Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Maury River at Lexington - September 2008

An old concrete dam over the Maury River on Highway 11 in Lexington, Virginia provides the paddler with about 3/4 of a mile of flatwater to enjoy. The public boat access at Jordan's Point Park offers two improved canoe/kayak ramps and nearby parking for several vehicles. This is a popular spot in the summer for tubers and swimmers, and two colleges are nearby.

Paddling upstream from the access point, one passes numerous homes on one side of the river, mostly student housing, with Jordan's Point Park on the other, followed by steep limestone cliffs. A road parallels the river for some distance upstream, too. The river here is wide and deep, and it makes for an easy and fairly quiet afternoon paddle.

I had this section of the river to myself on a Tuesday afternoon - pretty typical for my paddles. I was able to paddle upstream past the homes and the road to the first set of ripples; forward momentum was pretty much all that was needed to push through the wavelets and continue upstream. It was a far cry from the last time I was on this section of the Maury about a year ago, when the water was at least a foot higher, and I had a difficult time pushing through these 'ripples.' It was a stark lesson in the power of water when levels are high and the flow is strong.

A little father upstream I encountered the remains of a small concrete dam with a one-foot drop.

This dam is part of what appears to be some sort of old pumping station on the river. There is more flatwater behind this dam, but the portage was more involved than I had time to deal with today, so I sat for a while and enjoyed the sound of the water cascading over the dam. Listen to a short (15 second) video of water flowing through the diversion channel:

It takes about 20 minutes or so to paddle leisurely from the river access point to the upstream concrete dam. This part of the Maury River offers what is probably the longest stretch of flatwater for the paddler. Easy boat access, plenty of parking, and a convenient location make it an attractive section of water for the flatwater paddler.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Maury River at Bean's Bottom - September 2008

Just beneath the Furrs Mill Road overpass in Lexington, Virginia is primitive boat access to the Maury River. I arrived there on a cloudy and windy afternoon with my 14' Heritage kayak to check out the flatwater visible from the overpass.

Bean's Bottom is a popular spot for those putting in or taking out of the river, and it's also a popular spot for tubers in the summer. Today, however, I had this section of the river to myself. The access path to the river is rocky and rutted, so I elected to not take my big truck down the path and use my fat kayak wheels instead. As is usually the case, the path is worse than it appears in the picture below. There is parking alongside the road at the top of the path for a handful of vehicles.

The upstream part of the river was very shallow with riffles and rapids, making your only choice for flatwater kayaking in the downstream direction. There is about 1/4 mile of flatwater on this section of river, and it only takes a few minutes to paddle down to the next set of rapids. These rapids represent a one-foot drop in the river, and I didn't float through them.

It's a pretty section of the river with dense woods on one side and a steep limestone cliff on the other. Large boulders litter the river bottom. Interstate 64 is not too far away, and the drone of trucks made its way down the river valley on a constant basis, although it wasn't intrusive.

Two or three round trips on this section of the river takes about 30 minutes of so, and the section is really too short to get a good workout. It's better for poking around or working on technique, or for those people who are local to the area. River access in Jordan Point in Lexington is not too far downstream, and for paddlers with a shuttle, it would be a convenient hour or two trip down the river from Bean's Bottom to Jordan Point, with the shuttle taking about 5 minutes.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kayak Sailing on Lake Douthat - September 2008

A subtropical storm moving inland off the coast of the Carolinas produced a windy day today, and I took advantage of the wind on Lake Douthat with my 17' Heritage Expedition and Spirit Sail. Lake Douthat is a small 40 acre lake in a nice Virginia State Park tucked between two ridges in the Allegheny Mountains. Its north-south orientation helped funnel the north wind today making conditions advantageous for sailing. Read more about Lake Douthat in my earlier posting about this area.

The winds today were strong and straight enough to test the rigging I'm using for the sail, which consists of some PVC tubing, bungees, a rod holder, plus the sail and its mast. It works well and moves the boat across the water with authority when the wind gets above 15-mph or so. Read more about this set up here.

Since the lake is relatively small, I use the sail to get from one side of the lake to the other, then turn around and paddle back into the wind to get some exercise. Doing this four or five times took a little over an hour this afternoon. I shared the lake with several groups of fishermen in fishing boats (electric motors only), and they no doubt looked on in amusement as I sailed and paddled back and forth across the lake. View a short (15 second) clip showing the boat skimming across the water:

It's been a dead summer in the Shenandoah Valley as far as wind is concerned, so I enjoyed the opportunity to get a solid chance to sail. Given the current price of gas, I've been trying to keep my paddling destinations to within a 35 minute drive of my home. Douthat is a little bit farther than my arbitrary limit, at about 45 minutes. But given this lake's shape and north-south orientation, I took a chance on the possibility of good sailing, and I wasn't disappointed.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kayak Sailing on the Maury River - September 2008

A developing low pressure system off the Carolina coast and a high pressure system in the Ohio Valley produced a windy day here in the Shenandoah Valley, with sustained winds in the teens gusting over 20-mph. I took advantage of this opportunity to sail my 14' Heritage Sea Dart on the Maury River near Buena Vista, Virginia.

Read more about this location here. I chose this location today due to its proximity to my home and the river's north-south orientation - the better to funnel the north wind. I found, however, that the winds were more variable than I wanted, constantly shifting one direction and then the other, which I suppose is to be expected in a meandering river valley. I was able to adjust to the variable winds fairly easily, though, and managed to sail up and down the river for about an hour. As I've mention in my other postings about kayak sailing, I've been testing different rigging systems for the sail on my boats. With this boat, I've been using chains and bungees to hold the mast platform to my deck. It works pretty well, and prevents the sail from blowing over, but it's quite cumbersome, as you can see in the picture. My 14' boat also does not have a rudder, necessitating the use of the paddle for steering, as well as paddling and bracing.

After watching the sail respond to the wind, I've hit upon another, less cumbersome, idea for securing the mast without drilling into the hull. I plan to explore this new idea in later blogs. As it stands now, the mast is just a little too far forward on the hull to reach without scooting forward - it would be much easier if the mast were within arm's reach. Scooting forward to attach the sail in a stiff wind can be tricky, and if you're not quick with the paddle, can result in a flip if you're caught off-guard. The same is true for trying to get the sail off the mast in the wind. Without a rudder on this boat, it can be all too easy for the boat to rotate sideways to the wind, increasing your chances for the wind to catch the sail and overturn the boat. While this is probably rare, it did happen to me once off the coast of South Carolina in a strong wind and following seas.

This part of the Maury River is actually a small reservoir backed up behind an old dam. It provides the paddler with about a mile of flatwater behind the dam before reaching the first set of rapids. At this time of the year, the river contains quite a lot of algae and other aquatic plants (see my first picture). While this is not a problem for the paddler, it would not be pleasant for tubers, and it would likely foul boat propellers. This material will likely die off as water temperatures decrease this fall and overnight temperatures begin to drop below freezing.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kayak Sailing on Mill Creek Lake - September 2008

The weather served up a 10-mph north wind today, and that was enough of an incentive to get me away from the computer screen and on my 17' Heritage kayak for an afternoon of paddling and sailing on Mill Creek Lake, one of the larger fishing lakes in the region. See my other postings about this lake for more pictures and a detailed description.

I've been itching to try out the rigging system on my kayak, and a 10-mph wind is just enough to fill the sail and pull the boat along the water. On days like this, I tend to paddle into the wind to one side of the lake, then put up the sail and run downwind to the other side. Do this three or four times, and you get a good mix of exercise by paddling upwind and the joy of pure sailing downwind.

One or two higher gusts demonstrated that my rigging system is vulnerable to rotation, and this is the last thing you want to happen in a stiff wind. As I've discovered in the open ocean off the coast of South Carolina in my 14' Heritage Sea Dart, the boat can nearly tip over (and did so to me once) when the wind is over 20-mph and your sail mast rotates too far to the left or the right. Mounting the mast platform to the hull directly would alleviate this problem, as the mast locks into the platform to prevent rotation, but I've been hesitant to drill into the hull (click here for detailed pictures of the mounting system). The main difference between my 14' kayak and the 17' kayak is that the 17-footer has a foot-operated rudder. This means you don't have to use the paddle to both steer and brace, if the need arises. The rudder should make a huge difference in controllability in a strong wind. View a short 15-second clip of sailing this afternoon in a light wind:

The beauty of this sail is that it gets better as the wind speed increases. Below 10-mph, there simply isn't enough wind to fill the sail very well, and it's easy to paddle hard enough to negate the effect of the sail. However, in a 15-20 mph wind and above, the sail lifts the boat and pulls it across the water with authority.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lake Robertson - September 2008

I revisited Lake Robertson yesterday afternoon for about 45 minutes of paddling in my 17' Heritage Expedition kayak. Lake Robertson is a small fishing lake tucked up against the eastern slope of the Allegheny Mountains, and with a sleek, fast kayak, you can lap the lake in about 20 minutes. I usually do about two laps of the lake providing 30 minutes of exercise, plus 10 minutes of poking around.

See my other postings about this lake for more pictures and a more detailed description. With the exception of four people fishing on the banks of the river, I had the water to myself once again. Lake Robertson is about 15 minutes west of Lexington, and it's one of the closest bodies of water to my home, and the only close one large enough for my 17' boat.

Easy boat access and light-to-no boat traffic make this lake nearly ideal for the beginner paddler or anyone looking for a quick afternoon paddle. Views of the Allegheny Mountain front on one side and House Mountain on the other are icing on the cake.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

James River at Irongate - September 2008

Just beneath the Route 220 overpass in Irongate, Virginia is public access to the James River. I arrived on a cloudy afternoon after a 35 minute drive from my home for about an hour of paddling. The river is accessed by a steep gravel road down to the river where you must carry or wheel your boat over rounded river stone to get to the water itself.

The access road is short, but steep, and I would not attempt it without a four-wheel drive vehicle (it's much steeper than it appears in the picture below). There is parking at the top of the road for numerous vehicles, but there are no other public facilities. The water was fairly shallow at the put-in and required that I walk the boat ten or more feet out into the water before I could get in.

This section of the river gives the flatwater paddler about 1/4-1/2 mile of water before encountering rapids which require portaging. The first upstream rapid is a ledge about 1-2 feet high, and the water cascading over the falls was pleasant to hear. List to a short (15 second) clip of these waterfalls:

A beautiful cliff of layered and folded sedimentary rocks line one side of the river near these falls. I didn't get a change to go over and have a look, but they appear to be limestone interbedded with a little bit of sand - hardly uncommon in this part of the Appalachians.

There was more flatwater downstream past one minor riffle. A slow meander in the river revealed a continuation of the steep limestone cliff on the cut bank, and the wooded point bar on the inside of the bend. The water here was deep and clear, and it allowed me to stoke harder and pick up some steam. The next downstream rapid actually flanked around an island in the middle of the river. I didn't attempt to go father downstream, but I think it would be fairly simple to paddle back up through this rapid or do a very short portage.

The Irongate access is a likely location for James River trippers, putting in or taking out. Easy access and varied scenery, however, make this short stretch of river also attractive for the flatwater paddler. View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Maury River near Goshen - September 2008

Goshen Pass, a cut in the eastern front of the Allegheny Mountains in Virginia, is a very popular spot for white water kayaking, especially in the winter and spring when water levels are high. Upstream from the pass is a flatwater section of the river suitable for kayakers and other paddlers.

Primitive access to the river is located adjacent to a small bridge with parking for only a couple of vehicles. I was pleasantly surprised to find about 1/2 mile of flatwater available in the upstream direction before encountering a set of rapids. Water levels were fairly low, and there were a few paddle strikes, but for the most part, there was plenty of water for my 14' Heritage.

This section of the river is near the town of Goshen, but it was still secluded and fairly quiet. The water was crystal-clear, and I had a clear view of the rocky river bottom for the entire length.

I had to "throw out the anchor" and hit the brakes hard to avoid running over one of the largest turtles I've seen in the area, and I was quite surprised to see something this big on this stretch of river, in water only about 6 inches deep:

The upstream rapids were too long and way too shallow to paddle through, although I suspect it might be possible to get through this area earlier in the season when water levels are higher.

This is a pleasant section of river for a 45 minute paddle, and it should be beautiful in a few weeks when the leaves are at peak color.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

James River at Buchanan - September 2008

The city of Buchanan, Virginia offers paddlers a nice public access ramp to the James River and plenty of parking, right in their downtown district and conveniently located just off I-81. I visited this section of river today on a cool overcast day for about 45 minutes of paddling.

This section of river offers about 1/2 mile of flatwater for paddlers and small fishing boats. After putting in, I paddled upstream with the town on my left and a railroad track on my right, to the first set of riffles. The water here was moving just fast enough to give me a light workout as I paddled through and continued upstream.

I eventually encountered a set of Class I rapids that I was not able to paddle through, so after a little fun practicing my ferry technique, I turned around and headed back downstream past the boat access to the next set of downstream rapids. Listen to a short (15 second) clip of the upstream rapids:

This section of the river provides a decent amount of flatwater for a quick paddle, with easy water access being a bonus. However, with the town on one side of the river, railroad tracks on the other, and truck noise from a nearby quarry, there is quite a lot of nearby activity.

This location is the starting point, or ending point, for many trips on the river, and there is a local outfitter next to the boat access ramp. During any given summer weekend, this would be a busy spot with trippers putting in and taking out. However, today, I had the river to myself.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Thrashers Lake - September 2008

Four thousand seventy-one foot Mount Pleasant dominates the horizon at Thrashers Lake, Virginia, a 40-acre impoundment which is part of the Buffalo River Water Preservation District in Amherst County. 

Thrashers is a small fishing lake suitable for paddlecraft and small fishing boats with electric motors. The park itself is nice enough, with a good boat ramp and dock, restrooms, a playgound for the kids, picnic tables, and plenty of parking. Unfortunately, there is no view of the mountains from the parking and picnic areas. The Blue Ridge view opens up after you put your boat in the water and paddle around a bend.

The lake is slightly larger than I imagined - I wish I had brought my 17' kayak and my sail (it was finally windy today) - and I was able to do one circuit of the lake in my 14' Heritage in about 30 minutes. Factor in a trip up and down the center of the lake, plus some hanging out to soak up the view, and you have yourself a 45 minute paddle. The county placed four Batteaux in this lake in 1996, securely tied near the boat dock. According to Wikipedia, "A bateau is a shallow-draft, flat-bottomed boat which was used extensively across North America, especially in the colonial period. Bateau were used as freight boats on canals in the northern U.S. until replaced by the larger canal boats in the early 1800s." The remains of four boats can be seen at Thrashers Lake. It is unknown if these are original boats or replicas.

The lake is home to a couple dozen waterfowl. And other than one home tucked into the woods, the banks of this lake are deserted. Except for the geese, I had the lake to myself this afternoon.

This iake is the smallest of the three fishing lakes in this part of Amherst County. The other two are Mill Creek Lake and Stone House Lake. Thrashers Lake is good for a quick afternoon paddle, and given its small size, it's probably deserted most of the time.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

James River at Gillmore Mills - September 2008

A fisherman's trail provided access to the James River near Gillmore Mills today for about 30 minutes of paddling on a cloudy, cool day with temperatures holding in the mid-60s. This access point is relatively close to my home, and I've been meaning to check it out.

However, access to the river is tight and contains a couple of steep rocky sections that even my fat wheels had trouble negotiating, and there is parking on the main road for only a couple of vehicles. After scouting the location, I decided to give it a shot and pushed, shoved, and wheeled the boat down to the water. My 14' Heritage Sea Dart weighs about 58 pounds empty; access points like this make me wish I also had a smaller, lighter 9' boat that I could just carry.

This stretch of the James runs through a couple of small Class I rapids that are easy enough to paddle through, either upstream or downstream flanked by two short sections of shallow flatwater. I shared the water with three men fishing today, one in a fishing kayak, and the other two on pontoon-style river row boats.

The riffles and rapids make this location good for practicing your ferry technique, on the upstream side and also downstream, and exercise is accomplished by powering upstream through the rapids and floating back down.

However, the flatwater sections are short and shallow - given the current water level - so much paddle scraping was done on the water today. This access point would make a good take-out or put-in spot for people traveling on the river, but access is difficult, and the amount of flatwater limited, for a casual afternoon paddle.

Listen to a short 15 second clip of the Class I rapids:

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

James River at Snowden - September 2008

I revisited the James River at Snowden today with my 17' Heritage Expedition for about an hour's worth of paddling on the reservoir backed up behind the dam. About 30 minutes from my home, this access point is an attractive destination for flatwater paddling in the area.

The Snowden access has a concrete boat ramp which allows for easy access to the water and parking for about a dozen vehicles. Once in, you must paddle beneath the road (Highway 501) about 10 yards to reach the James River. The low bridge prevents all but paddlecraft and the smallest of fishing boats from accessing the river with maybe three or four feet of clearance, depending on water levels.

Once on the James River, you will paddle upstream beneath the Appalachian Trail Footbridge and a railroad bridge.

As I wrote in my previous post about Snowden, the reservoir is large for the area and allows for at least a couple of hours of paddling. You're able to paddle about a mile upstream, though several rock gardens, before reaching the first set of rapids. At that point, I usually turn around and paddle downstream back to the dam. There are typically numerous turtles sunning themselves on rocks, and I once saw two deer swim across the river in front of me.

This cut in the Blue Ridge Mountains contains not only the river, but also Highway 501, a set of train tracks, the Appalachian Trail, and some power transmission lines. It's not unusual to have a coal train go by on its way downstream to a major population center such as Richmond or Norfolk.

Given all the potential activity, it's still makes for a peaceful paddle, and part of the river - a section removed from the highway - is quite remote and difficult to reach if rescue is needed. I had the river to myself this afternoon.

The river is flanked on either side by 4000-foot peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, making it one of the most scenic sections of the river, and a popular spot for white water paddlers. The river cuts through numerous interesting rock outcrops.

There was just enough of a breeze for me to throw up my sail, but alas, the breeze died and I didn't get a chance to test my new rigging scheme. An ex-colleague from South Dakota will be testing the same sail on this boats in the coming weeks; be sure to check out his blog to read about his adventures sailing in South Dakota (which, admittedly, offers much more opportunity for sailing in the way of wind).

I welcome your comments and questions concerning this access point. View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.