Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pawcatuck River Overnight - September 27-28, 2014

Heading out from Bradford Landing
There is something therapeutic about canoe camping.  You paddle in, set up camp, have dinner, and then settle in for a long relaxing evening around the campfire. 

I did my first canoe camping trip with the RICKA Wilderness Group a couple of years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Since then I’ve done short overnight trips, and multi-day excursions.  This summer I had the good fortune to spend a night camping with the Paddle Across Rhode Island crew on the Pawcatuck River, and decided that I wanted to do it again.  I posted the idea on the Flatwater Message Board and this trip was born. 

Arriving at the campsites
We are fortunate to have a couple of very nice paddle-in campsites on the Pawcatuck River in Rhode Island.  There is the Carolina Canoe Campsite in the Carolina Management Area just upstream from the Richmond Landing.  It’s a small site, but very nice.  Then there are the Burlingame Canoe Campsites in the Burlingame Management Area upstream from the Bradford Landing.  At Burlingame there is a large open field suitable for groups, and five smaller wooded sites.  All these sites are available on a first come first serve basis, and can get crowded in the warm summer months.

We would be doing a short overnight trip at the Burlingame Canoe Campsites with the RICKA Flatwater Group.  Our original plan was to paddle down from Richmond Landing, but with low water levels in the river, we decided to paddle up from Bradford instead.  We met at the Bradford Landing at 2:00 for the trip up to the campsites. 

Setting up camp
One of the challenges of canoe/kayak camping is that everything that you bring needs to fit in your boat.  While you can carry more in a canoe or kayak than you can in a backpack, space is still limited, and drybags are needed to keep your gear dry.  Everyone carried their own gear, and we divided up the group gear as best we could.  With our gear packed and our boats loaded we headed off the campsite. 

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day.  It was sunny and warm, and the leaves were just beginning to turn.  It’s a short paddle from Bradford up to the Burlingame Canoe Campsites.  When we arrived, we found that a family had already pitched their tents in the big site at the field, so we scouted out the smaller wooded sites. We chose a grass-covered site with a nice fire ring, and everyone spread out to pitch their tents.  Some found space near the river where they could hear the running water.  Others stayed closer to the fire ring. 

Settling in around the campfire
Jim had dropped off some firewood earlier in the day, so we were able to enjoy snacks and dinner around the campfire.  Everything tastes better when you cook it outside, and this trip was no exception.  Tom was our grill master.  He turned out great hamburgers, hot dogs and marinated vegetable skewers from Lindsay.  Dinner was followed by Henry’s delicious Blueberry Dump Cake from the Dutch oven.  With dinner complete, there was nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy the fire.  We talked, napped (at least some of us) and enjoyed the great outdoors. 

At around 10:30, I finally turned in for the night.  Before I knew it, the morning light was streaming through my tent, and I could hear someone out by the fire ring.  Even without looking I knew it was Jim because he is always the first one up.  Before long, we soon had a nice fire going and a pot of coffee perking on the stove. 

Dutch oven cooking
Slowly the group emerged from their tents for a cup of coffee, and a piece of apple or blueberry pie from Mike.  After a few cups of coffee, I was ambitious enough try a Blueberry Breakfast Bake in the Dutch oven.  It turned out great.  When we had all eaten our fill and had way too much coffee, we decided it was time to pack up and head for home.  Everyone packed up their own gear, and then helped out with the group gear.  With our boats packed, we took one group picture before heading back to Bradford. 

The trip back to Bradford was slow and leisurely – no one was in a rush.  By 11:00 our cars were packed and we were saying our goodbyes, but not before agreeing to do this again next year.

Packed up at the end of a great trip

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

RICKA Picnic - Goddard Memorial State Park - September 14, 2014

I went to the RICKA Picnic at the Goddard Memorial State Park in Warwick.  This year, we put in at the boat ramp to avoid the wind and waves at the beach.  I paddled tandem with Jim in his newly restored Mad River TW Special.  Nice boat, but very tight up front for the bow paddler.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Five miles of history – a trip up the Seekonk River – September 5, 2014

It was a beautiful day, so I decided to take the afternoon off to do some paddling.  I headed down to Bold Point Park in East Providence to paddle up the Seekonk River to the Pawtucket Falls.

Brown University Boathouse
The Seekonk River is the tidal extension of the Blackstone River.  It begins at sea level just below the Pawtucket Falls.  I had always wondered why the name changed at this point, and now I know – the two rivers could not be more different.  The Blackstone River is freshwater with lots of twists and turns.  The Seekonk River is a saltwater estuary that is linked to several important events in Rhode Island’s history.

I put in at Bold Point Park and paddled up though the narrows between Bold Point in East Providence and India Point in Providence.  India Point was the first port of Providence. It was established in 1680 and was the base of operations for John Brown’s East India fleet in the second half of the 18th century. John Brown and his brothers would go on to found Brown University.

I paddled by the Brown University Boat House and under the George Washington Bridge that carries Route 195 across the Seekonk River. In 1781, George Washington marched his army across the Seekonk River at this point on his way to a siege of British forces in New York.

"Stuck-open" Bridge
Above the George Washington Bridge is the “Stuck-open” Bridge.  Also known as the Crook Point Bascule Bridge, this railroad bridge was constructed in 1908 and has been abandoned in the open position since 1976.  A bascule bridge is a drawbridge with a counterweight that continuously balances a span through its upward swing to provide clearance for boat traffic.

Just before the “Stuck-open” Bridge on the Providence side of the river is Roger Williams Park.  It was on this site that Roger Williams first landed in what would become Providence after rowing down the Ten Mille River and across the Seekonk River in 1636.  Williams would eventually row around India Point and up the Providence River to establish the Providence colony in what is now downtown Providence.

Above the “Stuck-open” Bridge is the Henderson Bridge and Bailey’s Cove.  From here, the Seekonk River is wide open and very susceptible to wind, which gets channeled up the course of the river.  I paddled up the more scenic Providence side along Blackstone Park, the Narragansett Boat Club and the Swan Point Cemetery.  The Ten Mile River and the Omega Dam join the Seekonk River on the East Providence side.

Narragansett Boat Club
Just upstream from the Henderson Bridge is the Narragansett Boat Club.  The club was established in 1838, and it constructed its boathouse on the Seekonk River just after the Civil War. For many years this boathouse was a gathering spot for the social elite of Providence.

Further upstream is Swan Point and the Swan Point Cemetery. Established in 1858 and redesigned in 1886, the Swan Point Cemetery is the final resting place for many of Providence’s most important citizens.  I paddled past Stony Point at the far end of the Swan Point Cemetery into Pawtucket at Bensley Point.

From here, the river narrows as I paddled past the School Street and the Taft Street boat ramps.  Seagulls filled the air, fishermen lined to the shore and a large school of small silver fish seemed to be jumping out of the water just about everywhere. I was told that these fish were pogies or menhadens that spend their juvenile years in the less saline waters of tidal estuaries like the Seekonk River.  I paddled under the Division Street Bridge, under the new Route 95 Bridge, and up to the Pawtucket Falls under the Main Street Bridge. 

Pawtucket Falls and the Slater Mill
The Pawtucket Falls is the largest waterfall on the Blackstone River. As I looked upstream over the falls I could see the old Slater Mill. Built in 1793 by Samuel Slater, the Slater Mill was the first successful water powered textile mill in the United States.  It began the American Industrial Revolution, and made Pawtucket an important industrial city as a variety of textile mills and machine shops grew up along the banks of the Blackstone River. 

With nowhere left to go, it was time to turn around and began my trip back downstream.  For most of the trip upstream, the wind had been at my back kicking up small rolling waves.  In addition to the wind, the tide was coming in, so I knew it would be a long slog paddling back downstream.  I made surprisingly good progress by switching sides frequently and maintaining momentum. 

By the time I reached the Narragansett Boat Club the sculling crews were out on the river.  There were big 8-man boats from Brown University, and a mixture of smaller boats from the Narragansett Boat Club.  I matched paces with an eight-woman shell for a while, and was feeling pretty smug until the coach picked up the pace and the boat disappeared into the distance. 

Eight-(wo)man shell from Brown University
Paddling under the George Washington Bridge, I was glad to be on the water, and not fighting the traffic on the highway.  It was another great afternoon on a very historic, and surprisingly scenic river.