Sunday, June 4, 2023

Pawcatuck River Overnight - June 3-4, 2023

Burlingame Canoe Campsites
What's not to like about canoe camping? You paddle in, set up camp, have dinner, and then settle in for a relaxing evening around the campfire. I did my first canoe camping trip with the RICKA Wilderness Group in 2012, and I’ve been hooked ever since. This time we would be doing an overnight trip at the Burlingame Canoe Campsites on the Pawcatuck River.

We are fortunate to have a several very nice campsites on the Pawcatuck. There is Stoney Point on Worden Pond, the Carolina Canoe Campsite just upstream from the Richmond Landing, the "bootleg" site at the confluence of the Wood River, and of course, the Burlingame Canoe Campsites in the Burlingame Management Area. 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.

The camp is set up
The weather forecast was mixed with rain Saturday morning, and again on Sunday afternoon. It was raining as I drove down I-95, but stopped by the time I met the group at the Bradford Landing. We loaded the boats and set out for the 3-mile trip up to Burlingame.

When we arrived at Burlingame, we were surprised to find a group already set up in the field. We scouted out the wooded sites and decided to take the third site down – one site down from where we camped last spring, and one site up from the grassy site where we camped in 2014. We hauled our gear up the steep hill from the river and began to set up camp.

Enjoying the evening fire
The first thing up was the rain fly – fortunately we never needed it – followed by the kitchen and then the tents. I pitched my tent in the grassy site, which is now over-grown appears rarely used. I decided to try out my new Alps Mountaineering Lynx one-man tent.

After setting up camp we took a break to enjoy cocktails before cooking dinner. Dinner was hamburgers and hot dogs with garden and macaroni salad. The wind picked up after dinner, but we never got any rain. We settled in around the fire for watermelon, and a relaxing evening.

Dan cooks breakfast in the 20" skillet
After many tall-tales and war-stories we finally turned in for the night at around 10:30. My one-man tent was tight, but it was still comfortable. It will work well for sea kayak camping in the Capella. 

Before I knew it, morning light was streaming through my tent. I got up around 6:00, and found that Danny was already up enjoying coffee. I got my coffee pot perking.

Heading back to Bradford
Dan was up shortly after and got the fire started. He would be cooking breakfast in his 20" Camp Chef Lumberjack Maine-guide skillet. After pulling out some coals he cooked our entire breakfast in this pan – bacon, home fries, grilled English muffins, omelets and fried eggs. He was able to set up different heat zones for cooking and keeping things warm - pretty cool.

He had blue sky and puffy clouds in the morning, so we took our time enjoying breakfast around the fire. After breakfast we packed up camp for the trip back to Bradford Landing. Storm clouds were rolling in as we loaded up the cars and said our goodbyes, and the rain started up again as I drove home on I-95. The rain gods had smiled on us - we timed it perfect!

The crew at Bradford Landing

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Potter Cove - May 27, 2023

The crew - Erik, Cat, Tony and Mike
Last spring, I had a lot of trouble with an arthritic knee, and thought that I would need to give up kneeling in my canoes. If I was going to sit anyway, I decided that I would get a sea kayak so I could do some ocean trips. I ended up purchasing Capella 166 RM, but didn’t get to take it out on many trips last year.

After a pretty good spring of whitewater paddling this year, I was looking for something a little different to do on Memorial Day Weekend. When I saw that Cat was leading a RICKA level 2 trip from Potter Cove on Saturday, I decided that I would join. I’ve paddled out from Potter Cove in my canoe to get pictures of the Newport Bridge, but I have never paddled up along the shore.

Cat at the North Light
The RICKA Sea Kayak group assigns levels to trips, not to paddlers. Trip levels range from level 1 (no previous skill required) to level 5 (long distances in extremely challenging conditions). It is recommended that newer paddlers start off with level 2 before moving up to level 3. Level 2 is primarily short coastal cruising trips in easy conditions. Level 3 adds rock gardening, beach landings and more challenging conditions.

For this trip we would be putting in at Potter Cove for an up-and-back around the northern tip of Conanicut Island – about 12-miles. Expected conditions were seas of less than one foot, but we'd be paddling against both an incoming tide and a 10 kt headwind on the return leg. The distance and the wind on the return leg may have pushed this trip up to level 3.

Mike at the Newport Bridge
As we headed out I began to feel more comfortable in the easy 1-foot waves. Coming from a canoeing background, I tend to have a high-angle stroke, which is not the most efficient for long-distance cruising. I got some great tips from Cat along the way on a low-angle cruising stroke. The first leg of the trip was uneventful with the tide coming in and the wind to our backs. Putting down the skeg made it easier - duh. We paddled around the northern end of the island at North Light, and took a break for lunch just east of Sand Point.

The trip back was a bit of a slog. After rounding the northern end of the island, we paddled back against the tide and into a headwind. I was glad to the have practiced the more efficient cruising stroke on the way up. We took a break to check out the Park Dock Waterfront Access, so I also had a chance to practice an easy surf landing. We slogged along for the last 5-miles back to Potter Cove, but enjoyed the great views of the Newport Bridge along the way. 

Potter Cove from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

West River with the BVPC - May 23, 2023

The open boaters 
I saw on Facebook that Danny and Bill would be joining the Tuesday night trip with the Blackstone Valley Paddle Club on the West River in Uxbridge, so I decided to join as well. Open boaters make every trip better.

The West River in MA (not to be confused with the West River in VT) arises at Silver Lake and Cider Mill Pond in Grafton and flows south for approximately 13-miles to its convergence with the Blackstone River in Uxbridge. The river was a source of power for several textile mills during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution.

Heading out
As part of the flood control work completed after Hurricanes Connie and Diane in 1955, a large flood control dam was built on the West River by the Army Corps of Engineers. The flood control land now includes 600 acres of woodland and marshland along the river and upstream in the towns of Uxbridge, Northbridge and Upton.

On this trip we would be paddling from West River Road in Uxbridge up to the flood control dam. By late spring or early summer, the backwater from the dam just above Mendon Street (Route 16) is full of invasive weeds, so this trip needs to be done early in the season. We paddled upstream over two beaver dams. The river that twists and turns through pretty woodlands and marshland as we made our way up the West Hill Dam and back.

The crew at the put-in

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Housatonic - River Road to Housatonic Meadows - May 20, 2023

Jeff D. running the slalom course
It was slalom race weekend on the Housatonic, so I decided to join Paul D. for his trip on the Covered Bridge section so I could try my luck on the race course. It’s a 3-hour drive from my house, so I needed to get an early start.

The Housatonic originates in the Berkshire Hills of western MA and flows south for 150 miles along the western border of MA and CT before emptying into Long Island Sound. There’s a lot of great paddling on the Housatonic River. The best-known whitewater section is a class IV run known as Bulls Bridge - it's well above my skill level. There are also a couple of nice flatwater sections - one in MA - Sheffield to Ashley Falls, and one mostly in CT - Ashley Falls to Falls Village that we paddled as a fall foliage trip a few years ago.

Rescue practice
We would be running the quickwater section from River Road in Cornwall to the Picnic Area at Housatonic Meadows State Park in Sharon. We met at the picnic area and ran the shuttle up to River Road. This section is about 6-milles of quickwater with a couple of class II rapids – the Covered Bridge Rapid where the slalom course was set up, and the Ledges. The river was low and scratchy (2.5 feet, 500 cfs.) – I don’t think I’d make the trip again at that level. We put in on River Road, and paddled down to the Covered Bridge to run the slalom gates.

In whitewater slalom, racers compete to run a course of upstream and downstream gates set up in the rapids. Each gate consists of two poles hanging from a wire strung across the river. There are 18-25 numbered gates in a course that must be run in the proper order, with green gates being run downstream and red gates being run upstream. Upstream gates are typically placed in eddies. Downstream gates are often offset to require ferries or rapid turns. If a gate is hit a 2-second penalty is given. If a gate is missed a 50-second penalty is given. The paddler’s head and part of the boat must pass through the gate. In New England, slalom races are organized as part of the New England Slalom Series.

Surfing at the Ledges
I brought my Yellowstone Solo, so I knew running the gates would be a challenge – it was. I missed 6 of the 22 gates. The Yellowstone Solo doesn’t spin or side slip as fast a dedicated whitewater or slalom boat, but it was a lot more comfortable when I was running the quickwater sections downstream. Due to the low water, all of the gates were set up as downstream gates, which was unusual. Typically, there are 4 to 6 upstream gates included in the course.

After running the slalom course, we took some time practicing rescues and boat recoveries before heading downstream. We stopped for lunch at the Housatonic Meadows State Park Campground. It was pouring rain for the second half of our trip, the ride home, and most of the night. Over two-inches of rain fell, which gave the river a much needed boost for the slalom race today. Oh well, it was still a fun day.

The crew at the put-in above the Covered Bridge

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Lackey Dam with the BVPC - May 16, 2023

Heading out on the pond
With Mother’s Day and our recent trip to Florida, it’s been a couple of weeks since I was out in my canoe. I decided to join the Tuesday night trip with the Blackstone Valley Paddle Club.

The Blackstone Valley Paddle Club was established in 2000 by the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor (now Park and Corridor) as a way to get folks out on waterways of the Blackstone River Valley. Over the years, the club has continued its Tuesday night summer trips getting thousands of people out on the water.

Up the Mumford River
This paddle would be on the Mumford River above the Lackey Dam. The Mumford River arises at Manchaug Pond in Sutton and Douglas, and flows 18-miles east until it joins the Blackstone River in Uxbridge. The many dams along the river provided power to 19th century textile mills. We had a good turn-out for this trip with 15 boats, including 2 canoes.

The crew was heading out when I arrived, so I paddled sweep with Cheryl and Tom. Early in the season the pond is clear, but later in the summer it will get choked-up with water chestnuts. We could see the young water chestnut plants growing up in the shallow water. We paddled up the pond into the Mumford River and up beyond Route 146. Fallen trees make this a little challenging once you get into the river, but you can actually make it quite a ways up.

Heading back down the pond to the put-in
My Pictures

Sunday, April 30, 2023

River Rescue Clinic with Boston AMC – April 29, 2023

The crew is ready to go
I was looking through the AMC Activities, and saw that Conrad was coordinating a river rescue clinic for Boston AMC leaders at Zoar Outdoors. I signed up, but thought I would probably get bumped out by another leader. Fortunately, I didn’t.

I took my first swiftwater rescue class with the Blackstone Valley Paddled Club back around 2007. That class was also at Zoar Outdoor and focused on basic rescue skills such as safe and aggressive swimming, throw rope rescues and wading rescues. Shortly after that, I took a more advanced swiftwater course with the NHAMC that also covered strainers, rescue vests and rope-based rescues. Since it has been a while since I’ve had a refresher course, I was glad to get into this one.

Hand of God Rescue
This session focused on boat-based rescues with a minimum of equipment. With kayakers, this is the way most rescues happen these days. The session started with a discussion of trip safety, and what leaders should think about when planning and running a trip. 

After the classroom session we headed out to the river to review boat-based rescues including the “T” Rescue, Parallel/Side-by-Side Rescue, and the Hand of God Rescue. We also practiced emptying swamped boats and deep water recoveries. As a canoeist, its good to know that a Side-by-Side Rescue will work with a kayaker expecting a "T" Rescue.  Also good to know the best way to empty a swamped kayak. Those are skills I can use on the river.

Waiting for the next swim on Turtle Rock
After lunch we headed over to the Baby Gap (below Zoar Gap) to practice swimming and rescuing swimmers. We practiced swiftwater entries, safe/passive swimming, and aggressive swimming. 
We also practiced throw rope rescues, towing swimmers and a vectored Live Bait rescue.

Before packing up, we took a moment to remember Jocelyn Barrett, a frequent Deerfield paddler and active member of the community who passed away last week. It was a long, cold day, but definitely worth the time.  Glad I was able to participate.

Swimming below Zoar Gap from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.


Sunday, April 23, 2023

Jim O’Brien Memorial Paddle - April 23, 2023

Paul running the Gorge Drop
In 2010, well-known local paddler Jim O'Brien died in a tragic boating accident on Hubbard BrookOther than Gordon McKinney, the RICKA paddler who died on Esopus Creek in 1992, this is the only death of a local whitewater paddler that I am aware of in my time paddling. Each year, Jim's friends organize a memorial paddle for him on his home river – the Westfield in western MA. It’s a nice section of the river – Knightville Dam to Huntington, its dam-controlled so there is always water, and there is always a HUGE crowd. It is the bumper-boats of whitewater paddling, and I always make it if I can.

The Westfield River arises in the Berkshires and flows generally southeast for 78 miles to its confluence with the Connecticut River in Agawam. The river has lots of great whitewater paddling on three branches that join in Huntington to form the main stem - the North Branch (sometimes called the East Branch) that includes Pork Barrel, the Middle Branch, and the West Branch that includes Knightville. Several sections of the river have received national Wild & Scenic River designation.

Running the Gorge Drop
This was also the weekend of the Westfield River Wildwater Race, so we knew there would be a big crowd on the river. 
The race started in the morning, so I dropped off Paul and the boats at the dam at around 10:00 and headed back to the gazebo to meet the rest of the group for the shuttle. I was back at the dam at 12:00 for the group picture. The river was at 4.75 feet, 1,000 cfs – a typical dam release level. The run is mostly class II rock dodging until you get to the Gorge in the Gardner State Park.

The Gorge Drop is the main feature on this section of the river. It is a 3-foot ledge to the right of a large jumble of rocks. The easiest line is just to the right of the rocks. From there you can either catch the eddy behind the rocks, or ride the haystack waves downstream. I usually try to catch the eddy so I can climb up on the rocks and get some pictures of other folks coming through.  

In the eddy below the rocks
As I came over the crest this time I noticed three kayakers sitting in the eddy below waiting to surf the wave at the bottom of the shoot. My line was set, so in I went. I bumped into two of them and pushed one out the other side. Open boaters call that eddy clearing, and I did a pretty good job. They were OK with it, and I quickly got out of their way to take some pictures. 

From the Gorge Drop down to the take-out is quickwater and more class II rock-dodging. We usually stop at the Hill and Dale rapid on the way home to catch the carnage from the downriver race, but with the earlier start time, we missed it this year. Fun day, great community - just wish the get together was for a different reason.

Group picture at the put-in