|Photos by Julio Perez - Copy by Hank McComas
Just two days before, I had done a day paddle on Langford Creek, one of the large creeks off of the Chester River. But when Julio suggested paddling the Chester from Rock Hall to Chestertown, I was ready to go again. That was the last section of the Chester that I had not paddled and I was eager to fill that gap in on my Chesapeake Bay trip map.
I looked at the map and plotted the distance from Rock Hall to Chestertown. Thirty four miles if we went around Eastern Neck Island and 27 miles ( see map ) if we went through the cut between the island and the mainland. Julio was working the next day so he didn't want to do the longer trip, so we decided on the shorter route. i checked the tide times and the tide was low at 9:30 AM is Queenstown. 9:00 AM in Rock Hall and 10:30 in Chestertown. The weather report was for warm temperatures in the low 90s and a southwest to west winds at 5 knots. Water temperatures had climbed into the high seventies.
The tidal current in the Chester can be significant, especially near Chestertown where the river constricts. I decided that it would be much more advantageous to start at Rock Hall and paddled to Chestertown, rather than the other way around. This would also be downwind, a prospect that also seemed advantageous at the time.
We needed to shuttle the cars between Chestertown and Rock Hall, so Julio and I would both drive our cars. I met him at 7:00 AM at Staark Moon Kayaks in Havre de Grace and we headed across the Millard Tydings bridge. My new $4 bridge pass was freshly installed, and I breezed through the toll gates. No more charges for another year. If only there was an equally convenient way of paying ramp charges at all the various county ramps!
During the launch from the beach, our nostrils had been assaulted by the stench of rotting fish. Now we were smelling the foul odor even more strongly, and we began seeing the floating carcasses with increasing frequency. Rock (stripped bass), American shad, menhaden and white perch floated by, there eyes and gills picked out by the sea gulls, but the rest of the fish just bloating and rotting in the hot sun.
From the beach we turned East along the shore and paddled toward Eastern Neck, about 5 miles away and just visible through the haze. The water was very calm with only the slightest of breeze. That was from behind and i began to wonder if a following wind was such a good idea. Our paddling speed matched the wind speed so that we were sitting in perfectly still air. The sweat began to bead our brows and drip into our eyes. Repeated dunking in the water were of only minor help as the water itself was so warm. The sun came out some to increase the heat stress. Fortunately, we both had plenty of water, which we sipped frequently to keep hydrated.
We soon came upon the source of the dead fish, a fish weir where hundreds of fish were dead and rotting within the badly attended nets. Such a waste of valuable resources. It seems that the owner of this net had very little regard for the natural resources he harvest or the health or sensibilities of those who must live, work and play around the stench he is creating. he ought to be fined. Where are the Maryland natural Resource police. Why had they done nothing about this? I guess they are too busy hassling boats in the harbors near the bases to actually be out protecting the Bay habitat.
The island is a wildlife reserve. Most of the bird activity is in the spring and fall as birds migrate up and down the Eastern fly way. The bird life in mid summer is typical of that throughout the bay. At the beginning of the cut we spied a drowned doe on the beach. This trip was turning out to be the Tour of Dead Things, between the deer, the fish, and the road kill deer and fox we had seen on the drive
We came to the cut between Eastern Neck and the mainland in about 90 minutes after our launch. The water was very shallow in much of the marshy passage that makes Eastern Neck Island an island. At the one lane bridge, there is a row boat rental station and some road side parking where you could launch your boat for a short trip around Eastern Neck Wild Life Management Area and investigate the creek.
We got back into our boats and paddled up the curving Chester River, which got significantly narrower. The current assisted us as we paddled toward Chestertown. The once busy commercial port on this deep river fell into disrepair as commerce shifted to the western shore and ground transportation by rail and road replace the once dominant water commerce. The large quaint building lining the river have been restored as bed and breakfast hotel, antique shops and quaint restaurants. The trendy downtown are makes for a pleasant afternoons entertainment and a destination unto itself. The well manicured grounds of Washington College add to the atmosphere of this nice little town.
We paddled under the bridge and headed north of the town to the creek where we had left Julio's truck. This paddle always seems farther than one expect for some reason. The entrance to the creek is not visible until you are opposite the actually mouth. The creek oops back on itself several times before going under the bridge carrying route 291.
We drove back to Chestertown and then on over the top of the Bay retracing our morning steps. The promised thunderstorms began to threaten. I pulled over to put on my cockpit cover, but got home and pulled into the car port just as the heavy rain droplets began to fall. It was almost dark as I released the pressure on the rack straps and placed the wettest items on the car windshield, leaving the final clean up of this days adventure to the morning.
We turned the final corner to find the truck where we had left it. We pulled the boats out on the grassy area at the beginning of the launch site where the bank was soft. There are some rocks and bricks here so watch out for them if you are in a glass or composite boat. The green flies hurried our loading a little.