Sunday, June 9, 2019

An Island Adventure - Little Tybee's "Mosquito Ditch" to the "Washout"

For a Savannah Boater, it's great fun to explore the tidal creeks that wind through the marshes; but doing this requires some planning, and a look at the chart before going helps out too.

It's critical to know the tide schedule and consider the effects of winds on tide levels. The last thing you want to do is get stuck up a creek for hours in an open boat without enough food, drink, shelter, or bug spray. An adventure could turn into a survival situation if you don't do your homework first.

I first transited the Mosquito Ditch on board my friend Keith Williams' boat, a 24' center console with a 250 Yamaha on the stern. We ran the ditch at the earliest moments of a flooding (rising) tide, and I was amazed that we could run in that narrow creek in that little bit of water. Near a long narrow hammock named Cabbage Island, there is one hard turn, very tight, and Keith put the bow of his boat right up into the grass at that point, keeping the motor and propeller in clear water.

Our sand and mud bars, our oyster rakes, and our winding creeks with lots of wrong-turns make a guided tour the first time a good idea. You will encounter many forks in our tidal creeks, and you may regret taking the wrong creek. People have gotten lost.

When performing this trip, you leave wide water and the tidal creek gets progressively tighter and tighter. It's most challenging at that turning point I mentioned above. Then as you move towards the ocean the waterway gets wider and deeper as it sweeps back and forth in ever-widening switchbacks. You will pass a beautiful hammock and marvel at this unspoiled wilderness so close to civilization.

Standing up as high as possible on your boat, and looking at the general direction of where you want to go helps with orientation. That long narrow island I mentioned is your initial objective no matter which way you are you are running the ditch.

It's a good idea to run the ditch an hour or two BEFORE high tide. If you bump and stick, you will have more water shortly to re-float your boat. And you are not in a time crunch for a wrong turn. If you were traversing the ditch 1.5 hours AFTER high tide, with water falling, every wrong turn would add to your anxiety and increase the risk of getting stuck for hours. Having the GPS "track" function on makes it easy to go back from whence you came.

Although I don't have a definitive reference; from reading "A Georgia Tidewater Companion" by Buddy Sullivan, I can deduce that the United States Army Corps of Engineers had the "mosquito ditch" dredged in order to introduce saltwater into the interior creeks of Little Tybee Island. Standing fresh-water pools would serve as breeding grounds for hordes of the pests, and set the stage for malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases, which Savannah suffered from during the days of slavery and riverside rice plantations. The introduction of saltwater into freshwater breeding areas helps control infestation.

On a warm summer day, you are much more likely to encounter horse flies in the tidal creeks, so bug spray along with sunscreen are a good idea. Bullfrog makes a combination-spray that we like.

In most cases, you would be first running the Mosquito Ditch from the mainland side (or Tybee Creek) towards the ocean side, via Little Tybee Creek. Upon arriving at "The Washout," so named because tides and storms wash tons of sand to and fro and reshape the opening yearly, you will find wide-open beaches upon which to land and explore.

This is a magical maritime treasure, and you would do the rest of us a great favor by picking up any trash you find laying on the beach - it all ends up in the ocean eventually if not picked up. I believe dogs are prohibited on Little Tybee but I see them on the washout beaches often.

From the washout, the area where Little Tybee Creek opens to the sea, it is possible at high tide to get out into the open ocean. I have done this in that same 24-foot boat that my friend Keith owns, but we bounced off the sandy bottom several times as we "ran the bar."

Stump Moore was doing this once in a skiff, and a wave turned his boat sideways and swamped it. He died of a heart attack trying to recover his gear and get his boat back in order. The sand moves around here from year to year-- a lot--so charts are worthless, and the way you find the bottom is by hitting it. Take care if you decide to go that route, and definitely wear a life-preserver.

My friend Julius and I were transiting the ditch one day when the police boat came swooping through the turns. They stopped to chat and told us they were doing training for a new boat officer. Other folks go back there too, so if you are going to get an all-over tan, keep your clothes handy.

If you would like to experience the mosquito ditch and the washout, either on your boat with a captain who has been there, or on a chartered boat, text 912 657-5222 and we can put your trip in motion.

Here's an aerial image of the Washout and  Little Tybee Creek. Image courtesy

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