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Thursday, March 07, 2002

Paddle Report: Maple Creek, March 6, 2002

Bob Andrews announced at the meeting his paddle trip to see the red maples along Maple Creek. The red maples have been in color around Daphne and Fairhope, so this seemed like a great time to go see them in the Delta.

Five paddlers and four kayaks met at the put in, which was the Texaco station on the Mobile Bay Causeway. We met after 1:00 p.m. Bob brought a tandem plastic kayak, Amaru, for him and Aven. Steve Delker brought his Pygmy wooden kayak which has a bright new coat, or coats, of varnish. Julie brought her Chesapeake 17, and I had my plastic Vizcaya.

The weather was very nice: Clear sky except for two smoke plumes north of the bay. Light air blowing 5-10 mph from the south; the tide was rising through the day and seas were less than one foot. Air temperature was 60 - 68 degrees that afternoon. The water felt chilly but I don't have a temperature for the bay water. We were all underway by 1:40 heading northeast under the I-10 Bayway. We generally followed a line of PVC pipes stuck in the bottom that mark the deep water channel across Chacaloochee Bay as we paddled toward the entrance to Big Bateau Bay. The southeast wind felt stronger out on the water causing a weather cocking effect on our boats. Julie's boat seemed determined to go to the Cock of the Walk restaurant southeast of us.

Once in Big Bateau Bay, the tidal current plus the southeast wind combined to give us a rather fast drift north into the bay. The reeds and grasses slipped by rapidly in this narrow entrance to the bay. Very little wildlife is out at this time of year. A flock of white birds resting on the surface may have been white pelicans. A few red wing blackbirds perched on the tall grasses from last year.

We paddled to the northwest shore of Big Bateau Bay in about 30 minutes. We found the waterway out of the the bay into the creek system. This waterway is not accurately marked on the 7.5 minute quadrangle map. The initial passageway is a narrow creek with low grasses on the left bank and tall green reeds on the right bank. In 300 feet or so, the waterway widens into a broad expanse of water that is not indicated at all on the map. We continued northwest bearing to the left past a blank wooden signpost that marked the mouth of another creek. From here we paddled on until we found a creek on the right, the entrance to Maple Creek.

In Maple Creek, the bank is steep and looks firm. The top of the bank is covered in last years vines and stems which have been beaten flat over the winter. Small grey feathered birds flit about from low branches. They may have been warblers. The creek has gentle bends and plenty of width for the boats to turn in. We continued into higher drier ground where the maple trees become plentiful. We paddled on past the remnants of a tractor trailer left there by Hurricane Frederick. One curve past that we stopped to beach the boats and have a rest on shore.

The bank here was dry because the crunchy branches and vines of last year's crop of plants held us up. We had to walk gently so we would not break through the dry crunchy top. Aven shared pumpkin bread (two kinds) and fruitcake she baked. We shared some stories and Steve did some really amusing imitations of Bulwinkle from the movie "Rocky and Bulwinkle."

The trip back was different due to the lighting. The Spanish Moss hanging from the maples was backlighted, and the water was sparkling in the lowering sunlight. We wove back and forth following the creek back the way we came. Once out of the trees we felt the wind, and it was stronger than before.

The water was still rising, but the tidal current was less. The wind was against us, and the seas were about one foot. Steering the boats into the wind was far easier than the downwind trip. We regrouped before we left the mouth of Big Bateau Bay. Several jet contrails in the western sky were growing wider in the upper air wind, becoming feathery in texture. We paddled to the southwest looking for the PVC pipes. At this stage of the tide, the water was adequate to float the boats - no problem. But unless we were in the channel, the paddles scraped bottom on every stroke. We neared the Bayway as the sun reached the Mobile city skyline. As the last of us (me) reached the take out, the sun set, making pink and red contrails overhead.

For those of you who want to make this trip to see the peak of the red maples, there is still opportunity to do so. The maples have not peaked in color up in the Delta. The trip is very pleasant, especially in Maple Creek. Plan the paddle for the second half of a rising tide and go for it!