Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

Paddling Off The Georgia Coast
by Lee McQuade

November 2004

Fifteen miles east of Savannah bordering the Savannah River and the Atlantic Ocean is Tybee Island. The origin of the name “Tybee” like the history of the island itself has many interpretations. Most historians believe “Tybee” derives from the Native American Euchee Indian word for “salt” which was one of many natural resources found on the island. Those resources have played an important role throughout the islands history which dates back to the early sixteen hundreds.

During the first weekend of November my wife and I visited her brother and family who live on Tybee Island. The weather was warm and there were fewer tourists than the summer months. We spent some time kayaking off the coast to visit “Little Tybee Island”. More on this later.

Twelve miles wide and nine miles long, Little Tybee is actually a conglomeration of more than 60 islands separated by a maze of winding waterways and tidal creeks. Stunning pristine waterways, wide sand beaches, and moss-hung maritime forests are the hallmarks of Georgia’s wild and lonely barrier islands. Day trips give you a satisfying taste of Georgia’s coastal wilderness and exploring beaches accessible only by canoe or kayak.

This area made national news when in 1958, a crippled B-47 bomber dumped a 7600 pound H-bomb into the Wassau Sound which borders Little Tybee. The bomber had collided with a fighter jet during a training flight. At the time the military searched for 10 weeks and finally pronounced the bomb irretrievable. The bomb is believed buried under more than 5 feet of mud in water 6 to 40 feet deep. The Air Force said the bomb is incapable of a nuclear explosion because it lacks the plutonium capsule needed to trigger an atomic blast. Still it contains about 400 pounds of conventional explosives and an undisclosed amount of uranium. No doubt kayakers probably paddle over this area without knowing the full history of this area.

Back to the trip. Using a tandem Old Town Loon kayak and a rented Arctic Tern 14 kayak from Sea Kayak Georgia, we ventured from Tybee Island across the channel to Little Tybee Island. We were fortunate to see dolphins crossing in front of us. We beached our boats and spent hours looking for sand dollars and unusual shells. We would have liked to have brought back some driftwood but space limited this exercise. We saw Pelicans dive into the surf after fish. We witnessed other kayakers paddle out into the Atlantic Ocean and follow the tan curves of the eastern shoreline. We were informed that this side of the island is frequently battered by big waves generated by storms farther out to sea. We saw the effects of the September storms on the island.

We could not have asked for finer weather. Several years ago we made this trip in early December and because of colder weather wore wetsuits which provided protection against the elements. This trip was a lot more enjoyable.

If you are ever in the Savannah area, be sure to visit Tybee Island and enjoy the many sights and activities. Sea Kayak Georgia on the island will accommodate your boating needs.