VB Sea Camp Stories


The Almost Shark Sighting

Spending almost forty hours a week exploring the local watersheds and ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay area creates the opportunity for campers to spot some rarely seen wildlife. Last summer, such creatures included a pair of mating horseshoe crabs, an injured loon, and a foot-long lizardfish. One sighting in late July stood out to me as an exceptionally cool nature moment. With a clear blue sky overhead and a light breeze at our backs, our fleet of motivated kayakers embarked on the long inland paddle from the Lynnhaven boat ramp to the 64th street park entrance. The campers had just set off, paddling across the shallow intertidal waters of the inlet, when a camper gestured for my attention. Myself and another staff member who were flanking the rear of the group paddled up to him to see what he wanted. He pointed to the water about thirty feet away, saying "I think I see a shark!" I scanned the choppy waters where he was pointing, but didnt see anything. However, the camper was insistent that he saw a fin, so I looked again and to my surprise, glimpsed a brown flap emerging from the water. We quickly paddled over to investigate. As we approached, two dark shadows glided towards us in the water, revealing themselves to be beautiful, tan cownose rays. It was a rays wing flapping out of the water that the camper had seen. The creatures gracefully floated through the shallow waters, brushing nimbly over the ripples in the sand and undulating like interwoven kites. We watched awe-struck as they calmly swam away and gradually faded into deeper waters. Seeing campers get excited about discovering the magical qualities of exploring the local ecosystem is just one of the many things that makes Sea Camp such a rewarding experience.
‐ChloŽ Obara


Expect the Unexpected

One of the many things that makes Sea Camp awesome is that no two days are ever the same: each brings a completely new adventure, often one that is totally unexpected. One such experience occurred during an inlet paddle and exploration day last summer when I got "married." Through working with kids, I am constantly reminded of their amazing imaginations and creativity. As a testament to this imagination in action, that day the campers decided that I would be marrying a fellow staff member at lunch. I am not sure how the idea got started, but once it caught on all the campers sprang into action to plan the event. A couple of girls wove a sea-grass ring and used an open quahog shell with a purple interior as its carrying box. A few boys joined in on the preparations, making the groom-to-be a ring out of tinfoil. The day was charged with excitement as the campers collected shells, and, while seine netting, discussed with an air of importance who would be the groomsmen, bridesmaids, and ring bearer. Plans continued to develop while we paddled our kayaks back to the boat launch for lunchtime and spread our towels out under the shade of the large live oak tree. After being convinced to sit still for a few minutes to eat their lunches, the campers used their towels to make an aisle and fashioned an old white t-shirt into a veil. I must say, for having had only a few hours to create the wedding, these kids assembled quite an impressive ceremony. I soon found myself being paraded down the aisle to exchange vows and be married off, courtesy of the esteemed Captain Octopus. At the end of the brief, light-hearted occasion, an eruption of cheers and excitement filed the air as the campers applauded and then dashed off to put their life vests on for the afternoon paddle. Never could I have foreseen the occurrence of such a peculiar event, but thats the Sea Camp way  each day is a blank slate to be filled with whatever exciting adventures the campers can dream up with their endless imaginations.
‐ChloŽ Obara


Sunscreen Handprint

I had to include the following after reading Chloes story above. The 'Famous Red Truck' is on its last days, but there is a shot that it will live to ferry boards to the Bay beach one more summer. I bought it from a friend from the Jersey Shore for $4,500 and it is now 21 years old. The odometer broke years ago at 174,000. This Ford Ranger must have been made on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. There is a NASA sticker on the door panel, and kids believe it when I tell them that it is a test truck for the NASA Mars Rovers. Just look at the burn marks on the side panels from the supersonic test drives I tell them. There has been a child sized handprint on the truck since last summer. It is now February. It appears to be a sunscreen handprint, like cave art from a long forgotten ancestor that calls out "I was here". I'm sure the child whose hand it is would not remember having done so, but I smile when I see it because it reminds me of all the random silly things that happen on every day of Sea Camp where we learn to expect the unexpected. The best fun cannot be scripted or planned.
‐Bob Carroll


Larval Fish and Razor Clams

Some of my favorite memories of Sea Camp happen during the less regulated free time during camp. We parked our kayaks on Fishing Beach during our afternoon paddle in the Lynnhaven, and groups of students were busy enjoying various activities. Some were lounging in the Mermaid Spa, others were actively seine netting for new species, two were snorkeling in the shallow water, several campers were making things from the clay deposit on the beach. I joined a small group who were laying in very shallow water who were seeing what they could dig up with their fingers. They found two small razor clams and decided to see how long it took them to dig back into the sand. A ring of campers lay in the shallow water around the two razor clams when a tiny post-larval fish, likely a silverside, swam into the circle, hovered around the clams for a bit and then darted away. That quick visit taught us all what a larval silverside looked like just days after popping out of its egg. It was incredibly small, long and almost totally translucent. It could swim against the tide and seemed to be in total control of itself. We cheered for the baby fish and then watched the razor clams stick their foot and into the sand and wedge themselves down, down, down and disappear. We cheered again and moved onto the next discovery.
‐Bob Carroll


Mermaid Training Camp: Ultimate Sand Castle Worlds and Amphioxus

Laurie, the Oyster Queen, leads the Mermaid Training Camps. I find this camp to be magical because it is very different than the style of camps that I run. Laurie gets the young girls to focus on things that I can't get my campers excited for. I was lucky enough to visit the Bay beach the Mermaids were playing on one day while bringing down more gear. It was a perfect June day; incredibly blue, flat calm with a lower than low tide exposing large sand flats which were just perfect for building sand castles on. The mermaids were working on an expansive creation on the intertidal flat that had large pools, extensive interconnecting canals, intricate 'drippy castles' and sand castle aspects that I had never seen before. The girls had made roofs of green sea lettuce hung on marsh grass stems that had drifted up. Flags of tapered red weed hung from horseshoe crab telsons. Docks and piers made of more marsh grass stems provided refuge for the silversides and kingfish that the girls had stocked into the canals. Pastel colored coquina clams lay in the shallow pools. Shell staircases led up and around turrets and spires. Several mermaids, including my daughter, were looking at a tiny wormlike creature that was pale in color and lacked much anatomical detail. They had found it moving about in one of the castle pools. Somehow the young mermaids knew that this creature was not a regular clamworm. The Oyster Queen and I thought about what this creature was for some time before the name amphioxus (lancelet) rose in my mind. I remembered reading about amphioxus in my vertebrates class in college and again in the secondary production class at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The mermaids had found the first living amphioxus I had ever seen. The girls may not have understood that they had found an organism that represents an important link in vertebrate evolution, but they knew that they had found something exciting. The best young biologists have an eye for the small things.
‐Bob Carroll


'No one knows what goes on down below' Dr. Seuss McElligots Pool

Dr. Seuss knew what he was talking about with that title. The reason I am excited for every seine net sample that hits the beach is that you never know for sure what you will catch. The nearshore community changes by the hour, with the tide, as the sun angle changes, as the waves build or cease. Wavy conditions around low water can stir up stargazers with some luck. We may land some big croakers with calm conditions on a morning high tide as long as we don't scare them away. Seahorses show themselves with luck to the highly observant.

Morning seine samples may bring in nothing but silversides and the stray kingfish. These may be totally absent in the afternoon samples. Snapper blues might be caught down the beach in the deeper trough while halfbeaks and needlefish are seined up from shallower water. One never knows.

There was a week this summer where the only thing a group of young mermaids was catching was bluntnose stingrays, 5-8 of them at a time in the smaller seines. This was amazing considering we've gone entire summers without catching one ray. Equally impressive is to think about just how many rays there were in the water considering how many we actually caught in a small net pulled over a small amount of area. Thousands and thousands of rays must have been relaxing on the bottom where we were walking all day. Good thing they always swim away when we stepped on them. No Sea Camper has been barbed so far.

Just when I think I know what organisms are swimming in our local waters I get surprised with something rare or new; blue runner, remora, filefish, hake, mojarra, 5,000 peanut bunkers or a pigfish. 'No one knows what goes on down below'. That mystery is one of my favorite things about living the Sea Camp life.
‐Bob Carroll


Sea Camp Overview by Axel Rasmussen

The Lynnhaven Inlet is its own world. Everyday Virginia Beach citizens and tourists drive over the Lesner Bridge only to get a quick glimpse of the beautiful environment. Sea Camp presents the opportunity to go and explore the true magnitude of the waterways, sandbars, creatures, and the ecosystem that makes up the astonishing Lynnhaven Inlet. Whether Sea Camp is paddling around or relaxing on the vanishing sand bars the only thing to focus is the inlet itself. Watch the tides and weather pass by, and everywhere you look something new awaits. We have seen dolphins, horseshoe crabs, grouper, cownose rays, puffer fish, birds of all sorts, and of course blue crab and silverside galore! Each day is a new day full of new experiences in the Lynnhaven. It is extremely rewarding when we watch the campers learn while having fun. By Friday, campers will be able to identify different native species, know the tides, kayak, seine net, hand-line, and enjoy every aspect of what nature has to offer. Sea Camp combines games, fun, learning, and excitement all in one day for five days straight!
‐Axel Rasmussen



Sea Campers get into the groove after the first day or two of camp. I love it when the kids start to feel comfortable enough to be themselves and experienced enough to know how we operate. The group typically really starts 'cooking with gas' (a phrase I learned from Captain Dallas Bradshaw out on Fox Island) by the 3rd day and help get the kayak fleet ready for our missions. King Axel assigns kids their boats. Chloe keeps them circling just offshore. I have the pleasure of pushing off last and sounding the call - 'Paddle!' A few Viking roars and the whole fleet is energetically paddling. The sight of a fleet of kayak paddles slicing the air is one of my favorite images. Just thinking about it as I write this makes me wish I was paddling with kids right now. Every Sea Camp paddle gets me pumped up, from our long one-way 'Inside Passage' and 'Round the Cape' paddles to a short hop down Crab Creek to Bob Marley Island, every paddle gets us 'out there'. The older I get, the more I find the Sea Camp motto to be true. It's Better Out There!
‐Bob Carroll


The Longest Surfboard Paddle

This is a Girl Power story that is mostly about boys. Miss Cat (aka Cat Attack or just Attack) created this story all on her own. I was an attentive but far removed bystander. We were on our second Bay beach day of the week for a camp of high school aged kids. Miss Cat was leading the surfboard fun session for the day. Conditions were calm and flat and she had a group of jokester boys who were all Sea Camp vets in the afternoon. Cat Attack is a very capable and strong woman, but she doesn't often push groups too hard likely because she is also incredibly nice. She played some fun games with the boys in the shallows (surfboard run, balance test, surfer challenge etc.) before heading out on a paddle. I watched the surfboard paddlers going further and further and further out from my 'beach master' post. I had two chase kayaks ready in case they needed help getting back, but conditions were great for a long paddle so I let them keep at it. They paddled the soft top surfboards all the way to the pound net pilings, a feat that has never been duplicated, nor attempted since. I could hear the moans and groans of the boys rolling in as they neared the beach on their return. They paddled with their heads laying on the boards, moaning with each stroke of their arms, howling that Cat tried to kill them. Cat arrived back on the beach with her usual big smile while the boys dragged their boards up with hunched shoulders, bedraggled wet hair in their faces and humorously fell on the beach like a group of castaways finally washed upon shore. I'm not fully sure why Cat took them on such an epic paddle, but I like to think it was a brilliant way to divert the boys' energy from their mouths to their arms, as well as a little example of Girl Power to these young men because Cat did the paddle while smiling the whole time.
‐Bob Carroll


Create Your Reality

I enjoy leading as many Sea Camp weeks as possible. It's great to get into the groove of summer and get 'out there' every day. When I spend enough time on our beaches and waters I can feel myself thinking differently. The outdoors becomes my reality. I begin to know the tides, winds and weather from a deep perspective. I can feel them in my bones.

I am lucky to live in Ocean Park where I can walk my dog on the Bay beach once or twice a day. I get to keep in touch with some of the Bay's annual rhythms during these walks. Dead-mans fingers wash ashore with the first fall storms. These are a tasty snack for my dog after they have dried up. Dead spiny burr fish drift in when the gillnets are working off the beach. Giant alien jellyfish strand in the coldest of winter. Dried up marsh grass piles up in the wrack line during late winters storm tides. These observations allow me to stay somewhat plugged into the Bay reality I experience over the summer. Walking the Bay shoreline on the dogs walks helps me maintain the reality I enjoy.

I once was in on a conversation between an avid fisherman friend who was asking an even more avid Block Island fisherman for tips. I was blown away to the extent that the Block Island fisherman was tuned into the local tides, bait, bite, weather, currents and how they all were related to each other. His reality was fishing the Block Island waters. He thought differently than me. I'm not sure he could talk about anything else. A change in the wind meant very different things to him than me and my pursuit of kayaking and surfing while out there. I'm sure his dreams were filled with currents, baitfish and the perfect lunar tide for catching stripers. I want to live that tuned-in and turned-on to our waters.

I often tell my students that anything is indeed possible, but they have to start now. You have to work to create your reality for it to become your reality.
‐Bob Carroll