|by Hank McComas
The original plan was to drive three hours south to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and camp overnight. But with rain predicted for all day Friday and Friday night, we decided that we wanted something with less driving and no rain. It wasn't supposed to rain on the northern portion of the Chesapeake Bay where we live. So we decided on an abbreviated overnighter out of Havre de Grace, Maryland on Saturday night instead of the long drive and Friday noght camping in the rain.
We headed north from the little beach down river of the train bridge, passing under the heavy black girders of the trestles. Workmen were up on one of the two rail lines over the bridge. It looked a little precarious as the would stand carefully to one side as the trains came swooshing past on the other track. The trains always blew the whistle well before the bridge and again in a jaunty signal to their fellow workers as they passed.
My friend Wayne Richardson was new to kayaking, having been out on just a few trips. This would be his first overnighter with a kayak so a close and simple trip probably wasn't that bad of an idea. We arrived in Havre de Grace at a little before 10:00 A.M. at the Tidewater Grill restaurant where there is a small sand beach. The high tide had almost consumed the little crescent of sand, but there was enough to line our two boats one in back of the other and load our gear into them. Wayne had his first go at trying to get big camping gear items into the little hatches of a kayak. Some reshuffling was necessary before everything was put away properly. We checked the balance of our boats with all the extra gear loading them down and found that we had properly position the load so that neither the bow or stern sat too low, or one side of the kayak was lower than the other. Either can make paddling unnecessarily difficult.
We continued up river past Garrett Island, the small island in the center of the river with the US Route 40 bridge going across it. This island has recently been purchased by the Wildlife Management Agency and has been posted with no entry signs all over it. Good luck to them, as this island has been used extensively by weekend boaters for swimming and camping, ignoring the private property signs for decades.
We paddled on to the high bridge that carries Interstate 95 over the Susquehanna. We turned under the bridge and paddled through the double supported span. With the strong current of the spring rain swollen river, we had to use about a 20 degree ferry angle to keep progressing straight down the row of columns. It was a good and very clear demonstration of how a ferry glide should be done. I didn't think about it until afterwards, but that probably was a violation of some anti-terrorist rule about bridges and bridge supports.
We turned back down river and after a brief stop at a certain island not to be named, we continued out past Havre de Grace and headed along the channel that runs south from the colonial town. The channel is always busy with boats and today was no exception. Low profile 225 HP bass boats tearing along at 60 miles an hour in search of some poor fish were the majority of the traffic today. Large barges carrying rocks from the quarry are a frequent sight here. These large slow and barely manoeverable behemoths need to be given a wide berth.
There were bass boats from the south going north, boats from the north going south and a few that just seemed to be running up and down the channel. Apparently gas is not expensive enough yet.
We stopped on the shore for a break and some lunch. The shoreline here is unremarkable except that it is high banked with a red clay soil that is crumbling under the onslaught of occasional storms. Much of the land surrounding the Susquehanna flats has high banks as this area is right on the edge of Piedmont Plateau. These high banks are a favorite nesting place of swallows. We saw many of them doing their aerobatics over the water searching for flying insects.
After putting up our tents, dinner was the next item on the agenda. A small backpackers stove would make cooking the simple meals quick and easy. There was much evidence of earlier visitors who had made numerous fires on the tiny island and left several areas with heavy charcoal mixed in with the sand. Someone had left various pieces of unsightly camp equipment. It was all too big for us to haul away on our kayaks. But their thoughtlessness was sad to observe.
The next morning the crows started at 5:30 A.M. and took about the same time to sort themselves out as they had to settle down the previous evening. In addition there were about 20 pairs of Canada geese the starting honking as soon as the crows left. Some issue of great import must have been under discussion as it took all morning of honking and cackling to settle the matter. With all the animal noises and the train horn blowing all nigh each time a train on the busy Amtrak corridor approached the bridge, it was a fitful night and an early morning. Catching the sunrise was no problem at all.
As evening began to settle in our island became a roosting area for about 200 crows. And what a racket they made. Chasing each other, wheeling and fighting in mid air, jumping up from tree branches to make a big turn through the air and come back to almost the same spot, they took about and hour to settle down. Visions of Hitchcock swirled in my head as the noisy birds made their finally adjustments.
After breakfast we paddled over to Fishing Battery Island which was just barely above high tide. Only a few feet right around the lighthouse building itself was out of the water. If it had been another foot higher the entire island would have been under water. Clearly, this is no place to spend a night of high tides in spring.
We left the island and headed back up the channel. Five kayak fishermen on really tricked out kayaks were fishing off the channel next to the flats. They said they were with http://www.stripersonline.com. Fishing was slow this morning as the water had turned cold and the fish seemed to be more interested in the spawn than the bait.
We finished the six mile paddle from the island back to Havre de Grace. Along the way we stopped for the classic picture of kayaker and Concord lighthouse. We got back to the parking lot just at the desired 10:00 A.M. time so that Wayne could get to a relative birthday party. We packed up and drove off. It had been a successful one day overnight camping trip. Now we need to get down to Blackwater.......