing the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The current was swift, over eight knots, the winds were high, with sprinkles of rain. With the weather bad again, Mulely and Skip decided to lay over near Holden Beach for an extra day to rest and wait for the weather to abate.
But it did abate and more long nights were spent on the Intracoastal. As yet, Easy Rider and Six-Up had not been able to find a way to the Georgia coast, much less up into South Carolina. Mulely went to putting out a trolling line to catch fish to supplement their freeze dried foods. They took a chance when passing Myrtle Beach and sent Janine and Sandra in to a convenience store visible from the waterway to pick up some fresh foods.
The store was closed and the two came back empty handed. “I think we’d better get going,” Janine said. There was a cop car cruising. He may have seen us.”
They wasted no time getting the kayaks back into the water and left the area as quickly as possible. But it wasn’t the police that went after them after seeing the two women hurry back down to the shore and board the kayaks.
Thirty minutes after resuming the trip, a small open boat came roaring up behind the group. Though they had not actually practiced what they would do in the case of a confrontation with people other than the authorities, they had discussed it. The approaching boat had no flashing lights and it was quickly obvious, even in the dark, that it was going to be some type of hijack, if not worse.
Skip kept his Mossberg Just-In-Case Mariner sealed tube lashed on the front deck. He had the plug unscrewed and pulled the pistol grip, Marinecote finish 12-gauge pump shotgun out and ready before the other boat could overtake them.
Mulely, Janine, Jim, and Sandra weren’t inactive. All carried matching Maryland legal Glock Model 33s in .357 Sig. They were kept in dry bags, close at hand. All four had their gun in hand, with a spare magazine handy when the boat shot past them and turned in front to cut them off.
No words were exchanged as a spotlight nearly blinded the group. But they could see well enough to make out the rifles each man had pointed at them. Skip didn’t hesitate. He racked the slide of the shotgun and fired. He couldn’t tell if he hit the man holding the spotlight, but the light went out.
Skip winced when he heard the fast .357 Sig rounds blowing past his head as the four behind him began firing. Working the pump on the Mossberg 500, Skip added a bit more lead to the fulisade.
The boat’s outboard was still in gear, and even at an idle, moved slowly out of the way. There were no more shots in the dark and Skip, Sandra, Jim, and Janine quickly paddled away. Mulely kept his Glock aimed at the slowly moving boat. It was simply too dark to see where the men were. In the boat or in the water.
They found a safe place to camp shortly thereafter. Listening to the news during the day following the attack, they heard no mention of any incident. None of the five were ever sure if they injured or even killed one or both of the men.
The Intracoastal Waterway went through Mt. Pleasant and Charleston. It was too big of a risk and the group took to the ocean to bypass the cities. It was another long, grueling run, but all were in better shape now than at the start of the trip, and they made it without too much problem.
Rather than fight the currents in St. Helena Sound to get back on the Intracoastal waterway, Skip guided them along the Atlantic coast until they were clear of Savannah. That was where they had their second close call.
Running silent and dark, they weren’t seen by another craft also running dark, but not silent, just like the previous incident. It was a powerboat and it was going at high speed. Skip was in the lead, as usual and barely managed to turn away in time to avoid being hit.
But that wasn’t the only thing. There was another boat approaching rapidly. And this one was neither silent or dark. It was a small Coast Guard patrol boat and the siren was going and so were the flashing lights. It was in chase of the first boat.
Fortunately the boat being chased had turned slightly south and the patrol boat did, too, which put them clear of the kayaks. The group watched in silence as gunshots were exchanged, the muzzle blasts easily visible even as the boats receded. The Coast Guard boat had the other boat vastly outgunned and after three bursts from the M2 fifty caliber machinegun the gunner had the range.
The explosion lit up the night sky. “Gasoline!” Skip said, only half under his breath. The kayaks were grouped together now and Mulely replied, “Must be some of the bootleggers they were talking about on the radio.”
“They sure paid a price for trying it,” Skip said. “I think we’d better put in and lay low for a day. Someone on that patrol boat might have spotted us and could come back looking after they take care of that mess.”
They put in at Wassaw Island and, unlike their usual simple beaching of the kayaks, Mulely thought it best to bring them on shore and hide them more carefully. They watched the following day, and sure enough, the patrol boat made a slow pass, obviously looking for something. Probably them, they decided.
But the drag marks from moving the kayaks had been carefully smoothed away and there was no sign of their presence. The patrol boat continued past, without stopping and all breathed sighs of relief.
The rest was appreciated, but the urge to keep going was great. They stayed only two days on Wassaw Island before venturing south once again on the Intracoastal Waterway. Things went smoothly the rest of the way and Skip headed them west into the St. Andrews Sound. They fought the current, but traveled up the sound to where the Satilla River entered the Sound.
There they sat up a camp. It was discussed, but continuing up the Satilla to get a bit closer to Easy Rider’s place was considered too risky. They were relatively safe where they were until they could figure out what to do next.
After several telephone conversations with Easy Rider and Six-Up, Skip and Mulely reluctantly agreed to let Six-Up make a night flight from Seminole lake to the mouth of the Satilla River where it opened into St. Andrews Sound near where they were camped.
Easy Rider and Six-Up had gathered enough aviation fuel for the trip there and back. That wasn’t the problem. Getting caught traveling was. But Six-Up insisted. He’d regretted taking the group’s equipment and supplies, instead of insisting on taking them on that first flight.
Six-Up landed the Bombardier 415MP on St. Andrews Sound and idled up to the lights that Mulely and Skip were holding, just before midnight. An hour later the plane was skimming the surface of the water again, with the group and all their remaining gear and supplies aboard, including the four kayaks.
Easy Rider and his wife met them at the homestead’s landing on Seminole lake. Formal introductions were made and Easy Rider showed them the two small cabins that they would be using for the duration. By five in the morning, everyone was in bed for a few hours of sleep. The kayak bug out was finished.
I want to thank Kit for all his kayak help on this story.
Jerry D Young
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