Last November, when I was invited to go sea kayaking off Georgia’s coast with Mike Robinson, a lifelong paddler from Savannah, it wasn't the paddling I was excited about. It was picking oysters in the swamps surrounding Georgia’s some 1,200 marshy islands.
I flew into Savannah and drove 40 minutes east to Tybee Island, a clutch of second homes and seafood shacks that serves as the launching point for sea kayakers heading into the roughly 400,000 acres of tidal marsh buffering the state's coast. From Tybee, most paddlers head south, and so did we, straight into a headwind. “It’s not usually this windy,” Mike yelled over the howl. But it didn't matter. Dolphins breached a paddle length from my cockpit and a flock of thousands of red knots swept overhead. After a couple hours of paddling through plains of yellow sea grass we made camp under a stand of live oaks. I spent the afternoon napping in the sun and waiting for the retreating tide to reveal oysters. I found them just before sunset: a colony clinging to a dead tree–exactly where Mike suggested I leave them. "They'll taste like rotting wood," he said.
In the morning, the tide swept back in and we paddled saltwater creeks not much wider than the boats, past stands of southern magnolias, and surfed in the open Atlantic on waves kicked up by a 30-knot wind. When we got back to town, Mike tried to make up for the lack of oysters. (I insisted). He took me to a seafood shack that sells the local bivalves in 100-pound burlap sacks. They sold out that morning, so we left with a rack of cheap beer and a sack of imports from northern Florida. Back on Tybee, Mike BBQ'd the oysters in their shells. By the time we called it a night, I'd eaten 80 and made plans to return–only if I could pick my own oysters. That is, of course, unless I couldn't.
DIY TIPS: When the Deepwater Horizon exploded, gushing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf Coast, sea kayakers (and everybody else) cringed. But there are still plenty of opportunities for southern sea kayaking, like the nearly 400,000 acres of remote marsh off Georgia’s Atlantic Coast. Fly to Savannah between October and November, when the temperatures drop to the fifties at night and a cool wind comes out of the north. Get a taste for the marsh on a beginner-friendly three-day trip around the dozens of hammocks that make up the island complex of Little Tybee. Launch from Alley Three, a public dock on the south side of Tybee Island, and head southeast along beaches that face the open Atlantic. Set up camp for two nights under the live oaks on the ridgeline that forms the southern tip of Little Tybee. The next morning, paddle two miles south to the wildlife sanctuary at Warsaw Island, keeping your eyes peeled for sea turtles, fresh oysters, and 250 species of birds. Return to Alley Three via Jack’s Cut, a tidal creek that cuts through Little Tybee.
YOU NEED: A sea kayak, tidal charts, and aerial photos of Little Tybee's hammocks. Get the paddling gear at Savannah Canoe and Kayak, a funky shop on the road out to Tybee (kayaks $50/day), and eat at Huca Poos, a southern-style beach joint on Tybee that specializes in pizza and cheap beer.