Saturday July 28 was a Chesapeake Paddlers Association group paddle around Eastern Neck Island near Rock Hall, MD. It was organized (very well organized) by Marshall Woodruff and about 25 kayakers were on the paddle. Many had camped the previous night nearby, but my wife had just graduated from her degree program and we had a party the night before, so I drove out early that morning. I was surprised to find no traffic on the Bay Bridge - I thought Saturday morning was the new Friday evening, as far as "going down the Shore" traffic went, but apparently not. I even arrived a bit early and had time for a cup of coffee at the Java Rock in Rock Hall's happenin' little downtown.
Since I left my camera in my truck, the pictures are courtesy of Manuel and Ed - you can see Manuel's full album of the Eastern Neck Paddle hither and Ed Hershon's pictures are yon and Kim Palmer's over here. After a short talk by a park ranger about the history and features of Eastern Neck Island, and a short safety check/float briefing by Marshall, we were off by about 0930 onto glassy calm seas on the Chester River side - much different conditions than on my previous attempt at circumnavigating Eastern Neck It was already pretty warm, 80 degrees or so and really humid, with just a slight breeze coming out of the south. At the previous week's practice paddle around Kent Island there had apparently been a lot of dehydration, so Marshall reiterated the "drink a lot" mantra. I had a 72 ounce Camelbak on the front deck and a half gallon of iced tea in the hatch so I was in good shape.
It was interesting to see that many kayaks out on the water at one time - we looked like a rainbow-colored, floppy hat-wearing third world invasion fleet. Yellow kayaks dominated, and luckily there was only one shark bait kayak out there - a red Carolina. We headed downstream on the Chester River for a clockwise circumnavigation of the island with very little other boat traffic on the river. The pace was a tad slower than what you see at the CPA races - closer to 3 mph than 5 mph, but there was lots to look at that merited a slower pace. As we turned the southeast corner of the Island, the breeze picked up a bit and the wakes from the large boats heading across the channel near Kent Island gave the water a little bit of action. We stopped for a brief rest stop at a beach behind the one of the rip-rap breakwaters placed around the Island to slow erosion. You could see the Kent Narrows Bridge, and the top of the towers of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, across the way to the south. There were a lot of sailboats out on the Bay, but they didn't have much breeze to work with. Over the VHF radios we heard a lot of powerboats reporting on their "poker run." Some explained what this is but I couldn't follow it - something to do with cards and boats and probably beer.
We continued along and turned north around the southwest corner of the island and picked up a slight tailwind and some more waves. Marshall commented that the pace was faster than previous trips and we made it to a lunch stop just southwest of the Eastern Neck bridge a bit early. The array of boats on the beach showed that Current Designs definitely has market share with CPAers, with Necky and Wilderness Systems taking silver and bronze. Mine appeared to be the only P&H boat and there was one brand new QCC and a "stealth" Valley boat that Manuel was paddling - all the decals had worn off. The total amount of stuff carried by 25 kayakers - either stowed in hatches or hanging from deck rigging - is pretty amazing. About the only things I didn't see were a candelabra or an electric carving knife.
Great place to stop, with nice shade and plenty of driftwood to sit on - though one enterprising paddler unpacked a folding chair and sprawled out. There was no poison oak/sumac/ivy that I could see along the shore, but I stayed away from the paths leading inland. The water was pretty rife with jellyfish (no rolling or practicing of wet rescues) but near the shore was clear. The water was very shallow for a good 100 feet from the beach and we watched:
- A very slow row boater - basically a skinny Ollie looking guy slowly rowing a hefty Stan looking guy across the inlet.
- A family wading along with dip nets and an inner tube carrying a bushel. I assume they were scooping up crabs but all we saw were dead baby crabs on the shore and the water was pretty opaque - I don't know how they could see anything.
- What appeared to be an amphibious ultra light, or maybe a flying kayak, putting along about 50 feet above the water.
After an enjoyable lunch, Marshall suggested we try to replicate a picture he had seen on a Sea Kayaker magazine cover by circling our kayaks near the bridge while Manuel climbed onto the bridge to take the picture. Now, CPAers may be very experienced paddlers, but the June Taylor dancers they are not - it wasn't pretty. Some ambitious, and artistic, paddlers tried to get all the yellow kayaks to spread out and mix with the red and blue kayaks to replicate the color wheel, but that that quickly went by the wayside. We never really did make a circle, but if you look at the picture just right it does appear that we formed the head of an egret... Plus, there was a fairly swift current pulling us into the bridge - the pack breaking up and trying to avoid getting pinned against the bridge pilings was even uglier. But no teeth were lost, and no kayaks were dumped, in the making of this picture - it was a miracle.
It was about 1230 by then, so we decided to paddle up the coast a bit towards Rock Hall. We saw a heron posing on a duck blind in the classic Maryland License Plate Heron shot. It was pretty hot by then and the water was very shallow - the paddling was getting a bit more wearying by then and the pack of kayaks started to spread out quite a bit. After about 45 minutes the kayak herders turned the flotilla around and we headed back to Bogle's wharf. We picked up a little bit of a breeze back on the Chester River side of the bridge, and the final 1.5 miles back to the put-in was a very pleasant paddle. When we got there, the parking lot was full of a bunch of motorcyclists on Harley's, but when they saw our powerful forces approaching (brandishing VHF radios, GPS units, bailing pumps and water bottles), they quickly hopped on their bikes and scurried away.
My GPS showed a total of 13 miles of paddling spread over just about 6 hours. Real world obligations meant I couldn't stay for the food afterwards at the campground, so it was back in the truck for the 95 mile ride home. I wonder if there is a public put-in spot along Rt. 213 - if I could put in across the Chester River from Eastern Neck it would save about 35 miles of driving. I know you can put in on Kent Island but that crossing seems a lot more problem-prone that just coming across the Chester River. On the ride back, there was a 1 mile backup at the Bay Bridge toll going east-bound - I guess Saturday evening is the new Friday evening for beach traffic. Thanks to Marshall and all the others who organized this - it was great fun.