12 in 12 River Number 12: The Savannah River

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Number 12! Liz and I decided to paddle a section of the Savannah River, about an hour and a half inland from the coast, near Newington. We planned to put in at Poor Robin landing and take out at Blue Springs, winding between Georgia and South Carolina for 6-7 miles. We downloaded a map from USGS and set our sights on a warm December Sunday.

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We wound through cotton country and dirt roads to drop a car and set up our takeout shuttle.  After leaving a car at Blue Springs, we put in at Poor Robin and set off down the river.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFriends who had paddled the Savannah earlier in the season reported alligators that followed them down, but we saw very little wildlife, with the exception of a blue heron and lots of buzzards.  It was a quiet day on the river, with only a few hunters passing us in powerboats.

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We decided to explore one of the cuts which was home to several homegrown houseboats.

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As with many of the Georgia rivers we paddled this year, the Savannah had remnants of docks (and boats) from other times.

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With the sun mostly behind clouds and mist, we stopped for lunch (in South Carolina!).

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Even the dark day was beautiful.

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And then suddenly, the take-out.

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We did it! Twelve Georgia Rivers in 2012!  A great day, a great experience, and many, many more to come in 2013.

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12 in 12 Rivers 10 and 11: The Oconee and Altamaha

On the morning of the third day of our 4-river trip, mist drifted off of the Ocmulgee onto our sandbar campsite.  (Days one and two were the Ocmulgee and Little Ocmulgee.)

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We headed down the Ocmulgee toward the convergence – where the Oconee would join the Ocmulgee and become the Altamaha.

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It was only an hour and a half of paddling to the convergence.  We’d had some concerns about rough water, but low water levels meant that the convergence was calm.

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Liz and I peeled off to explore the Oconee.

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The water was so low that we barely cleared the bottom, and paddled sideways to catch water.

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The level of the water was also reflected in the high docks we paddled underneath.

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River 10 – the Oconee!

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We headed back toward the Altamaha, meeting Jim at the convergence.

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We entered the wide Altahama, the last leg of our trip.

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We had four hours of wide water and wildlife.

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Jim’s friend met us at the take out.  The section of the Altamaha we paddled was our eleventh river –  we’re looking forward to exploring more of it on a future trip.

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12 in 12 River 9: The Ocmulgee

On day two of our three-day trip, a friend of Jim’s helped us with a shuttle, and we put in on the Ocmulgee early Saturday morning.

We were treated to miles of winding river, with sandbars that appeared around almost every turn.  Due to the drought and low water level, many of the sandbars had more vegetation on them than Google Earth images had led us to expect.

We saw interesting rock formations along the way:

We were all fascinated by the remnants of docks and tie-ups left from the history of logging in the area.

We did a little research on our return and learned a great deal about the history of the Ocmulgee from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.  We especially loved the link on the timber rafts.

We finally chose a sandbar, and made camp.

After a great dinner, we were treated to a gorgeous sunset:

The Ocmulgee – our ninth river!

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12 in 12 River 8: The Little Ocmulgee

With invaluable help from Liz’s friend Jim, we embarked on a three-day trip to paddle four rivers – the Ocmulgee and Little Ocmulgee, the Oconee, and the Altamaha.

We drove up to Lumber City, GA (where we stopped for ice and saw this, er, unique use of display area in the local gro (heady!):

We set up camp at the Little Ocmulgee State Park campground, a perfect spot made all the more, um, magical when spots on either side of us were claimed by a boisterous cub scout troup.

We headed right out onto the lake, which as been created by damming the Little Ocmulgee.

Although signs warned us about alligators, we we saw none.  What we did come across was this (insert your favorite collective noun here – all are used to describe groups of storks:) clatter, filth, muster, phalanx, or swoop of wood storks…

…and lots of lily pads.

The next day, on our paddle on the Ocmulgee, we found the tiny, remaining feed of the little Ocmulgee – our eighth river!

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12 in 12 Rivers 6 and 7: Little Ogeechee and Salt Creek

After much schedule madness, Liz and I finally got on the water on Saturday, July 28th.  We were joined by our friends Dan and Gerry.  Gerry guided us to the put in for the Little Ogeechee, then we shuttled cars to the Lott Island public boat ramp on Hunter Air Force Base.  We returned to the put in to load boats from a bridge overpass – treacherous, but we managed it without injury to bodies or boats.

We paddled upriver – against the tide – getting as close as we could to the source of the Little Ogeechee as the falling tide would allow.

We saw no other people on the water, but did see lots of birds, including wood storks, blue heron, egrets, and a tri-color heron. Two alligator sightings gave us a start, but they dipped below the surface and we hurried on by.

We paddled by old rice canals dotted with wild rice. Jim Byous’ essay on the Fortresses of Savannah describes how the rice canals and watery landscape were used against the Union troops:

The typography of Savannah accentuated the fortifications and helped create its own defense. On a peninsula, Savannah was surrounded by marsh mud, water, man-made dikes and rice fields that created a formidable moat for any invader. To slow the Yankees all that was necessary was to open the flood gates and guard the causeways. In a field near Savannah, Iowa infantryman Charlie Albertson wrote upon arriving there, “We had a fine time coming through when not marching too hard… We live on rice and Homony, or rather corn. They raise plenty of rice here. It grows in the water, they have levies and gates to cut off the water and let it on… Some times we march all night. Most through mud and water, sometimes almost knee deep.” Evaluating a potential charge across the mud and water he added, “We have a large force here…. We could easy take Savannah by storm but we would lose a great many men, And I for one do not feel ambicious to charge the large Reb fort in front of our division.”

When we could get no further, we turned around and headed downstream, with the tide.  After we passed the put in, the river widened and sandbars appeared, which presented good opportunities to stop for a stretch and a swim.

Liz and I took a side trip up Salt Creek – our seventh river!

It was a long paddle on a hot day – we were all happy to sit in the shade, hydrate, and eat cold watermelon.

Rivers six and seven – complete!

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12 in 12 Paddle number 5: Delegal Creek

I have been boating on most of these local salt water rivers all of my life, but Delegal Creek is one I have seldom been down.   To enter the creek by a power boat, one must know the channel that leads to this creek very well.   You enter this creek through Steamboat Cut from Green Island Sound.  This area becomes very shallow at low tide and has left many a boater stranded on a mud bar waiting until the incoming tide lets him leave again.  The shortest and most direct way to access this creek is from Skidaway Island, a private, exclusive, gated community that was developed on an island that I used to play on as a child.  My father used to take me over to the island by boat to explore the inside and look for deer (this was way before the bridge was built and long before the Landings community was established).   I even had a picnic lunch date on its southern tip before the development and golf course were completed.

Gerry Cowart, a paddle buddy and fellow 12 Georgia rivers in 2012 participant, invited Mary and me to join him to paddle Delegal creek in conjunction with a Skidaway Island Kayak Club outing.  This paddle was scheduled around a VERY high tide, along with a VERY full moon.  It was going to be a high tide of close to 10 feet, well higher than our average of 6-7 feet.

When we arrived at the Marina, the tide was already very high and most of the marsh grass was covered and it wasn’t high tide yet.  This high tide was going to be enhanced even more by the wind that was blowing straight in from the  east and directly downriver.  The incoming current was running so fast that it was making a wake against the concrete pilings!  This marina really has a nice storage system for the resident’s kayaks.  I was so impressed I took several pictures, hoping, in the future, to possibly recreate at my own house.

Gerry had prearranged for a friend and co-worker of his, Emad, to prepare a Lebanese style dinner for us.  It was DELICIOUS, and as we dined we enjoyed a stiff breeze from the ocean.

Pre-kayak dinner

Close to sunset, we all launched from a very cool custom kayak launch.  Launching from this was akin to coming out of a downhill ski racing gate (well, sort of if you have an imagination).  Everyone launched successfully, but those that entered the water prior to others, either had to paddle into the wind to hold position, or park in what little marsh was left.

Once everyone was ready to paddle we paddled with the current and traveled along the back side of Green Island (see previous post # 4).  The marsh was completely covered by the high tide at this point and we were able to paddle over some very shallow areas that we would not have normally been able to paddle over.  We had a new & several fairly new paddlers with us and they all did great.

Paddling was almost effortless, made easy by the wind and incoming tide.  (I wondered what the return trip would be like, paddling against the wind but with the outgoing tide.)

It seems like no sooner than we started, the sun started to drop and left us with a beautiful sunset (as we had hoped)

As the sun dropped into the west, we turned around and began our paddle back to the marina.  We had a few more moments of sunlight before the full moon was to rise.

As we continued our way home, the moon was rising from the east.  It was going to be a GORGEOUS full moon as predicted (however, my pictures did not do it justice).  The wind, coupled with the slight chop made it difficult to get a great picture.  The return trip was a little more difficult, paddling into the wind, but, on the bright side, we burned off the calories we consumed at dinner.   Again, it was a great paddle, with great people.  Who could ask for more????

Five Rivers!

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12 in 12 Paddle Number 4: Vernon River

After making a concerted effort to get inland on our first three paddles, Liz and I decided to find some nearby salt water that we hadn’t paddled. We settled on the Vernon River, which rises south of Hunter Army Airfield and flows 12.5 miles through Chatham County to the sea. Liz and I were joined on this paddle by Dan, and the three of us launched from Skidaway Narrows (Butterbean Beach) under bright sun and on an outgoing tide.

Our destination was Green Island, a small island tucked in behind little Wassaw. The island is now privately owned, but Liz had visited the island often as a child, exploring the island on day visits and overnight camping trips with her family.

Skidaway Narrows to Green Island

Although the Vernon was our main paddling destination, we put in on Skidaway River, then crossed Moon River and through a Burnside Island canal to the Burnside River. (A little shortcut in deference to the various cranky body parts on that day’s trip.)

Burnside Island Canal

Once the Burnside river met the Vernon, it was big water all the way. We had the wind against us, but the out-going tide made it easier going.

Vernon River at Burnside River

After a little over six miles and two hours, we reached Green lsland.

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Liz’s good planning put us there at low tide so that we could enjoy a meal and a slack tide rest.

Green Island at low tide

Green Island is a great example of a maritime forest. These island forests advance and retreat as coastlines are reshaped by tides and storms. Often found in maritime forests are Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana), Southern Pine (Pinus sp.), Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandifolia), Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto), Resurrection Fern (Polypodium polypodioidies), and Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens).

Maritime Forest

In deference to the private ownership of the island, we did not explore the interior, but saw plenty of evidence of the robust population of wild pigs. Liz’s stories of an old fort on the island made us want to learn more.

All we knew about the fortifications on Green Island was that they were a Civil War construction. After a good deal of (online) digging, we found this reference to the fort in the excellent essay “The Fortresses of Savannah” by Jim Byous:

Morale ran high in the first months of the war. Stationed on Green Island, seventeen year-old private Joseph C. Thompson wrote his sister, “If they try us I think they will be barking up the wrong tree for I do not believe there is one man in the Guards who would not die before surrender.”

Despite young Thompson’s determination, the outlying fortifications were easy pickings for the Union forces, and by 1862 they were abandoned. Again, from Byous:

On Sunday February 9, 1862 General Lee sent orders to Colonel Edward C. Anderson, commander of the coastal defenses, saying, “dismantle the Batteries on St. Simons and Jekyll Island, as it is intended to abandon the outside line of defense and fall back upon the interior forts.” By the end of March the guns of Skidaway, Green Island and Wassaw were moved to the interior forts, Thunderbolt and Beaulieu.

Once the tide had turned, we headed back toward Skidaway. Just as we reached Burnside Island, we were greeted by a large pod of dolphin – at least 5 adults and 4 juveniles.

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Dolphin

Johnny Mercer‘s childhood home – Vernon View –  was on Burnside Island. and in his honor a part of Skidaway river was renamed Moon River. We crossed both on our way back.

We decided to stop at Pigeon Island to stretch and check out the eagle nest.

Eagle Nest Pigeon Island

We also saw large prints in the sand that we guess were made by a great blue heron. Although we didn’t see the heron, through the day we saw wood ducks, a mallard, pelicans, cormorants, and a cheeky little guy we’re still trying to identify.

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Pigeon Island looks out on the Skidaway Narrows, historically a strategic point in guarding Savannah. In colonial times, the island (also known as Redoubt Island) was used by Capt. Noble Jones and his Northern Company of Marines to patrol the Narrows for Spanish privateers approaching from Florida. Known today as the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, the Inland Passage was a critical route to protect colonials from enemy advancement into early settlements. General Oglethorpe authorized construction of a watch house on Pigeon Island in 1740 to warn troops stationed at Jones’ Wormsloe Plantation of approaching invaders. Wormsloe was officially deeded to Jones by a King’s Grant dated 1756, although he had occupied the land since 1736. Pigeon Island was gifted to Jones in 1761 but later passed out of the Jones Family. The island has seen several owners over the years, held at times by individuals, a local family, and private interests seeking to develop the land for home sites. Today, Pigeon Island is once again part of Wormsloe Plantation, which is now a Georgia State Park. The 1997 purchase was part of Gov. Zell Miller’s Rivercare 2000 project benefiting riverfront land facilitating wildlife-management areas, parks, natural and historic landmarks, and greenways.

From Pigeon Island it was a short hop back to our put in, and our fourth paddle was complete. We had traveled a little over 12 miles on gorgeous Georgia Rivers.

FOUR!

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