Wednesday, August 31, 2011

08/31/2011 - Mobile Bay Xing

Launch: East end of Dauphin Island
Launch Cost: Free
Destination: Cross Mobile Bay from Fort Gaines to Fort Morgan, then south to the Sand Island Lighthouse, then to Sand Island, and then back to the launch site. I was going to lead this trip on Labor Day weekend but due to the forecast of tropical seas (8-10 foot swells), I chose to do it today due to the ideal conditions.
Distance: 17 miles (round trip).
Trip Rating: Difficult due to distance. Dangerous due to location: Open Water, Big Fetch, Possible strong current, wind and big waves.
Time Pedaling: 5 hours
Weather: Sunny and warm - 85 degrees. Winds out of the east 5 mph increasing to 15 mph in the afternoon. Crossed at Low tide. Current 0.5 to 1.5 mph. Waves increasing to 1-2 feet.
GPS Track: To view or download the GPS track of this trip, Click Here.

Header image - Sunrise near the Double Oil Rig between Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan.

Smoke from the recent Audubon Park bird sanctuary forest fire lingers on the ground near the beach.

Sunrise off Dauphin Island. Note the change in the water surface from waves to slick in this photo. The waters off the East end of Dauphin Island are subject to higher waves due to wind and current interaction. This area can get rough.

The shipping channel has to be crossed to get to Fort Morgan and these ships move fast.

Photo taken from the Fort Morgan beach. A hazardous cargo ship sits anchored in a designated area.

Over a dozen people were removing a lot of tar balls related to the BP oil spill from the beach on the Fort Morgan peninsula. I did not see many tar balls on Sand Island.

The workers scoop up tar balls in a net. The tar balls were about the size of a quarter. I fear that the heavy pounding that the beaches here are about to get will result in even more tar balls.

The trip from Fort Morgan south to the Light House went quick thanks to the aid of current. A crack in the light house running from top to bottom can be seen in the brick. Might as well visit it before it collapses in a storm.

Many of the pipe valves on this rig were rusting. A salt water environment will eventually consume these oil rigs if they are not maintained and I understand many oil rigs are not maintained anymore.

The trip from the Light House to the southeast tip of Sand Island was uneventful and I had the luxury of a tail wind. Sand Island is a bird watcher's paradise. 

The trip from Sand Island back to the Launch Site was more fun because winds picked up to 15 mph and the wave height increased to about 2 feet. I got soaked from waves like this but it felt good.

If any of you are thinking about paddling in the Dauphin Island, Fort Morgan, and Sand Island triangle, I urge you to plan your trip well with respect to wind and tide forecasts. I timed this trip today to cross at Low tide and prayed the morning wind forecast of low winds would be accurate, which thankfully it was. Off the East end of Dauphin Island, the current/wind/water depth interaction causes bigger waves and today I crossed that while it was calm (see photo 2). Same with the Sand Island Shoal (shallow sand bar), and the Dixey Bar. The waves off the West end of Fort Morgan can get ridiculously bouncy due to wind interacting with strong current and deep water. You may find the waters calm for most of the crossing only to see standing waves for the last half mile of the 4 mile crossing. Turn around quickly if you find yourself in challenging conditions that are out of your comfort zone. You can find marine maps like this online - Click Here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

08/30/2011 - Rattlesnake Bayou

Launch: Home.
Launch Cost: Free
Destination:I paddled to Rattlesnake Bayou expecting to see some Manatees but they were gone. Apparently the manatees do not like eating the Rattlesnake Bayou eel grass because thanks to BP, it was too oily for their diet. So they left in search of less oily food. (It's a joke...)
Distance: 10 miles (round trip).
Trip Rating: Easy
Time Paddling: 3 hours
Weather: Hot - high about 98 degrees, but it was a dry heat. Very little wind. Near Neap tides. Very little current. No waves. Might was well get in a few more paddles in the heat before it turns cold.

Header image is a photo of the Rangeline Road bridge.

This poor minnow thinking it wise to jump for safety so it didn't get eaten by a bigger fish, jumped for its last time because the surface scum was impenetrable. The minnow could not get back into the water. By the time I got there, it was too late to save it. Maybe the thick scum is why the Manatees left.

Yea! Mosquito busters still work in the heat.

A cloudy day today up in Rattlesnake Bayou but the clouds produced no rain to help with the drought.

This pine tree doesn't look healthy due to all the brown needles.

Had to do a double take when passing this dock piling. The piling is about a foot in diameter. Never seen a crustacean like that around here. Looks like a New England lobster to me.

Sunset on Dog River. Despite the heat, this was a good paddle.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

08/28/2011 - The T

Launch: Cliff's Landing off Highway 225 about 14 miles north of Spanish Fort
Launch Cost: Free
Destination: Paddle up Mifflin Lake to explore Squirrel Bayou and "The T"
Distance: 36 miles (round trip).
Trip Rating: Difficult due to distance. There are no closer boat ramps to use.
Time Paddling: 11-1/4 hours
Weather: Slightly foggy at sunrise. Sunny. Paddled with tidal current going upstream and had the current pushing me downstream on the return trip (Sometimes the tide is a valuable thing). Current ranged between 0.5 and 1.0 mph. No waves. Very little wind. Temperature was tolerable as most of the time was spent paddling in the shade.
GPS Track: To view or download the GPS track of this trip, Click Here.

Header image - a docile river dawg watching its territory as this kayaker glided by. "Good Dawg, Good Dawg." Doesn't bark and doesn't chase.

It was a nice cool morning (about 70 degrees). Wisps of surface fog floated across the water. I left about an hour before sunrise because of the length of this exploratory paddle.

The I-65 elevated interstate between Mifflin Lake and the Tensaw River.

Look closely and you'll see a little alligator swimming in the water toward the left of the photo.

There are a ton of short tributaries off Mifflin Lake that can be paddled. This one had a bunch of lily pads.

Guess what was abundant up in Squirrel Bayou and eating acorns?

A grasshopper with an unusual body end that curls up.

A wide assortment of wildflowers were in bloom, including spider lilies, pickerel weed, and others. This photo is of Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis).

This is a Swamp Leatherflower or what I call Blue Bells (Clematis crispa) and they were abundant. The Swamp Leatherflower has 3-leaves but don't confuse it with poison ivy.

There were a lot of cypress trees of respectable size like this one that I'm hiding behind. Though it looks big at 183 inches in circumference (DBH), the state champion bald cypress has a diameter almost twice as big (326 inches in circumference). 

Here is a view up the bald cypress. Do you see any poison ivy? Note how the leaf veins are situated on the leaves. Compare the leaf vein structure of this poison ivy to the three leaves of the Swamp Leatherflower. Wikipedia has a lot of good rhyming tips on identification of poison ivy.

Taking a break on the Tensaw River at a unofficial camp site. This would be a good destination for kayakers launching from Cliffs (4.25 miles one way), but not today. Al-Qaeda flies (terrorist like black flies) started swarming and biting me here and the persistent little (CENSORED) terrorized me the rest of the way back to the launch site.

Saw several Barred Owls on this trip. Also saw a few deer at various places but they were too quick for the camera.

The setting sun added a orange hue to the Spanish Moss.

This is what I call a full day kayak trip - from sunrise to sunset. Wonderful trip.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

08/20/2011 - Gator Bait Reservoir Regatta

Launch: Pelahatchie Shore Park, Brandon, MS. (Ross R. Barnett Reservoir near Jackson, MS)
Launch Cost: $20 race fee
Destination: Gator Bait Reservoir Regatta Kayak Race on Barnett Reservoir.
Distance: 9 miles (round trip).
Paddle time: 1 hr, 40 minutes.
Weather: Sunny. No waves. Very little wind. Temperature was hot to searing.
GPS Track: To view or download the GPS track of this trip, Click Here.

Header image of the racers gathering on the water waiting on the start of the race.

Decided to drive up to Jackson, MS to participate in the first ever Gator Bait Reservoir Kayak Race.

By the start time at 9:30 am, the temperatures had already gotten hot. 20-30 kayakers signed up to race.

Slick conditions meant no wind - hot, hot, hot.

Bang! The racers are on their way.

This being the first running of this race, there were a few problems. Buoys were black making them hard to see. The Buoys were so far apart that racers didn't know where to go. The race start was split up into two waves - recreational kayaks and racing kayaks and that apparently caused some confusion. I started off with the recreational kayaks because that is how my Hobie Adventure (wide and plastic) has always been classified in other races.

I took over the lead before reaching the 2nd of 3 buoys. After rounding the last buoy, I took off toward what I though was the bridge we went under just after the start. It turned out to be the Dam and I was way off course. Sadly, people follow the leader...hehehe. After going about a mile and a quarter in the wrong direction, I finally figured it out and headed toward the correct bridge.

Despite my bonehead error, (which is quite visible on the GPS track), an hour and 40 minutes later I was the first kayak across the finish line. Yeah! Later, after cooling off, I had some good fish, listened to live music, and chatted with fellow racers. There were a lot of race volunteers to be commended. Quite a lot of work went into this putting this race together and it showed. David Moore and David Christopher get a big round of applause.

All the awards were eventually given out and my name was never called. Hmmm, isn't my kayak bib number on the top line of your finisher list? Don't I win something? After getting with the awards presenter, it was determined that I must have done another bonehead thing by starting with the recreational kayak group. Based on my type of kayak, which he classified in the Racing Class, I took 2nd place. It was all confusing to me and there were others who had similar confusions. Running a kayak race, especially for the first time, can be a challenge. I'm just happy to support anyone hosting a kayak race and was thrilled to average 5.2 - 5.3 mph for almost two hours in those hot conditions. Life is good as the heart pounds blood through the body.

Click Here and Click Here for news coverage of the event.
For Race Results: Click Here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Kayak Trip Planning 101

Several people have asked me how I use my GPS device for trip planning. There are dozens of different ways to accomplish the task of putting proposed kayak trip data into your GPS or phone. Below is the method that I'm comfortable with.

Readers of this blog get to see things I've seen on kayak trips, but often have no idea of the planning behind the trip. Consider yesterday's trip to Dominic Creek. I had never been there before. Why trip plan? If you have only have one creek in your area, knowing where you are might not be a concern. In this area there are about 400 square miles of intersecting waterways. Look at the map on image 5 and you will see a maze of blue waterways. There are no signs on the multitude of waterways around here to tell you where you are.

The trip plan usually begins with the desire to kayak in a new waterway. First question to be asked - can the trip be done in the allotted time? By drawing a proposed route and looking at the distance, that crucial question is answered. The path I drew for this trip was 11.3 miles long (one way) - that would be 22.6 miles overall (out and back round trip). Add in a couple of side trips and that is within my mileage limit for a day trip. It is important to know YOUR limits. Limits are further influenced by current, wind, and tides. Know your area! Based on experience I am familiar with this area even though I have not kayaked up this particular creek. Using many of the weather links on this blog, I looked up the tides for the day, got the marine weather forecast, looked at predicted wind velocity and direction, and looked at upstream river levels - all good. Do your research before every kayak trip. Had this been an out of town trip, I would have sought more detailed info about tidal influence, currents, and places to avoid from kayakers familiar with the area.

My standard procedure when kayaking in a new area is to put a track of the proposed trip route into the GPS along with waypoints at all the major waterway intersections. I use Macintosh software and a Garmin GPS. Don't be alarmed if these screen captures look foreign to you. If you use Windows and a different GPS, both your interface and software will be different looking, but you still should be able to accomplish the same thing.

(1) Above: The mapping software that comes with GPS devices usually does not have the waterway detail necessary for mapping out routes. When mapping out a route, the first thing I do is open Google Earth which is Free software. Google Earth utilizes satellite imagery which makes it easy to decide where you want to paddle. I draw a PATH of the proposed track to be paddled down the middle of the waterway. The path for this trip is shown as a red line. Then I add PLACEMARKS at all the waterway intersections. I usually put a number in the front of the names so they come up first in the waypoint lists and can be easily found when it comes time to delete them from the GPS after the trip. I make sure the newly added placemarks and path are in a separate directory. In this case, they are in the TEMP folder under Places in Google Earth. On this trip, I did not put a placemark for the launch site (Cliff's Landing) because it was already in the GPS. If you don't like Google Earth, BING maps can be used to draw paths on satellite imagery and export the data to either KML or GPX format. A third option to draw paths on satellite imagery for download of data would be EveryTrail. Leave a comment to share what methods you use.

(2) Above: Once the appropriate placemarks and proposed trip path are finished, place checkmarks by those items. Then using the Google Earth file pull down menu, do a "Save Place As" which will bring up a save file dialog box.

(3) Above: The save file dialog box is where you decide both WHERE on your computer's hard drive to save the file, and WHAT to name it. I have a directory called Routes on my computer where I keep all the route files. Change the format to KML. Since I do this procedure often, I just name it "TEMP" and always overwrite the file. The problem now is, my GPS software will not read KML files, so the KML file needs to be converted.

(4) Above: I use a free software called GPSBabel. It is pretty easy to use. For INPUT, find the KML file just saved. Choose where to save the converted file to (path and name). I convert the KML file to a GPX XML format file. (Depending on what kind of GPS device you have, your format may need to be different). GPX is the generic format for most GPS devices. For the Dominic Creek trip plan, I created both placemarks (waypoints) and a path (track), so in GPSBabel, it is important to make sure those two translation options are checked on. For OUTPUT, I named it "temp." Once everything is set up properly, click "Apply" and a new file called "Temp.GPX" is created.

(5) Above: This is where you will likely have to experiment on your own to figure out what works because your operating system and GPS will likely be different. I use Garmin's BaseCamp software to communicate with the GPS. My next step is to open BaseCamp and import the newly created TEMP.GPX file. It loads the waypoints and track created in Google Earth and converted using GPSBabel. I then hook up the GPS to the computer using a USB cable, turn it on, and then transfer the imported data to the GPS. The proposed trip track and river intersection waypoints are now in the GPS.

With a visible track of the proposed route on the GPS, it is impossible to get lost. With waypoints, I know what waterway I'm currently on and how far it is to the next river intersection. Instead of worrying if I am turning up the right fork in the river, I can sit back and enjoy the scenery with total confidence that I'm headed in the right direction. Hope this helps you utilize your GPS or Phone for trip planning. May you enjoy all your kayaking explorations while keeping on track!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

08/18/2011 - Dominic Creek

Launch: Cliff's Landing off Highway 225 about 14 miles north of Spanish Fort
Launch Cost: Free
Destination: Exploratory paddle of lower Bottle Creek including Lower Fisher Lake and Dominic Creek including Alligator Lake.
Distance: 28 miles (round trip).
Paddle time: 9-1/2 hours
Weather: Slightly foggy at sunrise. Sunny. Paddled against tidal current going both upstream and downstream. Current ranged between 0.5 and 1.5 mph. No waves. No wind until later afternoon. Temperature was tolerable as most of the time was spent paddling in the shade.
GPS Track: To view or download the GPS track of this trip, Click Here.

Header image shows river houseboats lining the Tensaw River just south of Cliff's Landing.

Sunrise on the Tensaw River.

The I-65 bridges going across Middle River.

It was a treat to see Mayfly swarms in action along the banks of Middle River. Mayflies are also called One-Day Flies because in their adult state they only live about a day and their sole purpose in that day is mating.

I ate a few ripe Muscadine Grapes as they were growing wild all over the river banks.

Some of the green feathers are visible on this Green Heron.

Saw about a dozen blue tail skinks on this trip.

Dominic Creek is beautiful and eventually it gets shallow and log jammed.

This was an odd thing to see - someone had made sandbag dams across a couple of small tributaries off Dominic Creek.

A harmless water snake.

Do alligator hunters kill bigger alligators and discard the smaller ones or are these just natural deaths? It is a strange coincidence that Alligator hunting season just began and all of a sudden dead alligators are seen along the shorelines.