Thursday, December 16, 2010

DAY 13 Abandon Ship

Woke up to wind, lots of it.  Figured I would venture out and check on boat and water.  Boat was good, water was rough!

At the end of the road where I peered over the bank to check there was a gentleman in the truck with his dog, also peering over the bank looking at the water.  This when I met Bob Keogh, a retired computer guy turned oyster farmer.  Bob wondered whose canoe that was?  Then we chatted about Hawk Mountain and the Lehigh Valley area, its people, its charm.  He had been up that numerous times over the years when doing the computer thing, not for oysters.

Bob then gave me the whole very informative spiel about oysters and oyster farming.  How back in the day near Maurice Cove there are photos of boats lined up to transport the days catch of oysters onto docks to then be loaded onto railroad cars.  Two full trains a day, that is with multiple cars?  Loaded with oysters!  Now, lucky if there is a harvest of two pickup trucks.

Oysters of the Delaware Bay have faced a number of challenges, climate change, habitat loss, and over harvesting.  The same criteria that so many other creatures of this once very rich ecosystem faced.  Then in the 1950s an oyster disease called MSX wiped out large portions, then in the 1990s, a second disease called Dermo.  Thus the Delaware Bay Oyster Restoration Project is born.  This is a cooperative initiative that's main purpose is a complete revitalization of the Delaware Bay oysters and the once thriving industry associated with this resource.  Right here at the State University of New Jersey, Rutgers facility, they develop oyster seed stock that are disease resistant and offer them for sale to private oyster growers like Bob.

Market Size Basket

Seed Stock Basket
The growers then take the seed, place them into suspended baskets, and place them in the Bay between high and low tide marks.  This way off the sandy bottom, they grow faster (market size within 12 -18), less susceptible to disease, and are easily maintained by the growers.

Growing tanks, and suspension racks

The ecological benefit for the Bay to have good oyster populations is that they are vital in improving water quality.  Every adult oyster is capable of filtering 50 gallons of water per day.  They do this when they feed on microscopic organisms in the water.  The natural growing oysters shell also form reef type habitat that support other creatures.

Bob then takes me to introduce me to Greg DeBrosse, the Facilities Manager.  Greg and I discuss Hawk Mountain and also mention Hawk Mountain's very own Laurie Goodrich.  Greg seemed to recognize the name so I gave him a bit of background as to why?  Goodrich, being an important graduate of Rutgers, and was not to long ago featured in their alumni issue.  Greg then provided me important warm, dry, wind free blogging space.  Thank you so much Greg!!

OK, there is no reason I should be venturing out there.  But I am close, within ten miles of Cape May.  The surf with SW winds are way to harsh to launch.  So, close to high tide I decide I will walk the canoe up the coastline.  Now, I am not sure how far?  All the way to Cape May, doubtful.  But what the ....  I need to get a little closer.

First there is packing all my gear up and getting it back to the water.

 Then there is suiting up and getting ready to start hauling boat and gear up the coastline for destination unknown.  Now, I had planned the night before to be out of the field, I would be in a very developed area, and it was time.  I arranged to have Judith meet me at some point, which was unknown, late in the day.

Aah, the self portrait, if only my arms were longer I could capture more action.  Am I having fun yet!  It is starting to fade.  That is the surf in the background, Wow, not something you can paddle a canoe in.

It begins, how bad can this be, I will be on land the whole time.  I have my bow line out and I am wading in a up to my knees so the boat stays in water with the tides going in and out.  It is being pushed and pulled and blown into the shore.  This kinda sucks!  After about a mile?  I realize I am only doing this to a place called "The Villas".  That is where this is all going to end, about three miles from where I started.  At this point I am actually going along a little piece of remote bayshore.  No roads or buildings in site.  I come to a stream inlet.  With tides high it is deeper than I can wade, but not that wide.  But none the less I have to pull the boat up, empty some water that has been splashing in the cockpit, and move it into position to paddle across a 15 feet wide inlet.  Over this small distance I am immediately blown about 10 feet up the inlet.  I get out and start pulling much like the mules of the canal system I traveled down earlier on this trek.

I come to another inlet, I do the same thing, and the same thing happens, blown up but get to the other side.  Then an even greater obstacle.  A length of beached tree snags, with high tide running past them and around them.  About a 100 yards of them.  I would venture out into deeper water so that the boat could be negotiated around each one.  The tide and wind would blow the craft into these tenacled type of creatures that want to catch and trap my vessel.  The deck cover takes on its only tear throughout the entire journey and one of my running lights get snapped off.  This really sucks!  But I get around them.

When going around a small point is when it happens!

 In a matter of seconds, one, maybe two big waves crash on the boat and it is immediately swamped.  Now, just keep in mind, I have over 2000 dollars of tech equipment inside this craft now underwater (removed it prior to taking this photo, but it was this full at the time).  I quickly pull that out and throw it up over high tide line.  At this point this vessel weighs probably around 600 to 800 pounds, more?   I can't move it.  But I have to move it.  I take off the cover.

I remove all the other gear and toss it over the bank.  In a matter of 2 to 3 minutes the boat is becoming part of this beach with the sand eroding under it and it sinking into the beach.  I stand for a moment and take it in, This is serious, what now!  I realize I have to get the boat empty so I can move it.  If I let it here I will lose it to the incoming tide for sure.

I have a small bucket for packing out human waste.  Luckily it is empty.  I start to bail furiously, scolding this whole damn endeavor, saying things like I know better than to be out here, etc... plus a few words I can't write in here.  This works, I manage to bail out more than is coming in, when I think I have enough out, I jump to the other side and lift with everything I got.  I get it tipped over and it empties, except for a few pounds of sand, but at least I can move it.

The boat goes up and over high tide mark as well.  I start to realize I will not get out in daylight if at all if I remain going with this method with the canoe.  I give a call to Judith.  She is hanging out somewhere at the ferry.  I ask her to make her way towards something called "The Villas" and when I get somewhere I will ask them to explain to her where I am and how she can pick me up, without the canoe.  I can see a house and it should be an easy walk if I do not come across any other inlets.  This is the last call my trusty phone will ever make.

The house I see in the distance appears to be about a half mile or so.  I quickly access what I will need.  I transfer some gear so that I am only taking my one dry bag that has backpack straps.  All my tech stuff goes, in its own dry bag, a few extra clothes, my sandals for later.  I also make sure I have a headlamp and I take the tent fly, just in case something else not so good happens.  I strap down the remaining gear and tie the canoe off to a snag.  It is about 3:30 pm.

I am heading towards the house, after a few minutes I see a type of sea wall and think, *@$&!  There is one more inlet.  When I get closer, it is now at high tide by far the largest of the three, about 30 yards across.  I scramble up and over high tide line and start looking for another way out, what if I follow this inlet up, maybe it is shallower, less distance to the other side, a bridge up stream?  The swamp much sucks me in up to my shins, no good, this is not going to work.  Well, there is only one more thing to do.  SWIM!

I drop my pack, repack it so that it is rolled enough times to tighten the seal.  I also do not have my PFD  so I open my zipper on my drysuit and let it fill with air giving me more flotation.  Here we go, now do not feel bad for me at this point.  I am actually getting quite a rush from this.   I NEED TO SWIM TO SAFETY!  HOW COOL IS THAT!

I start wading out and then it is the final step, I am swimming.  It is a simple doggy paddle slowly forward, between the suit's air and the air in the dry pack I am very buoyant.  I do need to paddle across about 20 or so yards, gain my footing on the other side, and WA La!  Across.

Now I am making my way around the sea wall of the now seen vacant house and I come to the other side.  There seems to be a parking area/view area up ahead.  I see a white Ford Explorer.  Sure does look like Jude's.  As I get closer I dismiss it because she would have come out by now.  The sunset is awesome! As I get very near she pops out of the driver's door, it is her!  She was just driving around looking for a point where she could see the water to wait, what are the chances it would be right where I came out.  HOW COOL IS THAT!

Todd Bauman

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