Paddling the length of the Chesapeake Ba

Some of you may be thinking of future trips in warmer weather. Hopefully this may help.

I did lower Bay (James River to the Potomac) on day trips and I can answer specific questions concerning that segment. Below is the report for the upper part of the Bay, which I did in one 200-mile trip over an 8-day period in August, 2009. The original post was on the Chesapeake Paddle’s Association site.

I finished my Chesapeake paddle from Vir-Mar Beach (VA side of Potomac) to Havre de Grace on Monday night, August 17, without too many problems. Heat was one of the biggest challenges, with “real feel temperatures” over 100 degrees. I drank about 5 liters of water on Monday. Persistent, albeit moderate, headwinds slowed my progress for the first 5 days.

Finding a place to sleep for 7 nights was challenging but not insurmountable. There are plenty of remote areas that are not posted. When near populated areas, if are just friendly and ask the locals, they will direct you to somewhere or invite you to pitch a tent in their yard. One man even made dinner and breakfast for me and washed my clothes. I never put anyone on the spot, I just asked, “Do you know of anywhere I can put a tent for the night?” Most people are friendly when they know you are on a special journey. It didn’t hurt to let them know this was my 20th anniversary paddle for being a pastor at the same church. I slept in county and state parks, though not in a designated tent location, but I dropped money into a state park honor box at their marina to cover camping fees.

I followed Mario’s advice and carried less food and more water. Generally a person is not real hungry the first week of paddling or backpacking, especially in the heat. I had oatmeal for breakfast, dried fruit and nuts during the day, and a single serving freeze-dried meal at night. It was pretty Spartan and I lost 5 pounds, but didn’t really want to eat more and I was happy to lose the weight. A few times I grabbed a burger in a marina store, but it was hard to finish it.

Aberdeen Proving Grounds turned into a real obstacle – 26 miles of restricted waters that extend to the middle of the bay. I packed a small sail in my kayak and I was hoping for a good south wind that day and to paddle/sail up the middle of the channel. There was no wind so I chose to cross the bay and run up the Eastern Shore until I was past the restricted areas. It turned out to be a good choice although it made for a lot of open water paddling, but at least I didn’t have more than about 6 miles of open water at a time. I never really used the sail except to play around one night after dinner. I didn’t use my fishing gear either. I was just too far behind because of headwinds and fishing is very time consuming.

I thought I could paddle across Susquehanna Flats, thinking the 3-4 feet of water would be more than enough. But, the flats were choked with hydrilla and I backed out of there and headed west to the channel at the north side of Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

My SPOT seemed to report my location about 75% of the time. It missed my starting location but reported Monday night. I assume the 911 signal from the SPOT is a lot more powerful and has a higher success rate. Overall, I was glad I purchased the SPOT satellite tracker. The VHF radio was also essential and the weather predictions seemed pretty accurate. I had a good GPS with the Chesapeake Blue Charts chip, but the GMCO maps and compass where still my preferred means of navigation. The GPS was great for locating marinas and other points of interest. In hindsight, I should have kept it turned on the entire time and tracked the entire journey with it. It would be worth the extra batteries. I only turned it on occasionally when needed.

Moisture and heat played havoc on my electronics. My i-Pod didn’t like being in the dry bag on the deck, even in the otter box. It works now, but it stopped working several times on the trip. The screens of other devices clouded from heat and moisture. Next time I will keep them out of the extreme heat and store them in a plastic bag with a silica packet. Submersible doesn’t mean that moisture can build up in these devices.

The mosquitoes were tolerable, but the deer flies in places were oppressive. I think they are the demonic locusts from hell referred to in Revelation 9, or maybe some military experiment that accidentally got released into the wild (I think they would be more effective than water boarding for extracting information from terrorists). I wore a thin, long sleeved tee as a paddle shirt. They bit right though it. Bring a tightly woven shirt and long pants for your time on land in these infested areas.

In Havre de Grace there are not hotels on the water, only condos. Tidewater Marina was kind enough to store my kayak for the night (for free) and I took a taxi from there to the Super 8 Motel. This might be the reasonable way to sleep in more developed areas – find a marina, store the kayak, take a taxi to the nearest motel or campground.

If you don’t want to commando camp like me (I don’t recommend it), I suggest planning less mileage per day to compensate for headwinds. Contact marinas and B&B places in advance. Go on the forums and ask if anyone knows someone in the area where you will be staying (Freya Hoffmeister does this a lot in circumnavigation of Australia). Be willing to pay some storage fee in a marina and taxi fare. Find parks that have camping on the water. A kayak cart would add flexibility, but I don’t know how you could fit it with all the other gear.

I don’t know my total mileage (GPS was off most of time), but considered the side trips and extra crossing of the bay, and the fact that I was on the water until almost dark, I probably covered 200 miles. My main goal was Havre de Grace, not any particular mileage.

Feel free to contact me for more information if you plan on doing a trip like this. My actual campsites were not significant because they were mostly remote areas, but I can tell you about areas in general. I think I have a small section of the bay south of the James River, and then the entire length of the bay will be complete.

My favorite spot was Howell Point (southern side of the mouth of the Elk River). It was a beautiful, sandy beach and the big ships using the Delaware Canal passed close to the point. It was a perfect day and I could have stayed there many hours more.

It was a great journey and I was sad to leave the bay. It was one of my best adventures and also one of the most challenging. In the future I want to paddle up the Elk River and through the canal to the Delaware Bay. I also want to paddle the entire Eastern Shore staring in Virginia Beach. Too many goals, too many boats, and not enough time.

Pete (River Mystic)

Awesome–nice trip