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Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Over the River and Through the Woods
A flooded timber paddle May 25, 2003

A few paddlers escorted out of town guests Janice and Norman on a flooded timber paddle. We met at Bryants Landing on Sunday afternoon. The water level was high and rising, about 4 inches more since morning. I can't tell you what the ramp looks like. I've not been here when the ramp was not covered by high water. For our paddle today, we used the lawn to launch. The camp store was open, as well stocked as any convenience store. They only charged us kayakers $2.00 per boat to launch here.

The shallow water over the grass lawn harbored schools of small fish that looked an awful lot like guppies. Do guppies live in the river? We launched a few minutes after 2 p.m., dodging a submerged chain link fence, a street sign, and a light pole; then we headed across Tensaw Lake and down current.

The water was wide, deep and cool on a sunny day with a few small cumulus clouds puffing up. We passed trees on the right and homes in the woods on the left. We turned right through an opening in the trees. The forest canopy closed over head giving us shade. The clearly defined path through the trees petered out, and we ran a slalom through the forest for awhile until we joined another clear path through the trees to Douglas Lake.

Douglas Lake is bordered on both sides by mature hardwoods. A few old chunky cypress trees are left standing from logging because they were cracked through the trunk or broken off at the top. The lake is long and narrow - about 100 to 200 feet wide. We headed left ( west ) to a bend in the lake.

We traveled single file into the trees skirting around a tree holding poison ivy. The forest here was more open with larger trunks and less understory between trees. Perhaps the understory was covered by water and we didn't see it. We paddled into the current for 20 to 30 minutes and broke out into a clear cut area. The sun was bright here and we rafted up to regroup. A beaver lodge was floating in the middle of the clearing and loose wood floated around us with the characteristic tapered ends of beaver gnawed wood.

We headed back into the trees to the left. We were traveling cross current now and dodging tree trunks. The current was passing under us from right to left. We encountered two large girth cypress on this leg; the first one, about 4 feet in diameter, still showed some life to it. As we're paddling along we all heard a loud report: BOOM! Was it a gunshot? Up ahead of us a tree or a part of a tree had fallen on a kayak near the rear hatch cover. No damage, no injuries. The second big cypress we passed on this leg was about seven feet in diameter gauging from a kayak next to it. The tree was about as wide as the front half of the kayak. This tree looked quite dead.

We came to another clear cut. Carl took his canoe into the clear cut to look for any openings. The newer trees were growing close together; paddling in there would not be fun. Bob called for an eastward leg; we would go to either Proctors Creek or the Tensaw. The going was more challenging here. Vines and younger trees put obstacles in our way. We each found our own path around or through the branches until we came to the river. Branches and driftwood made a pseudo-shoreline to the river, and it was surprisingly hard to break out of the forest into open water.

We were on the Tensaw above Hubbards landing. We paddled downstream and across the river into the road through Hubbards landing. The water was up about six feet over the road. We joked about things we saw along the way. A covered fish cleaning station looked like it could be a kayak coral. Railings around the gazebo were just the right height to keep boats inside. We took a rest stop at Hubbards landing. The storekeeper there was friendly and guests commented on seeing us kayakers for the first time. This was a delight to stop and rest under a shade tree and take a seat on the bulkhead. The ramp area was flooded of course, but it gave a somewhat sheltered area for wading, out of the current and traffic of the river. We took turns paddling Carl's newest hand made wood boat, a bright cypress strip single canoe.

We headed out again downriver for the next attraction, a bluff past an oxbow where the mountain laurel bloom in the early springtime. On the way, I was looking at my map a little too long when I ran into a tree branch extending out from shore. When I pushed myself out of the leaves, I disturbed a wasp colony and they gave chase. One of these wasps stung me once on the left wrist. I guess I sounded off; others wondered and guessed what happened.

The Upper Delta Wildlife Management Area map by the DCNR shows Watson Creek as the approximate location of the next portion of the paddle. The mountain laurel flowers are gone now, but at high water like this, the paddling was fun. We entered flooded timber again on the left side of the river. The land rose steeply on both sides of a funnel shaped feature of the water. No strong current reached in here so the navigation was simple: don't run into anything. The water narrowed gradually until the lead boats called for a turnaround. This simple in and out side trip was the most challenging on the exit. Most of the boats bunched up in a traffic jam at a downstream opening. A couple of boats took a bigger opening a little more upstream.

From here we had a short leg to paddle back to the landing and the take out. Houseboats tied up lined the bank of the Tensaw. A few folks were out on deck enjoying the fine weather and adult beverages.

We were gone just over three hours for the trip, but the water was a little higher on the lawn on our return. We helped each other pack up and went to supper at the buffet at the Stagecoach Restaurant in Stockton. The folks at the Stagecoach take good care of their customers. Try the buttermilk pudding. Yum!

Monday, May 19, 2003

Bob's Full Moon Paddle
May 15, 2003

Bob selected Bay Minette Basin for his Full Moon Paddle. The meeting time was 6:30 p.m. A steady south wind had been blowing all day. The towering cumulus clouds that had grown up during the afternoon were evaporating leaving large patches of blue sky. We put in at Buzbees ($3.00 launch fee) and paddled into a setting sun.

Twelve boats and 12 paddlers launched. We reached a patch of reeds in Bay Minette Basin and we waited for one more paddler who arrived after we launched. The setting was pleasant enough. Tree frogs were singing. The sunset was turning yellow. Bits of cloud were reflecting the late afternoon light. The wind was keeping the biting insects away. The reeds in the basin broke up the wind generated seas giving us calm water. We could see a paddler coming in a mustard colored boat with black paddle blades flashing. He looked like Tony, but that's incredible. Tony rarely gets to come out and play. But it was Tony! Excellent!

We left and headed west northwest to a cut in the wall of reeds and aquatic plants. Lots of pickerel weed was blooming purple. At the first turn, Bob signaled halt and turn around. A fishing boat was there before us and we let them have the creek. Bob took us to another narrower creek that you just had to know about because there was no opening. We split the floating vegetation with out boats and paddled into 20 foot wide navigable water heading south. The sun had set on our right behind cypress trees heavily bearded with Spanish Moss. We were looking left for the moonrise. We passed a gator at the left edge of the water hiding in the vegetation. And just barely we could see the moon rise above a cloud layer near the horizon. The taller reeds gave us a view like looking through a comb. At the south end of this stretch, the creek turned left (east), and there we saw the unobstructed full moon framed by reeds and casting a path of silver light reflecting on the water. We paddled out of there into Bay Minette where we rafted up and talked while we waited for darkness.

Now the trip got more interesting. Yes, we were paddling by moonlight. It was fun seeing all those boat shapes silhouetted in the silver light. The wind was keeping the biting insects away until we got in the lee of the marsh plants. We were playing follow the leader, winding our way through the inter-island route at the mouth of Bay Minette Basin. Steve was the sweep boat and Bob was the lead. The route was so twisty that even though we could not see all the boats, we in the back heard the leaders very close by. We broke out in sight of the bridge by Buzbees. We were paddling pretty fast to try to stay ahead of the bugs. Nearing the bridge, we passed through a deep shadow of tall deciduous trees on the right.

At the take out about 9:10 p.m. we saw that the moon had started into the earth's shadow, marking the beginning of tonight's total lunar eclipse. The bottom right edge was the first to disappear. We drove to Ed's Seafood Shed to watch the eclipse progress from the deck. But Ed's was closed at 9 p.m. so we went to plan B and shifted to the Bluegill because they have an outdoor deck. We ordered our food and beverages and included the waitstaff in our plans to watch the eclipse. Jeff was working there and he came over to visit a bit. Jeff has his business, Tensaw Point Ecotours, next door to the Blue Gill; that is a good commute: just walk next door!

Gradually we got comfortable after the meal by adjusting the lighting to improve our view of the moon. One of the staff shut down a sodium vapor light that was burning just below and right of our field of view of the moon. Then we asked about turning off a decorative deck lamp; I think Bob unscrewed the bulb, at the suggestion of one of the waitresses, with his bare hand! Then we shifted our seating to an area more in the open and closer to Pass Picata. A couple of people brought out binoculars which we passed around during the eclipse, which peaked about 10:15. The moon turned slightly ruddy form gray at the peak. Through the binoculars we could see faint stars close by the edge of the moon and we could see the moon move relative to these tiny points of light. The breeze came and went and so did the mosquitoes. Maybe we could tote some citronella candles to the next outdoors dinner; they would have been useful that night.

We broke up our party under a darkened full moon and went home. After about 11:30 p.m. the moon started to shine silver again on the left edge.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Ingrams Bayou Slacker Paddle
Friday May 5

Okay, let me try to do a good job tellin' ya'll about this slacker paddle. The topographic map, Orange Beach Quadrangle dated 1980, is my reference for this story.

Josephine Park lies along the north shore of Roberts Bayou between County Road 95 and County Road 42 in Baldwin County, Alabama. To get to Josephine Park, take Highway 98 to County Road 95 south. Follow the bend in the road around the Naval reservation runway, then left on County Road 42. The park has two driveways into it. The second driveway goes downhill to a new hard boatramp and boat dock. Some sand on either side of this ramp makes a soft put in. The first driveway is an L shape to a parking space by a picnic shelter with barbeque grills and tables around. We used a convenient beach access near the corner of the L to put our boats in the water. It is a pretty park under trees and it was not very busy. Some residential property lies across County Road 42 and we heard just a few vehicles pass. We had the park to ourselves. Larry had his kayak tied to the stern of his sailboat Good Baby. He came over to help Frank, Peggy and me put our boats in. We launched into a southerly breeze about ten past nine heading for Pirates Cove and our first stop at Hatcher Point. As we left Roberts Bayou, Larry pointed out two Great Blue Heron nests with young.

This first leg was the hardest. The wind pushed seas north to north west and the seas reflected off the bulkhead at Pirates Cove marina. The waves were bobbing up and down without any apparent direction. Someone on the bulkhead knew Larry or knew we had a trip today and he hailed us and said hi to us "lucky slackers."

We rounded Hatcher Point and landed the boats on a good sand beach in the lee of the point. The water was cool and drops off quickly from the beach. After a swim call and rest, we felt pretty good and continued on towards Ingrams Bayou.

This was my first Spring for this paddle. I had been here in Winter, twice, but not in the growing season. Ospreys were nesting in the pine tops and the Magnolias were very noticeable in the forest, not just the big white blooms, but the different shade of green of the new leaves stood out from the other colors of the forest.

Ingrams Bayou is a wedge of water that extends northwards from Bay La Launch. Near the top it bends west then north again. The water is protected from weather here where we met some guys in a sportsfishing boat. We said hey and proceeded to the creek.

The map doesn't have a name for this creek. The creek enters the bayou from the north east. We saw some flowering water plants with white flowers that have just three petals. We followed the creek into the woods. We only had one dead fall to get around. Larry called for a rest break and swim at a narrow place which had a little bit of hard bottom. The water on top was cool and clear; the bottom water was warmer and murky.

We had a snack and left for our return to the bayou. The morning was warming up. As we neared the southeast edge of the bayou we saw the flukes of a dolphin. The bottlenose dolphins showed their dorsal fins a couple of times and departed submerged. Larry picked out a beach across the Intracoastal Waterway where the vegetation grew down to the water and some pines shaded the beach. We headed there for lunch.

We shared some food and had a swim again. The map shows a pond inland from our lunch spot. The pines were missing as though there were a wet area back there. The understory was discouragingly thick so we didn't go verify the pond's size. From our picnic spot we had a downwind paddle to return to the take out. We were taking out around 2 p.m. As we were leaving I noticed that Larry was out at Good Baby where he took a big step overboard to go snorkeling. What a day!

Sunday, May 11, 2003

West Fowl River, Mobile County, Alabama
May 6, 2003

by Bruce Zimmerman

I have looked for a convenient put in for the West Fowl River for over a year unsuccessfully. The nearest put in I knew of was out in Coden, a beach that Tom Fink showed us after the Forrest Gump paddle in Bayou La Batre. George Borne was interested in doing the paddle. We exchanged e-mails and played phone tag to try to put together the trip. We planned the trip for Tuesday. Monday George was tentative about going; he had a trip to New York in the works. Monday night George gave me a "go" for the paddle on Tuesday. The weather had been windy for a few days and we were concerned about putting in on a lee shore. George looked for an inland location to put in and found a commercial fishing dock with a soft access. He talked to the owners and obtained permission for us to use the put in.

George, Tate and I met Tuesday morning at Mary’s Place, a restaurant near the intersection of county road 188 and Bellingrath Road. We drove up the road and met the owners. They said hello and made us welcome. We put in our three kayaks on an oyster shell bank and paddled south.

The West Fowl River is a tidal river that connects East Fowl River with Fowl River Bay and Portersville Bay. The river is reasonably deep from the flow back and forth. It starts less than 100 feet wide at the put in but gradually widens as it flows towards the south. We passed under the newer county road 188 bridge. The right (west) bank mainly has trees, mostly pines. The left (east) bank is largely marshland. A few well established homes are on the right bank. More and newer homes are on the left bank along with canals that give water access to these homes. The river ess turns several times. The pine trees on the right give way to oaks in places. Shell banks appear through the grass at the edge of the water in the vicinity of these oaks. Are the shells there from human effort or is it is a natural accumulation?

The topographic map shows bayous and creeks about every quarter mile on either side of the river. These creeks provide a frequent progress check along the way. Some of these creeks are depicted on the Heron Bay Quadrangle as going back into the treeline. We took a look at one such creek, with a derelict fishing boat sunk at the mouth, but the yellow flies drove us back to the open water of the river. The south wind, which had been making us work hard, helped keep the yellow flies away.

The river continued to grow wider and the marshland became extensive. We were paddling hard and steady in the windy conditions. Tate was the least experienced and stopped before we reached the bay. His left arm was tired from countering the weather cocking tendency of the kayak. He was content to wait for George and me to come back from the river mouth.

George was first to reach the bay. Off to the southwest half a mile away was a lone house near Negro Bayou. Marsh and daymarkers were the only other features I recall ahead of us. We turned around in the two foot swells and headed back. Tate went ahead and did quite well paddling downwind. George had his eye on a pine hammock out in the marsh. We explored a bayou through the marsh heading easterly but not towards the hammock. This was a great find. The waterway was well defined, deep and more than a boat length wide so we could turn around any time. The curves were sweeping until we came to one three way split where we had to spin the boats to make the sharp turn. This water way had a noticeable flood current and started widening again where we decided to turn around. We paddled up current to find our way back to the river. The return to the take out was an easy run on a flood tide and downwind. We were back to the bridge less than three hours after we left. This time we passed under the old section of bridge on the west side of the river. The water is navigable on either side of the island that supports both bridges.

This paddle covers only a small portion of the Fowl River complex. We have lots more water to explore. Who wants to check out The Narrows?

Saturday, May 03, 2003

McVays Lake and Cloverleaf Landing
April 27, 2003
by Bruce Zimmerman

Matt Darring organized this trip. I was eager to go for three reasons: 1) I had not been to McVays Lake before (which is spelled "McVoys Lake" on some charts, but pronounced "McVays"), and I had seen it on my maps. 2) Cloverleaf Landing was a mystery; where the heck is it? and 3) Matt has been leading some doggone good trips this year; he is on a roll.

At 10:00 am we met at Bruno's parking lot in Spanish Fort at the junction of US 31 and Route 225. The sky was clear. The air was cool and dry. The wind was light and variable. Is that so bad? Matt briefed us in the parking lot; the turnoff for Cloverleaf Landing was right at the road with no advance warning. He was right; the lead vehicle blew right by it. Go up 225 past Blakeley State Park and watch the right hand side of the road for a wooden sign about eye level. It is even with Cloverleaf Lane on the left, and the sign is in deep shade in the morning. Cloverleaf Lane has a green metal street sign at the entrance.

Cloverleaf Lane is mostly paved and heads west. The last quarter mile is a downhill slope to the landing. The view reminded me a lot of Cliffs Landing. Cloverleaf is a privately owned facility; the launch fee is $3.00. I was very excited about the possibilities of paddling from this place. I could see the south end of Gravine Island and a four way intersection of the rivers. One Mile Bayou and Three Mile Creek are just down river. The ramp is a hard boat ramp, but it has sand on either side and a low wooden pier. The owner has a small shop for sodas and chips and bait worms if you want to fish. Someone is there all day to watch our vehicles while we are out paddling.

Our objective was to paddle up the Tensaw River a quarter mile and enter McVays Lake. The entrance is cloaked by islands of tall grasses. Matt got us pointed in the general direction and we fairly well scattered exploring the pathways around the grass islands. We heard a deep croaking noise that was either a 'gator or a huge frog you wouldn't want to meet.

We worked our way into the lake. We crossed a tide line where the water changed from opaque brown to clear tea colored water. I don't recall if the temperature of the water changed. The water was rather deep; I did not have any problem getting a full paddle blade in the water until the very top end of the lake. We paddled for about a mile in the open with grass and reeds lining the 200-foot wide lake. Then we started into the trees. The water stayed 25-50 feet wide and the trees offered some shade along the edges. Flowers we saw included Blue Flag iris, American Wisteria, and Golden Club, spider lilies, spatterdock, and one fragrant water lilly. There were others too but I have not learned all those names.

The lake branched many times and we tried to see it all. The Top Spot map (not to be used for navigation) showed an end of the waterway, but we kept going into smaller and smaller branches. Matt brought a pair of radios and kept one and lent the other to Lisa to help keep track of the 14 boats and 16 paddlers in our group.

We paddled into a narrowing branch and stopped in a shady spot for lunch. After lunch we paddled down stream and took a left into a branch we had bypassed on the way upstream. This branch was calm quiet and in deep forest. It ended in three branches and we checked them all out. The last place we visited narrowed down to less than 10 feet wide and the aquatic plant life made the water feel shallow. Wending our way around to the right of a big cypress we stopped in a relatively open pool 20 feet across. Tall trees surrounded us 200 feet away.

Birds in the trees are heard but not seen. The understory plants come down in height to the water level. We left feeling appreciative for the undisturbed surroundings.

I was pleased I did not see much trash on this trip. The upper parts of the lake are rather clean. It was only down near the river that litter was noticeable.

Most of us were back at the landing between 3:00 and 3:30. I think I straggled back just before 4 with my kayak-turned-trash-scow.

We individually broke out refreshments as we helped one another rack boats.

Thank y'all for coming out. See you on the water.