A Pocomoke Winter Paddle
Because we’ll be in Delaware the majority of the winter this year, I am determined to do something active outside, if not every day, then every other day. So far it hasn’t been difficult. We’re enjoying the autumn we didn’t have in October/November. But I know the real test is coming – those gray, dreary, damp days where the gusty east wind blowing over the cold ocean jeers at the sight of my precisely layered fleece and nylon and vests and windbreakers. Those are the days when getting outside will be a true accomplishment.
This past Sunday was not one of those days, thankfully. Windy, yes. But with a cheerful blue sky and temperatures in the low 50s, the day felt almost spring-like. I launched at Porter’s Crossing on the Pocomoke River to paddle downstream to Snow Hill. Mitch wanted to do a bike ride in the area so he offered to be my shuttle. I love one-way paddles!
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the water level that high at the launch. It filled the ditches on either side of the road and spread out over the banks and raced around the hundreds of cypress knees making the Pocomoke sound like the Potomac at Great Falls. The tide and the current and the wind were all heading the same direction as me, so for the first half mile or so, I only paddled to stay out of snags.
If I were a gnome, I’d live in the upper part of the Pocomoke River. No matter the season, it is magical. In the spring, summer, and fall, before the cypress trees drop their leaves, it is like a hidden tunnel. But even in the winter, the slanted sunlight filtered through the bare branches gives the surface a surreal glow. And there is a small stretch, maybe about a mile long, where you don’t hear any loud-mufflered trucks or motorcycles. Only the squeak of bark on bark, a startled duck running into flight, and a paddle breaking the surface to make a slight change of direction.
Once the river widens, it is still pretty, but no longer magical. Around some bends the wind can be fierce. No trespassing and private property signs pop up here and there. Dilapidated killing huts (AKA duck blinds) hover over the water and along the shoreline. (I didn’t even think to check on the Maryland duck season. I’m very thankful I didn’t come around a corner to see a gun pointing at my stocking cap.)
Just when I thought my bladder would explode I paddled past a point of trees and saw the domed roof of the Snow Hill courthouse on the horizon. Soon I was at the Rt. 12 drawbridge realizing that the water was too high for me to go under it. I’m sure they would open for a kayaker, however the sign on the bridge stated that they needed five hours advanced notice. But the Pocomoke River Canoe Company with their very nice floating dock is just before the bridge as well as a small public park with ladders along the bulkhead.
Mitch had left the truck at Sturgis Park, just a couple of blocks from the bridge. Miraculously, he rode over Rt.12 finishing his bike ride the same exact moment I arrived at the bridge. As we loaded up the temperature seemed to drop. Or maybe it was because I’d peeled off my dry suit. The important thing was that the entire time on the water I was completely comfortable (except my bladder). It turns out that January is a lovely time to go for a paddle.
If you go:
- Please make sure you have the appropriate clothing for winter paddling. Because the shoreline is never very far away, and the water is fairly shallow, it is tempting to wear comfortable clothing instead of appropriate clothing. I have a two-piece loose-fitting dry suit. It feels like trying to fit into sausage casing when I put it on. But I wouldn’t think about paddling this time of year without it.
- From Porter’s Crossing to Snow Hill is about 5.5 miles.
- Even at Porter’s Crossing the Pocomoke is tidal. It was supposed to be low tide at Snow Hill at 10:39 am. But it was definitely still going out during my paddle from 12:30-2:30 – very strong at the top, much slower at the bridge.
- There is not much parking near the Porter’s Crossing launch. A couple of pull-outs on either side of the bridge is about it. But I have done out and backs there a few times. I never go during peak season but the times I’ve gone, no body else has been launching.
- Byrd Park south of Snow Hill has a kayak launch and a regular boat launch along with plenty of parking and restrooms. It is about a half a mile from town. (I’d make sure you can get under the bridge before parking here for a one-way.
- Sturgis Park is on River Street just south of Rt. 12. It has public restrooms (they were closed for the season when I was there much to the dismay of my bladder). I’ve never launched from here but there is a floating dock.