Monday, September 15, 2008

September 15, Hurricane Ike, Lost Channel whirlpools

The remnants of hurricane Ike roared through last night after 10pm churning the river into a froth and whipping the island trees about like beach grass. The waves of rain pelted the windows and roof, but we were snuggled in dry and secure on the rocky bluff on which the main house is perched. We had double checked the docks and boats before turning in, so I felt comfortable letting things ride unattended during the worst of it. Just proceeding the storm the most oppressive humid heat wave settled over the waterway and island. Even with the doors and windows open we could not escape it. There was almost no air moving until, then, all at once, the storm was upon us.

When it had all passed over this morning, the heat was gone, but so was the electricity. Dad cooked a marvelous breakfast of omelets on the propane barbeque grill and we boiled up water for coffee on the wood fired stove, simultaneously taking the evening chill out of the house.

We decided to take a paddle down to the1,000 Island Bridge and the lost channel beneath it, possibly to see if we could find a way to hike up to the roadway and take a picture from that vantage point. Well, it seems, with the lower water conditions than we were used to, and the increased flow down the river from the recent storm, the river way displaying very unusual hydro dynamics. There were whirlpools at junctures in the river, where the water actually circulated around a hole – often 4-6 feet in diameter, with a height at least 6 inches below mean water level in the vicinity. At the spots where quiet eddy’s usually provided a respite from the current there were small standing waves, and eddy “fences” where the current streaming just beyond looked like whitewater. We had no real problems going downriver with the flow, although the whirlpools and dancing wavelets were throwing a fright into Diane, who was paddling in the stern today so I could take more pictures. I was not really getting any pictures since I was concentrating on assisting Diane in keeping the boat going in the right direction, and not up on rocks or slewed down the wrong channel.

Once we passed the bridge abutment in the lost channel ( and it’s warning sign: “area under video surveillance, absolutely no docking”) we gave up on our plans for a bridge hike and crossed the channel to began our paddle upstream and home.

This is where things got really interesting. As Diane and I were just at the upstream point of an island, preparing to cross the channel to our next inlet, our bow caught the eddy fence just beyond. In two paddle stroke we were maliciously rocked to the side as water swirled under our starboard gunnel – it friction on the hull rotating the whole boat along is long axis upriver. In a second, the upriver gunnel was under water and we were shipping the stuff by the bucketful. Whitewater boating instincts kicked in and we both braced and slowly rotated our hips to try and bring the gunnel out of the water. This procedure was successful, but then the 20 gallons or so of water that we had shipped sloshed to the other side of the boat threatening the other gunnel with the river’s wash. With that swish, another few gallons came onboard. I was stroking hard, but cautiously for the far shore, looking for a safe place to beach the boat so we could drain the water out. I was looking downriver to see where we wash out if we capsized. Meanwhile, Diane – with full view of the carnage from the stern seat was watching as with each stroke the 1/3 full canoe threatened to founder in the churning flow. Like a pair of tightrope walkers on the same slack line we wobbled our way across the current crabbing slightly upstream but across stroke by stroke. My camera was still dangling around my neck (out of its protective drybag) – as there was a group of geese I was photographing just before our circus act began. My rain pants and raincoat sloshed up from the back of the boat under my seat and ended up at my feet on one of our many gyrations, and it was only then that I realized how much water was riding with us instead of beneath us.

At last we reached the far shore and we carefully nosed the bow in a downstream eddy behind a dock. I stepped one foot out of the boat over the gunnel to the rocky bottom careful not to beach the boat itself on the sharp rocks and discovered I was far closer to the water line than I was supposed to be and only then turned around to look at my shipmate – crazy grin on her face, but already grabbing for the bailer to ease us out of our predicament.

We bailed scoop after scoop of the warm, clear water out of the boat and slowly, it rose and began to float more buoyantly on the ripples. We looked over our shoulder to see Ed and Eva struggling mid- stream in the strong, squirrelly current in their canoe. I thought to myself, how am I going to explain this to my siblings if they flip and get washed downriver back towards the bridge. I was already thinking of how to position our boat to throw a line to the swimmers and to gather up the life jackets, rain coats and other flotsam that would surely result if they flipped. I was repeating the mantra in my head – stay with the boat, stay with the boat willing them to remember it should they capsize.

Although they had been stroking mightily the entire time we were practicing our water ballet, they appeared to be stationary in the river, moving nowhere closer to the security and calm of the more protected channel upstream despite their Herculean efforts. But then, almost by chance I think, the river let go of its hold on them and they shot forward out of the main flow and reached quieter water beyond. As if nothing special had happened, we joined up to them. In their seasoned and remarkable calm way they commented on how the river can change day to day and how they’d never experienced this usually fast, but easily navigable stretch of water in this way before. There were no recriminating shoulda, coulda woulda’s but we just kept paddling home relishing in the drama of the moment and looking for interesting birds.

(Click on any picture to enlarge it)

Startled Great Blue Heron on the wing overhead

Same Heron, different point

Heading down river to the Hidden Channel, and squirely waters.

One quirky Ash Island resident has his property adorned with unusual things at the water line. This head sticks out about 4 feet from the rock. On the other side of the point is a Hippopotamus.

This group of geese decided to fly off as we approached a junction of waterways

The day after Ike passed through, we have clear sky to the south west.

Evening light on Barrier Island

Looking east from the front dock. The Shark, Nirelle rides comfortably at the dock, held off by fiberglass whips.

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