Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Don't Do Something Stupid

 It is only 35 degrees when I put in, but the wind is barely registering - decent winter paddling if you don't do something stupid.

The harbor is quiet with the oyster boats already out in the sound and no one else around except for a couple marina workers hauling out yachts.  As a result, the harbor is active with wildlife - ten Great Blue Herons, forty Buffleheads, a dozen Mallards and two Common Loons before I get to open water.  There is skim ice in the calmest areas of the harbor.  

I decided that today was a good day to make my annual pilgrimage to Charles Island - the Mt. Rainier of Milford.  Less than a mile off shore, one can walk to it at low tide on a bar called a tombolo.  A tombolo bar is created by waves wrapping around an island.  If you time the tide correctly, you can walk out, circle the island, and walk back without getting your feet wet.  Time it wrong and you get to sit on the island waiting for the next low tide.  Every couple of years someone drowns out there, either trying to wade back across the tombolo and getting carried off by the tide or flipping a canoe or kayak with their PFD securely stuffed in the bottom of the boat where it is absolutely of no use.

Charles Island with the tombolo leading out

At the mouth of the harbor, I turn right and follow the shore in calm water.  Although I'm 150 yards from the beach, I'm in 2 to 3 feet of water most of the time - if you flip a canoe in freezing water, it is nice if you can just stand up and get back in the boat, or walk to dry land.  Winter paddling is all about having a plan B... and a plan C and D.  On this route, if necessary, I can actually walk/tow the canoe from any point back to the harbor as long as I don't get blown away from shore. So, I follow the shore over to the tombolo, then I'll follow the tombolo out to the island, circle the island and return the way I came.  

With the dropping tide the shore birds are feeding all along the newly exposed sections of the bar.  It is mostly a mix of Sandpipers, Gulls, and Brandts.  I do a short lift over the bar and into the windward water.  The wind has come up and there is a good chop developing on that side.  I keep moving as the conditions are changing and by the time I've rounded the little island there is a good wind in my face getting back to the bar.  The calm water is gone, but the bar reduces the waves to "not much".  But, it is a big angle crab along the bar as I paddle back to the shore.  Then it is an almost casual drift with the wind back to the harbor.  It was definitely time to not be on big water.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Elwood P. Dowd

 Calm air, autumn sun, and a perfectly timed tide put me into my favorite small river, again.

I pass two kayakers as I head into the Neck River.  The first says, "Glorious day," his way of saying something when he doesn't know what to say.  His buddy tells me in a perfect New Jersey accent to watch out for the alligator.  I'm not worried as the alligator only eats peoples senses of humor.  As much as I put down the "glorious day" comment, it dominates my thoughts for the next half hour.

From the Neck, I head up Bailey Creek and into the Sneak, my usual route when the tide permits.  It is a glorious day and I think back to try to remember a day when I was outdoors that wasn't glorious.  This is an Elwood P. Dowd (look him up) moment... "nice day"... "they always are."  I can't think of day outdoors that wasn't at some point, glorious.  Freezing cold, rain, wind, or a night at 12,000 ft under a boulder in a snowstorm without a sleeping bag...scary, but glorious and unforgettable.  I finally figure out that this is just a ordinary day.

The light is perfect today, low and filtered.  Good photos are easy, but watercolors are what is needed to get the full effect.  The spartina is gold, the water near smooth, and half of the trees still hold onto rust colored leaves.  I flush a dozen Black Ducks as I get up through the Sneak and spot another thirty flying farther off - well out of scare distance. 

I keep going when I get to the little bridge at Bear House Hill Road.  The next half mile only works at high tide and often requires some brush bashing or limbo dancing.  A Hawk trades stares with me for awhile.  I turn at the next bridge knowing that it is just wading above that.

I see a guy paddling a small motorboat with an oar.  He beaches it at the little bridge and inspects his propeller.  He is about 400 yards higher up than he should be and I imagine that he hit one of the large boulders that dance just below the surface.  Eventually, he catches up with me.  His boat sounds like a distant B-17 bomber, a deep thrumming, which might be due to a bent prop.

I get surprised by a Great Blue Heron as I return down Bailey Creek.  The feeding must be good as I am well within a Heron's scare distance before I see it. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

In the Big River

 I set out at high tide with a slack current.  It was calm and sunny with temperatures in the forties.  The water surface was old glass.

I managed to find the passage between Carting and Peacock Island, having missed it the last few times.  

Between Peacock and Carting Islands

It doesn't look like much on the downstream end, but it opens up into clear twenty five foot wide channel. By the time I've reached the top of the islands, I've flushed about forty Black Ducks with a few Mallards mixed in.  I also saw a few Kingfishers and in one of the tributary streams, a half dozen Common Mergansers, and a Hawk that I am too lazy to look up in the bird book - I'm not really a birdwatcher.

I'm impressed that the autumn colors have lasted so long.  We didn't get the exploding crayon box colors this year, but seem to have traded it for a long lasting show.

I turn back at the unnamed island just above the dragonfly factory.  The current is still slack and I don't sense any flow until I get back to Fowler Island.  A light headwind starts up, but as the current increases it more than balances the effect. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Drysuit Day

After several days of mucking about in the art world, I needed and had time for a short trip.  The morning was calm, mostly sunny, and the temperature just below freezing as I loaded up.  Guessing that the water temperature has finally dropped below 60F, it was a good day to get used to wearing the drysuit.  As I paddle all year, if the ice allows, I invested in a drysuit several years ago.  The suit is a waterproof "onesy" with built in socks, rubber gaskets at the neck and wrists and waterproof zippers. Should I fall out of the canoe, my functional swim time is greatly increased.  So far, my only test of the drysuit has been slipping on ice while finishing a portage and landing in shallow water with the canoe on top of me.  Since I did such a good job saving the canoe, I just shook myself off and paddled away.

I put in at my town's little harbor.  Well protected and narrow, the harbor hosts a variety of motor yachts, sailboats and smaller fishing vessels.  At this time of year, I expect no one else other than working fishing boats.

I pass two small schools of menhaden in the harbor. There are three Common Loons at the mouth of the harbor.  The wintering Loons make use of the tidal currents to fish. They have already lost the beautiful feather patterns that they have in summer.  There are a dozen Buffleheads feeding in the shallows.

I turn up into Gulf Pond, where I find another dozen Buffleheads and then a flock of Canada Geese about halfway up through the first section.   Add a couple of Great Blue Herons and a few Widgeons for good measure before ducking under the second bridge.

There are another fifteen Buffleheads in the upper pond.  I duck under the third bridge and ride the last of the tide through the railroad bridge, by far the oldest of thW. e bridges with a stone foundation.  This is the Indian river and I continue up to the highway bridge noting the increase in trash and wondering if anyone has ever studied highways to see their effects as trash vectors.  

I head back with not much else to add other than it is a fine day.  Heading through the harbor, I end up talking with the master of the Victor Loosanoff.  This is one of those unexpected long chats that are surprisingly common here in the northeast and it turns an ordinary canoe trip into an excellent canoe trip. This talk is far better than most as B has extensive knowledge of what NOAA researchers are doing.  He also has experience as ships engineer on the restored whaler, Charles W. Morgan, the only remaining wooden whaling ship.  The Charles W. Morgan is part of the nearby Mystic Seaport Museum.  Anyway, we discuss, oysters, dams, whales, climate change, and ship restorations - you know, the usual stuff.  After about 30 or 40 minutes, we both have to get on with what we're suppose to be doing.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Long Time No See

I put in near low tide on a favorite river.  I suppose, as much as a river can be a friend, this is one.  I found this short tidal river sometime during the first year after moving to this area, and I've paddled it more than any other one body of water since.  Salt marsh, fresh marsh, and forest, high tides and low, with all the variety of birds and plants that go along with that. It is a place that never ceases to give.

Just as I get settled in the canoe, I spot a Yellow Legs on the far bank, some 50 yards away.  The Yellow Legs would have gone unnoticed but for the low autumn sun that made it sparkle against the brown silt bank.  Halfway up to the first bend, I spot a Pied Billed Grebe. At the bend is a Hawk, but I never get a good enough look at it for an identification.  After the next bend, I'm watching a pair of Yellow Legs when two Dunlin pop up from around a hummock.  There will be Yellow Legs and Dunlin every so often from here up through the Big Bends.

Beebe comes motoring down the river on his little green barge.  He has a small marina of two to three dozen boats up above the RR bridge, which guarantees that it will be a small marina as only runabouts can clear that low bridge, and even they can't get under at high tide.  We are familiar with each other and he tells me that he's going to Clinton to haul out moorings.  "Long drive in that boat," I say., although I suppose he'll get to Clinton in 30-45 minutes.  His barge is less than 10x25 ft, a chartreuse metal box with an outboard motor and a light duty crane and winch.  A few years back, I figure out that he knew me, at least by sight, when he commented on my paddling technique.  That stepped him up in my estimation as it showed to me that he was quite aware of his landscape, having taken notice of my once-in-awhile trips on the river.  I'm pretty sure he runs his marina and dock/mooring business because the office is so spectacular.  People that are connected that deeply to their surroundings stand out when you meet them.

I pass a Great Blue Heron at the RR bridge.  It is less than 2 canoe lengths off and typifies how docile and calm the birds in the marsh are today.

Just past Beebe's marina I tuck into an old blow out channel.  Until recently, it had some big culvert sections in it - big as in 4 ft. diameter.  Someone has hauled the wreckage out and I paddle up to a damaged tide gate.  It is a cement dam with a 2x2 ft hole where the gate should be. Behind is a low marsh bordered by buildings that are too damn near sea level. Now that I see the dam, I suspect that hurricane Sandy or Irene might have blown out the culvert.  Seawalls and dams are designed to hold water on one side.  When the water gets behind them it can tear things apart in no time. 

Above the Big Bends I spot three Killdeer feeding on the exposed silt. Just before the stone arch bridge I meet up with a male Hooded Merganser, who deftly dives and evades me before I can take a photo.

The wind is coming up.  I turn at the Duck Hole Farms.  The river is getting low and it is nice to have a full paddle blade of depth when you have to go against the wind.