Gentlemens Trip 2004
Assateague Island National Seashore
November 11-15, 2004
OC1 Dave Hone, JD, Ben Palmer, Alan Reid
OC2 Wes Dias/Topher, Tom Wilhelm/Brian Sill, Alan Nathan/Jim Obert, Dave Maneval/Mike McCrea
The stated purpose of this years Gentlemens Trip was to test paddle four new tandem tripper hulls; Nova Craft Prospector 17 in Blue Steel, Old Town Penobscot 186 in Royalex, Wenonah Prospector 17 in kevlar and a Mad River Freedom 17 with the second generation IQ system and to put a few tarp and shelter systems through their paces (Cooke Custom Sewing Tundra Tarp, MEC Mantis shelter and NRS RiverWing).
The true and widely acknowledged purpose of this gentlemens trip, of any gentlemens trip, is to eat well, drink better and generally live like kings in the backcountry. Since a true test of these large tripper hulls would necessitate hauling 1000+ pounds of gear in each boat, these two intentions meshed nicely.
With Maneval flying in from Florida for this trip I would be packing all of his camping and paddling gear. Dave somehow found it necessary to conclude every pre-trip phone call with a reminder of his critical gear needs, ending every conversation with the same stock phrase Dont forget, I can drink a lotta beer. Thank goodness we were assigned the eighteen and a half foot freighter.
Even so all of our test boats were filled to (and beyond) volume capacity, each sporting a towering midden of a belly pile. I had serious doubts that the mountain of gear that was disgorged from vans and trucks at the put in could possibly be accommodated in those four canoes, but fit it did. There was some question as to whether the paddlers would still fit; Tom and Brian were ensconced in form fitting hollows that resembled a seat of a Gemini spacecraft constructed entirely of camping gear.
Launching our well-burdened beasts beneath a rainy sky we rounded the point into the windy and open waters of Chincoteague Bay and immediately turned for the beach. Not that due east was our intended course; it was simply that the onshore breeze immediately caused our boats to weathercock severely.
It was at this point that I realized that Dave and I had no spare paddle. Oh, I had brought spare paddles. A pile of spare paddles. Back at the van. Dave had only a 280 wood deux-ender in the bow and I a favorite old Voyageur stick in the stern. No spare. Topher and Wes quickly remedied this launch chaos oversight with the loan of a carbon bent shaft, but even with Dave and I both stroking full out left I could only get in a dozen or so licks before Id have to throw in a right rudder pry to bring the bow back into line.
No spare paddle, but we do have the golf umbrella sail. Dave stored his paddle, unfolded our umbrella sail and away we went, sailing out through the Tingles Island channel at speed, shedding a bow wake, riding waves on the pull of the anti-weathercocking umbrella jib.
This was the first time I have ever had an accomplished sailor as a bow-brella setter, and having a partner who is attuned to the physics of wind in a sail made a startling difference. Dave would adjust and reposition to keep us speeding on a true course, leaving me little to do in the stern but regret that the cooler was inaccessible. So adept at umbrella sailing was Dave that we managed to cruise under sail power every chance we got, including a broad reach run that saw us surfing waves at a hellacious clip.
Im willing to bet that a golf umbrella will soon be a standard item in Daves gear pile.
As we made our way south along the bay some of the boys began to demonstrate their proclivity for taking the road less traveled. Tom and Brian elected to swing outboard and tackle Tingles Island on the bayside. Wes and Topher made straight for the Tingles channel. Dave and I stuck to our sailing course. Alan and Jim lazed along behind at a more leisurely pace. This independence and freedom to chart our own courses was made possible by confidence in each others abilities. No need for handholding, no mothering no whiners, no worries.
Encountering Alan Reid in the Tingles Channel, bobbling about in an empty boat we quickly deduced that he needed some ballast and, not wanting to witness yet another out of control foundering necessitating Coast Guard rescue, we generously allowed Alan to paddle back to the Ferry Landing and pick up the pile of fire wood that remained behind. Nothing is too good for Alan, and thats why we give him so much of it.
After arriving at the Pine Tree backcountry site we hauled gear and hauled gear and hauled gear some more. Coolers, beer, firewood, drinking water, more beer, tents and tarps and sleeping bags and yet more beer. Tents and tarps fortuitously erected during a lull in the wind and rain we were ready to party hearty. Of course most of us are eligible for AARP cards in a few years and we were all in our sleeping bags by 7:30. Party hearty would have to wait for another night.
As we turned in for the night (OK, early evening) we wondered what had happened to Hone & JD, who were to have paddled in a few hours behind us. What happened to them will hopefully be told in their own words, but the short version has to do with the utterance of the hauntingly familiar phrase Trust me; Im an excellent night navigator.
Launching at dusk as the rain pelted down and the wind gathered intensity and Dave and JD paddled out into a coal black moonless night.
The longer version has to do with bivouacking for the night in the marsh and memories of flatulent tent mates that are perhaps best left repressed. That they were less than mile from our camp stead at the Pine Tree site is perhaps best left unmentioned.
Saturday morning our commando camping comrades appeared at Pine Tree just in time for a chef Davey breakfast that couldnt be beat eggs, hash browns, sausage, and coffee. Laden with cholesterol against the gale force winds we began a day of landborne adventures. An all-terrain bocci game in which Wes and I trounced all comers. A beach hike or two. Topher demonstrating how to pole a 17 Prospector in gale-force winds (DougD would have been proud).
As dusk settled the nocturnal horseshoe game got underway, with glowing cyalume sticks attached to the shoes and poles as usual. Topher seemed particularly adept at night horseshoes, but then he seems a quick study at most things.
As the horseshoe tournament continued a night beach hike was begun, the highlight of which was chancing upon a rare wildlife sighting, the Greater Inebriated Freakindeacon, caught unawares in full briar stumbling display as he tried to stuff his camp chair back into its stuff sack. Without first folding it down.
Back at camp the night drew to a close in the traditional manner; Dave asleep and snoring in his lawn chair, me handing him things to test his highly developed autonomic grasp response. Just like old times.
Sunday morning saw a hungry horde of gentlemen Duckhead clamoring for breakfast. This was problematic because Vic, our Sunday breakfast cook, was still MIA. Never fear, Chef Davey, having packed an entire bag of potatoes as well as extra bacon, extra sausage and extra pancake mix stepped in to pinch-hit, managing multiple cast iron griddles, pots and pans on two stoves, a hibachi and a fire. Chef Vic has been dethroned; the king is dead, long live the king.
Tophers contribution of breakfast Bloody Marys seems destined to become another Gents tradition, as does hauling in a 30-pound sack of potatoes. The siren call of Bloody Marys and smell of bacon sizzling drew in yet another delayed launch companion as Ben Palmer finally arrived. Two days late is better than never.
By late morning Sunday the wind had abated to a manageable 20-knot zephyr and a clam and mussel foraging expedition was underway. Wes, Topher, Brian and Tom gathered a large quantity of mussels, Davey diligently plied his clam rake and I helped by sitting in the comfy piles of dried baygrass that stretch along the shoreline line like a never-ending row of free-range Lazyboy recliners.
Even at a distance it is possible to vicariously enjoy the tactile and auditory sensations of successfully dragging a clam rake; the ting of a tine on a shell, the fingernails-on-chalkboard rasp of the rake grazing past a beefy quahog. A most pleasing sensation, especially if you are comfortably ensconced in a bed of dry baygrass, drinking a beer, watching someone perform the backbreaking labor of dragging a clam rake.
What an enjoyable crew of foragers we have out today. Brian cruising past repeatedly, first soloing one test boat and then another, stopping off to gather Daves accumulated mussels and ferry them back to the Jambalaya pot.
Wes D somehow combining the grace of a southern gentleman with a devious Yankee twinkle in the eye, Topher full of live and ready for anything, CWDH starring in the demented entertainment channel, Alan Reid in his windblown element.
Oh yeah, Tophers Jambalaya. Some gentleman with better culinary descriptive skills than I will have to do it justice. Suffice it to say that, much like heating with wood, Tophers Jambalaya warms you twice.
Sunday night saw a reprise of the traditional gentlemens activities night horseshoes, hikes to the beach and tomfoolery fueled by beer and bourbon and Monday morning rolled around too soon. The Daves, JD and I were loath to depart and so dawdled and lingered and puttered, watching the other gents load out, pack up and paddle away.
Even this seemingly simple act had its humorous moments, most of them provide by Jim and Alan. As Jim packed their canoe, strategically calculating exactly which item would best fit where, a steady stream of vaguely non-specific and curious comments were offered by JD: Thanks, I need the ballastLeave room for my gearThink itll all fit even though the boat got a foot shorter?
Eventually the assembled gents caught on to the fact that Jim was diligently packing his gear into JDs canoe, haven mistaken one red Mad River for another. As this mistake in identity became more widely known a circle of secretly amused gents gathered round, awaiting the moment when Jim finally caught on. It was worth the wait for his expression alone as the truth slowly dawned. Truth, on a gentlemens trip, is always slow to dawn.
The repacking of the correct canoe was perhaps performed with more haste and less strategic gear placement, and as Jim and Alan pushed off the remaining gents noted a significant list to port. As they rounded the point their left gunwale dipped to within an inch of the water, eliciting a nonchalant wave of the hand from Alan and a betting pool from the remaining gents as to exactly when and where Jim and Al would ship their first wave. We await a trip report of their listing-to-port trip back to the launch site.
The longer we delayed our departure the better the weather became. Enjoying this, the best weather of the trip - warm, sunny and breeze abating - the Daves, JD and I delayed our departure long enough to wring every ounce of sunshine from the day, paddling out the last remaining miles at sunset and arriving at the Old Ferry Landing as darkness descended. Perfect timing, and a perfect ending to a near perfect trip.
Im already looking forward to the next Gentlemens Trip. A combined Duckhead and Silent Otter outing next winter on the Suwannee. Pick me up at the Jacksonville airport will ya Dave. And remember, I can drink a lot of beer.
Solo and tandem open canoes
Vehicle entrance fee ($5) and backcountry permit fee ($5)
From Rte 50 on the eastern shore of Maryland head towards Ocean City and turn south on Rte 611 towards Assateague Island. Follow the signs to the Assateague Island National Seashore.
Maps of the bayside backcountry are available at the ranger station. These maps have GPS locations for the backcountry sites.