My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Doing the Kayak Stroll

Laurel had it all planned - the tide would help carry us out to Otter Island where we would hang out and walk the beach, watch birds, and take lots of pictures until the tide was again on the rise and would carry us back through St Helena sound to Bay Creek and then  to our launch site at Edisco Water Sports.

We woke up at the house where Laurel is house/dog sitting to find dawn was breaking beautifully. So we spend the first thirty minutes or so of the day just enjoying the dawn.

Our first view of the dawn

Which just got prettier

And more spectacular

Then we went to Edisto Water Sports where another of her friends, Mhalian,  joined us. We started out about 7:30 A.M.,  riding the fast-moving tide out of Bay Creek then turning into St. Helena Sound.  There we had a little wind but were still making pretty good progress to our destination.  Laurel knew there was a sand bar across the shortest route and that we would have to get around it before we turned.

Mhalian boarding

Paddling down Bay Creek

Then across the big, empty St; Helena Sound - Our destination is the island to the left.  But we have to access it through a creek about a fourth of the way down the trees in the picture

But when she lined up with the water tower to make her turn,  and started towards the inlet between Pine and Otter island, she soon found herself stranded on a sand bar.  I felt my way and managed to get over the bar into a little deeper area. But within minutes, ALL the water in front of us just disappeared.

While waiting to see what we were to do next, I also ran out of water and left my kayak here to go confer with Laurel and Mahlian

Nothing stops Laurel from taking pictures

We had a confab and decided we could not make Otter Island, but Pine Island, it's nearer neighbor had lots of new beach along it and would do fine as an alternate destination. While we discussed all this,  then started dragging our kayaks, another batch of water ahead of us disappeared. We ended up dragging our kayaks at least a quarter of a mile and perhaps more.  Of course, our bodies told us it had been at LEAST two miles.  In fact, while dragging our boats several foraging birds mostly ignored us as we passed through their feeding groups. And of course, Laurel and I took lots of breaks to photograph ourselves and the birds.

I passed close to this marbled godwit when walking over to meet up with Laurel

Malian didn't stop to take pictures and got way ahead of us - she has less than 100 yards to go

We could have paddled over all this a few hours ago

Some short-billed dowitchers enjoying breakfast as I trudged past them

I thought this pattern on the sand looked like icing - and it was another excuse to rest

Walking my baby - gotta long ways to go

We "landed" on the beach, which meant we could put our boats above the high tide line at about the the top third of the island. We first walked the long beach and enjoyed the pristine oysters sticking out of the sand and various shells and birds that were actively feeding.

(Disclaimer- showing restraint here - I'm only showing you about a tenth of my finds)

Looking back across the sand bar as it rises out of the water

Such a pretty batch of oysters

This arrangement looks like something a Victorian would covet

Laurel walks down to end of the Island. Around the corner, the Edisto River meets the sound

A lovely natural arrangement- I took only pictures

Pen Shell

Mussel shell (L) and cockle shell (R)

After running out of beach,  we came back to our kayaks and had our lunches before starting another exploration on the end Pine Island closest to Otter.  We could see the creek that forms a channel between the two islands as well as a sand bar that had most of the mouth closed off.  Since the open area was a long ways off, we didn't attempt to drag our boats up there.  We also didn't want to try to wade and get wet.  It was cool enough that I was happy to be in my long underwear shirt with my paddling jacket over it, as well as my life jacket for almost all the time we were there.  So we contented ourselves with walking inland as far as we could, before we hit the marsh.

We found this shallow pond on the way to the Otter Island end of Pine Island

The colors in this shallow freshwater pond was reminiscent of the Morning Glory feature in Yellowstone - there the algae is the result of trash being thrown into it and cooling it down

The creek between Pine and Otter Islands

As the day progressed, more and more birds appeared, including lots of red knots and skimmers, as well as royal terns, marbled godwits, and other shorebirds and gulls. They were all using the sand bar to rest on while waiting for the tide to bring them another meal.

We only found this one piping plover and one Wilson's plover

We found a lot of green that turned out to be wilted leaves until the tide rehydrated and refloated them

Skimmers - we saw around 35 of them waiting on the tide to come in

Finally, around 2:30 P.M. the tide was again high enough that we only had to drag our kayaks out about fifty yards.  The winds had picked up and we had a little surf line to move through.  This just required holding our kayaks perpendicular and knuckling the boats out until they floated,  then paddling hard across the sound, before making the turn into Bay creek. There we were protected from the wind and were pushed by homeward by the tide,  making the last bit of the trip super easy. I enjoyed watching the docks full of loafing double crested cormorants and brown pelicans, but could not access my camera to  take their pictures.

We are also waiting for the tide - almost time to leave

Laurel is an avid paddler and sometimes works as a kayak tour guide. She knows this area intimately.  She thinks the huge fall storms moved lots of sand into this area. It may also be coming from Edisto Beach where the recently added sand has already been depleted, and that beach is scheduled for more beach renewal. The combination of a new building sandbar and a super low tide is what did us in.

But these constant changes are what make coastal areas so fascinating to me. You can experience different trips without changing areas. If  you paddle near coasts, expect bigger storms with more changes in the places you paddle.  And we had a wonderful day anyway - and burned more calories.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Birds of Botany Bay

February 18, 2016

I spent several days in South Carolina. This is one of my adventures. 

After my hostess, Laurel, and I had rushed to get lots of pictures documenting the beautiful start of a new day, we moved on to enjoying little finds on the beach and the shore birds. We had planned to wait for low tide and cross an inlet from Botany Bay so we could walk further down the seashore.

Although the terrible fall storms had eroded the beach quite badly, there were still some some tidal pools along the shore where several species of birds were feeding. Even though it was cold, with a lot of added wind chill, neither Laurel or I noticed the cold over the couple of hours we spent mostly sitting or moving very slowly and photographing birds.

The area where the birds were feeding consisted of several pools in this kind of soil.

The birds present in the most numbers were the endangered red knots

Gulls caught their own food and harassed the American Oystercatchers for theirs 

I think this is more gull harassment than gull blessing

I think this gull caught his own food

A willet with red knots and a ruddy turnstone

A closer look at a red knot

 Black-bellied plover

Several sanderlings ran about and chased off other sanderlings

There were at least a half dozen ruddy turnstones

When we reached Townsend Inlet, the tide was still too high for a crossing and then we noticed how cold we were getting and decided we didn't want to sit for another hour.  

So we changed our plans and walked back to the car,  stopping at a very birdy place, filled with eastern bluebirds and cardinals.  When we reached our car, we drove to where the feeders are and watched those birds for a while, then did a very slow drive around the loop with lots of stops to listen, look for, and then photograph birds.

The bluebirds were probably starting to court and the males sat up high

We found at least one juvenile or female

We found chipping sparrows at the feeder as well as at several places along the tour

I was surprised to only find two phoebes in an areal where we should have found a dozen

We saw five great egrets but this was the only entertaining one.
I think Laurel must have had 50 pictures of it. 

It was a very good day.  We previously watched the dawn as we walked down the beach in the opposite direction.  I'll share that magic with you Sunday.

I'm linking up with Wild Bird Wednesday.  Click on the picture for lots more wonderful blogs about birds from around the world.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Black Hero's of Pea Island Life-Saving Station

(Get your cup of coffee first - this will take awhile)

The Pea Island Visitor Center sign, in its parking lot, says an all black lifesaving station was once on these lands  There is more information inside and we sell a book and DVD on it. I became interested in finding out more about this group.

Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers painting by James Melvin - from Internet

The North Carolina Life-Saver Stations were started up in the 1870's.  The area was extremely hazardous to shipping and many ships wrecked  off the Outer Banks. The Pea Island Station was built in 1878 as part of a string of stations along the Outer Banks. The lifesavers on them were mostly local watermen.  But others of them got their jobs through political cronies and many had little or no waterman skills. In a review of all the life stations,  many men were found to not be able to perform their duties. and several lifesavers were removed from duty, including the keeper, or head man, at Pea Island after he and his crew were cited for losing 17 lives when they failed to perform a relatively standard rescue of the British bark Henderson.

The Head of the service started looking for the men with the best reputations. The man considered the most respected and skilled was Richard Etheridge. He also was a known leader and could read and write. The only negative attribute was that he was black and was working at the number 6 position at Bodie Island, with no chance to rise through the ranks to number 1 and then keeper.  He had grown up as a slave on Roanoke Island but had been taught to read and write by his master (and probable father). He worked alongside his brothers and other relatives as a waterman and knew the waterways intimately.

 At 21, he had joined the Union Army in the colored 36th infantry soon after Roanoke Island fell, and shortly after became a sergeant.  He finished the war in Texas as one of the Buffalo soldiers.  He was respected by blacks and whites alike, but in those years just after the war, blacks were only allowed to perform the most menial of tasks. But even in his lowest position on the Bodie Island life-saving team, he strove to be the best life-saver possible and learned the life-saving regulations and procedures while practicing his skills.

So, probably with a lot of trepidation, he was appointed keeper of Pea Island Station, also known as Station 17. As soon as he was appointed to the Pea Island Lifesaving Station, the white men who still worked there quit. So the inspectors decided to have an all Negro station and pulled them from checkerboard crews at other Outer Banks Life-Stations.  His first crew included, Benjamin Bowser, Louis Wescott, William Irving, George Prude, Maxie Berry, and Herbert Collins. Richard Etheridge was the Keeper at Station 17 for twenty years and died on the job.

A picture of the crew hand hauling the lifeboat for practice

Five months after his appointment, the station was burned down by an arsonist who was suspected to have been a person who wanted the job of Keeper at Pea Island Station. Richard and his crew built a new station a few miles further south. His team was considered the most disciplined and rescue-ready team due to his military discipline and constant practice, in all kinds of weather. Each man knew his exact job and could perform it in all conditions.

When a ship wrecked, the life-boat was hauled to the closest spot on the coast from a wreck and then launched to collect people off the boat.  It was pulled with horses and or men

Richard Etheridge and his six man crew

A picture of the reenactment of how the Lyle gun was hauled - this was used to fire a line to the ship

The Lyle Gun - weight 150 - 250, pounds - was used to shoot a line out to the ship in distress

The deep and often wet sands made it hard to pull the cart and boat.

In 1896, the crew of Pea Island Lifesavers performed their most dangerous rescue, saving all hands on the E. S. Newman. During a hurricane, the watcher saw a flare offshore.  The men sent back their own flare and discovered a ship foundering about 50 yards off shore, about two miles down the beach from the station. Richard Etheridge tried to call for extra help, put the storm had taken down the telephone wires.

The beach was flooded (this was before the Corp of Engineers made the artificial dune system), the winds were over 90 mph, and the men knew they would never be able to launch the lifeboat. They dragged  and pushed the beach cart containing the ropes and Lyle gun, first aid equipment shovels, and other items and which, together,  weighed a half a ton. They struggled two hours helping the two mules move the cart the two miles,  in water up to their knees or higher and with waves sometimes knocking them down.

 When they attempted to use the gun,  it was almost washed away by the high surf,  and they couldn't find any high ground from which to fire it.  They attempted to dig sand and make a mound but the sand immediately washed away. Etheridge, then asked for two volunteers to swim a rope out to the wreck. Meekins was the best swimmer and he and Wise volunteered.  They were tied together and then had a throwing stick and the long line attached to their connecting rope. The first wave to hit Wise, knocked the wind out of him and the line tying them together dug in Meekins ribs. Somehow they managed to wade, then swim, missing the pieces of the breaking up ship and diving under the waves.

When they finally arrived at the groaning ship, the Captain untied himself from the mizzenmast and handed his three-year old son to Meekins. He took the boy, wrapped him up in his cork life jacket, and they started back to shore, with Wise finding a path through the pieces of lumber from the ship. They were now able to pull themselves along the line attached to the ship but still had terrible difficulty reaching the shore. Etheridge rushed up to help them while the rest of the crew pulled on the rope to keep it taunt in the undertow attempting to carry it and the men back to sea.

It took nine more of these dangerous trips to unload all the crew. The actual water part of the rescue took only an hour, but the time from leaving the station to returning, lasted from 9:00 P. M. to 1:00 A. M.

Etheridge wrote up the incident in his log, only stating "Although it seemed impossible to render assistance in such Conditions, the ship wreck crew were all safely landed."  After the storm receeded,  Captain Gardiner and his crew scoured the beaches for any salvage, but found none. They did find the nameplate for the ship and awarded it to Richard Etheridge. He gave it to Theodore Meekins, who had spotted the distress signal and, according to lore, made all nine trips out to the ship. Today it hangs in the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum in Manteo.

Although the crew was had many important and difficult saves to their credit,  probably saving over 200 people and losing only thirteen, they never received any awards.  Finally almost 100 years later, they all posthumously received the Gold Life-Saving Medal, the service's highest peacetime award, for the saving of the crew of the E.S. Newman.

Forty years after it's inception, the Lifesavers were incorporated into the Coast Guard.  Today a few Life-Saving Stations still stand along the Outer Banks and some of them are museums or are being used for other purposes.

On August 18, 2011, the coast guard cutter, Richard Etheridge was launched. So his name does live on.  This cutter was the first one where the crew was both male and female.

Richard Etheridge is buried on the grounds at the Roanoke Island Aquarium, on land he used to own. His gravestone just says Born Jan. 16, 1842 - Died May 8, 1980". It gives no clue about his remarkable life and place in history.

Visitors to the Outer Banks can visit the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station and watch reenactments of the drills the Life-Savers practiced. They can also visit the Pea Island Cookhouse, which was moved to Manteo and restored,  and is now a museum in memory of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station.

I called the number for the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum to see if it was open. The phone was answered by Frank Berry, a descendent of both Maxie Berry and another Pea Island Life-Saver.  He offered to give me a tour of the museum so I came and met both him and his wife, both of whom are retired from the Coast Guard. Many of the stories in the museum film came from his relatives. The Berry family has served in the Life-Savers/Coastguard since the 1880s until, I think, 2008. His Grandfather, Chief Boatswain's Mate Maxie Berry, Sr, was the last keeper at the station. The Berry family has 22 members who served either in the Life-Savers or the Coast Guard.

Both Frank and his wife are passionate about the Life-Savers and in keeping their memory alive. It was the best museum visit I've had since I went to the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center (click link for that blog) several years ago, in Great Falls, Montana. This was due to all the family stories Frank could tell and what he know about the artifacts in the small museum.

The Pea Island Cookhouse all restored

Frank allowed me to take a picture of a picture of the station that was built
by Richard Etheridge and his crew 

I was particularly interested in the lifeboat and in understanding how it worked. The crew rowed backwards into the high surf with ten foot oars, while Richard Etheredge manned the 12 foot rudder oar. His crew had to trust him to take them on a safe path as they could not see where they were going.  And if the boat turned over, the men had to be able to get it back upright and get back in. Some of these boats had built in bailers but this one does not.

The Pea Island Lifeboat 

If you are interested in learning more about Richard Etheridge and his crew, check out the book, Fire on the Beach or the DVD, Rescue Men.  As always, feel free to share this story.  Our history is so much richer and nuanced with the addition of stories from those of us who are not just male and white.