Sandpiper on Murderkill River, August 6, 2006


Delaware paddle, bike, and hike
August 2006

Last updated August 19, 2007



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three

I'd estimate about 97% of my kayaking is done in Maryland, 2.75% in Virginia, and 0.25% in New Zealand. On the weekend of August 5, 2006, that changed.

This was my first time paddling in Delaware. I read about some nice places to paddle in the book Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails by Edward Gertler. The previous week, I drove out there to recon the area. Now it was time for Norma and me to get on the water.

Day One: Saturday, August 5, 2006

Norma and I left Elkridge just before 0700. We locked our bicycles at Bowers Beach then drove to the Route 12 launch site in Frederica. At the site, we saw another kayaker in a whitewater boat. We chatted a bit then I helped him push off. By 1020, Norma and I were on the water paddling the lower half of the Murderkill River.

I don't know how this river got its name. Many rivers are named after people or Native American words. "Murderkill" doesn't exactly sound like either. I asked a couple locals about the origin of this word and they didn't know.

Paddling was easy with the forecast being mostly sunny and a high around 86. After a heat wave earlier in the week with highs of 100, the cooler temperature was a welcome change.

The lower half of the Murderkill was easy paddling with no obstacles. The terrain was grassy and open. We paddled through the Milford Neck Wildlife Area. There were some small tributaries along the way but nothing worth paddling. We saw the usual birds but otherwise, nothing spectacular. It was just good being on the water on a nice day.

We found a boat ramp called Webb Landing where South Bowers Road (road 121) meets the river on the east side, about 1.2 miles from the mouth. A friendly local spoke to us. She said the owner of the area lets people launch from his ramp for a small fee.

Paddling down further, we thought we saw a ray swimming. It turned out to be just a big rice bag in the water.

We landed at Bowers Beach after paddling 7.4 miles. My Magellan Explorist 300 global positioning system (GPS) was on its last leg, with the screen getting dimmer and dimmer each day. Today was its final task.

Carrying the boat with all the equipment was difficult due to the weight, probably about 90 pounds fully loaded. Fortunately, I brought my kayak cart which made moving things over flat terrain a breeze. We wheeled the boat to a big lot between Clifton Cubbage Drive and Flack Avenue then locked things to a sign. Not sure what this big lot was doing in such a small town. Maybe for a town carnival?

After securing our gear, we walked along the beach. A dead ray was spotted (see first photo on left). I'm guessing it had a 30 inch wingspan. We spotted a bird pecking away at its dinner (see second photo on left). Several dead horseshoe crabs were spotted, including several babies, only about 4 inches wide (see third and fourth photos on left). These infants were translucent and felt rubbery. In contrast, the adults had a hard shell. The horseshoe crab has been around since before the dinosaurs. The Delaware Estuary is the world's largest spawning ground for horseshoe crabs. Their blood is used to help prevent infections in people.

The Delaware Bay at Bowers Beach is extremely wide. We were unable to see to the other side. The water remained shallow for a considerable distance from shore. One can easily touch the bottom, even a couple hundred of meters from shore.

Following our short beach walk, we biked 6.8 miles back to the car. By taking the smaller roads, we only had to bike one mile on the busy route 1/113. Though we wore helmets on our bicycles, it seemed there were no motorcyclists in Delaware wearing helmets.

After loading the bikes, we retrieved the boat. By now, our campsite was ready for check-in. There was some big event going on at Killens Pond State Park. We never found out what it was. I got a fire set up for the night. Our campsite neighbor offered to share his firewood with us. Apparently, the previous camper left quite a bit behind.

The campsite was fine but not as nice as the Maryland State Park campsites. There was only one bathhouse for 87 campsites. Fortunately, it never seemed crowded. I was also disappoined in some of the rules. Clotheslines were prohibited after dark. Additionally, one was not supposed to gather wood off the ground for building campfires. Sort of reminded me of the Columbia Association which has a reputation for being quite controlling.

We set up camp then took the boat out for another paddle, this time launching from the east side of Killens Pond. See view from Killens Pond on fifth photo on left. Paddling across the 0.75 mile pond, we saw plenty of turtles (see sixth photo on left) and herons (see seventh photo on left). Next, we kayaked under a footbridge then upstream on the part of the Murderkill River west of the pond. This section was narrow, scenic, and shaded (see eighth photo on left). Fallen trees made maneuvering difficult at times. The water was often shallow and there were several times where we had to get out and walk through the water, pulling the boat behind. By the time we finished, we paddled about another 2.5 miles for a day's total of 9.9 miles.

Feeling sticky from a day of physical activity, we washed up then went out to eat at the Frederica Pizza and Pasta House. I had the meat lover's pizza while Norma had the shrimp scampi.

Back at the campsite, we sat around the fire then turned in early, tired after a long day.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Two: Sunday August 6, 2006

Norma and I were up at 0630. After a light breakfast, we again drove to Bowers Beach and locked up the bicycles. Then we drove to Scotton Landing and launched at 0930 (see first photo on left).

This trip on the Saint Jones River was similar to the previous day's trip on the Murderkill in that it was open and grassy. Not many trees. Fortunately, the weather was very much like yesterday also. I planned a route that would allow us to explore some of the larger tributaries along the way. Unfortunately, we didn't see them. Or, more likely, the map just wasn't accurate.

The shore was covered with a plethora of fiddler crabs, most between one and two inches in width. The larger ones had an obvious dominant claw (see second photo on left). As our boat approached, they quickly moved further inland, walking sideways.

Crabs weren't the only thing appearing en masse. Thousands of tiny fish, each about two inches in diameter, jumped out of the water as we passed near the shore. Twice in my life I've had one jump into my boat and once I've had one jump clean over my boat. No such event occurred on this trip, though jumping occurred frequently.

With both of us using wing paddles (me using a large blade wing and Norma using a mid-wing), we maintained a moving pace averaging almost 5 mph. Very good considering we were in an Ocean Kayak Cabo, a heavy, wide, plastic sit-on-top tandem kayak loaded with a good deal of gear. However, we did have the tide on our side...hey isn't that a Rolling Stones song..."Tide is on my Side"?

In only 55 minutes, we were at the Delaware Bay. We stopped on a beach on the north side of the river at the mouth. There were numerous dead horseshoe crabs. After a short break, we decided to paddle back upstream to find some of the tributaries we missed.

About a mile upstream from the mouth, we came to a rocky area and a lock. I went ashore and found there were waterways on the other side of the lock. We pulled the boat up about 6 feet of rock then over a berm. Launching on the north side of the berm was easy. A few people were fishing for crabs.

Norma and I spent awhile exploring the area, called the Ted Harvey Wildlife Area, Logan Tract. There were obviously a few man-made waterways though we don't know why. They seemed too shallow for boating other than for kayak or canoe.

After awhile, we stopped for lunch at a narrow part of a stream where someone had laid out some steel to enable a vehicle to get to a nearby duck blind. But I couldn't imagine someone driving across the steel since each was barely wider than the width of a single tire. If they missed, the vehicle would fall into the water and surely be stuck in the mud. We ate vegetable manicotti meals ready-to-eat (MREs).

There were several mosquitos and horseflies. I found a large brown tick on my foot.

About 200 meters from our lunch area was the Delaware Bay. Here, we saw hundreds of dead horseshoe crabs for as far as the eye could see (see third photo on left). They seemed to have only come in two sizes, 14 inches wide and 4 inches wide.

We explored more of the wildlife area but found much of it very shallow; the boat frequently got stuck in the mud. Next, Norma and I carried the boat back over the berm and down the rocks into the Saint Jones River. By now, the water level had gone down and the launch was quite muddy.

We paddled out into the Delaware Bay. About 200 meters from shore, the water was only about 3 feet deep. The water was extremely calm, despite the width of the bay. I was a little disappointed at how calm it was.

No other kayakers were seen. A few fishing boats were on the water but certainly not many.

As yesterday, we brought the boat ashore at Bowers Beach and secured it to a sign. A local came by and spoke to us. He had seen us the previous day locking our boat to the same sign and he said we were welcome to leave our boat at his house instead where it would be safer. He was a fellow kayaker. The locals seemed quite friendly. I also noticed that many had tattoos.

We biked back to my car, picked up my boat, then went back to the campsite. With my GPS no longer working, I'm guessing we paddled 10-12 miles and biked 7.

Next, we hiked the 2.6 mile Pondside Trail which encircles Killens Pond. Though there is supposedly an otter who resides there, we never saw it. However, we did see numerous Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (see fourth photo on left). We also saw some people fishing on the pond (see fifth photo on left).

For dinner, we ate at J.P.'s Wharf Seafood Restaurant. With the weather so nice, Norma and I decided to sit outside. We had the seafood platter, crab soup, and for dessert, the bananas foster (yum). A friendly neighborhood gray cat by the name of "Elvis" came by to visit and ask for handouts. Having two cats of her own, Norma couldn't resist sharing some of her fried clams with Elvis.

The road that led to the water was starting to flood. From the deck, we saw that water was rushing upstream on the Murderkill River at about 6 mph. The water was just a couple of inches below the bottom part of the deck. Locals told us this was not unusual; it was just the tide coming in. I've never seen water rush upstream so quickly during calm weather. After dinner, we saw that the road leading to the river was flooded for about 150 meters. Not a good place to build a house...yet people did. Made me think of New Orleans.

Back at camp, we got a much larger and better fire blazing than the night before. I think it would have even impressed the alumni of Texas A&M University.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Day Three: Monday, August 7, 2006

It rained during the night. Though it wasn't a hard rain, it did rain for awhile. I always hate putting away wet camping gear. At least we had two perfect days previously. Before leaving the campsite, the rain stopped and the sun started to poke through the clouds. Unfortunately, the day was warmer and more humid than either day before. Still, it was quite bearable.

Having paddled the lower half of the Murderkill River and the section west of Killens Pond, our goal for the day was to paddle the rest of the Murderkill.

Our bicycles were locked up in Frederica on route 12. Norma and I then drove to the boat ramp at Killens Pond and Killens Pond Road (road 384). We carried the boat down some stairs and launched just downstream from the dam on the east side of the pond.

Once we got on the water, we didn't see another person until after we landed.

The first half mile was reminiscent of our July 4, 2006 trip trip down the scenic, narrow, and shaded Tuckahoe Creek. Though there were many fallen trees that we had to carefully navigate around or under, we never had to do any sawing (see first photo on left).

We paddled through Killens Pond State Park and down to Coursey Pond. Along the way, we picked up a few insect and spider passengers (see second photo on left). On the east side, we landed at the Coursey Pond ramp then carried the boat over Canterbury Road (route 15) and launched at the Canterbury Road site. A dam prevented us from paddling under the bridge.

Norma and I continued onward with the tide to our back. Then we paddled up Browns Branch for 3.1 miles. We paddled under Fork Landing Bridge, which required us to lie flat against the boat in order to fit under. We were stopped by a dam at McColley Pond (see third photo on left). A fish ladder just below the dam enabled fish to get to the pond (see fourth photo on left). After paddling downstream Browns Branch for a few miles, we stopped and ate lunch on the water. This time it was veggie burger MREs. I prefer my vegetables in a much more highly processed form...called meat.

Paddling downstream, we passed by the Murderkill River Nature Preserve.

A sandpiper bird was spotted walking along the edge of the river (see photo in left corner at very top of page).

We reached the intersection of Spring Creek and the Murderkill River. Next, we paddled up Spring Creek to our take-out. By now, the tide had dropped considerably. The change from high to low tide helped us greatly in paddling downstream but it also made landing a muddy process. One could easily sink 18 inches with each step. We managed to get out fairly clean but the boat looked like it was launched from a pig pen.

After paddling 13.7 miles that day, we finished the trip with a 5.4 mile bike ride back to the car. We were both pretty tired for the drive back home. Fortunately, we faced little traffic since it was a Monday.

We dropped off the bicycles then took the boat to the car wash where we sprayed it and the personal floatation devices (PFDs) with the high pressure sprayer. Back at the house, we managed to get most things unloaded before a heavy downpour and thunderstorm commenced.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Over three days, we walked about 3 miles, biked 19.2 miles, and paddled about 34.6 miles. Though this trip wasn't quite as adventurous as our July 1-4, 2006 trip, it was nonetheless enjoyable. Best of all, it satisfied my curiosity. I finally got to paddle and camp in Delaware, I paddled in the Delaware Bay, and I got an idea of the number of horseshoe crabs that come ashore in May. Maybe next time, I can see live crabs crawl to the beach at night to lay eggs.