|I put in a call to my amigo Julio about getting some paddling in on the Chester River, a section I had yet to do. When I heard back from him, he indicated that he had already put together a little 20 mile paddle with few other friends. Would I like to come along? You bet.|
A gentle 5 knot breeze wafted us toward the mouth of the Gunpowder River and out toward the main channel of the Chesapeake Bay. It was one of those rare days of summer on the Bay when the humidity was not so great so as to obscure the high cliffs of the far eastern shore some 15 or more miles away. We headed to the point around which we knew Pooles Island lay, just a little to the north.
As we paddled along the north shore of the Gunpowder, we could hear and feel the loud retort of large artillery firing on the test range. This shore is part of the Army's Aberdeen Ordinance testing facility. The entire shore is marked with large signs indicating the dangerous conditions of unexploded ordinance left from previous tests as well as the live rounds being tested almost daily. As we proceeded, we saw the area being actively patrolled by the grey hulled range boat with the characteristic slanted stripe characteristic of the coast guard and military marine police.. Julio paddled over to make sure that our planned route was not closed this day. The only requirement was that we remain 600 yards off shore of the mainland.
The soft breeze was perfect for testing my new kayak sail - an umbrella. It pushed me along at about 1 knot. I definitely needed a bigger umbrella for these conditions.
We stopped on the outside of two small reed islands off of Rickett Point for a brief rest. The 4.5 miles from the launch had gone by quickly with the conversations of old friends catching up and new friends getting acquainted. It was only 2.5 more miles to Pooles Island!
We paddled into the glint of the morning sun to the middle of Pooles Island. The current runs strongly (for the Bay) through the passage between Pooles Island and the Bay, but seldom exceeds 2 knots.
From the islands we headed toward the middle of the western side of the island. We turned south keeping several hundred yards off shore and paddled along the edge of the island. On the south end of the island is a very large blue heron rookery. Dozens of the ultra thin tall birds congregated on the shoreline. It is common to see concentrations where you could capture a dozen within the area of a throw net. The tall trees on the end of the island have their ungainly stick nests well hidden among the verdant foliage. Unlike the osprey and eagle that nests on the dead branches of a tree, the heron builds its nests among the live branches deep within the tree. Their nest a nearly invisible from the water. but you can see the large ungainly birds flying into the foliage, grabbing a branch and walking up the limb to disappear into the foliage. The raucous RAAWWK of their call (stop annoying call) when we got too close reminded us to keep our distance and allow these birds to continue their care and feeding of the many fuzzy feathered chicks up in the nests. Each bird makes many flights across the bay to small ponds on the eastern shore where they hunt the snakes, frogs and minnows that make up their diet.
We rounded the south end of the island staying along the waters edge so as not to disturb the birds or trespass upon the island. It is illegal to land on this island and the entire island is sign posted for no trespassing. It is part of the military complex of Edgewood Arsenal. It was used extensively as an artillery range during World Wart II. Signs warn of unexploded ordinance. Unlike the rules for state property rights where public access below the high tide mark is allowed, Federal rules prohibit landing even at low tide or even walking around in the shallows along the shore where running into one of the long buried shells is still a possibility.
The herons flew in and out of the trees and rasped their challenges to us and the other birds from the heights of the trees.
Paddling up the east side of the island, the incredible number of nesting birds at this site became apparent, as they lined the edge of the water, causing a traffic jam on the shore. Further down the island, a lonely osprey nest was built on an abandoned signal tower. The nesting pair was clearly visible as we paddled by. Their shrill cry was easily heard from our position offshore.
We rounded the north end of the island and headed back south toward the automated white lighthouse on the northwest shore of the island. The wind had ceased altogether foiling my plan to use the umbrella to glide back south along the island. The abandoned lighthouse stood as a station for the herons who appeared to be waiting for a ship to pull in.
The wind dropped out completely and the water became mirror smooth. With few pleasure boats out on this weekday, our paddle ripples could be seen as they spread out from our wakes and soon disappear into a glassy sheen once more. I could use the umbrella for power, but the shade was nice!
We finished our trip back at Ultimate Watersports about 4:00 PM. After a rest-room break, we all went back out for more practice. The gently sloping sand beach between the bulkheads makes for the best and most protected place to practice anything that you think you may need to bail on. The bottom is fairly clean, there is a good range of water depth and the beach is good for emptying out a water loaded boat. By 5:30 PM we were ready to put an end to a great day of paddling and practice. Can't wait until next time. Now Julio, about the Chester..........
Half way back, the wind came up from behind us at about 3 knots, just the speed we were paddling so it began to get really hot in the still air. A dunking was in order. Julio did his rest scull for a good cool respite. I used the bow of his boat to get really wet while keeping the umbrella dry!
Map of pooles Island trip