In 1982, inspired by Nathaniel Bishop’s book Voyage of the Paper Canoe, I built a 17′ decked cruising canoe with a laminated paper hull and deck reinforced with a yellow-cedar frame. On August 15, 1983, a paddling partner in a fiberglass kayak and I set out to follow Bishop’s 2,500-mile route from Quebec City to Cedar Key, Florida. Almost all of the route is well protected and only twice did we have to go ashore to wait for safe conditions. There was only one dangerous moment that could have turned out badly. It happened on Love Point on the north end of Kent Island in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. Here’s how I recorded it in my journal:
Thursday, October 13, 1983
Up before light. Gray skies but calm and good visibility. Saw bald eagle—big. Later two more. Geese, heard before seen, came from a cornfield and alit on the water in our path with 7 or 8 white swans with them. Geese leapfrogged ahead of us. Swans a little bolder. Saw white bird like a heron but half the size. Egret?
Made a couple of stops along a marsh. Found a white terry-cloth visor. Stopped at Gratitude Marina [Rock Hall, Maryland]. Saw horseshoe crabs. A man my age working on boats. He tried to find charts for us but at the end of the season nobody has cruising guides. New revised ones out in spring. Gave us route instructions to Annapolis. Nice guy. Checked at Rock Hall Marina. No Charts. Rain. Got ice-cream sandwich.
Crossed bay at the mouth of the Chester River to Love Point, east side of Kent Island. Hard pull across wind southerly, pushing us sideways. Paddling hard 15° to 20° above landing. Stopped quickly and came north around point, heading south toward bridge. Saw orange sand alluvial cliffs. One block of fallen stuff had sand ripples. Took picture of boat and cliff blocks of sand.
Was shooting another when C shouted, “Your boat!” Looked to see the stern buried in dirt. I had cameras in hands. Took two shots. Looked at boat, then cameras, back and forth. Called C. Gave her cameras and told her to keep off, yell if anything moves. Dug out stern and pulled boat free. Felt bottom. No cracks. Got in, kept weight forward. When C and I paddled back with crippled boat, I looked over to her, grinning and said “Neat!”
Paddled north to a beach in front of a house. Rudder bent and jammed. Put ashore and put boats up on a lawn. C emptied gear and spread it to dry. I started cleaning for repair. Left a note at the house’s front door. Back to boat, turned on radio and immediately heard mention of a thunderstorm warning. Turned on weather radio. Severe thunderstorm warning, heavy winds, and damaging hail, 3 to 10 p.m. Uh-oh.
Back at house, old folks. “We need a garage.” “We don’t have anything like that here, but okay to move boats through our yard.” Found big garage and Steve and his wife Charlie [short for Charlotte]. Lucky to get off open ground before hail storm. Steve drove truck down and loaded my boat. Drove to garage. C wheeled hers up [on her cart]. Steve drove us to hardware store for more fiberglass. Back for dinner.
Friday, October 14
Took a long time this a.m. to get packed. Stuff was in such a mess. Charlie fixed us cheese omelets, big, with toast. During breakfast her infant son, 6 months old, in walker, was hypnotized by willows in the wind.
Wheeled C’s boat and gear to small point on west shore of Love Point. Windward shore—blowing 15 to 20, 3′ waves and whitecaps, no beach, no protection.
Went back to Charlie’s then walked C’s boat to the other side of the point, 5-minute walk to oyster-dredge place. Met Larry, Bill, and Jim. Led us to beach on leeward shore. Larry drove us back to Charlie and we loaded my boat and the rest of the gear. Said goodbye to Charlie, hugged adieu. So nice. Larry helped us drop off boats. We loaded up and headed out. Stream full of fish.
Looking back on that event, now 39 years ago, I still remember the elation I felt as we paddled away from the landslide. I had read James A. Michener’s novel Chesapeake in preparing for the voyage and knew that islands in the bay inevitably ceded their shorelines to the water. Michener’s fictional Devon Island lost land to the water and eventually disappeared altogether. In the fallen blocks of sand, I could see that had been happening at Love Point, though I assumed that, like many geological processes, I’d never see it in action. These days smartphone video recordings capture almost everything, landslides included, and it’s there for the viewing on YouTube. In 1983, to be present and to experience such an event firsthand was quite rare. It was a stroke of good luck to be at Love Point at just the right time. Much of Love Point’s shore is now protected by revetments of boulders and the sand cliffs have been graded to a gentle slope and covered with grass. The bay and the island have been brought to a stalemate.
I wasn’t at all upset about the damaged canoe. The paper laminate began falling apart even before the voyage had begun and repairs were a constant chore. After the first 500 miles, we stopped in Troy, New York, on the Hudson River and I did an overhaul of the entire hull and put on a new skin of brown paper towels, Handiwipes, and polyester resin. So, fixing the landslide’s damage to the deck was easy. I was pleased the canoe got some impressive scars to carry the Kent Island story.
Without the damage to the canoe, we would have missed the kindness of the residents of Love Point. They welcomed us, sheltered us from a dangerous hailstorm, made it possible to get the supplies the repairs required, gave us a place to sleep, fed us, and sent us on our way as if we were old friends. The landslide was one of the most memorable things that happened on that long voyage. And it led to one of the best.