Winter Canoeing

by Paul Stanton

Sycamore Islander, February 2002

The slough along the canal, with quiet water and near shores,
is less risky than mid-river.
I had two amazing trips on the river over the Christmas season. On Christmas day about 4 p.m. I was on the river with a friend. There was no wind, not even a ripple. The trees of Sycamore Island had complete reflections deep into the water as we came from the middle of the river back towards the island. Even the clouds were reflected perfectly. The only ripples on the whole river we had made ourselves.

On the 28th I went with the same friend. It was much colder so we stayed along the banks of Sycamore, then Rupperts. As we came to the top of Rupperts we could see a flurry of birds on a rock about 100 feet from the shore. A Bald Eagle took off about 150 feet in front of us. It went into a high branch and watched us come up. As we passed the rock that he was first seen on, we saw the beautiful largemouth bass that the eagle had just caught. It was a keeper about 15 inches long. He had just killed it and taken one bite. We donít know if he came back to finish his dinner or if the pack of gulls and crows ate it. I felt both bad that I spoiled a great dinner, and amazed that our island offers such a wild scene.

The rope swing upstream. Every paddle stroke brings
different scenes from those of summer.
I do not recommend canoeing in the winter to anyone. I have been going out in cold months for a decade. Any time the combined water and air temperatures are less†than 100 degrees special care has to be taken. The Potomac is a huge river; cold temperature adds at least one full degree of risk. So our flat sections are now class 2 and the nearby whitewater goes to class 3†and 4. When the temperatures are really low I stay very close to shore and Sycamore Island. †Here are some of the precautions that I take:

My boat has flotation bags. Mine are in the bow and stern. I think that the Island should equip at least two boats with full flotation. I always stay tied into the boat with the painter John Matthews made for me attached to the belt of my like jacket. My extra paddle is tied in. I always wear Capilene long underwear. In a dry bag attached to the boat I have: a very heavy wool hat with gloves, extra shoes and heavy socks, long underwear top and bottom, and candy. Winter canoeing is not for everyone but offers a unique look at nature.

Photographs courtesy of Maria Stenzel.

Paul Stanton is an active Wait-lister.