MD - Eastern Shore - 2002/09/17 to 2002/09/21



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A five day tour of various paddling locations on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. Assateague Island, Pocomoke River, Janes Island/Tangier Sound and the Choptank River




I decided that the middle week of September would be an ideal time to visit the lower Eastern shore of Maryland. The crowds are gone, the flies are moderating and the mosquito season is diminishing. A whirlwind tour of my favorite paddling locations would take five days. I planned to leave Monday and return Friday, but the remains of a hurricane coming up the coast pushed the departure back to Tuesday. Leaving home at 7:15 I headed up to Havre de Grace and on toward Dover, taking the leisurely if slightly longer northern route over the top of the Bay instead of taking the Bay Bridge.


South Point Launch ramp



Four hours later I was at the parking lot of the launch ramp just north of South Point. This nice ramp on the west side of Sinepuxent Bay is about 2 miles south of the bridge from the mainland to the northern end of Assateague Island. I launched my kayak and began paddling north toward the Verazano bridge at Assateague. The wind was about 15 knots from the north, but the fetch and the shallow water kept the waves from having any size.

At the bridge is another ramp which gets much more use by trailered boats, being on the main highway to the park. There is a parking fee here and full facilities.

Past the bridge I angled over to the east and paddled up along the western side of Assateague Island. A regular shaped brown dune rose on the far edge of the island. It looked strange, not only for its color but also for its uniform height. I looked further to the south and saw the explanation. A huge dredge was spewing sand onto the beach and forming the regular dune. I discovered later that the brown color came from the larger bits of shell being dredged from the deep water and deposited mechanically in the shape of a dune. Natural dunes are formed by wind blown sand grains and are much smaller, lighter and whiter, being composed mostly of silica and a few well worn and bleached shell bits.

The $13 million dredging project is a newly initiated project to restore and stabilize the northern end of Assateague island. The island has been receding to the west very rapidly since the jetty protecting the dredged inlet at Ocean City was constructed. That man-made barrier blocked the natural drift of sand from the north that replenished the sands carried away by the natural currents on the south side of the jetty. With the jetty blocking that sand transport and the currents still carrying sand away, the beach eroded quickly. Two years ago a storm nearly broke Assateague Island into two as large storm waves broke over the island and washed directly into Sinepuxent bay. The dredging is attempting to re-establish the dune and then additional dredging will pump sand from in back of the jetty out to sea where its is hoped the currents will once again carry it to the beaches of upper Assateague Island. Man's interference with nature at Ocean City Inlet is obliging this large and expensive project to undo some of the consequences of that interference.

At the Federal National Seashore in the middle of the island, the dune has been re-established and maintained by snow fences. The primary purpose of these fences is to allow the planted grasses that actually hold the dune in place to survive the grazing of the feral horses that make Assateague famous. These horses, descendants of livestock placed there by early colonists, would graze the natural grasses. The mechanical break down of the dunes from their daily crossings to the ocean were threatening the dunes existence. The difference between the dunes in the Federally maintained and the adjacent State maintained park clearly shows the effect that the horses have on these protective beach structures. In many places in the State park, the dune is gone. What remains is half the height of the dune in the Federal park. The horses are not a natural part of the ecosystem, but the public would not hear of their removal, so the National Park Service has created the snow fence project. Once again something unnatural in order to counteract the consequences of another human intrusion.


Sinepuxent Bay kayak rest stop


I paddled as far as Ocean City inlet where the boat and PWCs became congested. PWCs are not allowed in the National Park waters. Even on a weekday there was traffic at the narrow inlet. I soon turned back south, riding the small waves back toward South Point. The wind and waves pushed me along at 5 knots. After a 5 1/2 hour trip of 19 miles, I pulled into the protected ramp, loaded the kayak and headed to the State park on Assateague Island. There I would meet my parents in their Winnebago. They would shadow me the rest of the trip, providing a comfortable bunk and great meals.



The next morning was dedicated to showing my father what it was like to paddle in a sea kayak. We drove into the Assateague National Seashore park. As he had a Golden Age passport, the normal $10.00 entrance fee was not applicable. We had also taken advantage of the 1/2 price for senior citizens at the State Park for camp site fees. This reduced trate is available on Monday through Thursday in off season. There was no one at the entrance station and most visitors seemed to be ignoring the sign that requesting that they stop at the visitors center to pay the fee. We went down to the old ferry landing on the Bay side and unloaded the kayak. After a few instructions on land, I helped in into the cockpit. A few tentative strokes later he was paddling up and down the shore with me wading along behind him. Turning proved a little more difficult, but after a long radius turn he was soon back at the starting point. A second trip out and back left the new paddler with a much steadier performance and even a smile. Getting out proved to be difficult because his knees do not bend so well anymore. But overall not bad for 87.



Static tilt at Assateague National Seashore


While we had the camera out I thought it was a good opportunity to check my form on a number of different strokes. To really get good pictures of the various positions, one really needs a telephoto or a video camera. Here is a good picture of a static tilt with the edge of the skirt in the water, probably 30 degrees or so.




That afternoon was dedicated to a nap and a short stint in the surf. Here I am launching from the beach into small surf. I had two runs in when I broached and lost it leaning too far to the beach side. When I tucked up under the kayak and came up on the seaward side I let my body hang down too far and popped the edge of the skirt off. That doomed my roll attempt and I exited. I kept hold of my paddle and boat. Coming up in the foam I quickly righted the boat and grabbed the stern toggle. Pointing the boat toward the beach I was able to bring the boat into the beach in the small surf with only the usual amount of water in the boat after any capsize. Here is an out of focus picture of me on the last run into shore.


Carefully keeping the boat between me and the beach so that the incoming surf would not catch me with the water logged boat, I walked the boat into the beach. Tilting the boat up and down got the majority of the water out and the pump soon emptied the rest. Returning to the surf once more, I got a great ride in all the way in and up onto the beach. Knowing when to quit, I went in for the day. back at camp we were entertained by a very friendly Sitka deer which wandered in and out of our camp, munching the sparse salty vegetation. Two horses climbed to the top of the dunes to watch the sun go down and enjoy the cool breeses with the rest of us.




The next day saw an early departure to drive to Shad Landing State park on the Pocomoke river. Unfortunately my Nextel phone was once again receiving no signal so I could not get any messages from Julio who had left White Marsh very early in order to be at Shad Landing at 9:00 AM. It turned out that he was only 20 minutes behind schedule and by 9:30 we were just about ready to launch from the full service facilities available at the park. We soon had "The Mango" down off the rack and ready for the water.





The dry conditions of the year had caused some of the smaller shrubs to turn colors even though it was only the last week of September. The hint of yelllow on the mostly green trees contrasted with the orange leaves of the shrubs and was mirrored in the dark waters stained with tannin from the oaks and cypress. We paddled south down river on the marked water trail around the island immediately in front of the marina. Turtles of all sizes slid from the logs along the bank where they had hauled out into the warm late summer sun. Periodic sign posts described the different types of plants, shrubs and trees along the shore.




After completing the loop around the island in front of Shad Landing, we paddled up the pocomoke river. This river is one of the deepest rivers for its width in the world. It averages 30 feet. The water near the banks is dominated by pond lillies growing in thick profusion. Cypress tress with their peculiar and unexplained "knees" grow along the banks and are sometimes the only inhabitant of small islands.

We paddled north until we came to Nassawongo creek. This is a narrow tributary of the Pocomoke that wanders approximately four miles Northeast through twisting and narrowing channels. Eventually it ends at a bridge. The stream goes on but is blocked by trees, limbs and brush. There is a launching place at the bridge. We turned around here and headed back. The main channel of the Nassawongo is marked as a canoe trail and maintained by Pocomoke River Canoe Company.

On the way back we stopped at a small clearing for a late lunch. This piece of land and a good bit of the Nassawongo creek itself is owned by The Nature Conservancy. It is another example of their active preservation of beautiful areas that would have been lost to development without their foresight to purchase and receive donations of significant tracks of land for careful stewardship and use by many.

We got back to camp at 5:15 PM. After a hot shower and some dinner, a sound sleep was our reward.

The next morning we left around 8:00 AM and drove south into Virginia. We wanted to scout out the shoreline for possible stopping points on a multi-day trip we were considering in the following month. Much of the shoreline is being rapidly developed, probably by those commuting over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to their jobs in the Norfolk area. The shoreline seems to be sprouting large residences. Several places that we had hoped were empty were in fact now gone.

We turned back north and headed for Janes Island, near the town of Crisfield. This state park is another full service facility. Since we were ahead of our "support team", we drove right to the boat ramp and started our half day paddle. The facility at Janes island is very nice with an active boat ramp, a kayak launching floating dock and full facilities including a small store.




Janes Island is very much a kayaking friendly state park. There are several marked kayak trails in and around the park. To cover all the trails would take about 3 days. We decided to do the longest trail, about 12 miles around the island. We headed south from the launching ramp and paddled past the seafood processing plant building whose condition spoke of better times long past. The large brick building on the point had a freshly painted signed offering condominiums at prices starting at $150,000. The faded paint of its former purpose clung stubbornly to the bricks.




We rounded the southern end of Janes Island and saw the remnant chimney and docks of another seafood processing plant from the 1930's. The wide expanse of Tangier Sound lay before us to the south. In the distance we could just make out Tangier island some 14 miles away. To our west was Smith Island some six miles away. Ferry boats leave Crisfield at 12:30 PM every day for passage to the islands.
The paddle up the west side of Janes Island was very pleasant. The water was clear and the island had nearly continuous sand beaches on the shore. We stopped at a point were a trail led over the small dune to a dock on the passage through the island. The mosquitos were quite abundant here so we spent little time here. We practised some rolls, had a bite to eat and continued without incident around the north end of the island. Entering the top of the canal we finishe our lop of the island back at the launching ramp. There we were able to wash off our gear from a hose next to the ramp. It was good to get the salty water of the lower Chesapeake off our PFDs and spray skirts.

The next day I left Janes Island and drove into Crisfield. There I visited the ferry dock as pictured above and the Crisfield Historical Museum on 9th strret at Somers Cove Marina. This museum " traces the history of the Lower Shore with exhibits on the beginnings of the Chesapeake Bay, the influence of the Native Americans on early colonists, seafood harvesting and processing, the history of the City of Crisfield, and the evolution of that truly American art form, decoy carving and painting. The museum also has exhibits of prominent Crisfielders to include the late Governor Millard J. Tawes."




After a brief tour of Crisfield, I headed back North to the Choptank and Martinak State park. There is a single ramp boat launch which can be heavily used on weekends by bass boat fishermen. The launch ramp is on a small tidal creek off the Choptank river. The creek winds back about a mile intil it splits into two streams, Watts Creek and Herring Run. These streams were running clear with fresh water and I was able to advance up them for a quarter mile or so in shallow but maneagable water.

Close to the banks of this creek and the main Choptank river are rafts of pond lillies. These dense plants can be difficult to pass through at low tide but are easily negotiated without damage when the tide rises to nearly covered their highest leaves. Clumps of arrow arun are interspersed with the water lillies in the shallow area.




The creek is a very nice short paddle with uninhabited banks on the tidal portion. Lined with oak and hickory trees, each gust of wind brought a barage of nuts out of the tall trees overhanging the banks. they dropped into the water with a big plop and immediately sank as they are quite heavy. Fortunately none hit me as such a dense nut falling from 40 feet would hurt.

I returned to the launch ramp and passed it to enter into the Choptank river. I crossed to the far bank and paddled through the lillies to a small side creek just opposite the park. there I saw25 or so wood ducks, 5 great blue herons and two deer grazing in a small clearing. Several turtles were popping up and down between the lilly pads.




I returned to the ramps and pulled the kayak out and onto the car rack. The kayaking on this trip was over. A quiet evening at camp, a visit to the remains of a British gunboat excavated from the mud at Martinak State park and kept under a shelter and the only a return trip of 2.5 hours back home remained in an enjoyable 5 day trip to Maryland's Eastern shore.


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