A Pluvial Cruise/1923


A Pluvial Cruise: 1923


 By Clarence Wilson Stryker

This Chesapeake cruising story is courtesy of Marion Naar, who writes:
An account of a 1923 canoe trip on the Severn River, written by Mr. Clarence Wilson Stryker, history professor at St. John's College in Annapolis. The drawings were done by Professor Stryker. It was among my grandmother's papers. Mrs. Royal J. Davis' husband had been at St. Johns with Professor Stryker.

Billy was my uncle, William Wiles Davis, who became an artist and remained a boy at heart all his life.

Monday, Aug. 27th

"Dan" shook his head and prophesied "falling weather." He is a good weather guide! Nevertheless the Quartette, Adelaide, Walter, Billy, and "Prof", set forth in the Unka and the new canoe -- still nameless. There was a fair breeze up the river and the two boats slipped along easily and rapidly. The first real incident of the voyage occurred when the new canoe reached the County Bridge. Billy, who was sailing, insisted that the masts would pass under the "draw", and Prof weakly yielded to his superior wisdom -- result: boat wedged against bridge with mizzen-mast under first girder, at imminent danger to masts and boat. Adelaide forthwith decided that Walt was lonely and that she would go with him in the "Unka" hereafter -- a decision from which she never swerved.

Finally, by the united efforts of Billy and Prof, the boat was freed, masts lowered, and we advanced, under paddle, to the second bridge. Having passed that, we spread our wings again and sailed gaily up the river.

Disregarding Dan's prophecy and Prof's misgivings, Adelaide and Billy decided to risk weather as far as Clement's Creek. As we passed Luce Creek, where we had first intended to camp, a gathering cloud rapidly developed into a thunderstorm in the southwest, and as we entered Clement's Creek, to find our "Crabman's Point" occupied, it threatened a speedy wetting. The wetting arrived as we made a landing amid the debris of a burned shanty-boat.

Adelaide promptly donned her poncho and took refuge under a tree, Walter proceeded to unload his canoe, Billy and Prof raised their canoe-tent, but, alas! not quickly enough to save contents of canoe from some wetting. A site for the shore-tent was found fifty feet or more up a steep bank, but, as Adelaide remarked, in a very pretty wood. The little "Hikelite" was raised, the canoes put in order, and by that time the second shower, much more severe, had struck us. During these proceedings a large eagle swooped down to pick up something from the surface of the creek. There was a question as to whether it was a bald eagle or not. After a time the tarpaulin was stretched as a porch to the little tent and under its friendly protection by the aid of the sterno stove we enjoyed hot drinks and soup with the usual additions for supper.

Supper over -- as also the shower -- Walt began, as usual, to make preparations for bed. Billy and Prof at the same time undertook the elaborate preparation of the new boat for sleeping afloat -- this was the first trial of the canoe tent aboard. By the time this was done, a sleepy voice called from "upstairs" that Adelaide had decided to go to bed, so the second pair of the quartette "turned in" also and managed a fairly comfortable night with no mosquitoes and the soft wind blowing through the open sides of the tent. The Prof did not entirely miss the beautiful moonlight and black shadows of the wooded banks. It was interesting to step directly from one's bathtub into bed.


Tuesday, Aug. 28th

A beautiful sunrise -- purple, gold, and deep red -- following so immediately on the moonlight that the whole night was light! The day promised well, save that the wind still remained in the southeast -- ominous direction. Breakfast over, Adelaide decided to abandon the "two-story" camp and packed with the aid of her minions to set sail up the Severn once more with a new supply of clear cool water from the spring near which grew spikes of scarlet lobelia. The banks of the creek were also brightened by mallows, white, rose, and magenta.

The breeze up the river was fairly fresh and the two canoes made good progress together, the Unka leading when the airs were light despite the weight of the additional passenger, the new boat pushing ahead when the heavier puffs overtook us. On we went into Round Bay and then Billy, in spite of yesterday's sad experience, wished to keep on to Valentine's Creek, but today the Prof was adamant and therefore we made our way to the old camp site back of St. Helena Island. 'Twas well that the old man prevailed, for in less than an hour after we landed the first of a series of showers struck us and the broiling of the chickens had to be postponed -- and again postponed -- until we finally had dinner at two o'clock, the final broiling of chickens and baking of potatoes taking place in the rain.

Nevertheless, all voted the meal excellent, perhaps due to the appetites developed by long delay and open air. During the afternoon, still showery, the members of the quartette evinced their individual tastes. Adelaide wandered about and finally succeeded in chopping off two pieces of firewood. Walt fixed and refixed his tent and bed, Billy sketched and bedeviled everybody, and Prof tended fire and dried out clothes, scorching the bottom of one shirt and the foot of one stocking. Supper found the party somewhat depressed but refusing to admit it. After a light meal, for campers! we retired. The night was hot and still with occasional showers and misty moonlight. Adelaide and Walter made out pretty well, but Billy and Prof had a poor night, the latter driven first into a small corner of the canoe and finally out-of-doors by Billy's antics and the heat!


Wednesday, Aug. 29th

Morning broke at last, however, with gray unbroken sky and rain, persistent but not very heavy. Breakfast was accomplished without much trouble and then the campers occupied themselves with various avocations, coming together occasionally to discuss weather signs and buoy up hopes for the future.

Adelaide and Walter paddled over to the gushing spring in the sand beach for a supply of fresh water and foregathered with some natives. One of the latter, a crabber, foretold a clearing "blow" at about two o'clock, but the "blow" did not occur, and, although the rain ceased the skies refused to clear. Prof cut firewood and Billy assisted by felling a dead red cedar and cutting it up for a fragrant camp-fire after supper. Billy also manufactured a cedar bow and provided with an arrow amused himself and endangered camp equipment and companions. A trip to the von Schwerdtners was proposed -- Adelaide had set her mind on roast corn -- but Prof declared himself too tired after lack of rest last night to undertake the trip, so it was abandoned.

During the day Walt and Prof shaved and were pronounced much improved in beauty. Late in the afternoon we all took a swim -- a very brief one for the day was cheerless. After the swim, Billy rounded up four white China ducks from St. Helena and drove them along the beach toward camp, but failed to induce them to surmount a log lying in the way. We had a New England supper of pork, beans, and brown bread, "topped off" with fig pudding and hot drinks.

While this agreeable process was taking place, the clouds broke and the rose tints of sunset still further cheered the voyagers' hearts. It grew rapidly cooler and the quartette prepared for a good night's sleep. Billy and Prof rearranged their sleeping quarters to pack themselves away after the manner of sardines in a box. But in the midst of cheerful thoughts and anticipations, while Prof was ensconced in the canoe tent giving a final touch to his bed, alas! down came the rain again in a sharp, though brief, shower. When it was over Walt and Billy went to bed, while Adelaide and Prof sat for a time by the brightly blazing cedar fire until Prof had finished his coffee and cigarette.

Then they, too, sought repose as the stars came out, and happily found it -- at least the Prof did -- no mosquitoes, no kicks from Billy, and so cool an air that blankets were necessary for comfort. In the night the Prof heard the hoot of a horned or barred owl and Adelaide saw a muskrat making an examination of our camp.


Thursday, Aug. 30th

The campers woke to a strange experience -- to wit, the sunshine gilding beach, tents, and last night's raindrops. Everyone turned out readily -- the Philadelphians first this morning, and it-ho! for breakfast and a new start up the river. Packing occupied some time and the accumulated moisture in the atmosphere took Old Sol and the West Wind two or three hours to clear away in grey misty masses.

But when duffel was stowed and we were at last upon our way, the clouds gradually disappeared and blue sky and bright sunshine enlivened the moving picture of wooded shore, sandy point, and reddish bluff as we made our way under paddle and sail -- more paddle than sail today -- out into the Severn and on northwestward. The two captains of the new canoe could not agree as to the proper method of sailing, but, as usual, Prof gave way to Billy, who was steering, with the result that the Unka had a nice, lazy paddle along shore and reached Valentine's Creek some time before they appeared.

A search of the shores of the creek revealed a fairly convenient and sightly camping ground. Luncheon was eaten under the shade of a locust and a pine with a water outlook each way. The "Hikelite" and the tarpaulin were pitched and then Adelaide and Walter departed in the Unka en route for Severn Park and bread, fruit, and "Pet," while Billy and Prof sketched, wrote up "log" and otherwise employed themselves.

Among other things they explored the headwaters of Valentine's Creek and made way with difficulty through masses of waterweed. Prof thought he saw ahead a marsh wren's nest and Billy was determined to see it close at hand. When the boat would advance no farther into the weeds and mud under paddle, he kindly offered to tow it and before Prof could check him, stepped overboard. Fortunately he went one leg at a time for the forward leg met no effective resistance and plunged full length into the soft mire. Billy was only saved from combined drowning and burial by clinging to the boat.

The trippers to Severna returned with bread, rolls, "pet," and fruit. A swim was followed by supper and all hands "turned in," chiefly to escape the attacks of hungry mosquitoes. After the Prof was in the canoe tent Billy pushed the boat off shore and pulled it into the rushes but sideways to the shore. All were soon plunged into dreamless sleep, but Billy and Prof awoke at midnight to find their floating bed careened to an angle of forty-five degrees. The tide had gone out! However, in spite of the trying conditions, they managed to stow themselves so as to fall asleep again.


Friday, Aug. 31st

The canoeists awoke to a misty world, grass, leaves, tents dripping with dew and the sun showing pale and ghostly through the clouds of steam rising from both land and water. Billy and Prof took a morning "dip," or rather "splash," inside the barrier of uninviting weeds. After breakfast and the usual packing the four turned their prows and thoughts up the river for the final exploration of the Severn.

From Valentine's Creek onward the river is narrow with numerous bluffs and sand banks where a peculiar variety of sand is or has been excavated for glass or porcelain making. This part of the river, too, is more generously provided with pines and cedars and their picturesque forms and spicy odors added a pleasing variety to the trip.

Passing Whitney's and Indian Landing, the former provided with a cable ferry and the latter adorned by several small islands, the party reached the end of the river proper. Here between acres of bright green wild oats we entered Severn Run.

Severn Run proved both interesting and charming. There was a good depth of water although the stream was at times nearly choked by the rank growth of reeds and wild oats. Twisting and turning up the sinuous waterway, we caught constantly changing views of the forest -- covered higher banks to right and left. Flocks of red-winged blackbirds rose chattering as we advanced; we scared into spasms of flight the yellow-legged "quawks" and occasionally a great blue heron rose on wide beating wings or a muskrat splashed amid the rushes close beside us. Once a bald headed eagle soared into the blue, and several ospreys fled from us with shrill protest.

Presently the bushes grew higher, water loving trees appeared on the bank, and leaving the broad marshes astern, we entered the wooded alluvial region -- the pequoson, as it is called about Chesapeake Bay. Here was lovely play of lights and shadows, tangled vines draped the trees in shining green mantles, graceful royal ferns dip their fronds in the ever-flowing stream, dark blue viburnum berries hung in masses, and here and there gleamed, orange red, the seed clusters of the swamp magnolia. For two miles or more we enjoyed this novel canoeing and then reluctantly turned backward, warned by the midday sun that we must retrace our steps, or rather our strokes.

After reaching the river again, we stopped on a diminutive island for lunch and then again took to paddle and oar, making way steadily though leisurely downward.

We stopped at Whitney's landing and replenished our canteens with water from a cool, clear spring overarched by dense foliage of ferns and trees draped in shining masses of greenbriar. Backward we went with the pleasant breeze in our faces and the same glimpses of cedar-accentuated points and pine-clad bluffs into Round Bay and to our old camp site.

While Walter and Billy took a swim from the Unka, Adelaide straightened out tent and duffel and Prof collected wood and built supper fire. Again we dallied over the evening meal under the low drooping chestnut oaks as the evening shadows deepened and went to bed under the peeping stars, tired but happy.


September First -- Last Day of the Cruise

Up fairly early to greet another bright, clear day with less mist and dampness! Breakfast over, the final packing and clearing up took longer than usual and perhaps movements were retarded by regret that our jolly outing was nearly over. On our way homeward we made a detour to explore pretty St. Helena Creek. Then we set our faces resolutely toward the final goal.

As we passed out of Round Bay several white winged sailboats passed us, probably preparing for the water carnival to be held this afternoon. We found ourselves bucking a strong wind up river and for a time there was strenuous work even from Adelaide and Billy -- the former developing into an effective paddler and the latter showing vigorous muscle in handling the oars.

Past Brewer's, Saltworks, and Clement's Creeks we struggled onward and then stopped for luncheon on a sandy beach beneath a partially shady bluff. When we again embarked, the wind had died down and we made easy work of it toward "Crabtown", stopping to greet two swimming friends of Prof's. Under the two bridges, around the Naval Academy we reached Burtis's about 3:30 P.M., brown, somewhat dirty, but pleased with ourselves and the trip, initiated in showers but ending in sunshine.


© 2010
Craig O'Donnell, general factotum.

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