Suwannee River Trip Report

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Ted | VCKC
Published Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Original lyrics:

1st verse

Way down upon de Swanee ribber,
Far, far away,
Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere's wha de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation
And for de old folks at home.
All de world am sad and dreary,
Ebry where I roam,
Oh! darkeys how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home.

2nd verse

All round de little farm I wandered
When I was young,
Den many happy days I squandered,
Many de songs I sung.
When I was playing wid my brudder
Happy was I
Oh! take me to my kind old mudder,
Dere let me live and die.

3rd verse

One little hut amond de bushes,
One dat I love,
Still sadly to my mem'ry rushes,
No matter where I rove
When will I see de bees a humming
All round de comb?
When will I hear de banjo tumming
Down in my good old home?

Stephen Foster would have been proud of our club's spirit as 53 of us journeyed the river his song made part of America's history.

We used two outfitters for the first time on our first time trip on this river: Brack of Wild Florida Kayak Adventures provided 12 sit-on top kayaks Wendell of American Canoe Adventures (ACA), a Suwannee area outfitter who we used for the first time, provided the canoes and some kayaks. Both outfitters have good equipment and the only criticism I heard about ACA's boats was that the 16-foot canoes were difficult to maneuver.

Planning and executing this trip with two outfitters provided interesting challenges. It's essential to confirm all aspects of planning and executing trips as well as double checking all parties understanding but especially so just prior to the trip and to maximize use of emails and to save them as reassurance of what was transacted. At the put-in, we were faced with some anticipated and unanticipated challenges on this trip that need to be remembered for the future. The fact that I spent most of the pre-launch time helping Brack unload his equipment then drive with him to the Take-Out to drop off his vehicle and trailer to drive him back to the put-in most likely contribute to some of the pre-launch confusion but, first, let me tell you about the Suwannee.

I thought it was a delightful river to paddle, albeit the fact that I was towing an empty kayak behind me. I continually become impressed with the subtle and sometime not too subtle difference in my new home state. The river was not as wide as I anticipated and it could have been the tall riverbanks we passed. The current was a mite swifter than I expected but that certainly made for an easy (for most) trip and there were no obstacles above and below the water to deal with - memories of Wekiva 2005 trip live with me. The weather and temperatures made for a near perfect late spring day and that illusion was enhanced by the lack of foliage on many of the Oak and Maple trees we passed. It is always nice to paddle any river without passing rows and rows of riverside homes and the few we did pass were hidden in the forest. I did expect to spot more wildlife, I don't think I saw any but I really enjoyed my slow paddle and looking at our passing terrain. The Take-Out at Woods Ferry is not well marked but the landmarks are. It is on the left side of the river about 15 minutes past the I-75 bridge and just around the bend from a long concrete ramp way on Woods Ferry property. The only indicator additional indicator for the take-out is wooden step way going into the river. It's not a large take-out and basically can only handle one boat at a time. Besides some problems that will be explained below, their shuttle service was adequate. The Suwannee is a long river with the potential for many future trips and ACA states that the section just passed our trip is even more delightful, we will remember this peaceful river and plan for another paddling exploration.

Unfortunately, as I rounded a bend near the take-out I caught a glimpse of someone flipping their boat but observed a rescue performed that was right out of a textbook. Hats off to the member who capsized for staying calm and wearing his PFD and especially to the persons doing the rescue for her excellence. Lesson learned: You take a chance in extending your paddle as assistance to another boater.

Our luncheon at the Telford Hotel in White Spring was a delight! The buffet exceeded our hopes in that the selection was very nice and the food was well prepared and delicious, made even better by a very reasonable tab and I'd say it was the perfect ending for a good day on the water.

Trip Issues:

General Dwight Eisenhower once remarked something to the effect that all the best efforts at planning can go out the window once you begin to execute your mission. When I arrived back with Brack at the launch site club members had arrived and those who rented ACA's equipment and private boat owners began to launch their boats.

1. ACA claimed they were unaware of their need to provide shuttle at the end of the trip for private boats and owners. At the end of the trip I was told that the drivers were not informed they were to transport club members who rented from Brack. It turned out that that operator forgot arrangements and agreements he reached with me a couple weeks prior to the trip.

2. Brack was faced with two empty boats and no way to secure them, which resulted in him and me towing them behind our yaks. One was due to a last minute cancellation but we never determined why the second vacancy (it is possible that ACA miscounted the boats we were renting from them). While this is my first experience with this type of problem, I could see it happening again with outfitters like Brack who accompany us as guides on the trip and I'm not sure that all club members would want to or could paddle towing a boat.

3. When I returned with Brack at the start of the trip, members renting kayaks were somewhat confused whose kayak to claim for the trip. This and the fact that Brack was not present (not a criticism) when our members arrived and were ready to put-in. Whether to get into Brack's or ACA's kayaks. Members have to be either preassigned which outfitter's equipment to go to or to go and claim a boat on first come basis.

4. Some members were already in the water but sitting off shore causing a bit of congestion and confusion. I was not there to offer guidance nor was Bruce there to help with the launch process. Members told me that they were told not to paddle off but I could not determine who issued that guidance nor why. It is possible that members were waiting for a briefing that either the outfitter or I give on safety and river info but ACA was present and should have done that. In situations like this, some club member should step up to take charge.

5. I heard complaints that launching boats (perhaps Brack's kayaks) was moving slowly. Again, Brack and I were delayed in arriving - boats were being launched but because of river conditions, the launch site was somewhat reduced in size. Again, in situations such as this, some club member should step up to take charge (if possible).

6. At the end of the trip, five of us who remained behind helped Brack load his equipment. One van had left with some concern if another van would arrive shortly afterwards to pick-up these four members. I rode back with Brack but unfortunately, there was no room for the four and I told the four that I would ensure transportation back for them. It turned out that there should have been room for them in other vans had members filled the vans to capacity. Within minutes of leaving these four, Brack and I came upon an ACA van returning to the Take-Out.

7. Error in Driving Direction: My instructions stated to turn right (East) at the exit ramp of I-75 to 136. East was correct but not the right! Map directions can be deceiving as it appeared to be a right turn heading north on I-75 but there was a sign pointing to the town. Wise I could fault web directions but I use different ones and could have read it wrong. So, be flexible, use common sense and road signs.

Coordinating trips with one outfitter can be interesting; coordinating with two proved challenging and coordinating between the two was more than frustrating. Our goal to provide paddling opportunities for a growing club will require us to face similar challenges.

The River:

This was my first paddle on the Suwannee and one I looked forward to since I joined the club. Besides what I read and was told about this river, remember it's quite long and its personality changes a few times on its length. It is a wide river but, in my opinion, not as wide as the Santa Fe, perhaps the 20 to 30 foot high banks caused it look this way. The water level was high, but I was told this was normal for this time of year and with the amount of recent rains. The current was swift and was probably an effortless paddle; remember I was towing an empty yak. The terrain we passed was different than area rivers and the trees had more of a wintry look. I really enjoyed looking around me on this trip and would certainly do another portion of this river as well as explore the area.

As I neared the take-out I saw a boat flip - gosh, at theTake-Out. Despite the sight of a member turning over a boat, I was glad to see that that person wore their PFD and the person who did the rescue seemed to know what she was doing and the person being rescued stayed calm and was safely brought to shore.

After paddle lunch:

The Telford Hotel was fantastic; the food on the buffet line was well prepared with a very nice selection. I can only imagine what the hotel must have been like in it's hey day, shame Stephen Foster never stayed or ate there.

Paddle Safely, Ted

Last update Friday, April 11, 2008

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