The Ipswich River is the closest thing to wild fresh water near to me. It has two significant disadvantages. One is that the watershed is the principal source of water for much of the North Shore: too much. Between normal increased demand, and the abnormal demand caused by 50,000 entitled households who must
water their five-acre lawns every day in the summer, the river has been known to dry up. As in literally, totally, dry up. This is especially disturbing when one has seen the host of wild things that make their living from the river and its adjacent wetlands. There are now restrictions meant to prevent further dry-ups, and of course there is whining as a result.
We did a nine-mile round trip yesterday, more or less: that's about 4 hours and 4o minutes of paddling without leaving the 'yaks. It wasn't exactly nonstop, for reasons I'll get to in a moment, but it was without getting out. I spent much of today getting reacquainted with muscle groups I'd forgot about. The flow rate was a bit higher than we expected, so a good deal of the trip was, hmm, interesting, technical, choose the adjective you prefer for water moving very fast in the opposite direction to your course. No harm came of this—apart from the various complaining muscles—and a good deal of useful knowledge did come of it.
We saw numerous geese and ducks, red-wing blackbirds, beavers, turtles, a green heron, and a large, unidentified white bird hanging out with some geese. This was in one of those very fast bits of water, on the downstream return trip, so there wasn't time to exchange cards or anything. It wasn't an egret—the prize of the river—but either a large white goose or a small swan. In either case the bird was playing out Hans Christian Andersen, and the Canada geese didn't mind a bit.
Now, the other disadvantage to the river is posed by bipedal wildlife, the people who rent canoes from the river's one rental shop, which is well downstream. This firm loads quantities of canoes on a big trailer, trucks them and their customers far upstream where they drop them with a "bon voyage" and assurance that all they have to do is float downstream to return to the shop. As in other sports that demand a certain base skill for enjoyment, I wonder how so many people who have never been in a canoe, or a small craft of any kind, manage to get themselves into these messes.
We met our first large cadre of canoers, a high school field trip, at a highly technical point of the river. Fortunately the water was shallow, because it was one of those downstream obstruction situations that even experienced paddlers dread. The rental canoes are aluminum and therefore nearly indestructible. Damn good thing, as four or five canoes stacked up against the obstruction with numerous thuds and crunches, and discovered why we were waiting in an eddy: it is very hard to get round these things, or to back up if you screw up. There were no casualties; we got out of our waiting spot and got upstream, passing through a few more of these friendly, but utterly clueless, young people.
Perhaps another half hour upstream we encountered a group of adults, presumably out for one of those moments all reasonable adults loathe, the team-building exercise. They were friendly, exuberant, and probably a little buzzed. They neglected to mention one fairly important detail: they had left one of their canoes behind and in some little trouble.
We found this canoe and its passengers a few minutes upstream. The pair were soaking wet in 50-something degree water with nothing but shorts and t-shirts. Although they had managed to paddle to an muddy islet and right their canoe as we arrived, the duo were getting very little benefit from each other's company, and had a good deal of trouble doing anything. The old boating safety bell went off in the back of my head, signalling "hypothermia," so we stood by.
They had lost their life jackets and floatation cushion. We retrieved one life jacket and the cushion; the other jacket was gone. These were large men, trying to sit on those absurd canoe seats that no one should ever sit on. One finally sulked and slumped in the very wet bottom of the canoe. I told him to stay put, since it would lower their centre of gravity. We estimated the distance they had to go, gave them some general instructions for downstream travel, and sent them on their way. We were sure we'd see them again; we just hoped we'd see them alive.
We were right, although they had managed to get well down the river before getting lost. I couldn't blame them (entirely) for this. The place they got lost was a very difficult set of divergent channels. It took me two tries to hit off the right channel, and I had all my faculties. By that time, they had either been at the cooler or were still having the confusion that goes with hypothermia. So we spent our last half hour or so on the water leading Frick and Frack downstream to the canoe rental place. Actually, we let them go about a quarter-mile upstream, within sight of their destination. I hope they managed the last bit safely. During our bit of escort duty, whilst I was picking out channels ahead, my wife got close enough to our victims to discover that the group were—shall we say—professionally involved in public safety. Good grief.
We had been joking about rental canoe casualties moments before all this unfolded. After a lifetime on the water, I still don't get why people won't treat it with respect. Now I'm sorry she didn't find out what town these people were from, because I so don't want to go there.
Labels: boating safety, Ipswich River