Life Interferes with Play

Life is inferring with play.  I am not able to continue this blog.  I have asked the Canoe Cruisers Association to take over the Facebook page and post events having to do with with family canoeing or kayaking.  So check Facebook.

I am keeping this blog online because this blog had over 28,000 views in 2016, so obviously there are people getting information from it.

SYOR (See you on the River)

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GW Canal of the Potomac River, Violette’s Lock Loop

GW Canal

GW Canal

The Canoe Cruisers Association has offered a practiced novice paddling trip on the GW Canal of the Potomac River every Sunday in August and into September.  I contacted a couple of families to see if they wanted to do it and we settled on Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

This is a fairly easy class 1 -2 whitewater trip, but I didn’t want to take two other families with not so much experience down this section of the river by myself.  I wanted more experienced backup and that is what is great about the CCA trips.

There were several experienced paddlers who helped our group down this section.  Barb Brown gave paddling instruction to Phil and his older son, Dustin, who were going on their first whitewater canoe trip together. We took Phil’s younger son, Thomas, in our canoe along with our kid, so that it would be easier for Phil and his older son to paddle without  having a passenger.  Alf Cooley and Tim Tilson helped rescue our other family when their boat went over in one of the rapids.     Just this extra experience with new paddlers is what is really great about these CCA trips.

This is not a trip I feel comfortable leading since it is not a straight-forward trip.  You have to intimately know the route.  This is a trip you can run without shuttles, as you can paddle down the GW Canal (Potomac River – Virginia side) and then paddle up the C&O Canal (Maryland side).  I have always run this as a loop with no shuttles.  But luckily our trusted leaders realized with all the Hydrilla in the C&O Canal, this would be a better run if we ran shuttles.

This trip begins at Violette’s Lock.  Alf set up a shuttle with cars left downstream at Pennyfield Lock, before we even got there.  So for some people the trip began at Pennyfield Lock.

Crossing the Potomac River Above Seneca Breaks

Crossing the Potomac River Above Seneca Breaks

The paddle starts on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.  You put in above Seneca Breaks and paddle all the way across the Potomac River to the Virginia Side.  Aim for the American Flag at the Trump Golf Course.   Once you get over to the Virginia side, you find the George Washington Canal, which was dug out in 1785.  You can read about the Patomack Canal in this wiki article. The place where we paddled is referred to as Seneca Falls.

What I know as the GW Canal is sectioned off of the main Potomac River and provides for a nice small river experience on a very wide river.  American Whitewater writes about this route.

If you don’t know the route, find someone who knows it and can take you.  Or go on a club trip.  It is not hard to find the beginning of the channel, but what is hard is knowing where to exit the channel and where to take out.  The exit of the channel is around some islands and if you miss it, you miss it.  You still have to paddle all the way across the Potomac River to get to the take out on the Maryland shore.  If you are running it without a shuttle then the paddle down the river to the takeout point to transfer to the C&O canal is not far.  If you ran a shuttle to Pennyfield lock, then the takeout is further and you go in an inlet on the Maryland shore and then under the C&O canal through a tunnel into the parking lot at Pennyfield Lock.

Our group was pretty big, lots of kayaks who played in one of the rapids while we fed the kids who seemed to be hungry all the time.   We had several experienced paddlers with us which is nice for safety reasons.

One of our canoes went over in one of the rapids.  We helped retrieve the canoe and help the paddlers back in the boat, but the children in the boat got wet and ended up being a bit cold.  This paddle started at 9:30 am, and we were all finished by 1:00 pm, but the warmth of the day was not until later in the day.

Even in the summer, it is good to remember to bring extra and warm clothes for the children to change into if they get wet and it is too cold for them.   Our child was in a wetsuit, but even that wasn’t enough to keep him warm after taking a little swim (on purpose) in Jacuzzi Rapids.

CCA organized this trip for anyone, but I think if they were ever to organize a paddle with families in mind, I would do it later in the day so that it would be at peak warmth while we are paddling.  Kids just get colder than most of the adults.

You will notice that all the kayakers (required) and some of the canoeists have helmets on.  Paddlers wear helmets in the rapids to prevent head injury in case of falling on to a rock.  In a kayak, rolling without a helmet could cause head injury. We had paddling helmets and our child and friend wore bike helmets.

But it was mild enough that you could get by without a helmet if you were in a canoe.

Entering the aqueduct which carries the C&O Canal at Pennyfield Lock

Entering the aqueduct which carries the C&O Canal at Pennyfield Lock

Just before the Takeout at Pennyfield Lock

Just before the Takeout at Pennyfield Lock

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Become a Paddler – Buy a Boat!

boatI found families interested in canoeing, but most everyone did not own a boat and wanted to paddle at a place to rent boats.  But it is hard to coordinate with families and even harder to coordinate with families who do not own boats.  The best places to paddle, they don’t rent boats!

If you want to become a canoeist or kayaker, then it takes some equipment to do it.  There is a big initial investment, but after that, the investment is very little, as it is free to paddle on rivers.  You just need to drive there and go with other folks, who you meet on the river or join a paddling club.   Paddlers are a great bunch of people and love to talk about the sport and help new paddlers in the sport.  Half of my interest in paddling was because the people were so nice and it was fun to go do something enjoyable in the outdoors.

If you are interested in canoeing or kayaking, the only way to really do it is to buy a boat. Buy used, but get a boat.  Fall is a perfect time for buying a canoe. Outfitters sell their stock in the fall used.  Equipment tends to be cheaper in the fall, more expensive in the spring.

A canoe is a good place to start, because you can carry passengers and small children don’t want to paddle anyway.  As children get bigger, then you can add to your investment and buy another canoe or buy a kayak or two.

Basic Gear:

  • canoe
  • life vest for each family member
  • paddles
  • dry bag
  • straps or rope to tie on to car
  • roof rack or other method to carry canoe or kayak on your car

You should be able to get some of this stuff used: the canoe, paddles, and left vests.  Use craigslist, go to Value Village etc. Buy from outfitters.  You probably are not going to be able to get the dry bag or straps used (You don’t want to buy a used dry bag.).  You might be able to get foam for the car or roof racks used.

Start looking now, so you are all set for next spring.

Outfitters Selling Used Boats

Here is some information about buying from an outfitter this fall:

Front Royal Canoe starts selling their used canoes and kayaks on Sept 12, 2016
River and Trail Outfitters say check back about used sales in October 2016
Shenandoah River Outfitters is ready to sell their used boats to you now
Downriver Canoe Company has some used stuff, just call.

Craigslist – people sell boats all year around, and especially in the fall.
Austin Kayak – get on their mailing list and get 15% off coupons via email

I think every Labor Day sale, REI offers 20% off Yakima and Thule Racks. Maybe more than once a year.  If you are a member of REI, they send you a coupon to buy something at 20% off at least once a year. This year is was around Memorial Day.

In the spring Costco sells new life vests at a good price.

Sierra Trading Post has some good deals on dry bags now.  You can get a large bag for $17.

Read: Where to Buy Used Boats

Read: Buying a Used Canoe


Do not buy a canoe with lots of rocker unless you plan on doing exclusively whitewater.  I see people selling whitewater boats on craigslist without actually telling the buyer it is a whitewater boat.  Mohawk XL15 is a tandem whitewater boat.  It has lots of rocker.  Rocker explained.  Moderate rocker is OK, extreme rocker, is only good for whitewater.


Sorry I don’t have advice about buying used kayaks, there is so much variability that it would be hard to advise.  I would not buy a used whitewater kayak as your first boat unless you are sure you want to start whitewater kayaking.  They are not made for going in a straight line across a lake and will be very frustrating if you are not doing whitewater.  (Oh, I bought a used whitewater kayak when I first started boating, but I wanted to start whitewater kayaking.)

Advice for Families on Boats

I’ve corresponded with one single mom with multiple kids.  She says she could not pick up a canoe by herself to put it on the roof of a car.  I’ve actually thought about this a bit.  She could buy an inflatable kayak, also known as a “duckie”  or two.  (I have never seen these used, so it will be expensive.)

Another idea is to buy a canoe trailer.  I know this sounds like I’m talking about a big trailer, but I’m not.  I must say I peruse craigslist all the time looking to see what canoes people are selling.  But one thing I’ve seen this summer were 2 or 3 people who were selling canoes and a canoe trailer together.  The trailer is for a single canoe.  Usually they are selling the two together and they were reasonably priced. I don’t remember the price, but I thought this was a great idea. Of course you would need to get a hitch on your car, but that is pretty easy at U-Haul.

A trailer like this, but people sell them used with a canoe.  If you don’t like the canoe, just sell the canoe after you get the set and put your own selected canoe on it.

I was just talking with a fellow aging paddler today and mentioned a trailer and a canoe dolly as a way to solve the transportation problem as we age.  So why not start out with a trailer and a dolly?

So there are ways to enjoy the sport for the not so strong and as we age.  But if you want to paddle with your family or friends, then you need to own a boat.

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Tandem Whitewater Canoe Course with the CCA

Whitewater Canoe Class. (Photo by Barb Brown)

Whitewater Canoe Class. (Photo by Barb Brown)

After you have learned how to paddle flat water, for some the next step is to learn how to paddle whitewater.  Others are not interested in whitewater, which is fine too.

The first course I took with the CCA (Canoe Cruisers Association) was a tandem whitewater course many many years ago with a former boyfriend.  Although I have spent most of the whitewater paddling in a kayak, I started in a canoe and have flirted with canoeing over the years.  I’ve always wanted to be at least an acceptable canoeist.

Instructor Brendan and His Solo Whitewater Canoe

Instructor Brendan and His Solo Whitewater Canoe

The second time I took the whitewater canoe class was in a solo canoe; the third time I took it was with my husband and our newly purchased tandem canoe (about 13 years ago) and then my husband and I took it again, since we haven’t done much whitewater paddling since we adopted our child.  And neither of us is really good in a whitewater canoe. We have a lot to learn.

Brendan Fitzpatrick was our  ACA (American Canoe Association) CCA instructor and Barb Brown was our safety boater.  There were eight students in four boats.  Brendan was in a solo whitewater canoe and Barb was in a whitewater kayak.   Some of the students had been whitewater paddling before but took it to increase our skills.  Some students were new to whitewater paddling.  At least one is a whitewater kayaker branching out to learn new skills in a canoe vs. a kayak.

To qualify to take this class, you have to already have completed the flat water canoeing class which was offered earlier this summer or have those skills.  And of course you need to be a competent swimmer.

Not all of the students owned boats.  Brendan supplied a couple of boats for students to use.  This was a six hour, one-day course.  So Brendan could not cover everything you need to know in one day.  When I first took the CCA whitewater course, a lifetime ago, it was a 3.5 day course.  A Friday evening, all day the first Saturday.  Then the next weekend it was all day Saturday and on Sunday there was an all day trip to a different river.

Brendan covered equipment, safety, parts of the boat, the basic strokes.  Then on the river we worked on low and high braces.  We changed places in the boat several times throughout the day. So the bow paddler (front) paddled in the stern (back) and vice versa.

In the water we practiced mainly eddy turns, ferrying and peeling out.  The paddle strokes used in these skills are: pry, draw, cross-bow draw, sweep and forward stroke.

These skills are also used in whitewater kayaking, but I can attest that it is more difficult to do these skills in a tandem whitewater canoe.  In a kayak, you don’t have anyone to communicate with and you paddle from the fulcrum (pivot point) of the kayak.  In a tandem canoe, the fulcrum is still the middle of the boat, but you are sitting either in front of or behind the fulcrum and what stroke you do depends on what position you are sitting in.

One thing that we couldn’t get into in a one-day course was river reading.  If you are interested in whitewater canoeing and you might be interested in taking a week-long course in it.  Madawaska Kanu Centre, in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Canada is one place where you can take a 5-day course in whitewater canoeing.  There are many places you can take a multi-day course in kayaking, but canoe instruction is harder to find.   I took a 5-day course in whitewater kayaking many years ago at Madawaska and since we paid in Canadian Dollars, that year everything was 30% off!  Even earlier in my kayaking career, I took a whitewater kayak course at Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, NC.

Everything I have learned about whitewater canoeing, I’ve learned from CCA or MCC (Monocacy Canoe Club) classes locally.  But river reading and safety skills translate from kayaking to canoeing.

One thing that is essential if you plan to practice whitewater boating is taking a swiftwater rescue course and a first aid course.  I think I’ve taken a swiftwater rescue course three times in my life, and it is probably time to take one again.  I know both CCA and MCC offer swiftwater rescue courses every year.  And First Aid and CPR training is available from the Red Cross,  year round.

Paddling across the Potomac River at Violette's Lock

Paddling across the Potomac River at Violette’s Lock

Instruction on the GW Canal

Instruction on the GW Canal

Lunch Stop

Lunch Stop

Safety Instruction

Safety Instruction

Swimming at Jacuzzi Rapid

Swimming at Jacuzzi Rapid

Brendan Side Surfing in a rapid (not part of the instruction)

Brendan Side Surfing in a rapid (not part of the instruction)

Author and Partner Front Surfing in a rapid – It is a tradition to twirl your paddle in the air while surfing and perfectly balanced in the wave (not part of the class instruction) Photo by Barb Brown

Returning in the Rain

Returning in the Rain

Getting Off the Potomac River in the Rain

Getting Off the Potomac River in the Rain

Paddling Back to the Put-in on the C&O Canal

Paddling Back to the Put-in on the C&O Canal

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Monocacy River, Buckeystown Park to Mouth of Monocacy

kids-in-water2We paddled a section of the Monocacy River, starting at Buckeystown Community Park in Adamstown, MD and going to the Monocacy Boat Ramp at the Mouth of the Monocacy River in Dickerson, MD on Saturday July 16, 2016.



We put in at Buckeystown Community Park, which is at Route 80 and the Monocacy River. There is a port-a-potty and a playground there, but no boat ramp.  We found a put-in where someone had chopped in steps in a steep muddy bank. It was about 8-10 vertical feet down to the river.   By 10:30 am, on a Saturday, all the parking spaces were taken and families were starting to grill out. By the time we ran the shuttle to retrieve the cars at the put-in around 4:00 pm, the park was full of people and many people were parking on the street.


This trip was put together at the last minute when a canoe trip and overnight camping fell apart as families dropped out for other commitments.  So I can’t say that I did the most thorough job planning this trip.  According to Ed Gertler’s book, “Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails“, the trip is 9.6 miles.  Ed estimates that it takes 17 hours to run 57.3 miles of the Monocacy River in Maryland.  I extrapolated that you can canoe 3.3 miles per hour, not including breaks, lunch and swimming.  So with a distance of 9.6 miles that would take a solid 3 hours of paddling.  That was longer than I hoped to paddle (with kids), but I didn’t find a for sure place to put-in located where I wanted to in my limited research.

Water Level

I’m doing a little “after the trip” research, now that I have run it to help me remember the parts I liked best about the trip.  First off, I considered water level, and thought that the chances of being able to paddle the Monocacy in the middle of the summer were best if we paddled near the mouth of the Monocacy where there would be more water and a wider river.  This proved correct.  On my post-paddle research, I note that Ed Gertler says that to determine if the river has enough water to paddle (minimum water level) that the gauge: MONOCACY RIVER AT JUG BRIDGE NEAR FREDERICK, MD is 1.7 feet.  This is the listing of the gauges in Maryland, from the USGS.  The gauges on the Monocacy River are under the heading “Potomac River Basin (Harper’s Ferry to Washington)”.  You can do historical research on the water gauges, so on Saturday July 16, 2016 at noon, the water level was 1.8 feet, enough to paddle, but low water.  This is what I was expecting before and confirmed by paddling it.  Since I didn’t check the gauge before, I’m just confirming what I found and the information in Ed’s book is correct about water level.

The Trip

Being pulled on the Monocacy River

Being pulled on the Monocacy River

The first half of the trip was all class A, moving water but no rapids.  It is a lazy river and with lazy rivers, you have to paddle them versus float them.  The second half the trip was mainly class A (flat water), but had several Class I rapids which are “Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.”  Here is the International Scale of River Difficulty. 

Ed Gertler rates the scenery along the river as Fair to Good and I would concur.  But Phil, one of the adults with us (who had never done a downriver paddle) thought the scenery was excellent.  Most of the paddle of the Monocacy is along private property.  We saw some swimmers and fisherman every so often, but no other boats besides those with us until the take out.  Most of this section (at this level) was pretty shallow.  Some of it had deeper pools, and other parts were pretty shallow.

The only maneuvering was during the last third of the trip where the rapids (Class I) came in and the bridges all had huge tree strainers.  But there were always places to pass and avoid those strainers.

As usual we brought squirt guns and pool noodles and a beach ball.  The squirt guns were used quite a bit and the pool noodles were used by the kids when swimming.  We lunched soon after we put in on a spit of rocks. There were many nice places to stop and rest and other nice places to swim and float.  With so much paddling to do, we didn’t have time for the beach ball.

Other Access Points

 With other access points, we could shorten the trip.  The main access point we saw while paddling is a boat ramp at Park Mills Road.  The trip is 3.8 miles from the Monocacy Boat Ramp at Park Mills Road to the Mouth of Monocacy.  This would have most of the Class I rapids in this part of the trip.  A boat ramp makes an easy put-in or take out, as it is paved and easily accessible.

The other possible access point, which we did not see from the river and contains no place to park (except along the road) and no boat ramp, but access to the river is on South Crissford Road, Adamstown, MD. I think the real name is South Criss Ford Road, as noted in “Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails”, but google thinks it is Crissford, so if you need to look it up on Google, then you need to spell it as Google knows how to spell it. I can’t tell from Google Maps how easy it is to put in a boat at this location.   If you put in at Crissford Road the paddle is 6.3 miles until the Mouth of Monocacy boat ramp.  The road that goes across the Monocacy at this point is Lily Pons Road.

If you want to avoid most of the rapids, you can put in at Buckeystown Community Park and take out at South Crissford Road (3.3 mile paddle) or take out at Park Mills Road (5.8 mile paddle).  I found the access point in Ed’s book, but also by Google Maps Satellite View.  You can see a car parked along the road on the river side.


The take-out (after 9.6 miles) was at the Monocacy Boat Ramp at the Mouth of the Monocacy. There is a real boat ramp for canoes as well as trailered boats going into the Potomac River.  There is lots of parking and there is a little building which either has real toilets or has a chemical toilet.  (I didn’t go check it out.)


This is the first trip (as a family) that we have had to run a shuttle. If you are a paddler, then I can say it is quite different to run shuttles with families, than it is just a few other whitewater kayakers.

First off, we had 3 canoes but no car which could hold extra boats. (Well, our car can take 2 canoes, but it is a tall SUV and it pretty hard to get that extra boat up on the rack – because it has to sit at an angle).  And then we had 10 people in 3 canoes (and 4 cars). Because  of this and the fact that Mark in the extra car (no boat) was coming from Southern Maryland, (much further away than the rest of us),  I gave Mark a meet time later than anyone else so that he could meet us at the put-in without shuttling his car.  This all means that we had to run the shuttle twice.  Once at the beginning and once at the end. With extra passengers and canoes, it may be the way it is with families.


The kids mostly wanted to play versus paddle, so a shorter trip would have been a better solution for this group.  We paddled the last one-third of the trip straight with no breaks. We started hearing thunder close to the end and needed to get off the river as soon as possible.   It was lightly raining by the time we got to the Mouth of the Monocacy take-out.  And even though we had put dry clothes in a car that was at the take out, we didn’t put them on as we had to stand in the rain until the cars came back from the shuttle.  One really big thunder clap with lightning, sent us all to sit in Phil’s car (7 of us) until the shuttle cars returned.


This was a very nice paddle.  I would choose a shorter distance next time.  The swimming was superb and the paddling got more interesting toward the end of the trip.






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What Now? Getting Lessons and More Experience

Introduction to Paddling at Riley's Lock 7/10/16

Introduction to Paddling at Riley’s Lock 7/10/16

Did you come to the Introduction to Paddling at Riley’s Lock?  Now what?  Where can you learn more and gain more skills?  One hundred and sixty-five people signed waivers for the July 10 Family paddle and there were more who showed up with their own boats or borrowed boats.


Calleva offers kayak lessons for children and adults right at Riley’s Lock.  Both Calleva and Valley Mill Camp offer paddling during summer camps for children.  If you google “kayak lessons on the Potomac River” or “canoe lessons on the Potomac River“, you will get other companies who can teach you some skills.  Some are local and some are up near Harper’s Ferry, WV.  I’ve seen Prince Georges County Recreation offer canoe and kayak lessons on Lake Artemesia in the Spring.

Some of the companies are just whitewater, so if you are just interested in flat water paddling, make sure you select the right company.

On July 30th, the Canoe Cruisers Association is offering a class “Canoeing Basics for Rivers and Lakes“.  This is  a very affordable one-day class at Riley’s Lock taught by an ACA (American Canoe Association) instructor.  This class is for adults and possibly teens who are especially interested in taking this 6 hour class.

If you are already a skilled flat water canoeist, the CCA is offering Whitewater Canoeing on August 21, 2016.

I did meet many people on Sunday who didn’t want any tips or instruction in paddling, but just by looking at them, it was clear they didn’t know what they were doing.  Taking lessons not only helps you enjoy the sport more, but lessons always have a safety component that will help you be a safer paddler.  And especially if you are paddling with children, then you really want to be a  safe paddler and not depend on things always going right.

One thing that I haven’t mentioned but is a no brainer.  You need to be a good swimmer to be a safe paddler.  So make sure your swimming skills are good as well as your children’s.

Once you own a boat, joining a club, like the Canoe Cruisers Association is a good way to meet other paddlers and learn more from other members.

Buying equipment:

Life Vests

Even before I bought a boat, the first thing I bought was my own life vest, so I didn’t have to depend on the horse collar life vest that my friend was lending me.  You want to buy something that is Coast Guard approved and comfortable, since if you are paddling, you will always be wearing a life vest.  I bought my own life vest new, but I bought a bunch of Coast Guard approved children’s life vests at Value Village thrift store.  (Children’s vests are sized by the child’s weight, so make sure you know how much your child weighs.)

Roof Racks

The second thing I bought was racks for my car, so I could carry a boat.  Many cars come with racks so you might already have some or you might have to buy a whole new set.  I was lucky in that I started paddling when cars had gutters on them, and everyone had Quick and Easy roof racks that you bought and screwed into 2 x 4 pieces of lumber.  Now buying a roof rack is pretty expensive.  Thule and Yakima make good options.

Most paddlers add Thule or Yakima crossbars to their already installed car racks so they can get wider crossbars and also install other components.

If you are interested in Canoeing or Kayaking, then buying life vests and roof racks is a start.  There are places to rent canoes and kayaks around the DC area, or further outside of the immediate area, but after a while you will want to get your own boat (or boats) and go to more interesting places which don’t have rental boats.

Here are links to help you buy used canoes.

Where to Buy Used Canoes

Buying a Used Canoe


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Potomac River Festival – Family Paddling Event


photo by Barbara Brown

Sunday July 10, 2016   3:00 – 6:00 pm

Free Event:  They supply the boats, you supply the energy!

As part of the Potomac River Festival, there will be a Family Paddling Event on Sunday afternoon.  Calleva  supplies the boats, basic paddling instruction will be provided, and you supply the family!


Riley’s Lock along Seneca Creek  (this is flat water)
13025 Riley’s Lock Rd,
Poolesville, MD 20837


  • From the Beltway, take River Road west toward Potomac. Continue past Potomac for 5 miles.
  • Turn left to stay on River Road at the intersection with Seneca Road, then left on Riley’s Lock Road.

When:   Sunday July 10, 2016    3:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Who is the event designed for?

Adults and kids, age 5 and over, are welcome to join the fun. No experience is necessary.

What Can I Expect?

  1. Plan to get wet and have a blast!
  2. Bring water and snacks  (no concessions available)
  3. Bring a Ziploc bag for your keys if they can’t get wet.

How Much Does It Cost?

The event is free!  There are sponsors to defray the costs!

What Type of Boats will Be Available?

Both kayaks and canoes.

A Little History

The Potomac River Festival has been going on for a good many years.  The main part of the event is the Great Falls Race. Expert kayakers and canoeists from around the nation compete in a race down Great Falls. There is also an upriver race and other events.  But the Family Introduction to Paddling part of the Potomac River Festival started last year and is a more sedate, family oriented event to introduce novices to the sport of kayaking and canoeing.

Link to CCA Event

Here are some pictures from the 2015 Family Paddling Event.

Photo by Barbara Brown

Photo by Barbara Brown

Photo by Barbara Brown

Photo by Barbara Brown

Photo by Barbara Brown

Photo by Barbara Brown

Photo by Barbara Brown

Photo by Barbara Brown

Photo by Barbara Brown

Photo by Barbara Brown

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Canoeing Trips with a Club – Kayaks of course welcome


View of Patuxent River from Mount Calvert

It looks like the CCA redesigned their web site so I have updated the links to the new links.  Instead of a pdf document which lists the trip calendar, it is now an online calendar.  Look for the events that are aqua, as they are the novice (easy) trips.  There is a link to the legend in the right hand corner of the page. (Updated April 10, 2016)

If you have never been canoeing with a canoe club before, this article is going to give you some hints on how to proceed.  There are a couple of beginner, novice and practiced novice trips posted so far on the CCA Trip Calendar.  (Canoe Cruisers Association of Washington, DC)


How to Read the CCA Trip Schedule

The main page of the  Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington gives an overview of the club and includes a link to the Trip Schedule.  I’m going to make the assumption that the reader is a novice paddler or if not a novice paddler, wants to paddle places with children and therefore is paddling with novice paddlers.  If that is not your case, then ignore these basic instructions.

When you look at the Trip Schedule, the most important things to look at are the dates and the level.  It also tells you where the trip goes and who is coordinating the trip and how to reach that person.  If it says “dealers choice”, that means when it comes time to figure out the river to go on the coordinator is going to choose from what rivers are deep enough to paddle at that time. (With the new trip calendar, trips that say “BRV” and “MCC” are referring to trips that other clubs are leading – Blue Ridge Voyagers and Monocacy Canoe Club.) 

The Trip Guidelines state:

Novice – Beginning paddler who is proficient in flat water, knows basic strokes and can maneuver the boat in Class 1-2 moving water.

Practiced Novice Same skills as novice but more experienced in adjusting to unexpected changes in water level and weather conditions.

CCA is mostly a whitewater club.  For my family trips, I do not assume you know how to paddle in class 1 or class 2  moving water.  I do assume you know how to get in and out of your boat safely and how to keep yourself  and your family safe.  Also how to paddle well enough to go in a relatively straight line.  The water will be moving, whether because of tides or because of wind or both, so it is not quite the same as paddling on a pond with no wind.

CCA is reaching out to gain the next generation of paddlers and by offering some flat water trips to attract families and other beginners, we hope to keep our paddling club going for future generations.

Determining Which Trip to Go On

So you should first determine what your skill level is and if you can participate in the trip posted.  For my beginner trip, there is no experience necessary, but that doesn’t mean you can just show up without contacting the coordinator first.  For PN (practiced novice), the trip leader will want to know what your skill is.

Once You Have Selected a Trip of Interest

One or two weeks ahead of the trip, you email or call the trip coordinator and let them know your interest in the trip.  The coordinator is going to ask questions to determine if you know what you are doing.  For a PN (practiced novice) trip, the coordinator is going to want to know what type of boat you are paddling, how long you have been paddling, and what rivers you have done before.  If you are in a kayak, the coordinator will ask about your rolling skills.

For a beginner trip, (which I am leading this year), I’m going to ask what type of boat you have.  If you don’t have a boat, are you renting a boat?  I will ask about who is coming in your party, names and (if children) ages.  I will ask if you have a life vest for each member of your party and if you know how to determine what size life vest is appropriate for children – if you are bringing children.  Life vests must be warn when boating in Maryland and on all CCA trips.  If you are coming in a kayak, I’m going to find out what type.  If it is a whitewater boat, I will want to make sure you have a helmet and spray skirt.  If it is a flat water kayak, then you don’t need either, as the cockpit is much larger.

If you are canoeing or kayaking, I’m going to assume you know how to swim!  If you don’t know how to swim and you are over the age of 10, then you should probably not be canoeing.  So if you can’t swim, please do not go on a club trip. This is a basic assumption.

Your Preparation Before a Trip

Dry Bags for Storage

Dry Bags for Storage

On a club trip, everyone is 100% responsible for themselves.  So before the trip, consider what type of clothes to wear for the day. I wrote about what to bring paddling in a previous post.  If it is cool, then you want to wear some clothes to keep you warm, like nylon pants and a polypropylene top.  You will want a hat for sun, water for each person (at least a quart per person), some food for lunch.  You will need a dry bag to keep your gear dry.  In the case of a beginner trip, I guess you don’t need a dry bag, but you will need something to contain your gear in your boat, maybe a duffle bag.

If you are renting a boat, you need to make reservations before the trip.  So when you contact the trip leader, contact the canoe livery and get a canoe or kayak reservation at the same time.   If you are renting and have children, consider bringing their own life vests.  I have found many places that rent canoes are not adequately stocked with life vests sized for children.

In Case You Have to Cancel

If you have to cancel please call or email the trip coordinator to let them know you have a change of plans so we will not be waiting for you.

The Day of the Trip

If the meeting time is 10:00 am, that doesn’t mean you pull into the parking lot at 10:00 am, that means you have already arrived and taken your boat off your car and gotten all your stuff together by 10:00 am.  Most trips require a shuttle, so in those cases you may want to keep your boat on your car and inquire about who will be carrying boats versus keeping their car at the takeout.

The flat water trips I am leading do NOT require a shuttle, as they are out and back rivers flat water trips for families and beginners of all kinds.

If you are renting a boat, you don’t show up at the rental office at 10:00 am when the leader said the trip was meeting at 10:00 am.  You need to get your boat before the meeting time.

On places that have boat ramps, you drive your car to the boat ramp, unload your boat(s) and all your equipment and then drive to the parking spaces provided.  Boat ramps are not meant for parking.

Don’t Leave Valuables in the Car

DO NOT leave valuables in the car.  That means you need to take them with you. So you are going to need something dry to keep your keys (if you have a remote lock) and your wallet and maybe your cell phone if you brought it.  I have had stuff stolen out of my car before I wised up and realized to never leave valuables in the car.

Trips for Families

If you are going on one of my family trips and you have children, consider bringing some pool noodles and a floating ball to play with.  In warm weather, squirt guns are fun.  In cool weather, leave the squirt guns at home.  I wrote about Canoeing with Children in this post.

At the Meeting Site

Introduce yourself to the coordinator.  If you have any questions, ask.  Be helpful to other people.  Once you have gotten your boats off the car, see if others may need help.  This is especially important with beginner paddlers, who may not be used to slinging boats on and off of cars.

On the River or In the Parking Lot

Introduce yourself to other paddlers in the group.  Paddling with a club is a great way to socialize and meet new people.  After I got to a certain level of paddling, I decided what was more important to me was the people I went with and not the river I went on. I have made a couple of lifetime friends that I met paddling or met somewhere else and invited paddling with me.  What really drew me into paddling was the friendly people.  I had actually started out rock climbing, but decided I liked the paddlers better, so I pursued paddling and not rock climbing.

After the Trip

Don’t forget all your stuff.  Pull your car up to the boat ramp, but don’t keep your car there longer than necessary.  Help people who are struggling with their equipment.  If you have food to offer, offer it around.  And lastly, thank the trip coordinator.  And consider joining the CCA.  I will be handing out membership forms at the end of my trips.

Follow FamilyCanoeingDC on Facebook to get notified about upcoming novice and practiced novice trips.



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Family Canoeing Trips with Other Families

FamilyCanoeingDC Teams with Canoe Cruisers Association

CCA patchDo you want to canoe with other families on trips that someone else coordinates?  I am joining with the Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, DC (CCA from here on).  And I’m expanding into Facebook to let readers know about family paddling opportunities with CCA.

By the end of 2015, I expect to have 10,000 readers of this blog!  I bet there are some readers who live in the Washington, DC area, have children and own a canoe or some kayaks. CCA is expanding their family canoe/kayak trip offerings for 2016.  I will be coordinating some flat water paddling trips in addition to the moving water family paddling trips which other CCA members will coordinate.  All family canoe/kayak trips will be announced on Facebook, as well as the CCA website.  I will also look into offering a canoe/ kayak trip to a place which rents canoes and kayaks.

History of CCA

When I started this blog, it was just to help other families find places to paddle with children.  I never expected to have so many readers.  But a little over two years later my statistics tell me a lot of people read this blog, or at least a page or two and that makes me think there are other families out there who are looking to do some family paddling — with other families.

This is from the front page of the CCA website.

The Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, DC, founded in 1956, has members from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and other nearby regions. We are a kayak and canoe club whose main purpose is to unite persons interested in paddling the Potomac River Basin and adjacent watersheds.

My association with the CCA goes back to my twenties, which is a long time ago.  My background with the CCA goes back to the very first time I paddled on the Potomac River. The first paddler I met was a CCA member and I have been loyal to CCA over the years. You can read about my first summer of paddling in my first blog post.  Of course over the years I’ve belonged to more than one canoe club.  I have belonged to the Monocacy Canoe Club (Frederick), Coastal Canoeists (Richmond), and the Greater Baltimore Canoe (and Kayak) Club (Baltimore).  It doesn’t matter whether you are in a canoe or a kayak, we call ourselves paddlers.  I started in a canoe, switched to kayak, and now I’m back in a tandem canoe.

The reason to do club trips is to meet other paddlers, enjoy the community of paddlers, and exchange knowledge about rivers and trips.  I have found paddlers are the nicest people.

The Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, DC offers more than just trips.  It offers flat water and whitewater canoe lessons, river kayak lessons, and swiftwater rescue classes.  The club works on conservation and river access issues and there is a racing part of the club.

I’ve taken just about every class they have given, at least once, if not twice.  Back when there were enough people for a solo whitewater canoe class to run a class and an instructor to teach that, I took that class too.

For years, maybe 30 or more years, the CCA, National Park Service and two canoe liveries (Swains in Potomac, and Fletcher’s Boat House in DC) worked together in the summer and offered free or $2 canoeing on the C&O Canal on Tuesday (Fletcher’s) or Thursday (Swains) evenings.  The liveries provided the canoes, the CCA would run it and offer some quick instruction at the beginning and the National Park Service would oversee it.  It was evening canoeing on the canal from 6:30 – 8:00.  Thousands of folks came by and paddled at one or the other places and got an introduction to canoeing.  I found this old Gazette article about the program.

Today, Swain’s Lock Canoe Livery is closed (The Swains retired).  Fletcher’s Boat House remains open, but the program is no more.  I think it has something to do with the NPS lack of support.  Whatever it is, we don’t have that available as an introduction to canoeing.  Many CCA members went for many years.  It was a way to get a little flat water practice, meet friends, and give some tips for new paddlers on the C&O canal.  I was a regular at Swains for several years.

I decided in August 2015, I wanted more families to paddle with and I could use this blog to leverage paddles over to the Canoe Cruisers Association.  They are looking for the next generation of paddlers too!  I’ve always appreciated CCA in that the club has always been very welcoming of beginners and has always offered lessons for a reasonable cost.

I thought Facebook might be the way to go to let families know about family friendly canoeing opportunities with CCA, so I have created a Facebook page for FamilyCanoeingDC.  I’m hoping people will “like” the page and that will be an easy way to get the information about trips out.

I have created the page in the fall of 2015; I figure that gives me all fall, winter and spring to get “likes” and find people interested in family paddling.  If you are not on Facebook, you can still look at the CCA website to find family friendly paddling opportunities.

So like FamilyCanoeingDC on Facebook and keep informed of family canoeing opportunities with the Canoe Cruisers Association.  You can join CCA here.


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Potomac River, south of Harper’s Ferry, WV

canoeists swimming in river

Splash Trip with Canoe Clubs

Potomac River, Potoma Wayside (VA) to Brunswick, MD

I specifically wrote this post about Canoe Safety in Moving Water because of this trip, so please take a look at it if you are unfamiliar with safety in moving water.

This paddle puts in on the Potomac River below Harper’s Ferry at the Potoma Wayside. This is the usual takeout for paddlers running the Needles (whitewater) section of the Potomac River and the Staircase (whitewater) Section of the Shenandoah River.

For this section, we put in at Potoma Wayside, Virginia.  It is just before the bridge where Rt. 340 crosses the Potomac River south of Harper’s Ferry West Virginia.   Our takeout was 5 to 6 miles downstream at Brunswick Landing in Brunswick, MD.  The takeout at Brunswick, MD, is just before the Rt. 17 bridge over the Potomac River.

We went on the “Family Splash Trip”, coordinated jointly by the Monocacy Canoe Club and the Canoe Cruiser Association of Washington, DC.  They have this trip every August on this section of the Potomac River, when the water is low and safe for families to paddle.

canoe put in

Put in at Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center

The put-in at Potoma Wayside is across the street from the gas station, and the put-in is a bear… long and steep downhill.  So our trip coordinator coordinated with Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center and we all paid money per person, per car and per boat to have our boat all its gear and ourselves transported to the put-in (on their property) close to the Potoma Wayside put-in.  It ended up being $20-$25 per family, so totally worth it in my view.  But you may be able to pay to park at the gas station and carry your own boat down.  I’ve carried kayaks and canoes up this take-out, but it is much harder to carry down than up. My sources tell me it is mighty hard to get one of the coveted spaces at the gas station, so you might as well pay Harpers Ferry Adventure Center.  And yes, from what I understand, it is a monopoly.

This was done at low water and with a pretty big group.  I guess it is a class 1, gently moving water, with maybe one noticeable drop.   There were about 6 families and many more who were paddling as couples and singles.  So there were lots of people who knew what they were doing, which is what you want in moving water.

The Monocacy Canoe Club has been doing this run for at least 20 years.  It is the “Family Splash Trip” in August.   This year the CCA (Canoe Cruisers of Washington, DC) joined MCC to coordinate this trip.   Last year’s trip was cancelled due to high water.

Running A Shuttle

parking at brunswick takeout

Parking at Brunswick takeout

We met at the take-out, Brunswick Boat Ramp in Brunswick, MD, which is on the river side of some train tracks.  Most people were in canoes but there were a fair number of kayaks too.

We needed to leave a couple cars at the take-out, all the rest of the cars went to the put-in. If you have not done a one-way canoe trip, that is the shuttle.  Take your keys with you. We put Mark’s boat on our car and Mark and his stuff in our car (his friend got a ride with another paddler).  And we all put our dry clothes and after paddle refreshments in Mark’s car, which was staying at the take out.  As a rule, I never leave anything of value in my car, I always take my keys, wallet, phone with me and put them in my dry bags.

There are train tracks at the Brunswick takeout.  We were caught between the Potomac River and the road for at least an hour while trains moved and stopped keeping us unable to run the shuttle.  Finally the trains moved and we were able to start our trip more than an hour late.

paddlersThe Trip

Since we paid Harpers Ferry Adventure Center to take our boats, equipment and persons to the put-in, we actually put in a little downstream of Potoma Wayside.  The water in this part of the Potomac Rive is moving and fairly flat.  There were a couple small ripples here and there.  We stopped about half way through at a small rapid.  Most everyone ran the rapid at the biggest drop (less than 1 foot), but you could run a smaller drop either left or right of it.

canoe in waterWe stopped at that rapid for lunch/ snack and the splash part of the trip. People sat in the water falls, kids swam and crossed the moving water from eddy to eddy.  We had over a dozen boats piled on rocks in the middle of the river.

This is a “Splash Trip” and this was the splash part of the trip.  I was not coordinating this trip, had I been, I would have suggested people bring their squirt

guns and pool noodles. We had more squirt guns than we needed and lent squirt guns to two other boats so we had someone to fight with.  It was an especially hot day, so sometimes I was asking for people to squirt me just to keep cool.

canoes at takeout

Takeout in Brunswick, MD

One of the boats went over in the small rapid and paddlers used their throw ropes to rescue both the paddlers who fell out and to retrieve the canoe which went over.

The takeout is on the upstream side of the Rt. 17 bridge, (Brunswick, MD) but you have to go into a little canal on river left (Maryland) to get to the takeout.

Close by there was a little ice cream shop that closed at 6:00 pm on Sunday. We sat outside of the The Little Red Barn Ice Cream Cafe in Jefferson, MD.  I thought we smelled too much as a group to sit inside with the other customers.  They serve both hand dipped and soft serve ice cream.

This was our first Splash Trip and we all had lots of fun.  My kid loved having the other kids around.  It was fun to float in the rapids and walk on the rocks.  All the kids just loved moving from eddy to eddy and trying to swim across the rapid.  Different parents were catching kids as they “ferried” themselves across the rapid.  It was a lovely day.


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