MD - Wicomico River Deal island - 2004/11/12 to 2004/11/14

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When the cold comes, the bugs leave. Fall frost makes the lower Eastern Shore a great place to paddle. Two days based in Salisbury allow a half day trip down the Wicomico River and a circumnavigation of Deal Island.

When fall's chilly winds begin to sweep over the low marsh of the southern regions of Maryland, summers most annoying pests are gone. Bugs, namely mosquitos and biting flies, have died off. There are no motorboats out either. Even the watermen have reduced their activity. On the lower reaches of the Eastern Shore, only the oyster tongers, oyster dredgers and a few peeler crabbers are out and about. This is when a kayak trip there can be very pleasant.

With a group of friends, I went to Salisbury as a base for two days of kayak paddles in the area. We booked ourselves into the Days Inn of Route 13 just north of the US 50 interchange. At $53.00 per night it was one of the most reasonably priced motels that I could find on the internet. While it was OK, it was a little run down. The service was a big problem. A billing problem was caught merely by chance when we were checking out. I couldn't make it clear to the foreign born staff at the front desk why I wasn't happy with the very weak assurances that they would remove a no-show charge on my credit card. They had failed to use my internet reserved second room for second late arriving party as I had requested that they do. Al and Lisa had referenced my name when checking in. I had also requested that they give us rooms near one another. I should have guessed something was wrong when they wound up on the opposite side of the motel. The whole front desk screw up left me with no show charge on my credit card. The clerk would not give me any proof that I had in fact been there with both parties and it was in fat their fault that my credit card had been charged. As Lisa had been charged too much as a walk in compared to the reservation I had made over the internet, we wanted the clerk to adjust the bill. After 5 minutes of calculator work, a new bill was printed. this one was for even more as he had added the difference on instead of subtracted it. The clerk didn't notice this little error, and had to be directed once more to fix the bill. So I finally had to call the 800 number for customer service to speak with someone more facile in English, to hopefully straighten out the situation. We will see when the credit card bill arrives. My advice? Use the Best Western instead. It looked to be in better condition as well.

I arrived Friday night in a heavy downpour. We got into our rooms and unpacked. Julio Perez and I went out to dinner at the Cactus Taverna across the street and one block south of the Days Inn. AS we walked in and sat down, we were struck by the "confused" decorations. Amid the usual cactus, sombreros, ponchos and ceramic fish of inexpensive Mexican restaurants were water pipes and hookahs. Up front a young fellow was singing folk and pop tunes self accompanied on a guitar. We got our menus and found Iranian, Peruvian as well as Mexican dishes listed. We found out from the waitress that the owners were Iranian. We ordered the special appetizer of the day, Iranian massa, and a plate of cerviche. The massa consisted of triangles of Pita bread, hummus and goat cheese. Both the goat cheese and hmmus were flavored with subtle spices and were incredibly delicious. The cerviche was fantastic. Even the salsa for the basket of hot nacho chips was original and flavorful, much superior to the bottle stuff that I suspect is used in most Mexican restaurants. Our entrees were very good, but did not match the magnificent quality of the appetizers. The portions were quite large and we were too stuffed to order any desert. i really recommend this place for dinner.

The next morning we emptied the water from the truck bed after dumping the water from a sagging and straining cockpit covers. My improvised plastic bag/Thule strap cover had done its job marvelously. I recently lost my cockpit cover to the interstate gods. Julio cover leaked right through the fabric and he pumped his kayak dry. Then we were off to find our launch ramp on the Wicomico River.

This was my first time paddling here and I had located a ramp using the Guide to Maryland Boat Ramps and Piers", a free publication of the State of Maryland. The location of the ramp on the map is deceptive, and I had misidentified the side creek shown near the ramp. Due to this error we spent twenty minutes trying to find the ramp, with no success. If you are going here make sure to consult our directions and description of this particular launch site.

Giving up on this ramp, we decided to drive down t the ramp where we were planning to end our trip and begin our paddle there. Instead of a one way shuttled trip, we would do a circular trip, taking in and out at the Mt. Vernon ramp. We drove down there, locating the ramp with little difficulty. We got out and discussed our options. Now instead of a nice down wind paddle we were faced with paddling into a 20-25 knot wind. The grey skies and a temperate of 44 degrees soon sapped our collective will to go out. We piled back into the cars and headed back to town.

After a hearty late breakfast at Bob Evans, the sun had come out and the wind had dropped below 20 knots. We stopped at a kayak store on Rout 13 and got directions to the ramp. Locating the ramp easily this time ( I had been about 3 miles too far south on the wrong side creek.) we launch from one of the 4 ramps into the narrow river that winds through the center of Salisbury. We headed south through the last of the commercial district. An oil shipping terminal and a shipyard was on one bank and condominiums were on the other. These soon gave way to individual residences. We paddled down the river for about 5 miles and poked into some small side creeks among the reeds and marsh. With the sun strong on our faces, the wind was much more tolerable than the penetrating cold of the morning.

With a clear blue sky, the sun weakened as the evening drew nigh. In the protected narrow confines of the upper Wicomico River, the wind was little factor. As we paddled back up wind, we began to heat up in our wet suits or dry suits or dry tops. Even with the warmer sun, we knew that we needed to be dressed for the cool 53 degree water, no matter what the air temperature. But a windy bitter cold day had been turned into a pleasant half day 12 mile paddle with good friends. Julio and Ted give it two thumbs up.

Back to the hotel for a hot shower and clean up, after which we headed out looking for restaurant. since Ted, Al and Lisa had not been with us the previous night, they wanted Mexican which is always OK with me. We went to La Tapatia on US 13 south of US 50. This is a mini chain of Mexican restaurants with other locations in Cambridge and Easton. I have always been served good food here, trying something different each time. This time I had pork chop in hot red sauce. It was very good. I did save room this time for desert and the flan here was particularly good.

The next morning saw the sky still clear with slightly warmer air temperatures with a mid 50's prediction. The wind had backed off too. We were all set to pull out at 8:30 in order to get to the ramp south of Chance Md by 9:00 when the issue of the billing came up That took an extra 40 minutes to solve, so we were late getting to the ramp. Rick, who had driven there directly from his home, was driving back up the road, wondering where we were. We all proceeded to the ramp on the south end of the bridge between the mainland and Deal Island. We unloaded and prepared our boats. A DNR ranger came out of a small office and we had a pleasant conversation about the area and some of the creeks that headed into the marsh Wild Life Management Area.

The wind was blowing a steady 15 to 18 knots as we headed west out of the channel. The ramp is located between a shedding house and the docks where the watermen keep their boats. We were the only ones using the small single ramp.

We pulled out into the open but shallow water between Deal Island and Pone Island. Pone Island is just low marsh grass covered and although it was not more than 5 miles away, we could not see it. When we looked at the horizon, all we saw were the lumps of the wave tops marching south. We headed out to deeper water to ride the waves with the strong northwest wind. Once out in slightly deeper water, the waves increased and steepened to provide a perfect ride. Big enough to catch fairly easily and not to big to cause broaching. i was able to string several waves together, sliding down the face of one wave, powering over the crest of the one in front and then really accelerating down the slope of the next wave. Some waves I could just sit balanced in my cockpit, not needing to dip a blade on either side as I shot across the water at 7 to 8 knots. What a thrill! It was so much fun that we forgot to take any pictures.

We reached a point where Deal Island turns more to the east and stopped there for a break on the beach. We had covered a lot of distance in very little time. The small beach in the lee of a point provided a quick breather from the active start to this day's paddle. Getting back into the boats, we continued past the rest of the western side of Deal Island and on to round the southern tip of Little Deal Island. There our free ride ended and we headed back up into the wind. We sheltered from the wind on a small 20 foot spit of marsh grass off the very tip of Little Deal Island. South of us we could see the open waters of tangier sound and the norther end of Smith island. Beyond that we could see the large tower on Tangier Island, but the island was below the horizon. it was an exceptionally clear day out on the Bay.

The wind made progress up the east side of Little Deal Island very difficult. Rick and Julio had taken a longer break at the little marsh island while Al and Lisa went ahead. Al took off in one direction and Lisa thinking that our route lay in a different direction, paddled off in another. i tried to stay in site of both of them. Al didn't see Lisa's signals and kept paddling onward. Our group was getting much too spread out and was not communicating properly or staying aware of each other. My feeling was that Lisa was on the right route and Al was off in the wrong direction. I followed Lisa as it was most likely that i would be able to assemble the group at her location. Eventually Rick and Julio arrived and our discussions convinced me that in fact Al was headed in the right direction. As we reentered our kayaks from the low marsh bank, Al came around the cornet, backtracking to find us and we were all assembled again. Although there was no danger on this relatively mild day, this king of group action can lead to much more serious problems in extreme conditions. one should always be aware of what is going on with all members of a group.

We paddled on around the east side of Deal Island to the channel between the mainland and the island. Rick was in the mood for lunch so we stopped on a little piece of marsh just barely above the high tide. We scouted Shark Point for a place to pull out. The marsh bank, exposed at low tide, now created a sharp drop off over knee deep. We bridged the shore with our paddles and carefully got out onto the soggy ground. We turned our kayaks up on their sides and sat down behind them to protect ourselves from the chilly winds still blowing in from the northwest. As one sat in the damp soft marsh soil, a puddle slowly formed under your butt as you sank down. I used a discarded motor oil bottle I found in the weeds to provide some floatation. Rick and Julio moved over to some taller rushes where we all assembled as it provided a warm and calm spot out of the wind and in the strong sunshine. It was quite pleasant sitting there, talking and eating our lunches.
After lunch we paddled across the channel and into a small stream that wandered through the marsh. This 100 foot wide channel looped back on itself and sometimes we paddled a quarter mile only to wind up within a few boat length from where we were. I was enjoying the contrast, but Rick who has a "thing" about confined paddles was not happy. I think he his boat has claustrophobia. We emerged from the marsh and paddled the last miles to our cars at the launch ramp. It had been a good day with a lot of variety - a little surfing, a little downwind paddling, a little upwind paddling and some marsh meanders. We got back to our vehicles and changed out of our wet suits and dry suits. Stripping down in the stiff chilly wind was quite bracing, but made the warm dry clothes feel just that much better after our 12 mile day.

There were many other possible paddles in the leads and creeks in the marsh of the Wildlife Management Area. Trips of almost any length would be possible. There is also a ramp on the very southern tip Deal Island at the end of Route 363 that would make for a 6 mile paddle between the two ramps, wither on the outside of the isalnd or on the more protected eastern side. With almost any wind condition, you should be able to choose a comfortable and pleasant day trip. But those possibilities would have to wait for another day.

We drove back to Princess Anne and headed north on US 13. At Fruitland we stopped at Nacho Pete's another restaurant I had located over the internet. This one was not particularly good, being more in the style of Taco Bell fast food than the good Mexican restaurants we had enjoyed the last two evening. I recommend a pass on this one. It did have the seemingly obligatory bicultural theme of Salisbury restaurants. There was an Iranian restaurant sharing the same space.

We drove back to our homes arriving at 8:30 PM after a long and satisfying weekend adventure with friends.




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