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Tuesday, December 17, 2002

(Bruce's Cookie Paddle)
Sunday, December 16, 2002

by Bruce

Times of day are approximate to give an idea of how much time to allow in doing a similar paddle to any of the features we visited. We were not pushing ourselves hard; we took time to look at birds and pick up trash. We often coasted along. The put-in time and take-out times are exact by my watch.

Rob Nyquist showed up at the Bruno's parking lot in Spanish Fort. We left at 10:00 for the Byrnes Lake public boat ramp. It was a clear calm morning about 50 degrees air temperature when we put in. We were underway at 10:45 paddling on mirror smooth water.

The cypress have lost their needles. All that is left on their branches are the seed balls and Spanish moss hanging. The underbrush has thinned so it is possible to see some distance into the forest.

We passed just one boat, a metal flaked sparkling bass boat, with two older people fishing quietly in Byrnes Lake. They liked our paddle-powered boats.

Out on the Tensaw we had flat water and no current as we paddled north along the eastern shoreline. Rob was picking up floating cans and bottles along the way. When we were about even with the north end of the island we headed west to cross the Tensaw River. We did not feel any current until we were about 150 feet from Gravine Island. Then we had a little current so we crabbed into it to keep our track to the point of land.

As we rounded the point of land, we saw a boatload of hunters on the sand beach. They left shortly after we beached our boats for lunch about 11:50. I brought out peanut butter cookies and Rob brought out pecan tarts and lemon tarts. We hiked the sand hill to read the signs threatening a $50,000 fine and one year in jail for walking past the line of signs into the turtle nesting area. We walked west on the ridge picking up bits of trash along the way and we crossed two lines of boot prints that went over the ridge and back down to where the boat load of hunters had landed. We went to the beach and walked back to our boats, picking up bright silvery 7 mm rifle cartridges at the water's edge. The hunters had rolled something heavy and cylindrical into deeper water; we could not identify that from shore but we could see it.

We headed out and just to the west of the sand beach I spotted an inlet that was not on my map (Hurricane quadrangle, revised 1982). We went exploring. The direction was right to meet up with the little basin inside the island so we were hoping to find a passage. The water was good for 600 feet or so and then it shallowed into a broad marsh. When my boat stopped floating I could see water about 1000 feet ahead across the muck. I asked Rob if he could back up; that last turn was rather sharp and we have long boats. We backed out of there, and that was okay until we brushed by some dry plants bearing seeds that stuck to our clothes and scratched through with a pair of barbs on one end of each seed. We returned to the beach and spent 20 minutes picking them out of our clothes. Later we asked a guy on a boat what those were and he called them "beggar's lice."


The gunfire in the west and north was loud and frequent. We stayed out on the west branch of the Tensaw until we came to the entrance of Gravine Basin. This is a long piece of water that extends northeast to the backside of the sandy hill. This is calm water and rather clear now.

A triangular island, marked on the map, gives a left or right choice. The right side is broad open water and we took that first. This is scenic now, with calm broad water all the way up. Rob added to his can collection and we picked up some floating red shotgun shell cases too. We passed an area about 300 feet by 200 feet full of stems that look like they have the seed pods of American Lotus. Wouldn't that be beautiful in the growing season to see that big an expanse of American Lotus?

1 p.m.

We explored back down to the island and took a look around the left side. That seems to go in to that 1000 foot expanse of shallow water that we were stuck in at the north end. It would be passable with another 8 inches of tidal height.

We headed out to the river again. No structures were in sight ahead of us on either side of the river. We paddled down stream to look for the entrance of Gravine Creek. Rob spotted the entrance in the reedy shoreline just before two power towers on Gravine Island. We headed up the creek which was nearly as long and parallel to Gravine Basin. When we reached the tree lined shore of the creek we encountered a nice motorboat running on electric power with a man and his daughter (about ten years old) and their Jack Russell terrier puppy. The daughter was up front with a gun. When the man noticed us he spoke quietly to his daughter and she put the gun away and we had a nice visit. They were out hunting for hogs in the forest. This guy told us the names Gravine Basin, Gravine Creek, and beggar's lice, which I have used here. They let us pass and they were extremely nice about us going through. They kept running silently, watching for hogs as we paddled up to the end of Gravine Creek.

The creek stays deep its full length, but the top end is clogged with aquatic vegetation, quite a variety of that too. We picked up some more floating cans and had a cookie break. We got out at a bit of hard ground with a steep bank. Rob ran the bow up on some dense mat of water weeds and stepped out on a tree root to get on the bank. I followed his example; it works well.


The wind was picking up from the south. We paddled out of the creek back to the Tensaw river. By now we were much closer to the south end of the island than the north end so I was determined to go all the way around the island. We cruised downriver feeling the wind in our faces and watching the scenery go by. Two power towers to the west of the river have osprey nests at the top of the towers. Ahead we could see wide open water where Raft River splits off the Tensaw River. At the south end of the island the map indicates a small bay that the guy on the creek told us was pretty. That we saved to explore another day. The entrance to that bay is lush with clumps of tall green reeds.

The water was a little busy at the junction of the rivers. Some waves actually got my bow hatch cover wet, which helped wash off some of the dirt on the boat. We cut over to the east bank of the Tensaw, where Rob predicted it would be calmer. On the way over there, the waves were pushing us north. I stayed out in the river longer than Rob so I could practice keeping the stern in the waves.

We passed under the power lines about 4 p.m. heading north looking for the Byrnes Lake entrance. We could see some current in the roots and reeds along the bank. We just kept paddling north. We scared up a flight of five ducks from a good hiding place in the tree roots. The sunset was just a little orange glow over the trees; the sky was still clear. The moon had been up since we left Gravine Creek. When we entered Byrnes Lake again, the moon was high above us shining through the trees. One duck hunter was waiting quietly in his boat just inside the entrance to the lake. When we were into the lake two turns later, we heard gunfire from his direction. We arrived at the take out at 5:35 and drove out at 5:50.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Sunday December 8, 2002

by Bruce

Bob contacted the people who expressed interest in his previously announced "surprise paddle" to let them know he had picked Buzbee's Fish Camp as the put-in. We were going to paddle to "the Cutoff."

At Buzbee's, Mrs. Buzbee greeted us. She had been decorating. The place had several plastic Santas on watch and strings of lights over their home.

Five of us, Bob, Cathy, Gary, Rob, and me, launched about 12:45. We paddled across Bay Minette taking the inter-island route around the north side of the bay. The water level was down from the steady north wind over the weekend. The sky was overcast and we had a light breeze from the north-northwest.

Dressing for this weather is a challenge. In the lee of trees, islands, or rushes, we felt no wind. When we cleared an island and had some open water around us, we had a little wind chill. Layers and zippered clothes seem to help and synthetics and wool are
preferable to cotton in the wet and cold.

We paddled to Yancey Bay and went up to a channel (which is un-named on most maps but which is popularly know as "Gamewardens Cut" or Gamewardens Ditch") and took a left into the cut. This cut is an east-west ditch about eight feet wide through
the reeds from Yancey Bay to the river. The cut comes out on the river where the river divides. We paused for a water-break and looked upriver. Bob pointed out some trees to the north of us. The Cutoff lies to the right of those trees. We headed up into the wind and light current toward the Cutoff.

When we arrived at the Cutoff. it was showing river bottom. The water level was too low for us to float into the Cutoff and the mud around the entrance was so soft we could not portage. (Bob tested the mud for us).

We headed back downriver and spotted a lone paddler in a red boat coming up. It was Larry Sr., who joined us for the rest of the trip.

We returned to Yancey Bay and went north as far as we could. The water-level was still dropping so we didn't get far. When we were pushing more muck than water, we turned around. Larry Sr. was very helpful with his short boat in getting the longer kayaks turned around in the mud. He put his bow to work at the stern quarter of a kayak to help pivot the boat.

We explored routes into the Basin and went in at a landmark called "the pier." With the low water, we could see exposed pilings that indicated how far out from shore this pier used to extend. At this point, we were floating but we were not getting a full paddle-blade in the water. We paddled down to the channel and found two duck-hunters aground in their boat trying to pole their way out of trouble. When they cleared the channel, we wished them luck and headed south to the Bay Minette Bay.

The trees are still showing colors out there. The water is cold, but clearer than it was two months ago. We took out by 4:30 and went to an early dinner at the Original Oyster House.