The annual Duckhead (long) weekend of swamp rivers took place once again at the Milburn Landing area of the Pocomoke River State Park on Maryland's eastern shore.
Despite an extended weather forecast that read the same each day "Mostly cloudy with a chance of showers and thunderstorms" every site in the Park was reserved and a fine turn out of paddlers and campers attended.
Synopsis - 43 paddlers and an equal number of campers and beach-goers attended. Paddle trips included several sections of the Pocomoke River, both tidal and flowing, Nassawango Creek and Corkers Creek. Four day-paddling trips. Five night trips. Four swims. One pinned boat. One person who will never drink Canadian Whisky again.
Arriving at the park on Thursday afternoon I wandered over to introduce myself to the camp host and to absolve myself of any responsibility for other Duckhead's carousing behavior. The camp host seemed familiar and I espied a battered white Allagash. And a double bladed canoe paddle in use as a tarp centerpole.
Turns out the camp host is none other than our old acquaintance Bruce, whom we had met on the river several times over the years, who we had introduced to double blading open boats, who we had encountered as a fellow camper in a variety of places. Bruce and I shared a beer (one of his), another beer (one of mine) and I gave him the 2003 Duckhead tee shirt. No worries about the camp host cracking down on this trip.
Pocomoke Night Float I (8/7/03)
OC1 - Mike McCrea, Kevin Finch, Joe Steiner.
K1 - Pam Guntar, Mary Eidukevicius, Vitas Eidukevicius
Checking the tidal flow on the river we deduced that conditions were right for a night float from Pocomoke City back to camp. A shuttle driver was recruited, so that our vehicles could be returned to camp while we paddled, and we launched from the public landing on Winters Quarters Drive just after dusk.
With the tide and a light breeze at our backs this was truly a night float and even the slightest paddling effort sped us upriver. 4.8 miles in a bit under two hours; we'll have to backpaddle next time...and we should have the opportunity for tidal-assisted night float every night we're here.
Nassawango Creek (8/8/03)
OC1 - Mike McCrea, Joe Steiner, Harry Mobley, Baxter Mobley, Natalie Mobley
K1 - Kevin Finch, Pam Guntar, Mary Eidukevicius, Vitas Eidukevicius, Ann Muldoun
SOT - Kara Brown
Nassawango Creek is one of the many gems amongst the Pocomoke River tributaries. The Nature Conservancy recently purchased a large tract of the surrounding forest from a logging company and this beautiful swamp-into-marsh run will be protected for future generations of paddlers.
As we returned from setting shuttle we saw that the Pocomoke River Canoe Company
was offloading canoes and held back to allow their customers first passage downriver. Our own departure was briefly delayed while Natalie was assured that she not only could manage a solo canoe on this trip (having never paddled solo before), but that she would want to buy a small canoe of her own by trip's end. Another brief delay occurred when Vitas demonstrated 1) how not to seal launch a sea kayak and 2) proper use of a bilge pump.
Having delayed our departure we encountered the livery paddlers less than 50 yards downriver. Father and son in one canoe, moving slowly, mother and daughter in another canoe, moving erratically when moving at all. Most often they were plowing haphazardly from bank to bank, where the bow would plunge into the thickly overhanging foliage, arousing the greenhead flies, dislodging the spiders and generally awakening the local insect population.
The daughter emitted a continuous high-pitched shriek, interrupted only by equally high pitched proclamations that "Arrgh, there a spider in my hair", "I wanna go back" and "I hate this, I hate this, I hate this!".
Not wanting to intrude on this quality family time we paddled away as quickly as possible, although fading shrieks and whines were audible for some distance downriver.
Our own unhappy paddler was Baxter, the 90 pound chocolate lab with the 1-ounce brain. Baxter is a momma's boy and desperately wanted to be in the same canoe with Natalie, but putting a large novice dog in a small canoe with an equally novice solo paddler seemed unwise, and so the dogpaddling chores fell to Harry.
At one raft-up respite Baxter seized the chance to make his escape and wet exited in search of momma. Momma wanted no part of this plan - accurately envisioning the end result of a 90-pound lab attempting to climb over the gunwales - and paddled evasively, leaving Harry with the pleasure of heaving a wet 90-pound lab back over the gunwales.
Arriving back at the Pocomoke River Canoe Company the outfitter staff assisted our flotilla onto the floating dock, a magnanimous gesture they would repeat as various Duckhead trips concluded at their establishment throughout the weekend. Wonderfully nice folks.
Pocomoke Night Float II (8/8/03)
OC1 - Mike McCrea, Dave Karaolis, Ben Palmer
K1 - Deletta Scopel, Lindsey Bramwell, Roxanne Shively, Ann Muldoun
With the tidal influx and setting of the sun still coinciding nicely another night float was undertaken. Several of the participants were novice night-paddlers and a finer first experience would be hard to imagine, as we rode the incoming tide upriver with the wind at our backs.
We were treated to the glow of an aurora borealis display for some miles upriver, marveling at this rare southern glimpse of the northern lights, and I explained that, while uncommon, it is occasionally possible to see this display from the mid-Atlantic region.
This explanation was deemed plausible and we delighted in the odd northerly glow. Rounding a bend in the river we discovered the true source of this phenomenon to be a gigantic floodlight in the front yard of the only house along this stretch; an enormous runway-style light pointed blindingly downriver. So much for my pontifications on the northern lights. And so much for our "no flashlights" rule and the preservation of our night vision.
Pocomoke River (8/9/03)
(Porter's Crossing to Snow Hill)
OC1 - Mike McCrea, Harry Mobley, Frank Wiechold, Brian Sill, Laura Totis, Ursa Totis
OC2 - Tom Wilhelm, Lauren Wilhelm, Nikki Wilhelm, Michael Dannenberg, Bernie Dannenberg, Gabe Dannenberg, Natalie Mobley, Baxter Mobley, Jane Michalski, Dan Gillespie, Sara Gillespie, Meghan Gillespie, Ian Gillespie, Ryan Huling, Theresa Alexander, Patty Hale
K1 - Vitas Eidukevicius, Mary Eidukevicius, Kevin Finch, Deletta Scopel, Lindsey Bramwell, Ann Muldoun, Roxanne Shively
SOT - Kara Brown
Confusion, as always, reigned supreme on Saturday's large group trip. I've learned a few tricks over the years in trying to organize 30 or 40 paddlers for a day trip. But throw in the fact that these 30+ folk are scattered around 30+ campsites and you have a recipe for barely controlled chaos. Someone is always running late and needs a few minutes to make lunch... while we wait for them someone else will decide to use the restrooms... then someone decides to come along who needs to borrow a boat... then someone with a boat decides to come after all, but their spouse has gone to the ocean with the car...can we rent boats?how far are we going?when will we be back?is the water deep?...
...See Mike's head explode as he tries to organize all this, gather wandering paddlers, answer all the questions, regather paddlers who have wandered off again - all the while listening to someone who has never organized a shuttle explain their "improved" shuttle idea to me...
Eventually, having lined up a seemingly endless row of boat-laden vehicles, our caravan departed. I was still uncertain that I had all the paddlers, all the vehicles, all the boats or even enough boats for all the paddlers. But enough is enough; time to get this show on the road.
Dropping boats and non-drivers at Porter's Crossing we ferried the vehicles down to the Snow Hill take out, bring two vans to cart the drivers back to the put in. Here we discovered a mystery. Parked at the outfitters in Snow Hill is the vehicle of one of our paddlers. With their boat still on top. But no paddling gear in the car, and no driver to be found.
We puzzled over this for some time, but, despite some convoluted scenarios, could not come up with a plausible explanation as to how a boat and vehicle could end up at the take out but the driver and gear be absent. Finding no reasonable explanation we headed back to the put in. Maybe the missing driver and gear were there. Somehow ready to paddle despite not having a boat.
They weren't, so we commenced launching boats. Lindsey, having missed Vitas' demonstration of how not to seal launch a kayak, repeated his turning-turtle performance, but remained upside-down and submerged for a worrisome period before popping out.
Another scenic float trip followed, with the Squatters bringing up the rear as usual. In one area where several tributaries entered Kevin and I paused to await the Squatters arrival, concerned about their route finding abilities. Kevin and I remained moored in the lily pads until the Squatters had passed and we allowed them to paddle some distance ahead. Predictably, in the wrong direction. We debated letting them "explore", but in the end called them back to the correct route.
A lingering lunch break on a steep hillside, a bit of open-water windage on the tidal portion of the river and we arrived at the outfitters floating dock, where the staff once again helped unload and carry boats. Natalie took up a collection to tip the outfitter girls and the truth of the missing driver was finally revealed.
It seems that a subset of our paddling contingent was still absent when we departed the campground. They knew we were taking out at the Pocomoke River Company, needed to rent a few boats and so went there first. The boat that remained on the car was a weekend rental from the livery - not needed, since the livery had an identical boat already loaded on the trailer and so the mystery of the missing paddler was resolved.
But why did we never see our missing companions on the river? They were unsure of our intended put in, and could only tell the outfitters that it was projected to be a 5-hour trip. The outfitter, unfamiliar with "Duckhead speed" deduced that the intended put in must be 11 miles upriver and so took them an additional 5 miles upstream to Whiton Crossing.
The section from Whiton Crossing down is the best of the upper Pocomoke, but has been impassible strainered in years past. Our thanks to the livery staff for clearing out this section, and special thanks for unintentionally scouting out the run to the Duckhead Lost Squadron Paddlers:
OC1 - Joe Steiner
K1 - Pam Guntar, Angela Jansen, Lola Jansen, Gregg Davis
OC2 - Inez & Michael, Enrique Zudaire, Natalie Cuesta
(Pocomoke River Scouting Party - Whiton Crossing to Snow Hill)
Returning to camp it wasn't long until dusk and the now-nightly paddle in the dark.
Pocomoke Night Float III (8/9/03)
OC1 - Mike McCrea
OC2 - Jane Michalski, Natalie Mobley
This was the best night float yet. Maybe it was the company. Maybe it was the quiet. Maybe it was the conditions, with a gentle incoming tide and light breeze. The water was like glass. Perfect. Perfect conditions, prefect companions, perfect tranquility, the inky water somehow more fluid.
Even the oppressively bright spotlight was off, and Natalie rewarded the mansion owner by piddling a puddle on his dock. And she's not even a member of the Squatter's paddling group. Paddling with the ladies - always an elegant and sophisticated event.
Pocomoke Pre-Dawn Float (8/10/03)
OC1 - Mike McCrea, Dave Hone, Tom Wilhelm, Brian Sill, Ben Palmer, Laura Totis, Ursa Totis, Frank Wiechold
OC2 - Theresa Alexander, Patty Hale
K1 - Deletta Scopel
With the nearly full moon for illumination and a slack tide promising an easy pull upriver the call for a pre-dawn paddle was answered by a surprising number of late-night Duckheads. There followed another now familiar darkened paddle, and I would like to thank all of the night float participants, on each and every night trip, for the courtesy of leaving their flashlights turned off.
Pocomoke River (8/10/03)
(Whiton Crossing to Porter's Crossing)
OC1 - Mike McCrea , Joe Steiner
OC2 - Frank Wiechold, Lena Weichold
K1 - Pam Guntar, Kevin Finch
OC1/K1 - Mary Eidukevicius, Vitas Eidukevicius
Having received glowing reports of the section of the upper Pocomoke from our inadvertent scouting party a smaller group departed on Sunday morning for a repeat run, despite in some cases functioning on less than 3 hours sleep.
Kevin was not one of those sleepy heads, no excuses there. Kevin had witnessed Vitas' demonstration of how not to seal launch a kayak. Kevin had witnessed Lindsey's demonstration of same the following day. Can you guess what Kevin demonstrated?
Once Kevin's boat was pumped out we headed downriver. The CCC channelized the first mile of this section back in the 1930's, but once the channelization ends the river narrows and current picks up. Twisting and turning beneath the closed canopy we cruised down to a sandy lunch spot where Vitas and Mary swapped boats.
Reboarding our boats Vitas commented that it had been a long time since he'd been in an open boat. Barely had he uttered those words when the shout went out "Vitas is over". Followed by "And the boat is gone".
I scrambled out of my boat and onto a log. Vitas was hanging on downstream of a partial strainer, with no canoe in sight. Ascertaining that he was in no immediate danger Vitas began probing around beneath the blackwater and soon located the bow of the canoe, wedged sideway in the strainer several feet below water. A few anxious minutes later and a bit of rope work and it popped free.
A subsequent discussion revealed that both Vitas and I always - always, always, always - bring a throw bag. Always except on this trip, and we both took the oath to never - never, never, never - paddle without one again.
Pocomoke Night Float IV (8/10/03)
OC1 - David Hone, David Karaolis, Frank Wiechold, Kara Brown
Keeping the night(ly) float tradition alive four hardy paddlers were back at it on Sunday night. Details are sketchy, although the decision to put Kara in a relatively tender Wenonah solo canoe had the hallmarks of a dastardly Duckhead deed.
Corkers Creek (8/11/03)
OC1 - Mike McCrea
OC2 - Joe Steiner, Pam Guntar
K1 - Mary Eidukevicius, Vitas Eidukevicius
Speaking of dastardly Duckhead deeds, Monday's trip up Corkers Creeks saw one of the cruelest yet.
We had pondered the Monday trip choice of Dividing Creek or Corkers Creek and finally settled on Corkers as being a bit easier, a bit shorter and a bit less buggy. Easier, yes. Shorter, yes. Less buggy, doubtful.
No sooner had we turned up into the creek from the Pocomoke then the swarms of greenhead flies attacked. Paddling in the back beside Mary and Vitas I noticed that we were swiftly catching up to Pam and Joe, who were fully occupied flailing away at flies and filling the air with bug spray.
I cautioned my dawdling companions to stay back, explaining that the lead boat attracts nearly all of the flies, leaving the remainder of the paddling pack to enjoy a no-fly zone. Sure enough, if we got no closer than 30 feet or so and were careful not to fall too far behind ours was a most pleasant paddling experience.
Pam and Joe were meanwhile flailing away frantically and occasionally disappearing in a cloud of aerosolized DEET. At one point they overheard the three of us whispering and chortling and asked what was going on. We promised to tell them later, explaining that it was information to be revealed on a need-to-know basis, and they didn't need to know.
By later we meant at the take out. By need to know we meant after they had served as bug-bait-boat both up and back the creek. It's a shame we had to tell them though; we'll need to find a new victim boat next year.
Pocomoke River State Park offer, improved campsites as well as rental cabins.
Camping fees only. No paddling fees or permits.
The Pocomoke River State Park has two camping areas. Shad Landing is on the east side of the river on Rte 113 between Snow Hill and Pocomoke City. Milburn landing is on the west side of the river on Rte 354 between Snow Hill and Pocomoke City.
Ed Gertler's "Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails, a Paddler's Guide to Rivers of the Old Line and First States".