Nassau Sound Report
(Nassau River)

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Report By:  gbailey    Date: 8/9/2003 
Rating:Trip Rating     Photos: None     Map & Directions: View

Nassauville to Bird Island

My Report:

by Greg Bailey

August paddling trips can be brutal. Particularly if a breeze is lacking and limited opportunities to cool off in the water are present. However, on this day I expected a nice breeze preceding the usual afternoon thunderstorms with plenty of places to Ďhit the beachí before anyone overheated.

An even dozen of us worked to unload the kayaks and apply sunscreen while enjoying the nice view from the bluffs at Goffinsville park. The Nassau river was flowing by at a pretty strong clip and we expected it to take us all the way to the Atlantic, approximately 8 miles away. By 9:15 we were in the water, stretching and enjoying the quiet surroundings. Nassauville has an interesting mix of fish camps and vacation houses built on pilings with the occasional Ďboat under constructioní in someoneís yard. One very large vessel was proudly pointing our way atop the bluff, not far from the riverís edge, as if it were waiting for a high tide to help it get to sea. Itís hull looked newly re-finished while the superstructure was a rustic looking steel box. Within 15 minutes we had paddled past the last residential lot and headed south could see our first destination ahead - the A1A bridge that crosses Nassau Sound. Although it was only mid-morning I could also see a developing storm also to the south of us. We continued down the lazy river with a variety of conversations in progress, spread all across the wide river at times. As the storm in front of us grew nearer it began to take on a beautiful shape, an almost perfect arched bow (half moon) with the forward leading edge reaching out to us. It had heavy rains appearing on both ends but little if any in the center and no lightning. It soon became obvious that it was moving rather quickly and directly toward us so we all gathered together on the same side of the river, the east side. Spray skirts, hats and PFDs were secured as we prepared for the anticipated gusty winds and waves. Within minutes we were paddling against 15-20 mph winds so our progress slowed and the group stretched out a bit. We were situated at an exposed point where the Nassau and Amelia rivers join and form the much wider Nassau Sound, which extends southward, in the direction from which the storm winds were blowing. Our options were limited since the strong tide was pulling us south and the riverís shore did not appear too inviting of a place. I thought after fighting through the winds and waves we would find calmer conditions and sandy beaches on the east side of Amelia river so on we pushed, across the point and into 2 foot quartering waves. After a wet 20 minutes or so we had moved into calmer waters along the fishing docks and piers on Amelia Island and soon pulled ashore just north of the A1A bridge. The storm had moved past us quickly and the winds and waves were diminishing rapidly. After a facilities break and a quick snack we were back in the water headed south again facing one immediate challenge though. We had to somehow find a paddling path through the maze of fishing lines dangling from the many fisher people atop the bridge. It was a challenge for a couple of reasons: first of all, the outgoing tide was still very strong we would have only one chance to get it right and secondly, just seeing the invisible fishing lines was nearly impossible. After a short period of study and debate we chose our route and moved through the bridge supports successfully in single file. We paddled along the steep sandy shores on the east side of the sound and within minutes were exposed to the open ocean. As expected there were no sea swells nor on-shore winds so we continued across the calm water to the broad sandy islands ahead. The waters became more and more shallow and we slipped across a few points where some chose to walk and drag their boats instead of paddling. Since it was approaching noon we decided to stop for lunch before entering any of the outgoing narrow passages that cut through the mountains of sand to the ocean. We had already been forced to practice our bracing skills and no one seemed to mind the break.

The highest sand dunes were marked with barriers and signs indicating an ĎOfficial Wildlife Refugeí area and no one was permitted to trespass. Probably protecting nesting sea turtle sites since that season is in full swing. It felt nice stretching the legs and sitting on the warm sands. Everyone had worked up an appetite on the southward part of the trip so lunch was quickly consumed, amid interesting conversations. Talk was about the upcoming annual FSKA meeting, held this year near Ann and Kevinís place in High Springs. It seemed everyone had an unusual dog story to tell (or was it unusual owner stories) while Franklin tried to convince us he was starting a diet (he did give away part of his lunch, including some cold soft drinks). As we sat on the beach and looked east we could again see some developing storm clouds, however, because of Big Talbotís elevation we couldnít see far past the trees. But with low flying white clouds moving gradually our way I felt the need to get moving again. Right on queue the winds picked up from the south, hastening our efforts to launch. We had decided to cross over to Big Talbotís seashore and ease along slowly to the north and watch the developing clouds closely before heading out into the open sound again. And it was a good idea, because soon we had dark clouds and lighting strikes occurring north of us, along the route that we had to paddle. Larry was the first to notice the long wooden walkway leading up the bluff and after a few more lightning strikes we decided to pull in and wait for the storm to blow over. Part of our group was maybe 150 yards or so ahead of us and they also decided to move ashore and take shelter amid the graveyard of oaks buried in the sand. Unfortunately for us, the bottom five steps were missing from the walkway, so the most agile (Larry & Kevin) and the most frightened (Franklin) kayakers made it up first. Soon we were all sitting at a picnic table wishing the rain would come and go quickly so we could continue our trip. Occasionally our thoughts would turn to the other group of stranded paddlers, standing in the rain amid the overturned tree trunks just north of us. At their expense a few hilarious images of their plight were described which left us all tearing from laughter (I donít remember the details so I canít recite them here).

About 90 minutes later we were back in the water, launching amid the thick gray goo, a clay/mud mixture brought on by the rising tide and rains. Our ret urn trip plan was to proceed under the A1A bridge on the western side and enter the narrow cut that leads past a boat ramp and into the Intracoastal Waterway. The sun shone brightly in our faces while behind us we could now see the large dark storm clouds that we had recently sat underneath but were now moving away for good. Off came the rain jackets and on went the sunglasses. This narrow winding cut eventually carried us into the ICW and paddling near the shore it was obvious the incoming tide was pushing us along nicely. We continued north with a moderate following breeze, perfect for kayak sailing it seemed. Unfortunately, no one had any true sails so we had to improvise. A vertical or horizontal paddle worked for some and rain jackets held aloft worked for others. Larryís sailing skills won out as I watched him swiftly sail away on his Tarpon SOT. A quick check of Franklinís GPS indicated we had a straight shot of 2.6 miles ahead back to the takeout point, the forest lined bluffs easily visible ahead. Along the way we passed several sandy areas where a variety of shore birds had assembled (black skimmers with their distinctive large red bill and possibly two pink Roseate Spoonbills). As we moved further north we shifted into the narrower Back River hoping for a little change of scenery. After passing close to a couple of semi-submerged pilings, excited voices indicated a large sea turtle sighting. About half of our group saw itís massive head when it emerged but unfortunately it decided not to surface again for the rest of us. I did however see one small (~2 feet in length) shark swim right along the edge of a sandbar, itís fins protruding high out of the water as it looked for an easy meal.

At the end of our trip the Back River merged with the Nassau River again and a wide sand bar extended across most of that joining line. I could hear rushing waters well before we reached that line but couldnít see nor tell exactly what was causing the sound. It turned out to be just the strong incoming tide rushing in across the shallow bar, which makes one wonder how shallow it might be at low tide. Sounds like a good reason for a return trip to this area.

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Location Data:

Distance (miles): 16
Fees/Costs $: n/a

Special Interests and Comments:

Special InterestsNassau Sound

Post Date: 2/28/2009

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