MD - Gunpowder River - 2007/01/01



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A year opening tradition starts off a new paddling season with a foggy day of calm. You don;t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing. SOmetimes it is better not to listen.




New Years Day Paddle (2007)
By Steve Rohrs

Small Craft Advisory now in effect through Tuesday afternoon

Forecast as of 3:58 AM EST on January 1, 2007
Chesapeake Bay From Pooles Island To Sandy Point-
Today: SW winds 15 kt... becoming W 20 to 25 kt. Waves 2 ft. Tides 1 ft above normal. A slight chance of rain. Some fog reducing visibility to 1 to 3 nm.

Well, 2007 is off to a good start for four Chesapeake Bay paddlers. Although I can’t say the same thing for the local weather forecaster whose prediction is detailed above. As we started making calls to each other around 8am for the traditional New Years Day paddle the replies were something like “Do you really want to go”, “Have you seen the weather forecast”, “There’s a small craft advisory, you know!”, and of course the always popular, “But my bed, it’s so warm and snuggly.” And then I thought, if we let an annual tradition slip by like this, then what chance in hell will our New Years’ resolutions have. So out of the 7 people called, 4 were actually brave enough to face the small craft advisory. And they would soon be rewarded with one of the more pleasantly surprising New Years’ Day paddles in memory.

Sandra, Gina and I planned on launching from a friends house on the Gunpowder River while Ted was to launch from a location near Mariner Point Park. The plan was to meet up near the Little Gunpowder and then paddle south towards the Hammerman area of Gunpowder Falls State Park. Around 11:45am, as we lowered our boats down the steep bank ], we took note of the building fog believing it wouldn’t be long before the 20kt winds would blow it away. As we were heading off in a light rain, we continued congratulating ourselves for sticking to our plan. While the rain felt chilly as it hit against our face and necks we were all still astonished to be paddling in an almost balmy 55 degree air temperature during the month of January. Our wondering whether it was going to be difficult to locate Ted in the fog was soon put to rest when all of us arrived at the meeting place simultaneously. After exchanging New Year greetings we turned and headed south towards our destination. Other than an occasional duck or heron, the only sounds we heard besides our own chatter, were the Amtrak trains passing invisibly over the Gunpowder as they were completely hidden in the fog.


In short order, we had passed under the CSX railroad bridge and were closing fast on Gunpowder State Park. We could now hear the trains passing behind us. Since we had gotten this far with not so much as a breeze, we were anticipating the return trip with the forecasted wind at our backs.

Next, we decided to paddle up a small creek just north of the park. We all practiced our edging and forward bow rudder strokes as we finessed our way up the winding creek as far as it would allow 17+ foot kayaks to go. Using some fancy maneuvering mixed with some brute force, we were able to turn the kayaks around and head back down the creek. Upon exiting the creek to start our return trip we noticed the wind still had not arrived and the fog had grown even denser. In fact, the rain had stopped completely and now the surface of the water reflected our kayaks like a mirror. There was an almost eerie stillness to the air. We decided to hug the shoreline on the way back until we arrived at the bridge where there would be buoys to mark the rest of the way back.

About half way back I was so amazed at the calmness of the water that I asked everyone to pause for some photos so as to catch some shots of the kayak reflections.


At this point I guess I got a little carried away with photography and didn’t notice the crew taking off. As I quickly stow away my camera into its waterproof bag, I take a quick parting glance at the houses on the shoreline and follow in pursuit of my comrades. By the time we’re all together again there is nothing visible whatsoever but walls of fog. It was like paddling inside of a giant ball of cotton. You could no longer distinguish the line between water and sky.
Now, there was really no concern at this point since a little dead reckoning showed the river was not even a mile wide at this point and the bridge was less than a mile away so if we headed anywhere near north we would have to pass under the railroad bridge which spanned the entire river. And besides, it would only be another minute or two before an Amtrak train sounded the way home. We checked the compass for a northerly course and set way for the bridge. We all seemed to be traveling in a group together but after chatting for a while it wasn’t long before the compass showed us all heading east. Still, there was no train to be heard. We reset our course to the north and resumed our conversations and again it wasn’t long before this time we found ourselves heading west. Exactly what was keeping those trains? Perhaps I’ll add an Amtrak schedule to my safety kit. Realizing that without any terrestrial object to use for a bearing, we could not count on the tracking ability of our kayaks alone to hold course. It takes a fairly constant reading of the compass in order to maintain the desired course.

Before long the ghostly appearance of the bridge [2007 New Years Paddle-29.JPG] [2007 New Years Paddle-33.JPG] [2007 New Years Paddle-42.JPG] broke through the fog and we were home free. And yes, from the time we reached the bridge until well north of it, train after train roared by.

It turns out that we were all quite pleased that the weatherman was off to a bad start in 2007 and the 20kt winds and 2ft seas never appeared. The only waves on the water this day were those created from the wake of a kayak.


The temperature reached 55 degrees. And while our little episode in the fog only lasted about 20-30 minutes it turned out to be an interesting experiment in navigation.
All in all, this has easily been my favorite kayak trip thus far in 2007.

Editors Note: As of 2007/01/02 13:00 it is blowing at least 25 knots. Timing is everything. As is often the case in this region. the weather prediction was early.


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