Notes from the Island
August 2011


Many of you were curious about my kayak trip to St. Catherines Island so instead of my normal caretakers log, Iíve included our intinerary and a description of our trip. I could not include the entire trip in this newsletter but I will write more in later issues.

Saturday, July 9
Leave Sycamore Island 10 a.m. in canoe, run Little Falls
Drop off canoe and load sea kayaks at Fletcherís
Dinner likely in Alexandria
Arrive at Belle Haven Marina

Sunday, July 10
Depart Belle Haven Marina
Hard Bargain Farm (Md side)
Piscataway Creek (Md)
Arrive at Pohick Bay Regional Park, site 95 (Va side)

Monday, July 11
Depart Pohick Bay
Occoquan Bay
lunch [tentative but not likely] paddle up Occoquan
River to Madiganís (Va)
dinner at Timís Rivershore Restaurant and Crabhouse (Va)
Indian Head (Md)
Mattawoman Creek (Md)
Arrive at Smallwood State Park (site 8)

Tuesday, July 12
Depart Smallwood
Mallows Bay (Md)
Quantico (Va)
Aquia Bay Marine Inc (Va)
Arrive Aquia Creek, Widewater State Park (Va)
or owner permission between Douglas Pt. and Purse
State Park (Md)

Wednesday, July 13
lunch Timís II in Fairview Beach (Va)
Caledon Natural Area (Va)
Nanjemoy Creek (Md)
Port Tobacco River (Md)
Arrive Chapel Point State Park (Md)

Thursday, July 14
Depart Chapel Point
Popeís Creek (Md)
lunch Capt. Billyís Crabhouse (Md)
301 Bridge
Morgantown Generating Plant (Md)
Arrive Colonial Beach (Va), arrangements in progress or house of Joeís friend

Friday, July 15
Depart Colonial Beach
Wicomico River (Md)
Allenís Run, Zekiah Swamp (Md)
lunch at Captain John's Crab House on Cobb Island (Md)
Arrive at St. Catherineís Island
full moon at night

Saturday, July 16
Landing Party at St. Catherineís Island

July 6, 2011
Well, we have finally come down to the wire. My big, Island-to-Island kayak trip down the Potomac River is only three days away. I say finally because I feel like Iíve been preparing for this trip for a long time.

I think it was back in February that I decided that I would do the trip and ever since then Iíve been training and getting ready. I originally planned to do the trip in April, during the annual Alice Fureson river clean-up, but the river was too high and frankly I wasnít prepared. I was glad that I had waited because it gave me a chance to approach Potomac Riverkeeper and ask them if they wanted to get involved and let me use their website as a way to get the word out and raise money to help the river. They were excited about the idea and wanted to use my trip as a way to launch a new "Pure Potomac" campaign. Their hope was, and is I hope, that we could get the word out using social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I was all set to start the journey on June 12 but the timing was off. It turned out that the Potomac Riverkeeper gala was that day and that made it impossible for them to focus onmy trip. We decided it would be better to wait until we could benefit from the full attention of Riverkeeper and their staff.

So here we are ready to take off on Saturday morning. I have my kayak, a 16-foot Perception Eclipse. Itís not really a sea kayak, for some reason they refer to it as a touring kayak. I guess that is mainly due to its length and the shape of its plastic hull. The main thing is that it has large storage compartments and can carry all the camping gear and all the supplies that I need for the trip. Iíve got a 230cm paddle and I bought a spray skirt. One problem though ó I have never owned a kayak and I know nothing about the finer points of sea kayaking, like how to do an Eskimo roll. I thought it was a joke, roll a 16-foot boat stuffed with 150 pounds of gear? I really was not excited about the thought of being upside-down in the river, but I realized that I had a major hurtle to overcome. As much as I wanted to avoid it, I decided that I had better learn how to roll my boat. More on that later.

For three months now I have been training for the trip. By training I mean getting used to paddling a kayak for hours at a time. Iím feeling pretty good about the way my endurance and strength have improved. Iíve gotten to the point where I can paddle for more than two hours without suffering too much pain. The hard part is going to be overcoming the monotony of long hours of paddling. Iím learning that this is going to be a psychological challenge as well a physiological one. Interestingly, I think it is going to be my legs that become the weak link, after two hours in a cramped cockpit my legs tend to cramp up and my feet like to fall asleep. My arms and shoulders on the other hand are beginning to show the results of daily paddling and it is cool to see new muscles developing.

July 8, 2011
This will be the last entry into this log until I get back from my trip on the 17. You will be able to follow my progress on the river if you go to potomacriverkeeper.org. Whit Overstreet and I will be posting daily reports on that website.

So Iíve done all the preparations and Iíve done all my training and Iím all set to go. The only thing on my list that did not get done is that pesky Eskimo roll. I donít quite have my roll down yet but it is not due to a lack of quality instruction. Iím so lucky, I waited until I was almost 50 years old to learn to roll, but I had the honor of having two excellent teachers. My first two rolling lessons were with none other than Olympic contenders, Davey and Jennifer Hearn! They are two of the coolest, most generous and most patient people ever. I think Im ready for the trip and I think I have all the gear I need. I have a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, stoves, food, sleeping pad, fishing pole, rain gear, towel, hat, sunblock, extra shoes, first aid kit, book, maps, toiletries, and jugs for lots of water. Amazingly, I was able to get all that gear into my kayak.

So Iím all ready but I have another little problem to solve. Since weíve decided to call this an Island-to- Island trip we are committed to pass through the white-water between here and Fletcherís Boathouse and that just isnít possible in a fully loaded sea kayak. The solution, we climb into a white water tandem canoe and run Little Falls in that and then switch boats once we are safely in the tidal portion of the mighty Potomac.

The butterflies are setting in but Iím very excited about this trip. Not only is this going to be my first time all the way down the tidal Potomac but it will also be the first time that I will be running Little Falls. Yeehaw!!!

July 9, 2011
The day was full of promise and I jumped into action as soon as I was awake. I had all my gear ready to go but we still had to get the sea kayaks and other stuff down to Fletcherís Boathouse. My partner for the trip is Whit Overstreet and our plan is to use Whitís tandem whitewater canoe to get us through the rapids between Sycamore Island and Fletcherís Cove. I was excited and nervous. I had never done a long kayak trip and I was about to run Little Falls for the first time. Plus, to add to my butterflies, the river was up to 3.5 feet, slightly more volume than I had envisioned for my first trip through the Falls. The weather was clear but hot and I was dripping sweat as I returned to the Island after loading the kayaks onto Whitís truck. I sent out my last-minute emails, locked up the house and headed to the river. One of the coolest things about this trip was that I did not need to get into an airplane or even a car to begin the journey. All I had to do was walk out my front door and get into Whitís canoe and off we went. We were joined at the beginning of the trip by Peter Bross, a kayaker and board member of Potomac Riverkeeper.

The banana-shaped boat that we were in was not designed for flat water and the first ĺ mile to get to the dam was slow. It did give Whit and I time to get used to paddling together, though. I hadnít known Whit for very long and this would be our first time together in a canoe, and we were about to run Little Falls! We reached the Brookmont dam and did the legal thing, portaged around it. It wasnít a difficult carry and when we reached the other side of the dam we found Olympic Canoeist Davey Hearn there waiting for us in his racing C1 canoe. Compared to the canoe that we were in, Daveyís boat looked like a Maserati. I was glad to have Davey along as I ventured into this part of the river where I had never been before. As a matter of fact I donít think I could have picked a better group of guys to be out there with. I was still a little nervous, but I was really happy to finally be doing the Falls and I was feeling very fortunate about the circumstances.

From the dam we headed toward the gates of the slalom course in the old feeder canal. I wasnít thinking of doing the slalom course, I just wanted to keep heading downstream. But, since we were with Davey, we had to go back up and run the gates in our canoe. I was glad that we did, it was fun and it gave Whit and I more time to get used to paddling together; tandem whitewater canoeing is not easy. From there we went around the front of High Island. This is called the Z channel and interestingly the current reverses here and we were pointed toward Sycamore Island as we navigated the class 2 rapid. We picked our way down stream through the rocks until the river narrowed and we were in rolling waves cruising fast past High Island on our left. Along the way we passed kayak legend, Tom McEwan, giving a class. Davey, being the celebrity that he is, went over to chat.

We did a long, quarter mile of big waves and then had to stop at a sand bar and dump out all the water we took on. So far our canoe was performing well and I was thrilled to be at the precipice above the Falls. We stopped to scout the rapids as Davey played on the waves looking like a ballet dancer on the water. We scouted the falls and decided on the line we would take. I really appreciated Whitís calm and positive disposition and I was glad to have him there to nudge me out of my comfort zone. We climbed back into the boat and, as if to say, "Joe you got this." I saw a large redtailed hawk cross the river just a hundred yards away. Then, with six great blue herons lining the rocks on the shore we plunged into the torrent of deep, canoe-eating holes and corkscrew waves. We narrowly avoided the first hole and headed toward the Maryland bank. We were nearly on our sides as we made the crossing but with Whitís expertise we straightened out in time to hit the corkscrew wave just right. We dug hard to get into an eddy at the end and, once safely inside the eddy, we flipped. The water felt good in the heat on the midday sun and the canoe was easily righted and dumped. I was ecstatic! I had run the falls for the first time and we had just entered into a new physiograghic province. We had passed through the last of the fall zone or Potomac Gorge and for the rest of the trip we would be in the Coastal Plain.

We said goodbye to Davey as he headed to the take out and we continued down river another mile or so to Fletchers. We had promised to meet friends and family at Fletchers at noon. It was now 12:30 and I hoped that my mother wasnít getting too worried. We were greeted at Fletcherís by a dozen or so well-wishers who then patiently sat around and waited for us to get reorganized. My Mom brought a watermelon and we ate it as we packed our kayaks for the first time. Whit had just bought his used kayak two nights before and this would be his first time in the boat. My situation was a little better. I had bought my kayak three months before so I had time to try it out and take it on a couple of half day trips, but neither of us has had much experience with touring/sea kayaks. Neither of us had ever rolled one, for example. We didnít spend anytime planning food or distributing gear. I brought the stoves and cooking utensils and Whit was burdened with all the cameras and smart phones. I think Whitís boat was a lot heavier than mine though, mostly because he chose to bring a pantry full of canned foods where as I went with mostly dehydrated meals. Whit also carried a lot of water, which turned out to be the smarter thing to do. I was risking heat stroke just because I didnít want to carry extra weight. We donned our big floppy hats and our scarves to protect us from the harsh sun. Whit even wore a mask to protect his face, which, along with his shades, made him look like some kind of ecoterrorist. I lathered on the sunblock, and after posing for a few photos, we set off from the shore, being careful not to cross the lines of the kids that were fishing there.

Our friend, and awesome paddler, Harry Lewis, joined us in his canoe and kept us company down to Key Bridge. We were at the western tip on Washington D.C as we shoved off and it was hard to believe that we were in D.C. proper, being surrounded by high banks of rugged forest. It was a Saturday afternoon so the river was very busy with boats, and it had a festive atmosphere. There were other kayakers there, mostly people who had rented craft from Jackís Boathouse. There were yachts there, happily anchored around Three Sisters Islands. People were everywhere, swimming, relaxing and enjoying the river. We even saw the first of a new breed of paddler, the stand-up paddler or SUP. It wasnít until we saw Key Bridge that it was evident that we were in a metropolis. Here the land stretched out flat in front of us and, even though we had forested Roosevelt Island on our right, it was clear that we were in the city. The Georgetown waterfront was busy and we had to contend with an increase in motorboat traffic, including jet skiers. We stopped occasionally to take pictures and tweet them. We stopped at one spot, just before Memorial Bridge that was a combined storm water and sewer release into the river. We continued on and, unlike before when I was waiting while Whit took pictures, I now found myself trying to keep up with him as we made the first of many river crossings. It was becoming clear who the emerging leader of the expedition might be.

We had crossed the river just below Memorial Bridge, which landed us very near the bike path on the Virginia side. We drifted toward the airport with the parkland to our right, staying close to the shore. There was so much activity going on around us with tourist boats, joggers, cyclists, fishermen, and speedboats. Not to mention the metro trains and airplanes passing overhead. We tried to take it all in but we were still getting used to our kayaks and our minds were preoccupied with trying to keep them going straight. It seemed that as the river widened, the wind picked up, and we were soon fighting a slight crosswind. Also, we had been in our boats for over two hours at this point and, even though my arms were tired, it was my legs that were screaming for a break. We passed Roaches Run and then the airport. While passing the airport I noticed that there wasnít any barrier or vegetation to keep the dirty storm water runoff of the runway from spilling into the river. (We later learned that there are plans to extend the current runway 1000 feet into the downstream side of the river.) We paddled across Four Mile Run Bay and took a much-needed break at the Washington Sailing Marina.

After a short break and a long drink of water we headed for Alexandria. We passed the tourist piers with their parks but we also passed the Torpedo factory and other relics from Alexandriaís industrial past. We passed the (still operating) coal burning power plant that sits right on the riverís edge and has to have booms in the water to keep leaking oil from getting into the mainstream of the river. We also passed the Ford Pier, where there once stood a Ford assembly plant.

The out-going tide was very evident now as we passed under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The sound of a band playing faded away as we glided along in the fading light of the late afternoon. All we had to do now was to cross a small bay and we could rest for the night. I could see the marina in the distance, about a mile, so I headed straight for it. But Whit had a detour in mind. I didnít know this but at the very southern tip of D.C., at a place called Jones Point on the Virginia side, there is an old lighthouse. When I say lighthouse I mean a house with a light on the top. It was perfectly placed as a guide for ships coming upriver. Sadly, the land around it is eroding and the house is in decay. We finally started our final crossing of the day but, as we learned over and over, everything was further away than it looked and it took a long time to get to Bell Haven Marina. We didnít get off the river until after 7:00 p.m.

I followed Whit as we made our way past the sailing vessels and onto the boat ramp. Whit was hoping to meet someone named Chip who ran the Marina and had promised to give us a place to sleep for the night. The Marina was abuzz with activity when we arrived. There were people milling around, picnicking and fishing and playing. I got a real sense of community as we hung out there at the table near the work shed. We found Chip, a shirtless guy about 40, with long, dirty blonde dread locks and a permanent tan. He was very friendly and welcoming and was obviously very much at home at the docks of the marina. Chip runs the marina and the sailing school and has been hanging around Bell Haven since he was a kid. Chip offered us a beer and we sat there resting and taking in all the sights of the busy marina. Soon we were being offered homemade pickles and fresh zucchini casserole! We met Peter Hume, an impressive man in his eighties, who still went sail boarding and who had also spent many years near this marina. It was cool meeting these people that personified the place, like meeting a lobsterman in Maine, if you know what I mean. We were told that we could sleep in the Canadean, a twenty-five foot sailboat with new cushions in the cabin. Peter Bross picked us up later and we headed to dinner in Alexandria. Chip and his friends however, were preparing to sail out and watch the fireworks at National Harbor.

To be continued ...

-- Joe Hage, Sycamore Island Caretaker