Notes from the Island
What a month. I should have been taking notes.
First, we had the blizzard. The Island was beautiful, buried
in two feet of snow. Holly and I went cross country skiing up and
down the towpath and through Mohican Hills. One day we surprised a
herd of deer between Brookmont and the Dalecarlia Reservoir. On
another afternoon we stopped and watched a beaver as it popped up
out of a hole in the ice in the canal.
The snow falling into the river turned to slush which backed
up in the slough and then froze. Even though the canal and the rest
of the Potomac remained open, we were able to walk across the ice to
the Maryland shore.
Of course, all that snow in the mountains did make us feel a
bit like Damocles and his sword. We ran into Joe O'Boyle in the
grocery and he advised us to pack our bags. At first we felt
fortunate. The temperature rose slowly. The snowmelt was moderate.
The Potomac water levels rose bit by bit.
Then the temperature skyrocketed and it rained. By Friday
morning the snow had melted and that afternoon the National Weather
Service called to warn us that the Potomac would crest at a level of
12-13 feet on Sunday afternoon. Two years ago a similar flood rose
into the second rack of canoes, about 3-4 vertical feet below the
house. Holly and I calculated that we had two days to prepare.
The first complication was that the rising river was full of
ice and for several hours impassable by canoe. Fortunately, John
Matthews and Ken Fassler came down to saw through the chain
holding the ferry rope, which I then hauled in from this side.
The river was rising more quickly than I expected, but I
thought it might level out later. Holly and I talked about going to
buy groceries in case we got stuck on the Island, but she said she
would rather pull the first row of canoes out of the racks while it
was still daylight. So that's what we did.
The river was still rising quickly and, at this point, I called
the Weather service and asked if they had revised their forecast and
they told me no. The river had risen four and a half feet in twelve
hours and their prediction called for it to rise only three and half
feet in the next thirty-six hours. After dinner I decided to pull the
second row of canoes in the dark because I didn't want to wake up in
the morning and have to muck around in ankle deep freezing water.
That night we went to bed thinking we'd get up the next
morning, go shopping and rent videos . However, when we woke up the
next day the river was already in the second canoe rack and I knew
something was wrong. I called the Weather Service again and they
said, "Oh, we were going to call you. We now predict the river to
rise to 17-18 feet by Sunday morning." That would put it six to
eighteen inches into the house.
For three hours Holly and I moved everything we had that
was within three feet of the floor up to higher ground. We either
carried it upstairs and put it on the pool table, stacked it on
counters in the kitchen, put it on the bed or hauled it up to the new
We went out to the lower tool shed and grabbed everything
we thought was important and moved it up to the workshop on stilts
or upstairs in the Clubhouse. I paddled out to the canoe shed to tie
in the top rack of canoes. I figured I didn't have time to pull them
all. Also, the water was about eighteen inches below the eaves and
it was difficult to get in and out. I tied up three or four canoes,
but had to stop because chunks of ice were caught and backing up in
the trees and the shed, preventing me from paddling through the
By noon I was exhausted and running on adrenaline. The
Potomac was a foot or two below the towpath. We stopped for lunch,
took our overnight bags and then paddled across the now raging
slough. A number of members, John Matthews, Ken Fassler, Betty
Burchell, Al Brown, Mardy Burgess, Bill Eichbaum and others were
waiting for us on the opposite shore. I was a little nervous about
this crossing. Holly and I had never paddled in this kind of water
before, but our CCA training served us well and we ferried across the
current without even being swept downstream.
However, as we approached the shore I was a little dismayed
to see that the C & O Canal was overflowing its banks and water was
already flooding the towpath. Everyone was very helpful and carried
our canoe and bags.
On Sunday morning we returned to watch the crest from the
top of the hill. The Weather Service was now predicting 19 to 20
feet and we could see the river flowing through the house and lapping
at the underside of the addition.
The Potomac dropped very quickly and Monday afternoon we
canoed back to survey the damage. Although the water had come
within inches of our bed, counters and addition, none of our
belongings were damaged. There was one-half to one inch of mud
everywhere, but that was about it.
The major damage was to the canoe shed. Three foot
concrete block anchors were lifted right out of the ground and the
consensus seems to be that the shed will have to be redesigned and
rebuilt. We also lost the small tool shed, the outdoor shower (which
is still floating at the lower end of the Island), and part of the
walkway (some of which is also at the lower end). Five personal
boats and two club canoes are gone.
All in all, we were pretty lucky. The Clubhouse, with both
the addition and the deck, seems to have escaped damage. The floats
are fine. The workshop on stilts didn't move. Neither did the Circle
Holly and I have spent the last week shoveling, hosing and
vacuuming the mud out of our quarters. We now have power, phone and
running water. I won't say things are back to normal, but we have
moved back in.
David Winer, Greg Super, Warren Brown and Gerry Barton came
down last Sunday to secure canoes and help out. Don't worry. There
is lots of work for everybody to do around the Island, so I'm sure I'll
be seeing some of you soon. However, the Club is closed until
further notice and the Park Service has closed the towpath here
-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker