Monday, November 29, 2010

Cruise, Day 2

I had sailed the Chesapeake all my life, but there were still many sights to see. On weekends, we usually took the kids and went to many of the same places. When there was a vacation, we struck off hard and fast to cover as much mileage as possible. Also, all our boats had been long-legged ocean cruisers or racers, so there were plenty of spots we just couldn’t get into. The object here was to gunkhole any place and every place with 2 ½ ft. of water.
On 8 October Thistle was underway at 0900 from the marina. This gave me a chance to see how the dinghy towed. My eldest granddaughter reasoned that if the boat was named Thistle, the dinghy should be Thorn.

Even though I run the engine every couple weeks to a month, and I had serviced it, it had been a year since it had been in full service, so I decided to run it a bit before getting too far afield and having a problem, so I powered out of Indian Creek and up Southeast Creek. As soon as the creek narrowed down we came to a place on the south shore where someone had put up a bird roost. A telephone pole had been set with a long length of metal flashing secured around the pole to keep predators from climbing, and a nesting platform was set on top with a huge nest on it. A “T” had been erected above it as a roost, and perched right there was a beautiful bald eagle. Throttling back, I drifted by so as not to disturb it, and continued to the head of navigation before coming about.
Approaching the Chester River, I set sail. Not having been underway for a year, and with the rig freshly set up, there were a few bugs to work out in running lines and setting fairleads, but things fell in place pretty quickly as I set a single-reefed main and working jib and beat to weather. Thistle sailed down the river and rounded the first elbow in the river in front of Camp Pecometh, a Methodist summer camp, which is charted as Booker‘s Wharf. Further down we sailed up into White Cove. The silo marked there is actually two silos that have been joined and converted into a very nice five-story home. Decks surround most of it on the second and third floor, and on the fourth, ceiling-to-floor wrap-around windows give a panoramic view of the river.

Just as I beat in toward Comegy’s Bight, a gust blew my hat off. It had tie straps, but I carelessly had them stuffed into the top of the hat. After several passes with the boathook, it started sinking. The wind made it hard to see on the surface, and then it was gone. As you sail up Langford Creek, Cacaway Island sits strategically in the junction between the East and West Forks. I dropped sail and started the engine just as we entered the West Fork and continued northwest, turning into Shipyard creek. The anchor was set in 8-ft. in the bight just south of Shipyard Landing.

I dinghied over to the landing to stretch my legs with a bit of a walk. After dinner, I sat in the cockpit with a cup of tea as I watched a buck swim across the creek just east of me. I had seen deer swim before, but was surprised at his speed, which had to be at least 2 kts. Unfortunately, where he was to come out of the water was a high, steep bluff that rose directly from the water. I grabbed the binoculars to watch for fear he might injure himself trying the scale the cliff. He stood on the water’s edge for a while looking everything over. He walked a bit left, then right, and finally seemed to have decided on an approach. He climbed and slid, climbed and slid, but finally reached the top where he paused and shook himself before strolling into the woods.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The St. Johns River

Plans are well underway for a paddle trip of the St. Johns River in Florida. In fact, after working on it for a month or so, I believe I have it about wrapped up. Unlike many rivers, there’s surprisingly little information that’s readily available. Navigation charts don’t go as far as the headwaters, and maps of the headwater area aren’t useful for navigation. There’s even disagreement or confusion as to where the headwaters of the St. Johns are. Most will agree that it at least starts with Blue Cypress Lake, west of Vero Beach, and flows north from there past Jacksonville and to the Atlantic. So, I wrote to the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), and they helped direct me toward some resources, including two books that had been written on the river, so my thanks to Steven R. Miller, Director of Land Management.
To say the river is interesting would be a gross understatement. It is one of only a hand full of rivers that flow north. It is the only designated American Heritage River in the Southeastern United States. The most direct route downstream is 310 miles long, but there are several enticing rivers that flow into it---the Ocklawaha, Wekiva, Econlockhatchie, many creeks, and so many lakes that the Indian name for the river, the Welaka, meant ‘river of lakes’. Some of the routes are so confusingly convoluted that they bear names like Puzzle Lake and Lake Hell-N-Blazes, as in, “Where the Hell-N-Blazes am I?” Or, “How the Hell-N-Blazes do I get out of here?” Some more prudish cartographers have tried to sanitize the name to Helen Blazes, but those who have been there indicate the original name is what is actually on your mind while trying to find your way through the area. One of the unique features of the river system is how much fresh water is supplied from the underground springs. To name just one of many as an example, Silver Springs pumps 540 million gallons of crystal clear fresh water into the river every day.

The first book, River of Lakes, A Journey on Florida’s St. Johns River, by Bill Belleville (University of Georgia Press) is really not what I would call a river guide, but it does leave the reader with a great appreciation for the river’s importance and history, as well as the people that have lived along its waters and cultures that evolved. Both Mr. Belleville and Kevin M. McCarthy, author of the next book, awaken the reader to the true importance of the swamps of the headwater areas as an ecosystem that sustains one of the country’s most diverse populations of wildlife, marine life, and birds, some of which are indigenous, being found nowhere else on earth. They further explain its importance as a filtering system to purify water entering and leaving the region’s aquifer, the source of the state’s drinking water, and the damage done by land speculators, developers, and rapists, for lack of any better word. Some of the damage done by get-rich-quick or get-the-money-and-run schemes, or just the misguided or uninformed, are irreparable, but SJRWMD, the Federal Government and conservation groups have come a good way in correcting the mistakes and abuses.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fall Chesapeake Cruise

Shortly after ordering Ibi in August, Thistle and I made a fall cruise trip to the Chesapeake Bay. To break up the tedium of non-stop planning and preparation, I’ll intersperse some sailing and gunkholing. The trip east was 1,502.7 miles while burning 122.24 gallons of gas. I’ve tried several routes while towing the 3-ton boat and trailer, but this was the ‘never again’ route’. The trip from Oklahoma to Louisville was hilly, but once we got into Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, it was nothing but mountains and hard towing. I was happily surprised when I looked at my trip figures to see that we had made 12.29 MPG, which with all things considered, I didn’t feel was too bad. We arrived at the Chestertown, MD, marina after four days in transit. As soon as I dropped the trailer, my first duty was to make a run to the Fish Whistle Restaurant overlooking the Chester River for a self-congratulatory crab cake sandwich and beer, and then went into Chestertown to do my provisioning.
By the next morning, the remnants of a hurricane sliding up the coast combined with an Atlantic storm to bring high winds, flood warnings, and torrential rain all the way up the coast from Florida north. The water level rose high enough that the piers in the marina were submerged, forcing the electrical power to be cut off. With Thistle still on the trailer, the marina flooded, and the winds too high for the marina to risk launching, I spent four days in the boat reading. Some relief was offered when the marina suggested that I might be more comfortable spending some time sitting in the office, and one evening I went into Chestertown for a movie.

On Tuesday, 5 October, we finally launched. I couldn’t escape thinking this would be one reason for transitioning from sail to paddle. Here I was eight days into my ‘cruise’ without being able to get a sail set yet. While the sky was heavily overcast and threatening all day, the rain held off. By evening there were even patches of blue showing between the black clouds. David and Linda Sockrider surprised me by coming over from Milford, DE, to take me to lunch at Harris’ Crab House at Kent Narrows. It was great seeing them after such a long absence from the area. Things were looking up.
The rest of the day was spent getting the boat set up. With the slow improvement in the weather, there was hope I could get underway in the morning.
Before the trip, I had built a nesting dinghy specifically for the trip. Designed by Danny Greene, the design is titled Two Bits. An upgraded evolution of the design, Cameleon, is available through Duckworks.
I had set it in the water of a nearby lake to scribe its waterline, but this was the first chance to actually try it out under oars. It handled and rowed great, and I really loved the way the nested dinghy went entirely in the back of the pickup. As the sun set, several flocks of Canadian geese flew over the boat and marina. I really enjoy seeing them---a real sign of fall on the Chesapeake. Yup, things were really looking up.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A planning we will go......

I spent twelve hours on Thanksgiving working on putting the St. Johns River trip together. No football. No parades. Well, subtract an hour for lunch. A month has been invested in planning already. It will take as long to plan the trip as to actually paddle it, but poring over maps, books, charts, and the internet is great fun too. It helps to take the bite out of the “Oh, woe is me. Sure wish I was on the water” syndrome.

Wilderness Canoeing by John W. Malo (Macmillan Co. NY) was published in 1971.
Some of the material is obviously dated, like the recommendation to use insect repellant with DDT. Or, when provisioning, using commercially prepared freeze-dried meals, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you should plan on food costs of $1.50 to $1.75 per person per day. I wish. In spite of these outdated items, there’s good traditional information you may not find in newer books. For the prudent canoe camper planning for traditional ways of doing things when his high-tech items pack up, learn how things used to be done before dry suits, GPS, Gore-Tex, etc. For example, we may be advised to take jerky. Malo takes you through the process of selecting appropriate cuts of beef, cutting, curing, tenderizing, and drying, making it possible to prepare your own jerky. He also explains how to make pemmican, an indispensable staple used by fur traders and canoe explorers. He then adds how to make pinole, an emergency food handed down from American Indians of the Southwest. Or, you can learn to prepare fish for smoke curing, or how to build and use a wanigan. Included was a graph for determining sunset and rise for any day of the year. If you want to know how much daylight remains to find a suitable site and make camp, but you don’t have an app for that, there’s the traditional (and proven) method. Extend the arms and turn the wrists and fingers in toward each other. Holding the horizontal fingers toward the sun with the back of the hand and little finger of one hand resting on the horizon, and with the fingers of second hand stacked on top of those already aligned with the horizon, count the number of fingers between the horizon and the lower limb of the sun. Each finger represents 15 minutes before sunset. Then you can add how to read a river, do a back ferry or forward ferry, portaging. etc.

I enjoy reading when I can steal the time. I’ve also found it the best way to educate myself. Why duplicate the damaged boats, lost gear, bruises, and fractures others have incurred when their experience can help me avoid the same mistakes? Besides learning, I just enjoy sharing other peoples adventures. Another, but more costly, approach is the visual method, hiring a guide or taking a formal class, like those offered by the American Canoe Association.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

                                                        T’was the night of Thanksgiving
But I just couldn’t sleep
I tried counting backwards,
I tried counting sheep.

The leftovers beckoned,
The dark meat and the white,
But I fought the temptation
With all of my might.
Tossing and turning with anticipation,
The thought of a snack became infatuation.

So, I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door,
And gazed at fridge with goodies galore.
Gobbled up turkey, buttered potatoes,
Pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes.

I felt myself swelling, so plump and so round,
Til all of a sudden, I rose off the ground.
I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky,
With a mouth full of pudding and a hand full of pie.
But I managed to yell, as I soared past the trees,
Happy eating to all…pass the cranberries, please.

May your stuffing be tasty,
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes-n-gravy have nary a lump
May your yams be delicious,
May your pies take the prize,
May your Thanksgiving dinner stay off of your thighs.
(borrowed from the net. Author unk.)

All Things are Possible, the biography of Verlen Kruger, was written by Phil Peterson, Sr., and is great reading for anyone who enjoys dipping a paddle. It can be found on the Kruger Canoe site, on Amazon, or at It follows Verlen through 100,000 miles of paddling, his adventures, and even some missteps along the way. He had never been in a canoe until about age forty. With nine children, he sought a good family recreation that would fit in a plumber’s budget, but he didn’t count on getting addicted to it. Starting with racing, he set records down the Mississippi, then for good measure, set a record for paddling up the river against the current. He traversed the breadth of North America from the East Coast to the Bering Sea. He paddled 28,000 miles over 3 ½ years criss-crossing the U.S, circumnavigating the country east of the Mississippi (the Great Circle Route), and became the first person to ever go UP the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River. In the Two Continent Canoe Expedition he paddled 21,000 miles from near the Arctic Circle, through North and South America, and around Cape Horn. Of great interest are his thoughts on planning, provisioning, wildlife, protecting the environment, choices in paddling partners, camping, and personal fortitude, and includes some great outdoor photography. It’s a great inspirational and enjoyable read.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Good News/Bad News & the Naming of Ibi

I called Scott Smith at Superior Canoes yesterday about Ibi. The BAD NEWS is construction on her may not start until after the first of the year. The construction schedule was set back when one of the boat hulls coming out of the mold was cracked during extraction. Scott said no one else would know the crack was there but him, but he knew someone getting the boat would want it to be right. He’s either scrapping the hull or repairing it and using it for a demonstrator, and starting a new hull from scratch. The GOOD NEWS is that when I do get the boat, with Scott’s devotion to detail and perfection, I’ll know its right. You can’t ask for more than that.

Why name the Superior Expedition “Ibi”? The Timucua (tee-MOO-kwa) were the indigenous peoples that populated Georgia, Northern and Central Florida as much as 12,000 years ago. In their prime, the Timucua comprised 35 chiefdoms, each representing several villages containing hundreds to thousands of people. History indicates they were likely the first people to witness the landing of Juan Ponce de Leon when he landed in St,. Augustine in 1513. A number of villages were visited by the 500-man force of Hernando de Soto in 1539. By 1700, between disease, attack, and enslavement, their population had dropped to 1,000, and by 1717 there were only 250. By the time the United States acquired Florida in 1821, only five remained, and then they faded into extinction.

Illustration from Google Images

The Timucua word for water was ’ibi’. The word was non-specific, and could refer to a creek, river, bay, or anything from morning dew to the ocean. We are all tied to water. It’s the foundation of all life, and even people that aren’t boatmen of any kind find themselves drawn to it. Something like 90% of the nation’s population lives within a hundred miles of a major waterway. It was where settlers found safety, food, transportation, and commerce. It isn’t just that we flock to the beaches by the millions for relief from summer heat. There’s something elemental that draws us. I haven’t tested this theory, but I’m convinced if you were to show most people a painting of a mountainscape, and the same scene with a lake or river in the foreground, without even knowing why, they would invariably pick the scene with water. For me, I just love it---the sea creatures, the wildlife that populate its shores, the endless variety of watercraft that have evolved, our ties to water witnessed in naval, maritime, recreational and national history, even the spectacular and uncluttered sunrises and sunsets. With the exception of a kayak, nothing surpasses the canoe for getting close to water and all it represents. It even offers the same serenity I valued as a sailor. Therefore, what makes more sense than naming the canoe for what we’re all about---Ibi.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Boat of choice

While we’ve enjoyed the stripper, the need for something more suited for expedition paddling was obvious. Then I learned about Verlen Kruger, who has to be one of the most interesting people I’ve heard about. You can check out to see his boats, but be sure to read the “Meet Verlen Kruger” section while you’re there. Anyhow, he designed about forty solo decked expedition canoes while constantly trying to refine their performance characteristics. The SeaWind deep hull has to be one of his best expedition designs. Wanting to protect his design when he prepared to retire, Verlen passed on his work to his protégé, Mark Przedwojewski, who retained the Kruger Canoe brand. Scott Smith, who had built about a hundred boats with Verlen, wanted to incorporate some of his own refinements, and bought Sawyer Canoe. With Verlen’s encouragement and support, Scott created the Superior Expedition while also continuing the Sawyer line. We called Scott and placed an order for the Superior Expedition. They’re handcrafted one at a time, so we patiently wait for Ibi---well, maybe not all that patiently.

Scott had one he had done in purple, not a standard color, which was really snazzy, but we went with the yellow for visibility and safety on the water. Scott goes out of his way to personalize and customize each boat to the owner’s needs. When Ibi arrives, we’ll change the header picture.  For now, this is one of Scott's pictures.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Life's all about change!

This is a period of transition, so things may go slowly at first. I’ve been a coastal and ocean sailor all my life, having traveled a bit over 117,000 miles. But as you’ve heard, life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Oklahoma was never in my plans, but  like it or not, life took us to Oklahoma, about as far from real water as you can get. Several years have been spent trying to continue sailing, but dragging a boat 3,000 miles round trip to reach water just isn’t reasonable, so I began looking for options. Being off the water was not going to be one of the options, so changing the craft of choice to better suit my new reality became essential.
We’ve paddled off and on for 47 years, but just as a family recreational pastime. We first had a 13-ft. fiberglass Papoose, and in 1973, a friend from work, David Sockrider, and I built two canoes, one for each of us. The picture in the header is a 17-ft. Micmac stripper canoe that has served us well for 37 years. The goal is to become as serious about paddling as we were about sailing, to sharpen our skills, and broaden our paddling horizons.
Welcome aboard. Join in for whatever happens.