Duckworks - Outings
The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders

Kayaker In The Dark
by Jim Fitzgerald

Allow me to set the stage. My kayak is a Chesapeake Light Craft Chesapeake 18 that I just completed last spring-I finished her bright and I have to say she looks great (or did, anyway). Some friends and I planned a kayak trip from the Hanover, MA canoe launch down to Couch Beach in Marshfield, MA along the Indian Head and North Rivers, about a two-hour leisurely trip. They were camping there for the night, but I could only stay for dinner and then had to get home. I planned on kayaking back up the river on the incoming tide back to the Hanover launch. The tide had begun to flood just after dinner and right around sunset (the picture is of me beginning the return voyage) I began the trip back to my truck. I wrote the following email to my friends to let them know how my evening trip back to the Hanover launch site transpired.

Sunset off Couch Beach, Marshfield

Okay, so I leave you guys in the midst of a spectacular sunset. Really, you ought to have come along for a while. I've never been on the river when it was so beautiful. The moon made the river a ribbon of silver. Current gently pulling me along. Birds flying overhead in the darkening sky. Wind just a slight warm breeze. Peaceful, soothing, just lovely. Until the Washington Street bridge. Then all hell broke loose.

How can the rapids be flowing against me when the tide is coming in? And where did all those damn rocks come from. My guess would be the current coming down the river actually is faster than the flood until some time at mid tide. I had to fight like crazy to get through the rapids under the bridge- all the while grinding the bottom of my precious wood boat on the rocky bottom. I finally got through, sweating my ass off and the current settled into something I could easily overcome. Then the bottom kept on shoaling up. Not rocks but lots of weed that slowed me down some.

Getting near the bend into the mouth of the Indian Head River I got a little bit turned around and ended up floating in one of those dead end cul de sacs until I realized that the river was behind me. Remember- all this is happening in the dark. I was surrounded by tall reeds and could not tell which way to turn. I went to refer to my trusty GPS to point the way. Note to self: replace batteries in GPS before trip. Dug around in my deck bag looking for the replacement batteries that I am sure I threw in there earlier. Second note to self: make sure you actually throw the batteries into the deck bag. Scavenged batteries out of one of the flashlights. No good, not enough juice. Finally I decide I am fairly certain the turn is just ahead, so just forge onwards without the benefits of modern technology. Hell, if the Indians did it, so can I.

Turned the corner and scared up two geese resting on the riverbank. In turn, they scared the crap out of me. Just as my heart is recovering, a bass gets scared out of the reeds on the bank and does a kamikaze run on the kayak. He actually rammed the boat trying to get away. Then, thankfully, I finally found the entrance to the Indian Head River.

Everything goes smoothly for about 5 minutes until the weeds in the middle of the river make it almost impossible to discern what's river and what are blind leads that go to no where. Couple of minor mis-directions, but I am going in the right direction. When I finally think I've got it all licked, I run out of water. Hard aground. I shine my headlight around to see what's about. Two beady eyes light up in the reeds then scamper away. I figure raccoon. Then I hear a coyote bay not to far away. Now I'm thinking I may have some more serious issues. Then some bird starts making wacky noises in the reeds on the other side of the river. I'm feeling like Jim in one of those Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom shows. You know- the guy that was always down with the wild animals while Marlon Perkins rode safely above in the helicopter. Great! News headline: "Man found eaten in beached kayak- investigation into why he thought it was a good idea to paddle up a river he doesn't know in the dark to follow."

Anyway, although the current is flowing briskly against me, the tide is rising. While aground, I get out of the boat to get the batteries out of the rear hatch (I KNOW I have extra batteries in the rear compartment!). Without my weight in the boat, she now floats... and floats away from me! I have to grab the painter before the boat gets swept down stream into a particularly nasty stump sticking out of the water. Boat now in hand, GPS now functioning, I get back in and low and behold there's enough water to get over the shallow spot I was stuck on. I get over this skinny stretch and back into the "deep" water (in reality I'm poling, not paddling, since the water is so low I hit bottom on every stroke). GPS now shows me 100 feet from the goddamned pull out. It's 9:00. I'm tired. I'm dirty. I'm fed up. I'm aground once more. Dammit! Looking ahead there's a wall of rocks that won't go under for hours. I figure the only way I'm getting home is to walk it. So I get out of the boat (which will now float) and tow her in. The boat will just fit through a channel between two of the bog rocks in my way. Unfortunately, I don't notice that the current has spun the boat into one of these big rocks, so she has a nice long, deep scratch up her side. The side I spent 4 weeks finishing with spar varnish to a mirror like, cabinet grade finish. Ugh! Finally, I win the landing and celebrate my efforts with a big gulp of cold coffee from my to-go cup that unbeknownst to me has some peculiar weedy thing stuck in the mouthpiece. Yuk! What an altogether fitting end to an ill-conceived adventure.

Jim Fitzgerald