Our
Presidents Day trip had 44 folks sign up for the trip including
several from the Apalachee Canoe and Kayak Club from the Tallahassee
area. The weather report showed rain for the entire weekend but real
paddlers don’t believe negative weather reports.

Several
of the paddlers arrived Thursday night or early Friday at Blackwater
River State Park and Jim Nuetzel coordinated a trip down the
Sweetwater & Big Juniper Creek. See Karen Saunders’ trip report
in another article.

Most
of us arrived Friday afternoon and set up camp. Buddy, Jean, Chad and
David decided to take what the thought would be a short trip on the
Blackwater River before dinner. Unfortunately, the trip was longer
than thought and it was almost dark before they got off the river,
very tired paddlers.

Shortly
after dust it began a heavy rain that continued all night and into
the morning Saturday. Our plans were to meet at the take out Saturday
morning at 10:00 a.m. and, since some of the folks were staying at
another camp ground, Chad and I went to the take-out in case anyone
showed up.

Betty
and Will drove up about 10:15 and we decided to try to paddle. The
roads in to the put-in were extremely muddy and we had to stop and
carry the boats the last couple hundred yards. By the time we set
shuttle and got on the river it was about 12:00 and the rain had
stopped.

We
had a beautiful and uneventful paddle on Boiling Creek but shortly
after we reached the Yellow River on the way to the take-out, a
couple of deer frightened us by jumping into the river. A great
paddle but it took Chad and me about an hour and several dollars at a
wand car wash to clean the truck.

When
we returned to camp, we learned that several of our “fair weather”
paddlers had packed up and headed home. A number of the “serious”
paddlers had taken an enjoyable trip down the Blackwater River after
the rain stopped.

The
weather cooperated Saturday night and Chef Buddy prepared a delicious
low country boil that we all enjoyed around a large fire. Wanda Hurd,
who had volunteered to make cookies for dessert but left them at
home, furnished us “store bought” cookies for dessert.

As
we were enjoying our cookies, Liz Carter shared some of her
adventures that she experienced while mapping the North Florida
Rivers and put-in and take-out directions for her first book. Liz did
this in the 70’s, before paddling became popular and there was
basically no paddling information about the rivers. This information
is still used in the latest Canoeing & Kayaking Florida
guidebook. We all enjoyed the stories that she and husband Butch Horn
shared with us.

While
we were all around the fire, I discussed our scheduled paddle Sunday
on Turkey Creek. Since this creek is always very tight and pushy with
many stumps, logs, and deadfalls, I expected it to be very difficult
due to all the rain we had and suggested that paddlers who were not
experienced would be wise to paddle Blackwater rather than Turkey
Creek. Walker Banning, one of our Florida paddlers, agreed to
coordinate the trip on Blackwater. More on this “bad” advise
later.

Thirteen
paddlers showed up for the Turkey Creek paddle and, surprisingly, the
water was at near normal level. Unfortunately one of our paddlers in
a rec kayak could not handle the fast, pushy current and after a
number of time consuming rescues, we decided that we would not be
able to get off the river by dark with this paddler in the kayak. Lee
Tillman, who was in a tandem canoe with his father, Dickie,
volunteered to exchange places with the kayaker. This solved our
problem and we had a very enjoyable paddle to the takeout on the bay.
Dickie and Lee saved the day and the kayaker is going to take rec
lessons.

This
situation reminds us once again that we must always be vigilant when
on the river and that all paddlers must be prepared for emergencies.
These paddlers were very experienced canoeists who have been paddling
white water for years. In this case, we did not have enough safety
gear including throw ropes, dry clothes, etc. This was a “flat
water” trip but the current was fast moving.

Upon
our return to camp, we learned that the Blackwater group had a very
serious spill. The rear paddler in a tandem canoe was knocked out of
the canoe by a branch, causing the canoe to capsize. Both paddlers
held on to the canoe but the water, being cold and swift, they pushed
away from the boat and tried to swim to shore, only to end up against
a deadfall.

All
but three of the other paddlers were on the opposite side of the
river, and they made a heroic effort, ultimately successful, to
recover the canoe and get it to the other side. The water was
apparently several feet above normal, and so very swift. The canoe
remained afloat but full of water and pinned against the bank.

The
paddlers were able to escape the deadfall and finally get onto the
bank, wet and cold. Their dry clothes were in their dry bag with the
canoe, along with a robust throw rope, but neither could be accessed
by the rescue team. With the help of Walker Banning, Kathy Criscola,
Cathy Bridge and Kelly Harbac, and 30 minutes of very hard work, they
finally recovered the canoe and got it across the river to a
submerged sand bar. The paddlers were finally able to get into warm,
dry clothes, and a really scary situation was handled with a good
outcome.

This
situation reminds us once again that we must always be vigilant when
on any river, that all paddlers must be prepared for emergencies, and
that flat water is not necessarily safer than whitewater, given the
right, or in this case, the wrong conditions. These capsized paddlers
are experienced canoeists who have been paddling whitewater for
years, and were the most prepared in the group of 8 boats, i.e. dry
bag with clothes and throw rope. In this case, we did not have enough
safety gear, including throw ropes, dry clothes, or river rescue
training. This was a “flat water” trip but the current was fast
moving and the level above normal.

We
had two very serious situations on two different rivers. The
important thing is for us to learn from these experiences to ensure
that we all have safe, fun trips in the future.

by Lamar
Phillips
From The Eddy Line, April 2009