Put Julianne on the plane and Renate and I set off.
Out from Chesapeake beach it was the same heading north as it was to the south, all private. It was about 8km to the end of the land before the trip across some open water. The wind was less than 12 knots but from the south, behind me. Boats were everywhere, it being Sunday. Even kayak fishermen were out and about.
It was very an easy cruise across the bay and having forgotten my map I was wondering what landmarks I would need before I saw the bay bridge. There was no need to worry, it is such a big bugger that it peeped over the horizon 25km away.
With the bridge as an aiming point there was no need to look anywhere else so I was a long way from land most of the way. About noon the wind dropped, as it had done many times before, and then returned with a vengeance by 1.00pm. I kept the trust Fly Kayak sail up and barrelled on.
With so many boat about I guess it was inevitable that I would see a race but I didn’t expect to be in one. A forty foot yacht was on a collision course with me. My sail was on the left, meaning the wind was to starboard. The other boat had the sail on the right. My speed was slower but in the mad, frantic race that I was having I was surfing waves at 9 knots which is not too shabby. Should I call right of way? Maybe I would have in Australia but maybe their rules are opposite here. Discretion won and I passed about 10mn behind their stern.
I continued the frenetic pace to the bay bridge, pulled to the harbour just after the bridge and Renate took me home for a shower and a sleep.
The wind blew all night, just like a black nor’easter. It was about 25 knots when we reached the water at 7.30am. Keeping to my regime of safety I paddled sideways across the waves towards the point on the other side of the bay. After about 7km I reckoned if the worst happened I would be blown towards the land further up the bay but on the eastern side where I was headed. That was about 14km away but a lot better than about 60km if I missed it.
With such a breeze there was no chance of a sail. The waves made the horizon disappear when they rolled underneath meaning they were above head height. I tried not to catch a wave but some of the smaller ones picked me up when I least expected it. Close to the other side one of these shot us along at 18km/hr which is bloody fast for a plastic sea kayak.
A lone seagull came towards me. Feeling the air it almost touched the waves, drifted up and to my right, only to plunge back towards the water and swoop to my left. Underpowered it felt its way slowly through the wind going to who knows where.
About five minutes later a shag came along a similar path but with rapid, purposeful flapping about a metre above the water. It powered past. The difference was like a Mack truck compared with a postie bike.
At about 23km I was safely across, found a small beach and called Renate to let her know all was well. I wanted to take a photo as I came in with the bow of the kayak way above the land behind it as a wave rolled underneath but it was out of the question. You can’t put the paddle down in conditions like that because it is all that keeps you upright.
The shoreline bent slightly to the right so the wind came slightly behind my right shoulder while the wave refracted towards the shore and came a bit from the left. The balance was perfect and I rocketed along with the sail up. Past a neat little harbour dug into the bank with heaps of roofed area for the power boats and about 30-40 sailing boats. I was keen to photograph it but as I went past the entrance I was doing 13km/hr, just about on the plane and very busy staying upright.
It was a screamer of a run up that shore. Many times the wind tried to knock the boat flat but each time I managed to dig us out. That comes from wave skiing which is like riding the water with a cork up your bum, and from K1 racing which takes at least three months before your reactions prevent you from being unexpectedly beside the kayak instead of in it.
Before time I arrived at the pickup point but Renate wasn’t there. The message on the phone was that it was all private and she was at Betterton Beach another 2 miles or so further on. I was getting heartily sick of this private ownership of foreshore so had another pee on their beach, this time with feeling, before setting off again.
For more than half the day I had heard booming noises every few minutes. Sometimes it was like distant thunder, sometimes that was followed by a sharper sound 20km further south. Renate heard it as well so I wasn’t dreaming. I guess it was some sort of military work. For the whole east coast the military had been present in some form or another, from the roar of aircraft to acres of aerials.
Renate Pick ups – how tricky could it be? You measure the distance you want to cover and look up a spot on google-map that has a beach and a road nearby. You enter the address into the navigator and BAM! But a mile before your meeting point you run into a sign “Private Property – No Trespassing”.
At Cove Point every single street is private, so is the beach. Residents tell you they could call the police to have you towed. There is no parking on the main road; only at the Cove Point Light House can a commoner legitimately park. At Howell Point, my journey ended about one mile away from the beach at the gate of a huge private property (I couldn’t locate anyone to ask).
I know I have a right in this country to walk on any beach, but that does not include access to the beach. I guess access belongs to the one who can pay mega bucks.
Maybe next time I’ll just drive through…
My last day on Chesapeake Bay and the wind was favourable. Setting out from Betterton it increased gradually as I came away from the lee shore. I had paddled up the arm, through the palm and was now into the fingers of the mighty Chesapeake. The route was up the little finger, smallest and to the right. My map gave me enough information to know exactly where I was. The thunder from the east bank of the bay started at 9:15 and echoed all the way to the top but because the distance was getting greater only the really big rumbles reached me. Renate heard much more from down at Betterton.
As I reached the start of the canal to the Delaware River I wondered where the boats were. Previously there had been a steady procession showing me the way. As if on cue a huge stink boat roared past with a 1m wake. Two more followed close behind but both of those slowed down for the kayak. The canal is like a river for the first bit so I guess that is the natural part and the actual canal structure starts after that. This is where the first bridge crosses and where I met a car transport ship coming towards me. It was actually going slower than I can paddle so the wake was negligible.
As the shore line had squeezed in on both sides coming up the bay I had noted a pretty good current in my favour and into the canal it increased to about 3knots. With the wind behind me, which built to a gusty 20 knots I just sat and luxuriated in an average speed of 13km/hr doing nothing except to stay up right. It was by far the easiest ride of the trip and I reckoned about time after 3,500km. Nothing lasts forever though.
A speed boat approached as I neared the pick up point. The person standing near the bow waved me down. I turned around into the wind and dropped the sail. It was a police woman with a policeman driving the boat. “You can’t kayak on the canal,” she yelled. I drifted closer, “Then how do I get to New York?” They had no answer but said maybe I could get permission to paddle it from the US Army Corps of Engineers. “Better to seek forgiveness than permission,” was my response. I guess from my questions that followed they decided not to trust me. The safety mantra was trotted out a number of times. They watched as, for my safety, I paddled over to the rock wall and turned around into the current. Again, for my safety I clung to a slippery rock with 3 knots of current trying to grab the kayak, climbed out onto the slippery rocks and dragged my 70kg (150lb) kayak 5m up the rock wall to the top of the bank. Satisfied, they sped off, returning about half an hour later having done a patrol of the whole canal I guess.
Because I had been so fast with the current and the wind helping, Renate was over half an hour away so I settled down under the bridge to wait. When she arrived she was closely followed by a police car. The speeding coppers had seen me sitting there. They really hadn’t trusted me eh. To be honest, I had tossed up what to do. Maybe run the last two miles at night, maybe start early just after sunrise, but because I was in a foreign country and had decided to behave myself, and because they don’t seem to understand flexibility of rules here I decided to just skip that bit and start again at the end of the canal.
Dan, the policeman was great to talk to. Like every contact we have had with police, troopers and sheriffs it has been a pleasure. The formal photo shaking hands didn’t come out but the informal ones did and I like them.
Renate: The Brandywine River area is absolutely picturesque: small winding roads through forested hills and meadows, lovely historic houses dotting the landscape, millstones marking the entrance to properties. The campground near Embreeville sits right across the ChesLen Nature Preserve. Looks like there are several trails; I grab my iPad and set out for a hike.
Strange, the preserve is on the other side of the river, but the nearest bridge is almost a mile away. Don’t campers want to hike?! No wait, there is the railroad bridge! An engine is just sitting there. Seems safer than a walk on a busy, narrow street. Some of the beams holding the track have rotted away; the railing looks fragile; I see the river through a hole in the thin concrete I’m walking on. Safer to get back on the track.
I work my way through the woods to the wider path; woods and river to my left, 5 foot tall untouched grass to my right. Nobody else around. How safe is it here? If someone jumped out to get me, I would be on my own.
I’m relieved to reach the beautiful arched stone bridge bringing me back to the road. It’s narrow, the street is dropping off right at the white line, lots of traffic. I don’t feel safe at all.
Even in this part of the country, seemingly ideal for hiking, the infrastructure is almost exclusively made for cars. How different from my native Germany, where marked hiking paths would be crisscrossing this kind of landscape, inviting people to exercise and enjoy nature up close!