Rocks State Park
I really hate winter. Fortunately, this winter (and the last one) have been fairly mild. But even if it isn't cold, I hate the short days. With winter solstice having just passed, the days are now getting longer. Hence, I have reason to celebrate. I'll be even happier once the days start getting warmer though such observations are more difficult to make due to variability.
I long to be kayaking on long, sunny, warm days. Though those days won't be seen for quite some time, I can use these dark days to explore places to paddle. On December 23, 2006, I did just that.
A few days prior, I was doing some web searching when I found that there were kayak/canoe routes in Rocks State Park. Having finished my Christmas shopping and having some time to myself, I decided I'd spend the day checking this out.
I've never heard any of my kayak friends speak of this park or Deer Creek, the stream that runs through it. It really isn't the type of place that would appeal to lots of sea kayakers but for recreational kayakers, canoeists, or anyone who wants to paddle on the narrow, scenic, natural waterways after a storm, this might be of interest.
The drive up was a bitch. Seems like there were lots of Christmas travellers (or shoppers) heading northeast from Baltimore. Once I made it off highway 95, it was stop and go traffic through the Bel Air area.
After arriving at the park, I checked out the river. It was much higher than I expected, even after a heavy rain the day before. All too often, these narrow streams look great on a map but once I actually see them, I can hardly paddle without hitting the bottom. For this waterway, as long as I make sure to launch shortly after a good rain, I doubt that would be a problem.
There was one area on the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) kayak/canoe route page for Deer Creek that mentioned class 3 rapids. I'm no whitewater kayaker and I'm smart enough to know my limitations. I don't mind pushing myself physically but skill, knowledge, and experience are three things I lack when it comes to whitewater. So I made sure to find out exactly where this rough water was. Found it! Now I can portage around it. See first photo at left.
After finding some parking lots near the water that provided small boat access, I decided to turn my attention away from the water and check out some of the park trails. I hiked up the purple trail from Rocks Road mile 18.6 to King and Queen Seat, a designated rock climbing area. Not sure why it has that name. The view was spectacular! On such a clear, sunny day, I could see for miles. I wanted to see the river below and take some photos of the surrounding hills. But first, I had to find the best spot that would let me have the greatest range of viewing. On King and Queen Seat, there is a rock extension that I don't recommend for those afraid of heights. Not sure what it is called (or if it has a name), but I call it "the plank." See the second photo at left and you'll know why. Very steadily, I walked out near the end of the plank and looked around. I could see the river below and the hills all around. See third photo at left.
I hiked back down to my car and drove around some more, making sure to record the location of anyplace I could launch. I was disappointed to find that all the picnic areas and restrooms were closed for the season. I suppose they close them because of a lack of use but then again, there is probably a lack of use because they are closed.
Though the drive to get to the park was a little stressful with all the traffic, the drive around the Deer Creek area was anything but. There were beautiful rolling hills with peaceful farms dotted with cows and sheep. At times, I felt I was looking at a life size postcard. I thought about how nice this would be to see on bicycle. Unfortunately, the roads were narrow with no shoulder and the amount of traffic would have certainly made me feel unsafe on a bicycle.
I made various stops along the river until it met with the Susquehanna River. There were a couple other places I wanted to check out but I was running out of daylight and the drive home would be at least an hour. Thus, I called it a day.
I came home and wrote up my notes, looking forward to a time when the days will be longer and warmer so I could see Deer Creek the way it was meant to be seen.
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Not a kayak but an interesting human powered watercraft I saw on a camping trip to Rocky Gap State Park. For full trip report, see The Kids Shouldn't Be Camping Weekend.
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On September 17, 2006, Norma and I launched from Hallowing Point then paddled up the Patuxent River to explore Hunting Creek. The Patuxent River (Pax) is one of my favorite rivers because of all the scenic tributaries. Over the years, I've explored almost all the named streams that connect to the Pax south of Pennsylvania Avenue
(route 4) and north of Prince Frederick Road (route 231). Until today, Hunting Creek and Swanson Creek were probably the only ones remaining. In general, these numerous tributaries are either marshy grasslands or streams bordered by woods. Though some parts of the Pax are shallow and muddy, such as Jug Bay, the creeks that drain into the Pax are frequently deeper than they appear. One can usually paddle upstream fairly far. It is more likely to be stopped because of fallen trees or too narrow of a path than being unable to paddle effectively due to a lack of water depth.
Over the years, I've had two small fish jump into my boat on the Pax. One fish jumped clean over my boat. I've seen heron rookeries, beaver dams, eagles, turtles, snakes, and muskrats. I've taken numerous friends paddling on the Pax or hiking at one of the many parks near it. I've even led a kayak car camping event and night hike along the Pax. My recollections of kayaking, hiking, and bicycling along the Pax are some of my fondest memories in Maryland.
We launched at 1130 on a sunny day with high temperatures around 80. Paddling north from the Patuxent River Bridge (route 231) in Calvert County, we approached the point where Calvert, Charles, and Prince Georges Counties meet after about 1.5 miles. After about 3.4 miles, we came to Hunting Creek, which feeds into the Pax from the east. The creek meanders for several miles, gradually getting narrower (see first photo on left). Oftentimes, one side is wooded while the other is grassy.
Stopping for lunch, we ate manicotti meals ready-to-eat (MREs).
We found some wild persimmons (see second photo on left) and other fruited plants. Unlike their much larger Asian counterparts, these persimmons are very small...only about 1.25 inches thick and 1.75 inches wide.
Continuing upstream, we passed Mill Creek, Twirly Hole, and Fox Point Creek. There were two other kayakers and a canoeist out fishing.
After heading upstream on Hunting Creek for about 5.7 miles, we were stopped by a beaver dam (see third photo on left).
Heading back downstream, we saw two snakes in the water. One was about 6 inches long and the other about 14.
Back on the Pax, we passed by the PEPCO Nuclear Power Plant (see fourth photo on left).
Just east of the power plant, we stopped on a rocky beach (see fifth photo on left) and found a shark tooth and some un-identified fossil (see sixth photo on left).
We finished our adventure at 1745, having paddled a total of 18.32 miles.
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International Coastal Cleanup Day
On September 16, 2006, I particpated in a joint effort between the Howard County Sierra Club and the Columbia Ski Club. Also participating were members of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) and the Maryland Outdoor Club. This event was led by Sue Muller, a Natural Resource Technician with the Howard County Recreation and Parks. Our mission was to pick up trash at the Terrapin Nature Area, a scenic area containing one mile of shoreline. This area is on the
west side of Kent Island, just north of the Bay Bridge, bordering the Chesapeake Bay. While any day is a good day to clean up the environment, this day marked International Coastal Cleanup Day.
I've spent a good deal of time this year paddling around various parts of Kent Island. Now it was time for me to do my share in keeping it pristine. If I could use my kayak to help collect trash unreachable by landlubbers, then I would do so.
Cleanups are conducted on International Coastal Cleanup Day on shorelines worldwide. People from all walks of life come together for three hours of service to give of
themselves in kindness and spirit for a single purpose - to rid their beaches of unsightly and dangerous debris. Volunteers participate in
the Marine Debris Monitoring Program by recording items collected on standardized data cards. Data cards are then returned to the Ocean Conservancy for analysis. The resulting information is used to educate the public as well as business and government officials around the world about the problem of marine debris.
I arrived at 0830. I checked out the area, walking on the Cross Island Trail. I encountered a grove of mushrooms (see first photo on left) and some interesting moss-like fungus.
Jennifer and Stacy scouted out the beach. While there were five kayaks, they didn't think the kayaks would be able to get to anything people on foot could not reach. Hence, we decided not to unload the boats.
At 0900, 18 of us met to collect trash. Unlike my other trash cleanup events such as the Adopt-a-Highway Program which I helped organize and regularly lead for the Marine Corps League, SSgt Karl G. Taylor, Sr., (Howard County) Detachment 1084, this was part of an international research effort. Thus, the type of trash we found was both collected and recorded for statistical information. I worked with Dan, Jennifer (see second photo on left), and Stacy. They picked up trash and told me what they found. I kept a count of each type of garbage encountered.
Lucas of the Maryland Outdoor Club served as recorder for a different group.
While the forecast from just a few days ago was clear with a high of 79, it turned out to be cold, wet, windy, and overcast.
We encountered the usual trash such as cans and bottles. Jennifer found some brightly colored underwear (no, she didn't keep it). Dan found a bright blue crab leg with red at the tips of the claws...not trash but interesting. An unusually large number of cigar tips and shotgun shells were encountered. By 1130, we were done.
Each bag of trash was weighed and recorded. A total of 683 pounds of garbage was collected! A large truckload of trash was collected then driven to the dump. Sue thanked us all for participating and we left that day knowing the bay was a little cleaner due to our efforts. See third and fourth photos on left.
I didn't actually do any kayaking that day but I did have an opportunity to help the Chesapeake Bay...even if just a tiny amount. It has given me so much over the years by giving me a place to paddle. Giving back that day was the least I could do.
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Kent Island Solo Circumnavigation
Don't just go...attack. These are the marketing words of the Myoplex dietary supplement. But they are more than just words. They reflect a state of mind.
I've been wanting to circumnavigate Kent Island for quite some time. I set my mind to accomplishing my goal this year. Doing so would not (in my opinion) be a feat worthy of boast. But by completing the voyage quickly, I'd be pushing and testing myself. Unlike a race, I wasn't competing against anyone else except myself. My task was to complete the journey in 6.5 hours. If I failed, I'd try again. If I succeeded, I might do it again next year...only faster.
What is safe for one person may be stupid for another. It depends on the level of experience, knowledge, and conditioning of the individual. I decided to do this trip alone because to me, there is no question of my ability to complete this voyage...not "if," but "how long." Still, safety must be considered. A close friend expressed concern when I declared my intentions. In explaining why I felt I could safely do this trip alone, I came up with the following reasons:
1. Rich S. is the only person I know personally to have circumnavigated Kent Island. He communicated his experience and recommendations to me.
2. By doing the trip solo, I can pick a date that is best for me at the last minute. This works especially well given my flexible job hours. Basically, it means doing the trip under ideal tide and weather conditions rather than conditions that are present on a pre-defined date picked because it works for someone else or a group.
3. I have already paddled around 75% around the island.
4. I am knowledgeable of the various launch sites around the island that can be used as bail out points.
5. I plan on locking my bicycle at one area several miles before the take-out. Hence, I can quit if I feel I'm too tired to continue and make it back to my car easily.
6. I carry a strobe light...both while paddling and at the disco.
7. I'll have a very high frequency (VHF) radio where I can call other boaters in the area or the Coast Guard if necessary.
8. I know my physical capabilities and limitations better than most.
9. I train throughout the year keeping fit by paddling, swimming, running, hiking, biking, and weight training.
10. I expect to usually be within a mile of land. One crossing will put me two miles from land but this distance will not be prolonged.
11. My swimming ability is very good. I've swum two miles non-stop several times this year. Once I did three miles but I had to stop and get out to pee so it wasn't non-stop.
12. I would not even attempt such a trip if there was any chance of lightning or if the wind was any more than light and not in my favor.
13. I paddled 27 miles easily in one day only six weeks ago. This includes two miles of towing someone else and another two miles paddling a much less stable boat than mine in choppy water conditions. Afterwards, I had energy to spare.
14. I've paddled 33 miles in one day a few years back when my technique was much less refined than it is now.
15. I've relayed my trip plan and emergency information to someone who will be at home with a car in a nearby town. He is familiar with the area, has a boat, and can provide safety support if needed.
It has been said that 95% of the outcome of a competitive event is decided before the event. This stresses the importance of preparation. Over the last few months, my training has focused less on strength and more on cardiovascular development which puts me in a better position for long distance paddling. Last week, I waxed my boat and inspected it for seaworthiness. I started waking up early to exercise. This was to adjust my internal clock and get used to early morning physical activity. The night before the voyage, I got plenty of sleep and consumed a large number of calories. On the morning of the event, I made sure I had plenty of Cytomax Energy Gel packs, Gatorade, and solid food. I packed a gallon of Gatorade, my VHF radio, cell phone, bicycle, map, paddle leash, strobe light, paddling gloves, Garmin GPSMAP 76S. I didn't yet have a waterproof case for my global positioning system (GPS), so I put it, spare batteries, and my cell phone in my Camelbak. I figured if it could keep water in, then it could keep it out too. I laid out a hat, gloves, long sleeve and long pants Under Armour, and socks to wear under my sandals. This would protect my skin from sun and jellyfish. Any remaining exposed skin would be covered with sunscreen for the day's adventure.
As of Thursday night, the forecast for Friday was partly cloudy with a high near 81 and calm wind becoming southeast between 6 and 9 mph. Since I planned to paddle the island clockwise from Matapeake, this southeast wind could help me in the last 10 miles of the trip. High tide would be at 0706 while low tide would be at 1326. Sunrise was scheduled for 0543. I planned to launch at 0630. I went to bed at 2015 on Thursday night.
On Friday, September 8, 2006, I awoke at 0430. I left the house at 0500. I listened to Boston's Greatest Hits on the way up. Too early for the hard stuff but just the right time for optimistic "feel good" music. I ate half a ham and cheese bagel in the car and drank a pint of water. After I felt more awake, I cranked up some Motley Crue. Music sets the mood.
By 0600, I was at Romancoke locking up my bicycle near the pier. I launched from Matapeake at exactly 0630.
It was nice to be on the water so early. It wasn't like glass but it was very calm and the temperature was comfortable for physical activity. I started out at a moderate pace, making sure not to go so fast as to tire me out early.
I paddled under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and felt glad to be on the water instead of driving to work.
Looking to the right, I saw a beautiful red sunrise. The sun seemed to be rising quickly and after a few minutes, it hid behind some clouds.
My new gloves didn't grip as nicely as I hoped. My Epic mid-wing paddle slid crooked. During the catch, my blade was parallel to the boat. I expected resistance from the water and felt almost none. That sent me into the water. It has been well over a year (maybe two) since I'd fallen off my surf ski and here I was not even a half hour into the longest paddle of my life and I was swimming. I got back on, removed my gloves, and continued.
At 0745, I reached Love Point, the northernmost part of the island. I checked my GPS to determine my average speed and was disappointed. I needed to step things up a notch.
I continued onward on the Chester River towards Kent Narrows. I saw a boat in the distance that looked like it was carrying bales of hay. They were actually empty crab pots but it reminded me of my fabulous weekend in mid-August where I did some farm work.
I remembered how various disciplines stress good technique. For fast pistol shooting, we say slow is smooth, smooth is fast and for Jujitsu, we say position before submission. Work smarter, not harder is similar. Remembering all this, I thought about how I could maintain a good pace without working harder. I had a cushion behind my lower back so I could raise my knees higher and pump more with my legs, thereby achieving better torso rotation without sacrificing comfort. I concentrated on pulling the paddle with straight arms, not pulling the blade past my hips, keeping a loose grip with the top hand, and maintaining steady, controlled breathing.
I arrived at Kent Narrows Ramp at 0905. I took a short break and ate another half of a ham and cheese bagel. Restroom break too. I drank about every 45 minutes and ate about every 2 hours.
Venturing onward, I entered Prospect Bay. I was moving at a pretty good pace for awhile thanks to tide advice given by Rich who knew the current near highway 50 could be strong, either for or against me. I paddled south towards Parsons Island. I thought of how much I enjoyed the Kent Island trips Marshall led earlier in the summer. We would stop at Parsons Island to eat and rest. But today, I made no such stop.
I entered Eastern Bay heading southwest. I had a little headwind. This was the long, boring part of the trip but I maintained a steady and strong pace. I passed Romancoke Pier, where I put my bicycle, but had no desire to bail out. I thought I neared Kent Point, the southernmost part of Kent Island. Unfortunately, it was only Long Point and I still had a ways to go. I stopped and ate two gel packs. I finally reached Kent Point at 1115.
I started heading north in the Chesapeake Bay along the west side of Kent Island. There were many dead fish and debris in the water. I watched the way the flags blew in the wind. I now had the wind to my back. It wasn't significant but every little bit helped. Still, there was no question of my finishing the trip, I just wanted to do it at a good pace.
I was getting tired. Despite my conscious efforts to not grip the paddle too hard, I found my right hand going numb. I'd stop and extend my fingers to keep the blood flowing. Right hand numbness while kayaking is not new for me. Interestingly, my left hand goes numb when I ride my bicycle. My triceps were starting to cramp. I'd stop once in awhile and stretch them. It really wasn't a problem unless I did a power stroke.
Up to now, the water had either been fairly calm or extremely calm. But now I was starting to get a little chop. As I passed areas where a wall entered the water at a perpendicular angle, the reflecting waves just made things rougher. But this wasn't a problem as I was "one" with my surf ski.
I stopped on a beach and sat on a log. A brief rest would enable me to maintain a good pace for the remainder of the trip. I was done eating but not drinking. I finished two quarts of Gatorade and just started on my second Platypus bag. There was no shortage of fluids but now the Gatorade was tasting a little too sweet. After 5 minutes, I was off for the final portion of the trip.
After I got around a bend, I saw my destination. As I got closer, the water got choppier. Still, it was not a problem. I landed right back where I started at 1258. My circumnavigation took exactly 6 hours and 28 minutes, including rest, food, and pee breaks. My GPS said I paddled 34.17 miles. Hence, I averaged 5.28 mph. That isn't a moving average...that's the overall average. Hence, when I'm not moving, the clock is counting against me. I achieved my goal with 2 minutes to spare.
I took my boat out of the water then just lay on the pier for awhile. The soreness was now setting in. I'm sure I could have gone faster but not by much. I loaded my boat and gear then said good-bye to Matapeake. See photo on left.
I went home, ate most of a medium Pizza Hut meatlover's pan pizza, drank lots of water, then got ready for the weekend...backpacking in West Virginia.
If asked if I would have done anything differently, the answer is yes.
1. There was too much friction at the upper lats and at the sides of the waistline. Under Armour helps reduce this but there is still irritation. BodyGlide might be helpful in the future.
2. Dilute the Gatorade. Just not sure what proportion of water to Gatorade is ideal.
3. Lock the bicycle helmet with the bicycle instead of leaving it in the car. That would be like forgetting my personal floatation device (PFD).
4. Consume more calories the night before the trip. I ate quite a bit but it wasn't calorie dense. Pizza has its place.
5. Leave the gloves at home.
6. Months prior to the trip, do more high repetition tricep exercises.
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Nanjemoy Creek to Port Tobacco River
On August 19, 2006, Dan of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) led a trip from Nanjemoy Creek to Port Tobacco River. These waterways are situated just off the Potomac River in Charles County. This area first existed as the Native American settlement of Potopaco. The Port Tobacco River area was colonized by the English 1634 then became a major port (from Wikipedia).
Brian and I arrived around 0830 at Friendship Landing. Dan and Jennifer greeted us, told us what was going on, then gave us maps and donut holes. From the moment we arrived, I knew this was a trip that well planned and under competent leadership.
We unloaded the boats and left a few people to guard them. Brian and I raced on foot to the Friendship Trail parking lot, where we left our cars. Lately, Brian has proven himself to be almost always faster than me in a kayak but that morning I got to prove that I was faster on land. That was a good feeling.
Our group drove to Chapel Point State Park, which was the take out. We left our cars there and drove back to our original meeting place. Brian and I caught a ride with Mary and Roxanne. This was Roxanne's first CPA trip. Brian told a funny joke on the way back.
Back at Friendship Landing, 22 of us launched. This was the maiden voyage for Brian's Epic V10 Sport surf ski. He already has the Epic V10 and handles it like a pro. The "sport" is a little shorter and wider. The dimensions are about the same as my Futura C4. Both my boat and the "sport" are made of fiberglass but the "sport" is lighter.
Susan Justice brought her coral colored Custom Kayak Mark 1, which interestingly also has dimensions almost the same as my C4 and Brian's V10 Sport.
The entire first part of the trip was me paddling Susan's Mark 1 and her paddling my C4. While she is an experienced and competent paddler and racer, she is also a first year surf skier and like many, she is still trying to master staying upright when beam waves are present. As we paddled, I could see that she was trying hard to stay focused. To her credit, she never fell out of my boat.
In the Mark 1, I felt comfortable. Susan and I have nearly the same inseam so our boats fit each other fairly well. My first impression was that her boat has less primary stability than mine. Regarding balance, I found little difference though I believe mine has a higher center of gravity. Hers had a much more modern design and features such as double venturi. My boat, on the other hand, was made in 1996 and is almost a dinosaur in the surf ski world.
I played sheep dog by circling the rest of the group in the Mark 1 (but I didn't bark). I frequently paddled from Brian to Susan and back to front. Near Blossom Point Field Test Facility, Susan and I swapped boats back. She felt my boat was no more or less stable than hers.
Brian told Susan to try leaning back in her boat. He demonstrated in his. He arched his back and looked at the sky. Then he lost balance and fell out. I laughed hard. Serves him right for showing off but I doubt I could have done better.
Brian and I raced each other a bit. This was a first because now we were as close to equal as we've ever been as far as boat dimensions are concerned. I think I might be a little better at getting to maximum speed for only a few seconds but for most any race, he would probably win. Much of my training tends to be high intensity, short duration, which is good for bursts of speed but not sustained speed.
As we neared the Potomac River, the water got a little choppy. The waves started as only about a foot high but this was more than Susan was used to. She fell out of her boat. Brian and I came to her rescue. She didn't think she'd be able to paddle in these conditions so Brian adjusted the footwells on his boat and let Susan paddle his V10 Sport. I let Brian paddle my boat and I would paddle the Mark 1. However, Brian found my boat too uncomfortable with all the hip padding so he preferred the Mark 1.
Susan found the V10 Sport much more stable than her boat or mine. Brian handled the Mark 1 well though I know it was awkward because his knees were up near his armpits (see first photo on left). Susan's Mark 1 is made for a much shorter person. I stayed with either Susan or Brian as they paddled each other's boats.
I got to spend a little time paddling out and back in the Potomac so I could surf the waves. I'm guessing the biggest was only about 18 inches so it wasn't terribly exciting.
While there were 22 people in the group, there were only 3 of us surf skiers. Generally, only surf skiers have the balance to paddle a surf ski comfortably. Hence, if Susan couldn't stay upright in her boat, most likely only Brian or I could paddle it.
We stopped for lunch at a beach made of shells (see second photo on left). Rich (see third photo on left) found some fossils. I tried out the V10 Sport (see fourth photo on left). It is indeed more stable than the Mark 1 or the C4. All three boats have about the same secondary stability. All things considered, I'd have to say the V10 Sport is a better surf ski than either Susan's boat or mine.
Continuing onward, Jennifer and I swapped paddles. She got to try a wing paddle and I got to use her Greenland paddle. It was quite an experience for both of us. I had tried a Greenland paddle once before and hated it but this time wasn't so bad. Still, it is a strange feeling.
We stopped for ice cream at a marina in Goose Creek. I knew Brian was content because he had a serene look on his face and muttered, "Life is good."
We paddled to Chapel Point State Park, finishing the trip at about 1700. Brian's global positioning system (GPS) recorded him as having paddled 14.6 statute miles. I'm guessing I might have done a little more with having played sheep dog and played in the surf.
Jennifer and a few others tried the V10 Sport. Susan seemed eager to buy one.
Life is good.
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Delaware Paddle, Bike, and Hike
For a trip report of the Delaware kayaking, bicycling, and hiking weekend with Norma and me, see
August 5-7, 2006.
On Wednesday, August 2, 2006, I met with the Kent Island Outrigger Canoe Club for an evening of boating. Eight of them were present, including Neil and Susanita. See Neil in the first photo on the left getting the OC-6 (six person outrigger canoe) really for rowing.
We met at 1800. Though it was late in the day, the air was still hot...though not as hot as the 100 degree temperature reached earlier in the day.
The club launched from a member's house on Kent Island and paddled downstream on Thompson Creek. Two members paddled an OC-2 (two person outrigger canoe) while the rest paddled an OC-6. See second and third photos on left. From bow to stern is Tara, Susanita, Jack, Nigel, Neil, and Bill.
The outrigger folks have a culture and history different from that of the sea kayakers. They also have their own terminology using words like "huli," which means "to flip over and over; rotiserrie, also barbecue, like in Huli Huli chicken."
The water was calm and almost uncomfortably warm. Today was my day to try out Susanita's S1A surf ski on calm water. I paddled it the previous Saturday in choppy water. It was all I could do to maintain my balance. Now that I was on calm water, I could see how the 16 inch wide boat handled in ideal conditions. See fourth photo on left.
I was most impressed. Though the boat is skinny, it is fairly stable...at least to me and Susanita. The center of gravity is definitely lower than my C4 surf ski. Designed for a smaller person, this boat is all my 154 pound frame needs. Any more would be a waste. Though Susanita is only 5'1", our inseam is almost the same. Hence, the boat fit me well.
The OC-6 did about 4 miles. I paddled along side them, admiring their technique and teamwork. When done right, the rowing stroke looks very fluid.
Jack, a paddler who went to the 1972 Olympic trials for the K-2 (two person sprint kayak) in the 1000 meter event, gave me pointers. He eventually became an Olympic coach. Back on shore, he worked with me a little more, sharing some of what he learned in his 40+ years of paddling.
It was quite an experience to paddle the S1-A...the "greased lightning" of the kayak world.
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On July 29, 2006, Marshall of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) led a kayak trip at Kent Island. This was the fourth in a series of conditioning paddles to prepare kayakers to circumnavigate the island in a single day; an impressive feat to which few can lay claim.
Unlike my last kayak trip where I was at my worst, today I swore I'd be at my best. On Thursday, I only swam a mile and did some shadow boxing. I got a full night's sleep that night. On Friday, I consumed a tremendous number of calories then got a full night's sleep again. I know my metabolism and when I eat lots of food, I become energetic.
I left the house at 0640 on Saturday morning and arrived at the meeting place at 0720. Not much traffic. I was the first to arrive and Marshall was a close second. We noticed a large number of rabbits in the area. Todd, nicknamed "Bruce" for the day, arrived a little later. He taught me that the last two digits of my kayak's serial number represent the year it was made. Hence, my surf ski was made in 1996. This year is its 10 year anniversary. But I wasn't the first owner. Kinda like learning something about your parents if you're adopted.
Marshall and I discussed the tide and weather report. The forecast was 91 degrees, sunny, and a west wind of 5-9 mph. The plan was to paddle 27 statue miles:
launch from Matapeake State Park
paddle south for 9.5 miles through part of the Chesapeake Bay
paddle around Kent Point, the southernmost part of the island
paddle northwest through Eastern Bay for 9 miles
stop at Parsons Island
paddle north through Prospect Bay for 3.5 miles
paddle under the Route 50/301 bridge through Kent Island Narrows
paddle northwest on the Chester River for 5 miles
land at Langenfelder Marine, Incorporated near Love Point.
Note that Langenfelder is not a public launch site and Marshall received special permission to land and park there.
We unloaded our boats at Matapeake then did the car shuttle thing. I left two cans of Diet Pepsi Lime in the cup holders of the front seat. I didn't bother to put the sun shield in the windshield. Though they would be warm, I figured a warm Diet Pepsi was better than no Diet Pepsi.
Anne, nicknamed "Anne Elk" for the day, agreed to be "Cabana Girl." This meant she would provide on-land support for kayakers by helping with transportation and picking up kayakers unable to complete the trip. She would maintain radio contact. This was a great safety feature not typical with most kayak trips.
The weather was overcast until shortly before launching. Then the sun came out.
Eight of us launched just before 1000. See first photo on left. From left to right standing is Tom, Todd (knife in mouth), Susan Justice, Cliff, and Alan. In front from left to right is me, Marshall, and Mitch. Hey, wait a minute...Susan Justice is shorter than me...why is she standing?
Susan Justice brought her surf ski but instead chose to paddle her Current Designs Solstice despite peer pressure from me to bring her ski. Cliff paddled his Findeisen surf ski, made in Florida. I found it an unusual boat because its bow is wide and flat like a duck bill. See second photo on left.
Three of us used wing paddles, one used a Greenland paddle and four used Euro paddles. Marshall had his carbon fiber Greenland paddle as a backup. Sometimes he switches back and forth between his wing and Greenland. See third photo on left. A carbon fiber Greenland paddle is an interesting concept. Sort of reminds me of my friend Junkyard Jimmy putting a scope and synthetic stock on a blackpowder rifle.
For some unknown reason, there were a large number of dead fish in the water, some of which were fairly large.
The water was fairly calm on the west side of the island and even calmer on the east side. I wanted to play in the waves so I was a bit disappointed.
We stopped at a private residence near Kent Point for a snack and restroom break.
Continuing onward, we did a 9 mile open water crossing to Parsons Island. Our group started to spread out. For the last 2-3 miles, I towed one paddler who had a hard time keeping up.
Our group landed at Parsons Island around 1500, low tide. We ate lunch and rested. See fourth photo on left for interesting tree that doubled as a bench.
I was told that Parsons Island used to be a cat farm where cats were raised for the making of fur coats. Then one day during the winter, the water between Kent Island and Parsons Island froze over. The cats simply walked away. Not sure when this was.
Just after landing, we received word that Susanita would be joining us.
Two of the kayakers who were tired paddled to a private beach connected to Crab Alley Bay where Anne Elk would pick them up later. Two other kayakers got tired a little later and paddled ahead of us to Kent Narrows Ramp where Mrs. Elk would pick them up too. One of these kayakers had vomitted quite a bit earlier and wasn't feeling well.
Two people were stung by jellyfish. I wore long sleeve and long pants Under Armour clothing along with socks under my sandals so I didn't get stung. All it takes is a thin layer of clothing to provide protection. There were many jellies in the water. Marshall brought vinegar in his first aid kit to stop the stinging. He also brought cortisone to treat the injury. Good man, Marshall! Of course, piss works just as good as vinegar. I've often heard Marines use the phrase "full of piss and vinegar" to describe someone who was real feisty. I suppose that combination would be ideal for treating stings.
The water was warm...very warm. With high temperatures and humidity, people had a hard time keeping cool and the fact that we were constantly wet wasn't as helpful as one might think. That was one big advantage of paddling a surf ski...keeping cool. I think there were times when Susan Justice probably wished she had paddled her surf ski instead...but there were undoubtedly other times when she was glad she didn't.
Susanita joined us near mile 20 in her Futura S1-A surf ski, a world class state-of-the-art custom air brushed fuchsia (hot pink-ish) kayak. She had just finished a 12 mile training race with the Kent Island Outrigger Canoe Club (KIOCC) where she helped her 6 person team win!
Those of us remaining paddled through Kent Narrows. We lost two more at Kent Narrows Ramp. Now it was just Marshall, Susanita, and me.
I had always wanted to paddle Susanita's boat and now I had the chance. We swapped boats and I got to paddle her boat for the last 3 miles of the trip. She called my boat a barge. Had anyone else said that, I might have thought they were nuts but compared to Susanita's fast, tippy boat, mine did indeed seem like a barge. It took all my concentration to paddle her boat through mild chop to the destination...and I did so without falling out, though I came close many times. Ironically, the relatively calm water that bored me earlier in my C4 was a blessing on the S1-A. The S1-A really cuts through water like a hot knife through butter. Very little resistance. I hope to paddle it again...even if it is hot pink.
We finished paddling at 1840.
After pulling our boats out of the water, I opened my car and found that one of my Diet Pepsis had exploded in my car. Only half the soda remained in the can. The other half was all over the passenger seat but had dried up in the heat. See fifth photo on left. The other can was deformed and near exploding. I showed it to the others then threw it on the ground where it exploded. The can then rolled into the water. I tried to retrieve it but it sank before I could. The sodas in my car that were in the shade were fine.
We drove to Hemmingway's, a waterfront restaurant. Unfortunately, there was an hour wait so we went to check out restaurants just on the other side of Kent Narrows. On the way there, I saw my Marine Corps League comrade, Kevin, driving in the opposite direction. Though I wanted to stop and say hello, I was part of a kayak convoy, and I didn't know which restaurant we'd stop at. So I had to keep going. Sorry Kevin.
The rabbits were still where I saw them that morning. Obviously there aren't many foxes in the area.
We ended up eating at Fisherman's Inn where we were confronted with only a half hour wait.
Todd enlightened us with talk of the Coelacanth and the Giant Moa, two things I actually knew about. But his Monty Python quotes went over my head.
Three hours after landing, we received our meal. I devoured a 10 ounce sirloin steak that really hit the spot. Nothing like training hard then ending the day with a good piece of red meat.
Feeling tired, fat, and happy, I slept well that night.
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Eastern Neck Island
I should have been at my best. I should have...but I wasn't. Maybe 90%. But had things been optimal, I don't know if anything would have turned out differently.
On Thursday, I lifted weights, working my chest, shoulders, and triceps. Only slept about 6 hours that night. I hadn't been keeping up with my training so I was feeling a little more sore than usual the next morning. On Friday, I helped a friend move. Afterwards, I was feeling even more sore. That night, I only slept about 5 hours. A tired body and active brain often produces bad sleep for me.
I was up at 0530 on Saturday, July 22, 2006 feeling both sore and stiff. I knew that once I got moving, I'd feel better. I loaded up my boat and met Brian at 0700 in Annapolis. We discussed the plan and the weather report. As of that morning, periods of rain and thunderstorms were expected around 1300. "Some storms could be severe with damaging winds, heavy rain, and frequent lightning." Hmmm. The 'L' word. Every kayaker hates it. Our original plan was to be back by 1300.
We drove to Kent Island to launch at a private residence just east of Kent Narrows. We paddled 3 miles across the Chester River to Eastern Neck Island. We saw some rays heading in the opposite direction. Not sure what kind but Brian assured me they weren't sting rays. There was a light wind behind us that created an average of 1.5 foot waves with some being 2.25 feet. We managed to surf a bit. As we paddled along the eastern side of the island, we heard thunder. Then we saw lightning far off to the west. Next, it started to rain. By the time we landed at Bogles Wharf Landing to meet with the rest of the group, we paddled 4.8 miles in about 50 minutes.
While Brian has paddled under a variety of conditions, this was his first time paddling in choppy water in his surf ski. He handled it very well, making me have to work very hard to keep up.
We waited for the other paddlers. Some drove up that morning, driving far from the western shore. Because of the location of the island, it was actually faster for Brian and me to paddle across the Chester River than to drive. Those that didn't drive far that morning drove far the previous night, camping at Bay Shore Campground in Rock Hall. Some would be camping there tonight.
The rain was off and on for awhile, then off. The storm passed, as did the thunder and lightning. Brian and I discussed the weather report, water conditions, and paddling options with Marshall, the trip leader for this Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) event. The original plan was to circumnavigate the island. I had done this once a few years prior with the Atlantic Sea Kayakers. However, based on the skills of the current group and the fact that thunderstorms were expected at 1300, Marshall decided to take the group north then upstream on Church Creek. This would keep the group fairly sheltered from the wind and waves. I would lead the faster group.
I met Vince, a 93 year old paddler who decided to make this his last kayak trip before he turns 94 in August. So few of us could ever hope to live that long and here Vince was still enjoying the things he loved. Quite admirable.
Marshall arranged for the island historian, Dave, to speak to our group about the history of the island. See first photo on left for Dave on the left, Vince on the right, and big Tom in the back.
Marshall briefed our 26 person group with the plan of the day (see second photo on left). We launched at 1000.
With so many people of all different speeds, our group was spread out far. Planning to be back at Bogles Wharf Landing before the thunderstorms, we paddled up Church Creek until 1120 then turned around. Brian and I scouted for a beach at which our group could eat lunch. We found two that were a little small. I went ahead and paddled to the west side of the bridge over Eastern Neck Narrows to look for a better lunch spot. Finding none, I joined back up with the rest of the group who had already landed at the first beach and began eating.
We continued paddling back down Church Creek, now into the wind. I led the group back to the island and stopped at Boxes Point to take photos. I found a couple horseshoe crab skeletons. See third photo on left. I found a nice fallen tree on which to stand and take pictures of the other paddlers and they approached my position. In the fourth photo on the left is Shannon with her wooden kit-built boat and Greenland paddle. In the fifth photo on the left is Brian in his Epic V10 surf ski. In the sixth photo on the left is a paddler stretching.
Paddling south on the east side of the island, we faced a fairly strong headwind. One paddler needed a tow.
Brian and I scouted ahead to find the landing. After finding it, I paddled back to report how much further it was to the rest of the group.
I got to test out my new tow line by towing one paddler for a short distance.
We landed a little after 1300.
Brian and I discussed our options. We saw no storm clouds...but that didn't mean they weren't on their way. We decided to try paddling 2 miles to the southern end of the island then 3 miles across the Chester River back to our vehicles. Ralph agreed to wait for us at the wharf, monitoring very high frequency (VHF) radio channel 69. In the event Brian and I could not paddle back to our cars, Ralph would drive us back.
The first 2 miles were fairly easy, as we expected, The island kept us fairly sheltered. However, once we got around Hail Point our surf skis faced unobstructed 15 mph winds and waves averaging 2.5 feet, some as large as 3.5 feet. Brian kept a fantastic pace with me making slow but steady progress. I'm guessing it would have taken me between 70 and 90 minutes to get back. Unfortunately, I could go no faster. Brian could go no slower. The thing with surf skis is that they are like bicycles. They are most stable when they are moving quickly. Unable to find a pace comfortable for both of us and unable to stay in close proximity to each other (for safety's sake), we decided to call Ralph and report that we were returning. We could have completed the trip, but not necessarily in a reasonable amount of time. Though there were no thunderstorm clouds in sight, the 15 mph wind could have easily brought them quickly...and time was not on our side given my pace. Hence, our decision was one based on safety.
The return trip was fantastic. Now these big waves were behind us and we surfed them, reaching terrific speeds. I was especially impressed with Brian being so stable despite having never paddled his surf ski on water nearly as rough. Neither of us fell.
We arrived back at Bogles Wharf Landing at 1445. I paddled a total of 17.2 statute miles.
Ralph helped Brian and me load our boats. I saw a couple of black vultures near the boat ramp. See seventh photo on left. Knowing vultures like death, I felt like our decision to turn back was wise.
Exhausted from the day's adventures, I fell asleep quickly in the back seat of Ralph's car. Brian and I were grateful to Ralph who waited for us and drove us back to our cars. He returned back to the campsite to join the other paddlers after having taken about 3 hours out of his day to help Brian and me.
After retrieving our vehicles, Brian and I ate at Red, Hot, and Blue, just off route 50, exit 28. A great way to end the day...with a big platter of meat!
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Choptank and Tuckahoe paddle, bike, and hike
For a trip report of the kayaking, bicycling, and hiking weekend in in the Choptank and Tuckahoe River areas with Norma and me, see July 1-4, 2006.
North Point State Park
On Sunday, June 18, 2006 (Father's Day), I led a peer paddle at North Point State Park. The original plan was to attend a short 5 mile group nature hike at the park then launch our kayaks. But with up to 10 mph winds forecast from the south, we all agreed it best to launch earlier to make the open water crossings a little easier. Robert, Linda, Todd, and I launched at 1000 from the beach. See first photo at left: Robert, Todd, and Linda (from left to right) near the visitor center.
We began with a 2 mile open water crossing heading southwest to Upper Range Front Light (Craighill Channel Upper Range - Front). With the haze, our first destination looked incredibly far. Small waves hit our bow. Near the lighthouse, the waves got considerably bigger. After passing the lighthouse, we turned towards Upper Range Rear Light (Craighill Channel Upper Range - Rear) which lay 2.6 miles to our north.
With the now larger waves coming from our back, I found it easy to ride the waves on my surf ski. I stopped frequently and checked behind to try and keep the group reasonably tight. As we neared the boat channel, we encountered considerable boat traffic. Their wakes collided with the wind blown waves to our backs making the water very choppy at times. One paddler capsized and did a wet exit. After passing the second lighthouse, we stopped for a snack at Pleasure Island, mile 4.6.
Having rested, we headed southwest back towards the launch site. The waves broke and reflected against barrier walls which made the waves multidirectional. Fortunately, this lasted only a short while, stopping once we neared the park grounds. Near mile 6.2, we passed some submerged piles...at least that's what the map calls it. It looked more like a ship that was broken in two with the bow and the stern sticking out of the water and the middle part submerged.
We completed our trip at about mile 6.8, landing at the park beach. With temperatures in the low 90s, the water near the beach was now crowded with swimmers trying to escape the heat. The leader of the group nature hike, Sue, had just finished leading her activity and came out to greet us and take our photos. The second photo on the left was taken by her. Robert and Linda ventured off to explore the trails on their own. I went home and wished my Dad a happy Father's Day.
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On June 17, 2006, Marshall of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) led a kayak trip at Kent Island. This was the third in a series of conditioning paddles to prepare kayakers to circumnavigate the island in a single day; an impressive feat to which few can lay claim.
Kent Island is the largest island in the Chesapeake Bay. It marks the narrowest point of the main waterway of the bay at only 4.4 miles. This makes it an ideal finish for the famous Chesapeake Bay Swim. The island is the oldest permanent English settlement in Maryland, having been founded in 1631. A settlement near the southern end of the island was founded by William Claiborne, who later named the island after his birthplace: Kent, England.
-from Wikipedia - Kent Island
With the expecation of sunny weather and a high near 88 degrees, I expected hordes of people to be making a mad dash across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Hence, I left the house at about 0620 for a 0830 paddle. Surprisingly, there was no backup at the bridge (I crossed it a little before 0700). I stopped for an egg and ham croissant then went to the meeting point at Langenfelder Marine, Incorporated. Note that this is not a public launch site. I arrived at about 0730 and Marshall arrived just a few minutes later. I saw an old military amphibious landing vehicle from wars long past. I like to call them "Jawa vehicles." See first photo on left.
Marshall and I discussed the plan and after mentioning that a 7-10 mph south wind was expected, he decided to swap the take out point with our launch point. Some car shuttling was done and we were ready to launch at about 0945.
After taking photos (see second photo on left), we set our very high frequency (VHF) radios to channel 69 (Bill and Ted's favorite number). Eleven of us (10 dudes and one chick) launched from a private residence at Kent Point, the southernmost part of the island. This is where the Eastern Bay meets the Chesapeake Bay. There were a few wing paddles, lots of Euro paddles, nine sea kayaks, my surf ski, and Kingley's Feathercraft folding kayak which I found most fascinating. It weights 55 pounds and folds up into a backpack. We started paddling northeast across 9 miles of open water.
We passed a man-made island to our left where I remember finding a large number of bird nests a few years ago. Back then, almost every nest had several eggs and there were about 4 different kinds. One must have been goose eggs because after a few minutes of exploring, I was chased off the island by an angry goose. I wondered if the island still looked the same. Maybe another day.
The south wind was light but gave our boats an extra push that would have made such a long paddle even more tiring had we gone the opposite direction. Good call Marshall! I especially enjoyed the wind to my back as it kicked up a few small waves that were just enough to allow me to do some light surfing. My surf ski motto for the day was, "Surf skis: less work, more play."
Our first stop was Parsons Island where we had lunch on a beach. There were dozens of dead horseshoe crabs on the beach. I also found what I believed to be shells from hatched turtles.
Venturing onward, we headed north through Prospect Bay and passed Hog Island on our left. Just after mile 12, we paddled under the Route 50/301 bridge through Kent Island Narrows. I scouted ahead to warn of oncoming power boats before the others passed through.
We took a short break at Kent Narrows Ramp which has a porta-john. Rowan, the designated "Cabana Boy" picked up a paddler who opted to head home at mile 13.
Venturing onward, we headed northwest onto the Chester River, starting a five mile open water crossing. The water got rougher and our group started to split up. I was having fun in the waves. One paddler's boat had taken on a good deal of water. With all the sloshing around in the waves, he flipped his boat and did a wet exit. With the help of Marshall and various other paddlers, he was able to get back into his boat and get most of the water pumped out. We then tried to keep the group a little tighter.
We passed a fairly tall white and red striped lighthouse to our left on the northeast side of Kent Island. Never found out the name of this lighthouse.
One paddler started to fall behind and needed a tow but with a short rest, he recovered quickly and was able to finish the rest of the paddle by himself.
Dan scouted out the landing area near Love Point, the northernmost point of Kent Island. It is also where the Chester River ends and the Chesapeake Bay begins. We pulled into the take out point, removed our boats from the water, then those of us with cars at Kent Point were shuttled back by Rowan to retrieve them. At Kent Point, we saw numerous whitecaps just south of the island. Had our route not been changed at the last minute, our trip would have been much rougher and more challenging.
Meeting back at Love Point, we patted each other on the back and congratulated each other for a job well done. Ten of us kayaked at least 18.5 statute miles to paddle the entire eastern side of Kent Island. It took roughly 6.5 hours, including breaks. I left to go scouting for new launch sites on the eastern shore while the rest of the group enjoyed a well deserved dinner. Great job with the organizing and leading Marshall!
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Exploring Ship Graveyard in Baltimore
On June 13, 2006, Bob led the Baltimore Piracy of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) on a short trip to see some of the shipwrecks in Baltimore. Suzanne, Gina, Bob, Bob (yes, two Bobs), John, Dave, and I launched from Canton Waterfront Park at about 1800. Our group met up with Marilyn and Lisa who launched from one of the Canton Kayak Club sites. As we left the Inner Harbor, Bob and I did a few sprints. How he managed to paddle quickly after finishing 15th in a 70 mile trail run just a few days prior is beyond me. The man is amazing!
We paddled south, past Fort McHenry, over highway 95 (the tunnel), then onward to the south side of the Patapsco River near Masonville. It is here that we saw numerous old shipwrecks and some fallen piers. I climbed aboard one of the ships and snooped around (see first and second photos on left). I'm guessing the boat was about 50 feet long. Nothing terribly interesting. I found a boot, toilet, light bulb, and various metal pieces. I made sure to take small steps near the waterline since algae made things quite slippery. I climbed the stairs and stuck my head upstairs. No ghosts. There was a large bird nest that covered the ship's entire smoke stack.
On March 31, 2019, I posted this photo to the Baltimore Memories of Days Past Facebook group. This site has many knowledgeable history buffs. I was told the following:
This barge was the PILCH [name of the barge] and was used to clean the tanks in ships by a process called butterworthing. She was equipped with a Scotch fire tube boiler for making steam and burned the slops that were pumped from the tanks. I fired this boiler for 2 years in the early eighties when I worked third shift at Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Company (MARDOCCO).
Bethlehem Steel Key Highway had one just like it for cleaning tanks. I was told it was profitable to have one because of the amount of good oil that was recovered.
I boarded my kayak then joined up with the group. We lolligagged around a bit then paddled to another shipwreck. This second boat was much bigger than the first. Notice how my 20 foot long surf ski is dwarfed next to the ship in the third photo on the left. Lisa boarded this one first then I followed.
There was a good deal of broken glass (see fourth photo on left) and a few holes in the floor. We were very cautious, taking each step slowly and methodically. Had we fallen, certain death would have followed...or at least a tetanus shot. Pieces of carpet covered the lower decks. We found another toilet and what looked like a kitchen. On the upper deck we found what looked like a tiled dance floor with high ceilings. I found another boot (looked like a match to the one on the other boat) and a pair of gloves.
For this boat, folks from the Baltimore Memories of Days Past Facebook group posted
I believe [this boat] was an old Harbor cruise ship from the 1970's. It was dismantled around the same time of the Coral Sea Aircraft carrier.
[This ship] was dismantled to its hull. If you go to Google Maps [39.248611, -76.585556] [you'll] see a section where it is filled in by the sludge from channel dredging...you can make out the outline of what was left of [this] ship.
Regarding all these boats, readers of the Facebook group told me
These were at Seawitch Salvage. To an older generation it use to be Maryland Drydock.
Lisa and I returned to the rest of the group then we all paddled back to Canton. Along the way, we saw a boat that resembled a paddle wheel Mississippi Riverboat. We were done just after 2000. We only paddled about five miles but had a great opportunity to see parts of Baltimore that few ever see. I took off while the rest of the group went out for dinner at the Austin Grill. Maybe I'll join them next time if I remember to bring a dry change of clothes.
On August 30, 2016, someone in the CPA pointed me to JScholarship - Approaches to Baltimore Harbor Aerial Photos. The photo linked to this page I found most interesting was the 209.2Mb "MP_Sheet_No2.jpg" from 1948. A zoomed in version of this photo that shows where we paddled and the wrecks/ruins present in the water that year can be seen in the fifth photo.
Special thanks to Bob (not Energizer Bunny Bob) and Gina for providing the photos.
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When I'm not kayaking, I'm often scouting for some new adventure. On May 28, 2006, I did just that. I wanted to know if some parts of the Potomac River in Frederick and Montgomery Counties were safely paddle-able for a sea kayaker without white water training. I began by studying the Alexandria Drafting Company (ADC) maps. I like these because of their high resolution and detail. I then write out driving directions, plot distances, and note names of important locations.
I loaded up my bicycle and headed out to Brunswick Bridge in Frederick County. I drove across the bridge to get a good look at the Potomac River. After a map reconnaissance (recon), a visual recon is a great source of intel. I went to the boat ramp and spoke to several boaters. Some had canoes or sit-on-top kayaks, and one had a white water kayak. All felt paddling to Point of Rocks was safe. However, some parts of the river might be shallow and scape the bottom of the boat. Sounds like a good trip for a plastic boat. Speaking to the white water kayaker, I mentioned that I've paddled the Monocacy River from Pinecliff Park to the Potomac River. He said paddling from Brunswick to Point of Rocks would entail even calmer water.
The next task was to visually check out the water conditions from various parts of the Potomac River. I rode my bicycle 6.5 miles on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath to Point of Rocks and back, stopping often to look at the river. Though some parts appeared a bit shallow, nothing seemed to require any white water paddling skills. Along the way, I stopped to look at the Catoctin Creek Aqueduct (see first photo on left). I also admired the bridge across the Potomac River at Point of Rocks (see second photo on left). Never found out the name of that bridge. The bicycling was easy on flat, hard dirt terrain. No sunscreen was needed as the trail was almost entirely tree covered. As I left the area, I also looked for places to eat or catch a light snack...just in case I wanted to lead a small group.
In years past, I've paddled from the mouth of the Monocacy River to Nolands Ferry. Though the current was a bit strong paddling upstream, it certainly did not require any white water skills. As fast as I could see north of Nolands Ferry and south from the mouth of the Monocacy River, the water conditions on the Potomac seemed favorable to us non-white water kayaker types.
Next, I drove to Seneca Landing Park in Montgomery County. Again, I spoke to the locals to gain intel on the water conditions. I was told that from Brunswick to the Monocacy River, there was a good current which almost stopped between the Monocacy and Seneca Creek. Downstream of Seneca Creek, the Potomac became white water with class three rapids.
Again, I rode my bicycle but this time to Edwards Ferry, noting porta-johns and water stations along the way. I also made sure to get an estimate of how many vehicles would fit in each parking lot. As the local paddler said, the water conditions appeared very calm...almost boring. In this area, the river was so wide it lost much of its natural feel. Perhaps the southwest sides of the islands would offer a more scenic view. This second bicycle trip was 8 miles one way for a day's total of 29 miles (up and back distance).
I then headed home, quickly changed clothes, then attended a cookout with some other loud, obnoxious, former Marines. Afterwards, I put things away, got cleaned up, and documented my recon report. All in a day's work.
On Memorial Day, I scouted a couple of new creeks via kayak with Brian B.
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Pocomoke River and Nassawango Creek
On May 19-21, 2006 Ralph and I led a Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) kayak car camping trip at Pocomoke River State Forest and Park. I have accompanied Ralph on both kayaking and backpacking trips and was confident in both his leadership abilities and his mentoring skills. This was the first CPA trip I helped lead. In attendance were Lisa, Suzanne, Dan, Dave, Jennifer, Andy, Martha, Greg, Beth, Dale, Yvonne, and Ron.
With 14,753 wooded acres in the Southwestern section of Worcester County, between Snow Hill and Pocomoke City, the state forest is famous for its stand of loblolly pine and cypress swamps. Pocomoke means "black water," and is appropriately named because the cypress trees release tannic acid, which makes the water dark. The river originates in the Great Cypress Swamp in Delaware and flows southwesterly 45 miles to the Chesapeake Bay.
I left the Baltimore area about 1145 on Friday, May 19 and arrived at the park at 1445, despite having made some stops and wrong turns. The weather was a little ominous at times with dark clouds and strong winds but later, things cleared up. High temperatures were around 70 degrees. Our group met at the Water's Edge Loop of Shad Landing in the state park. Familiar with the layout of the park, Ralph and I reserved campsites 80, 88, and 89 to ensure easy water access as well as access to the store, bathrooms, and hot showers. Ralph set up his stove and prepared chow for hungry drivers. I made fried rice. Greg cooked shrimp. In the past, Ralph has been able to get the park to allow more than two tents per campsite but this year, they were adamant about enforcing the rules. Fortunately, the park had many vacancies so we were able to reserve more sites. Ralph, Beth, and Martha set up their tents at campsite 89, next to the "Confederate Marines." At least, that's the nickname we gave them because they proudly displayed both the Confederate flag and the Marine Corps flag. Lisa, Suzanne, and I set up our tents at campsite 88, which had a beautiful waterfront view and was only about 40 meters from the water. Greg explored the area via kayak while Beth, Lisa, Suzanne, and I walked the Trail of Change Nature Trail at the north end of the park. This short, scenic loop showed some of the natural beauty of the wetlands including the "knees" of the cypress trees. On the way back, we stopped by Shad Landing Pond. As night fell, our group stayed up fairly late, emptying many wine bottles and talking about the wine bottle brought by Dave. See first photo on left. He purchased a bottle of sake which he graciously shared with all. But it was the bottle that we found most interesting. Very unusual and a little obscene; it even prompted one kayaker to ask, "Does that thing need batteries?" Things that make you go "hmmmm."
The night was quiet near my campsite except for some neighbor campers with a whiny baby. Unable to ignore the noise, I fetched my earplugs out of my car. While I was up, I went to visit the head. On the way to the bathroom, I saw a caterpillar that bore a striking resemblance to the eyebrows of the father on the "American Pie" movies. See second photo on left. It was about 4 inches long and about three-quarters of an inch wide (measuring from hair tip to hair tip). Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to uncurl for a photo. It rained lightly for a very brief period. The low was in the high 40s.
I arose around 0615 and was treated to a hot-off-the-stove quesadilla. Walking around the pier, I admired the serene view of the mouth of Corkers Creek and the Pocomoke River off in the distance. See third photo on left. Greg was off early in the morning exploring the Chincoteague Bay just west of Assateague Island. The rest of us assembled at 0900 for a pre-launch briefing after Ralph and I discussed the plan for the day. I reviewed the paddler's checklist, took a head count (13 people and 12 boats), mentioned the high and low tides, and reviewed the trip plan. We set our very high frequency (VHF) radios to channel 68 then learned that we had more than enough people with first aid, wilderness first aid, and one person (Beth) with a professional degree in medicine. After posing for many photos, such as the fourth one on left, we were off. I took point while Ralph and Beth were the sweep in Ralph's canoe with the square window on the bottom (be sure to ask him about it). The water was cool while the air was warm with a high in the mid-70s. The day was clear and sunny with fantastic visibility. This was especially nice because there was SO much natural beauty to see. We paddled 2 miles northeast (upstream) on the Pocomoke River to the edge of the park. Next, we paddled northwest (upstream) on Nassawango Creek, passing by Nasswango Creek Cypress Swamp. Continuing upstream, we had to limbo under Nasswango Road. See fifth photo on left. I saw two bald eagles but unfortunately, they flew off before I could point them out to anyone else. After paddling about 1.7 miles upstream on the Nassawango, we passed the Fran Uhler Nature Trail on the south side of the river. Unfortunately, none of us saw it until the return trip. As we paddled further upstream, the water got colder and colder. What was just cool at Shad Landing was now cold enough to make my feet go numb after a minute or two. As we progressed, the group began to spread out a bit. I stayed up front, most paddlers like Jennifer (see sixth photo on left) stayed towards the middle, while Ralph and Beth stayed in the rear (see seventh photo on left). The river eventually became quite narrow. We came to Red House Road about 3.5 miles upstream from the mouth of the Nassawango. This is a favorite put-in for many recreational canoeists. Our group continued onward for another 0.3 miles. This last section of the river was extremely narrow (sometimes only 6 feet wide) and quite circuitous. Not a hospitable environment for my 20 foot long surf ski.
We turned around once onward travel would have required portage due to a fallen tree. Shortly after, we pulled our boats out at our second pass of Red House Road around 1145 and ate lunch along the southeast side of the road. Ralph saw 2 Black Rat Snakes doing the wild thing in a tree. See eighth photo on left. Dan also saw a Northern Water Snake in a tree. See ninth photo on left. Stories soon began to circulate of snakes falling out of trees onto paddlers below which made those of us with open decked boats a little nervous. Martha reported seeing a turkey vulture. Interestingly, the one thing we had not seen was power boats. After lunch, we helped each other launch. See Lisa and her Red Prijon Catalina kayak in the tenth photo where she displays her "nine" paddle...she left the other eight at home.
We continued back down the Nasswango, this time seeing several turtles. It seems they preferred to wait until the sun warmed up the logs before making their appearance. After reaching the Pocomoke, we began encountering headwinds of about 12 mph. I spoke with Yvonne (the only other wing paddle person on the trip) about her recent kayak race victory. I also taught her the "belly button" technique to paddling which is the secret to my speed on the water (or lack of). I demonstrated how good technique includes paddling with straight (not bent) arms. See eleventh photo on left.
We returned to Shad Landing at about 1415 after paddling about 12 miles. People made pit stops and grabbed a quick snack. Ralph dropped off Beth and traded his canoe for a kayak. Our slightly smaller group paddled south (upstream) on the sheltered Corkers Creek, avoiding the strong winds. There were a few children rowing some rental canoes, appearing to have a hard time getting the boats to go where they wanted. The Corkers Creek water trail was every bit as scenic as the upper reaches of the Nasswango. We passed under Worcester Highway (route 113) and managed to continue onwards for a ways, despite the creek becoming ever narrower. Ralph carries a chainsaw during his Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) trail clearing work but unfortunately, he didn't bring it on this trip. See twelfth photo on left. By now, anyone who had been counting turtles had lost count due to the multitude. Interestingly, on Corkers Creek, the turtles were unconcerned with our presence. We often passed within 5 feet of them without so much as a stir. A great blue heron stayed in front of us during some of our paddling back downstream on the creek. We would paddle too close for its comfort and it would fly to another area just down the creek. After a few minutes, we'd see it again and it would take off once again. This went on for awhile, giving us something interesting to see. We paddled out to the Pocomoke again, this time slightly downstream of where we had been. I enlightened Yvonne by telling her all about the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). By 1630, we were again back at Shad Landing, done with the day's adventures and having paddled a total of about 16 miles. Our well equipped camp store gave us the much deserved opportunity for an ice cream break just prior to an even more well deserved hot shower. Hardly "roughing it" but who cares?
We talked about and compared gear. You know how kayakers are...total gear heads. I had my brand new Uniden Voyager, which claims to be the smallest VHF marine radio on the market. Dan spoke about his one pound folding chair. Lisa had her 50 sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen that smells like a creamsicle. Suzanne had her brand new Coleman stove and Ralph had his Coleman stove that he's had since the Ice Age. What impressed me the most was Andy's roof rack. It actually hinges down from atop the car to the side to make loading and unloading easy. Ironically, being the tallest one in the group, he was in least need of such a contraption. But it was certainly admired by us more vertically challenged folk.
That night, we had a potluck. Dan brought his grill and most people had a stove. Included on the menu was clam pasta, chicken, sausage, stew, brownies, cupcakes,..., the list goes on and on. We hung out at Ralph's campsite that evening. As is traditional with all of Ralph's kayak camping trips, he brought out the "aged-to-perfection" marshmallows. Martha explained how if they were put in a vacuum, they would once again be fluffy. Yvonne toasted them and some people were brave enough to eat them...but not me. Exhausted from the day's festivities, people began nodding off by 2100. Needless to say, most of us turned in early and slept well.
I arose about 0600 on Sunday, May 21 and was once again treated to a hot quesadilla by my generous camp-mates. The night was dry with a low in the low 50s so upon waking, our clothes that were hung up to dry were actually dry and our tents had no dew on them whatsoever. Ralph and I discussed the plan of the day. I walked around the pier observing the mist rising from the water. Could that have been what inspired Deep Purple to write "Smoke on the Water"? See thirteenth photo on left. At 0900, we were packed up, ready to go, and meeting in Ralph's area for the word of the day. Ralph and Beth didn't join us for the day's adventures but this time Greg did. We drove to the town of Snow Hill and launched at the floating dock at the Pocomoke River Canoe Company after I spoke briefly with one of the workers at the store, discussing the river conditions and obstacles. Greg, Ron, Dan, and I paddled this section of the river last year with Ralph so we had some idea of what to expect. Twelve of us launched at 1010 and paddled northeast (upstream), once again observing the abundance of greenery and even more turtles. I took point while Dan was the sweep. After 2.75 miles, we paddled under the power lines, which mark the halfway point to Porters Crossing Road. The river is rather circuitous and oftentimes there is a rogue branch that comes to a dead end. Fortunately, little time is lost when this occurs as these tributaries are short. Unlike yesterday's trip, we saw significantly more cypress knees. Also, while Yvonne described yesterday's scenery as "bucolic" (a word she taught me), she called the upper reaches of the river near the Poorhouse Branch "eerie." In return for teaching me a new word, I taught her a new word, or at least one with a meaning for which she was unfamiliar: jackpot. Once again, as we paddled upstream, the water became significantly colder with foot numbing temperatures. Fortunately, the air temperatures were in the mid-70s. A variety of interesting birds and plants were spotted. See fourteenth photo on left. Eventually, we reached the bridge at Porters Crossing Road after 5.5 miles. See the fifteenth photo for a view from the bridge. The southwest side of the bridge is also a favorite canoe launch site with parking along the road. Continuing onward, we paddled another half mile before portage would have been required. Judging by how narrow the river became, we predicted portage would have been a frequently occurring task in order to make any more progress whatsoever. Hence, we returned to the bridge and ate lunch. A mere 30 meters north of the bridge, I spotted a 6 inch long bullfrog and made sure to point it out to Dan who was busy filling his new submersible Olympus camera with a multitude of pictures. See sixteenth photo on left. His camera must do a good job. About half of the trip photos on this page were taken by his camera.
During lunch, various people reported seeing other wildlife including a fox and a barred owl. On the return trip, we again encountered fairly strong headwinds, this time of about 10 mph. We returned to Snow Hill at 1430, done with a weekend's worth of paddling; 16 miles on Saturday and 12 on Sunday for a grand total of 28. To the best of my knowledge, nobody fell out of or flipped their boat...except for Greg who intentionally did an Eskimo roll.
After loading our boats and shopping at the Pocomoke River Canoe Company, we went for ice cream at the Take 2 Video - Take 2 Scoops video and ice cream store on the corner of Pearl Street and Market Street. Jennifer and I recommend the strawberry shortcake ice cream.
By 1530, most of us were on our way home. About an hour later, the skies became gray. We were quite fortunate to have had such nice sunny weather for the weekend. How sunny? Just look at my sit-on-top kayaker's tan (seventeenth photo on left)...and it isn't even summer yet! The drive home was quite slow, with stop-and-go traffic on much of highway 50 heading west. While the driving conditions might have been irritating to most, it gave me the opportunity to ponder the last 2 days. Looking back, I only remember seeing maybe 2 or 3 powerboats while we were on the water for the whole weekend. I also remember being warm in my sleeping bag, waking up to dry clothes on the clothes line, not wearing a drop of bug spray, and only getting 2 insect bites! We paddled, in my opinion, 3 of the most scenic paddling areas in Maryland: upstream on Nassawango Creek, Corkers Creek, and upstream on the Pocomoke River. I had a fantastic time paddling with good people on what I consider one of the finest paddling areas in the state.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
I tried paddling the Monocacy River back in 2003, starting from the most downstream launch place, almost at the mouth where it drains into the Potomac River. I paddled upstream on my surf ski about two or three miles until the current got too strong for me to continue. A couple of canoeists were intrigued by the fact that anyone would try to paddle upstream on the Monocacy. Over the next few years, I checked out various launch points along the river and read about it. I learned that it is a designated scenic canoe route. At each launch place or bridge I checked, the water seemed fairly calm.
Having got in my hours for the month at work, I decided to take Friday, March 31, 2006 off from work. Though still very early in the spring, the temperature was expected to be 75 degrees and sunny. This would be my first kayak trip of the year in the states. I planned to do a car shuttle so I'd only have to paddle downstream. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anyone else interested in joining me. I wasn't surprised since this trip had three requirements: a plastic boat, a wetsuit or drysuit, and the ability to take Friday off from work on short notice.
Going at it alone, I decided to paddle the designated canoe route from Pinecliff Park to the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Towpath. I studied some maps and came up with a plan. I would drive to the downstream take out point, lock up my bicycle there, drive to Pinecliff Park, launch my boat, paddle to the take out, unlock my bicycle, lock up my boat, bike back to Pinecliff Park, load my bicycle, drive to the take out point, and load my boat. I wanted to try some multi-sport outdoor activities and this seemed like a good way to do it.
The air temperature was about 75 degrees and sunny. I couldn't ask for a better day. Unfortunately, the water was still very cold. I wore a wetsuit with the top rolled down and neoprene boots with sandals on top. On my upper body, I just wore Under Armour with a personal floatation device (PFD) on top of that. If I fell in and got cold, I'd probably just be able to stand up being as the river was pretty shallow. In the worst case, I'd only have to swim or walk about 25 meters to get to the shore. Then, if I got chilled, I could put on an extra neoprene shirt and pull up the top of my farmer john wetsuit.
I loaded up my boat with the equipment I would need for both kayaking and bicycling then set sail. Within 30 minutes of launching, I saw a bald eagle. Good omen. I saw a plethora of geese and ducks, including a wood duck. I saw four deer, two of which crossed the Monocacy River. I counted about 30 turtles sunning themselves on the logs. I saw three turkey vultures. Just north of Lilypons Bridge on the east side, I saw four heron nests near the top of one tree. It turns out this area is right next to the Lilypons Water Gardens. I saw some mammal climb out of a tree then run away. Not sure what it was but it looked somewhat like a small, skinny groundhog with dark fur. As I watched it run off, I quit paying attention to where I was paddling and crashed into a rock. Good thing I wasn’t driving.
The water conditions were generally mild with a noticeable current. With my 50 pound plastic boat, I was able to average about 5.5 mph with a wing paddle. Some parts of the river had a stronger current with ripples on the water created by rocks only a few inches from the surface. This would have been great for tubing but not for anyone with a fiberglass, carbon fiber, or kevlar boat. Plastic was definitely the way to go. There were several times when my boat scraped rocks on the bottom. There was only one part of the river that I would consider whitewater. It was on the Frederick County ADC map 45 A7, on the north side of where Greenfield Road passes very closely to the river.
I could see and hear the rapids up ahead. I pulled off to the side and walked downstream to check it out. Though it was only rated as class one, with me not being a whitewater kayaker, I was a little nervous. Still, I saw nothing that should cause problems as long as I kept my boat heading straight. I did just that and came out fine. A whitewater boat would certainly work but the shallow or whitewater conditions were definitely NOT the norm. Most of the river was better suited for a sea kayak and paddling the full length of the scenic route with a slow boat could get tiresome. I later read that this area is called Greenfield Rapids.
Head for the "V" in this Class I rapid, the only natural rapids on the river. Be especially careful in the summer when water levels are low. Note the abutments to the old Greenfield Mills Bridge, which was destroyed by floodwaters that swept down the river during Huricane Agnes in 1972.
- from sign at Pinecliff Park
One more word of caution: be careful if you use a fragile paddle. Remember that much of the river is shallow. Using the "spearing the fish" technique is great for racing but spearing a rock doesn't work so well, especially with a $300 carbon fiber wing paddle. I used my carbon fiber wing paddle and suffered no casualties but I quickly learned to put my blade into the water less aggressively than normal.
It took 3 hours to paddle 15.5 miles down the Monocacy River then another 2 hours to make it back to the car via bicycle. The wetsuit, neoprene boots, and PFD were all very heavy because they absorbed so much water. That, in addition to my camera, food, water, paddle, cell phone, sandals, wallet, global positioning system (GPS), and extra clothes made for a fairly heavy load (about 25 pounds) to carry in a drybag backpack on a bicycle. Combined with all the hills, the short 13.9 mile bike ride really kicked my ass.
Photo at left is of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Towpath Bridge over the Monocacy River. The take out point is just upstream of it.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.
Kayaking in New Zealand
For a trip report of the kayaking and hiking trip in New Zealand along with the stop in California with Susanita and me, see Kayaking in New Zealand.