euryhaline paddler

exploring the shorelines of Delmarva via kayak


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Champ Wharf to Crisfield

It’s Memorial Day Weekend and what does that mean? Time for Brian and Laura to leave town, escape the Ocean City madness, and go on another kayaking-camping adventure.

Last year we had perfect weather and camped out on Cedar Island on the eastern shore of Virginia.  This year, the weather forecast was looking perfect again so we headed to the Chesapeake side of the peninsula.  Last fall, Brian had been fishing out near the teeny tiny town of Rumbley, MD which is somewhere between Deal Island and Crisfield, and he thought there were some islands out there that had good camping potential.  In order to get some decent distance in, he dropped me off in an even smaller town, Champ, MD.  As I started to paddle south, he drove to Rumbley and fished for a while. Although Champ had only a handful of houses, there seemed to be quite a bit of activity at the “wharf” (really it was just a beat-up, old boat ramp). There were a few watermen that had just come in, and several families were getting ready to head out on the water for the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce I got out of the boat ramp area and out of the creek, things quieted down very quickly.  Except for the osprey – there must have been a nest on every channel marker and more in the dead trees in the marsh.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen/heard such a dense population. Despite the osprey though, the quiet got me thinking – I would love to own property out here one day. Nothing fancy, just a waterfront lot with a little bungalow. I don’t even need proper plumbing and electric. I told Brian later, if we ever get to a point in our lives when we can manage a second home, I want to buy out here (or really anywhere from here south to Cape Charles). Just a place to get away from the crowds, get away from cell phone reception, and spend our days fishing, crabbing, and hanging out on the water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo enough day dreaming. The first spot that I decided to get out on dry land was a small marsh point, about 2 miles into the journey. Bad idea. As soon as I got out of my kayak I was engulfed with flies. As I looked around, it was clear why: sting ray graveyard. There were about 5 cownose rays that were dead and dried up and covered with flies. It appeared that they had swam over the point at a high tide, and as the tide when out, they got stuck. Gross. And to be honest, I didn’t really have much sympathy for them – I’m still bitter about my sting ray incident 5 years ago (another story for another time).

To escape the flies, I hopped back in my kayak and pushed on. The next place I stopped was a small sand bar. After inhaling my sandwich, I decided to take a detour from my original course plan. The wind had started to pick up at an awkward angle and I was not in the mood for battling wind/current issues. I pulled out my trusty Android and “My Tracks” app to see what my options were. I quickly realized I could cut through some of the marsh peninsulas instead of paddling all around them. I veered off to the east and pushed forward.

This seemed like a great plan until I reached a bridge. A bridge that was much to low for me to fit underneath! Ugh portage. It breaks my rhythm, it’s awkward to haul my boat across the road, and worst of all, my kayak was packed with camping equipment, making it extra difficult! The temper tantrum that was going on in my head was only exacerbated by the traffic. Yes, I said traffic. And by traffic I mean one single vehicle – an ATV. Some dude was out on Frenchtown Rd hauling ass on his ATV. And not just down the road once, but repeatedly back and forth, faster and louder each time. Is that what people do around here for fun? Lame.

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The next stretch was pretty uneventful, aside from the crazy amount of flies that were swarming around my head the whole time. Usually flies aren’t an issue at all when I’m out on the water; they are most annoying when on land, however this was different. It was the first time I actually put on bug spray while on the water. Other than the flies, the only thing I really noticed about this portion of the trip was the vegetation: black needle rush. In all my years of leading marsh walks, learning about the vegetation level of a salt marsh, I never once encountered black needle rush (even though it is a native of the Chesapeake region). The only reason I knew what is was, was because of a small patch of it that was planted on Poplar Island (where I used to work). However, this was no small patch – this was acres and acres and ACRES of the pointy marsh grass. From a distance, I thought it was some kind of stone wall or old dock since it’s not green like the rest of the marsh grasses this time of year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I came out of that marsh creek and entered the open bay again, I spotted Brian and his yellow kayak. I called him on the radio to see if he could see me to the south (we were some distance away). He was a bit confused because he said I didn’t pass him yet – sneaky me took a short-cut through the marsh creeks!

Once he caught up to me we paddled together for a little while until we reached an island labeled as “Pat Island” on Google Earth. This was the island Brian was envisioning camping on and it was perfect. We pulled up onto a sandy strip of land (less than 50 yards wide?) and decided, based on the high tide lines, that this would be a great place to camp. However, we weren’t totally sure if it was okay to camp here so we decided to wait several hours before setting up the tent (it was only mid-afternoon when we got there).

I took a break from paddling while Brian continued to fish around the island. I was amazed at the number of sandy beaches in this area! Everywhere I turned there was a beach or a sand bar. There was even a DUNE at one end of the island! This surprised me because all I’ve heard throughout my career is that there is major habitat loss when it comes to sandy shorelines. I heard that as a seasonal employee in Delaware, and I heard that all the time when I worked on Poplar. However, I wouldn’t go telling all the terrapins to come nest on the islands near Rumbley though, they were COVERED in raccoon tracks!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou know what else I was amazed at? This awesome HAT I found! O’neil brand, like-new condition, and EXACTLY what I needed – more shade for my face and shoulders. Finders, keepers!

Once the sun started to set and we were getting hungry, we decided to set up camp and have dinner (chicken, broccoli salad, beer). It was cool to actually see the sun set over a horizon of just water – not something I normally see in Maryland 🙂 After the sun set Brian continued to fish – he had the proper “all around white light” too to stay safe! I was pretty beat after 9 miles of paddling in the sun so I relaxed by the fire and watched the stars instead (being out on this island made for some phenomenal stargazing!). An hour or two later Brian got back, but still no keeper fish! What the heck Brian, you said this was your “speckled trout hot spot”.

 

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMorning! After packing up camp and a gourmet breakfast of PB&J sandwiches, it was time to continue on. The plan was for Brian to continue fishing (isn’t that always the plan?) and for me to paddle down to Crisfield where he would pick me up later. I had never been to Crisfield so I didn’t really know what to expect, although the condo buildings in the distance did not fit what I was envisioning.

It was a bit windy so I expected the first stretch, that was over open water, to be the most challenging. I’m not sure of the distance, but I would guess it was about 2 miles of open water. I reached land in just 45 minutes or so and felt pretty accomplished so far – I was off at a great pace. The land I pulled up on was the north end of Jane’s Island State Park. Again, I was astounded at the long sandy beaches – really not something you see very often in he Chesapeake!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The next hour and a half was tricky but fun. After exploring yet another sand bar and sandy island, I had to navigate through a crazy maze of marsh creeks. If it had not had my trusty Android to guide me through, it probably would have taken me weeks to find my way out of there! At every bend I had to pull out the Google Earth and reevaluate my current position and where I was headed. Also at every intersection of creeks, there were probably 5 or 6 options of direction from which to choose! By the time I made it to the main channel, I was exhausted. Even though I was in protected marsh creeks, the wind was still pushing hard against me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABrian called me around this point to say he was packing up and on his way to Crisfield. I figured that since I was in the main channel and that I could almost see Jane’s Island State Park boat ramp, I was probably pretty close and it was good timing. But… I think I was wrong. The last stretch through the Crisfield ditch (not sure if that’s what it’s called, but that’s what I named it) was killer!! Not only was the wind against me, but it was funneling the water through the ditch at a crazy pace. Add boat traffic and wake to that and I had water and waves coming at me from all angles! I did feel pretty awesome when I just cruised by a family in a canoe – a family of 6 PEOPLE in a wobbly canoe. Not sure, but I imagine they didn’t get very far!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I passed the waterfront hospital (damn, if I have need a hospital stay, send me here, must be beautiful views!), watermen docks, seafood processing buildings (do they have a more official name/term?), people swimming, people fishing, people jet-skiing, condo buildings, the U.S. Coast Guard boats, the Tangier Island Cruises boat… I began to feel incredibly small – just some girl bobbing around in an orange kayak amongst so much activity. I wonder what people thought when they saw me? That girl is… stupid? ambitious? brave? clueless?

Well it doesn’t matter what they thought because although I was probably an hour late to meet Brian, I just paddled 9 miles to get here! And 9 miles yesterday! Plus 2ish miles around islands. That’s like 20 miles in the last 24 hours! What did YOU do today? Here’s my path; blue for Day 1 and red for Day 2:


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Fenwick Island State Park to Williamsville, DE

On Monday, May 5 (Happy Cinco de Mayo!), I connected the dots and completed the leg between Fenwick Island State Park and Williamsville, DE. I have now completed everything from Holts Landing State Park (Millville, DE) all the way down to Pierce Taylor Rd in Hallwood, VA. That’s a total of 82 miles and over 24 hours of paddling! And that’s not counting the other random trips over on the Chesapeake side.

The cool thing (in my opinion) about this leg was that it was my first one way trip that I have completed that I DIDN’T need assistance from Brian or anyone else to shuttle me from one end to the other! I was able to ride my bike instead. The logistics got a little confusing. Actually, it was SO confusing that I had to write down my itinerary to make sure I didn’t forget anything. No seriously, I should have taken a photo of the post-it note I had with instructions I wrote for myself – it was pretty ridiculous.

First I loaded my kayak on top of my car (with my awesome new Yakima “hully rollers”), and loaded my bike inside my car. I’m really impressed with how much my little Nissan versa can handle! I then drove to Fenwick and unloaded my kayak and locked it to a picnic table with my dry bag, paddle, and PFD stuffed inside. Then I drove back south to Northside Park in Ocean City. There, I hopped on my bike and pedaled back up north to Fenwick. When I arrived, I had to unlock my kayak, lock my bike to the picnic table, and launch into the Little Assawoman Bay. Once I completed the paddle (that story coming in a minute), I had to load my kayak on my car, drive BACK up to Fenwick, unlock my bike, pack it up in the car, and finally head home. I still can’t believe I didn’t screw up, like leave my keys with my bike, or forget to lock something up properly. Somehow I pulled the whole thing off! Good thing I had that post-it note.

Distant view of Assawoman Wildlife Area

Distant view of Assawoman Wildlife Area

This paddle was interesting in that I paddled a stretch of the coast that I drive everyday, to and from work, so it definitely offered a different perspective from what I’m used to.  When I drive up the coast, I am mostly passing houses on the bayside and I usually forget that just on the other side of those houses and the bay, is the Assawoman Wildlife Area.  It’s a gorgeous, often forgotten area, full of good kayaking and exploring.  Some of those houses along Route 1 are pretty damn lucky – unobstructed views of the ocean to the east, the bay and beautiful, undeveloped land to the west.  Must be nice.

Approaching Route 54 bridge

Approaching Route 54 bridge

For the first part of this paddle the wind was coming straight out of the west, making paddling a frustrating, but not too difficult.  However, about 2 miles in, I saw some threatening looking clouds.  Well, I thought they were threatening looking, most people would probably disagree and call me paranoid.  I stopped for a quick break at Coastal Kayak (a nice kayak rental outfitter but they were closed) to check the radar on my phone.  Yup, the closest precipitation was in Virginia and the “thunder” I thought I heard was a plane.

100MEDIA$IMAG2367I kept heading south, admiring all the fancy homes in Fenwick.  I then entered the “Fenwick Ditch” which is a narrow area that connects the Little Assawoman bay in DE, to the Assawoman bay in Maryland.  I was a bit worried about how hard the tide would be running through here, but it wasn’t bad.  It may have even been slack tide.  I went under the Route 54 bridge and I have to say, this was the first time I have passed a tiki bar while paddling.  Even though it was Cinco de Mayo, very few people were hanging out at Harpoon Hanna’s. Maybe had it been a warmer day, I would have stopped in for a margarita!

As I came out of the ditch, I headed west.  When I started this whole trip, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go to Northside Park, or if I was going to go to the kayak launch in the Bayside community (where I had started the OC paddle last September).  I decided I wanted to do this right and connect all the dots, so I paddled over to Bayside.  Once I arrived, I was pretty beat so I got out, ate a sandwich, and pressed on to Northside Park.

I was pretty worried about this last stretch because I was going to be going directly into the wind and it was a straight 2 miles across open water.  Luckily, it wasn’t that bad!  I don’t get it.  There are times when going against the wind is torture, and then there are other times when I swear it is actually easier than going WITH the wind!  I was cruising!  I couldn’t believe how quickly I made it to the park.

The worst part of this whole day was the last part as I got out of my kayak.  The park doesn’t exactly have an official kayak launch.  There is a nice bit of sandy beach to get out on, but then I had to carry my kayak several hundred yards to my car!  So frustrating.  By the time I got to my car, I was so tired that I could barely load my kayak onto the roof rack.  My arms will killing me, more from carrying/dragging my kayak from the water than the actual 8 mile paddle!

Although the weather was meh, the wind was frustrating at times, and there was very little wildlife to see on this trip, I still felt extremely accomplished since I did the whole thing solo.  No help being shuttled, no help disassembling my bike, no help loading my kayak.  I was a bit sore the next morning since it has been quite some time since my last long paddle, but it was worth it!  Take a look at my path:

And if you want to see the complete 82 miles from Delaware to Virginia, here it is!

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