Hackensack River Canoe &
Sedge Island Weekend
by Monica Orso
Friday, September 8 - Sunday September 10, 2017
After a week of anxiously watching the weather predictions, on Friday morning under clear skies and cool temps our group of 12 met up early at the staff dock on southern Island Beach State Park. Compared to last year's blistering heat, these temps were a welcoming situation. The group consisted of myself, Herta D., Lois and Henry S., Teri R., Ted C., Ken B., Lori B., Linda H., Tom B., Peter W. and new member Bethany W. Joining us for a day paddle was Mike R. The weekenders were met by Sedge Program Director Jim Merritt at the put-in on the South end of Island Beach State Park and we craftily maneuvered our cars into the tiny parking lot. Missing was day tripper Mike. Turns out he missed the parking lot and wound up stuck in the sand a ways down the road. We dispatched Jim and a few guys to the scene, but he couldn't be moved. Fortunately Jim knew all the locals and got one to pull him out with a pick up truck.
The main group set out paddling to Sedge House (a little over a mile), leaving Jim and Mike to follow later in the pontoon boat with all of our weekend supplies.. This island’s main building, the Sedge House hunting lodge, was built in 1919 and has since had an intriguing past. President Woodrow Wilson is reported to have signed a migratory bird conservation treaty at the house and both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig visited there on hunting excursions. The hunting lodge, which could accommodate 18 people, is considered to be the best remaining example of the many commercial hunting camps that existed on Barnegat Bay. New to Sedge House this year was a dock that replaced the one that was destroyed by Sandy. I also noticed some bunk bed and mattress upgrades.
After arriving at the Sedge House and unloading/settling in/snacking, some of us took a nice paddle through the grass covered islands past osprey nests, peregrine falcons, herons, cormorants, egrets, pelicans, oyster catchers and a variety of other shorebirds. Jim augmented the paddle with stories and facts about Barnegat Bay and the natural habitat. The others in the group that had rested on land went out a little later for a circumnavigation of Sedge Island and a few other areas, and then Jim and Ted took Mike and his boat back to the launch in a john-boat, low tide wouldn't work with the pontoon boat.
Dinner was a pot luck, with burgers, venison, and veggie burgers and yummy specialty salads and desserts. Lots was left over to add to Saturday's dinner. Yes, we like to eat. We also got our first glimpse of some terrapin hatchlings that Sedge intern Sidney was caring for before their release.
After a longish day, most went to bed early in the lodge, Bethany and I decided to drag the mattresses out onto the pontoon boat and sleep there. The moon rise was spectacular and the sky was very clear. Later the moon was so bright that sharp shadows were being cast and you didn't need a flashlight at all to make it over to the Clivus Multrum composting bathrooms. The air was chilly, but the sleeping bags warm, although quite wet in the morning with dew.
Jim, Henry and Teri were up early to fish on Saturday morning. I heard rumor that something was caught, but at the time I might have been busy scolding a seagull for getting into my kayak deck bag and attacking my bag of power bars. Luckily Tom got to the bird before it figured out how to open the wrappers. Lori and Ken were putting together breakfast for the group, and after that we all packed sandwiches for lunch out on the water later in the day.
After checking the tides and wind, we set out for the day's adventure. Henry stayed back at the lodge to enjoy the peace and quiet. Navigating through the ditches and channels of the area, we came upon a few areas with pretty decent current. One area that was nice and wide gave us the opportunity to practice ferrying, and no one went for an unplanned swim. Jim guided each person through, correcting their technique which was helpful. Sadly, the video I thought I shot did not record. But everyone had fun and learned a bit.
After “fun with ferrying” we headed through a cool mosquito ditch that was so narrow that the paddles were paddling grass and not water. This led out to the main channel of the bay, where we continued on to our lunch stop. The beach we stopped at was just before the Barnegat inlet with a great view of the lighthouse. Jim explained a little about the unsuccessful efforts made in past years to control the flow of water through the inlet. Remnants were still standing of the odd geotube structure after most of it was destroyed a couple of times by Mother Nature. We hiked about ½ mile through the beach peas and grasses along the Barnegat Inlet until we got to the ocean. The surf was very rough, too much so for a swim. But unlike last year, no one was overheated as the temps were pleasantly in the low 70's. There were some vehicles on the beach with folks surf fishing, unlike last year when all of lower Island Beach was closed to vehicles because of nesting Piping Plover. There was a nest this year, but our visit was after they “flew the coupe”.
Lunch was pleasant on the beach and we relaxed a good bit in the sunshine. Hiking back was a breeze and the colors of the grasses on the dunes were magnificent with early signs of autumn blushing some poison ivy and what I think was Virginia Creeper.
On heading out after lunch, there were some lovely waves in the bay just crying out to be surfed. The water was pretty shallow and gave a lot of opportunities for a decent longish ride. A lot of people in the group had never tried this and I must say from what I saw most caught at least one good ride. As I was trying to catch a wave, I heard someone squealing with delight and turn my head to the right to see Herta zooming past me on top of a wave. It's fun to paddle and scream at the same time! Once again, I failed to get pics of this fun time, but it was because I didn't want to stop playing long enough to take out the camera. My bad.
After a little while of playing, we started to head back to Sedge House taking a new route against the wind and outgoing tide. We stopped to do some clamming from the boats along the way, where Lois encountered a spunky crab that took a little chunk out of her finger. After bleeding a bit without attracting too many sharks, we continued back to the lodge while figuring out the trail markers along the way...Jim seemed perfectly happy to let us navigate back relying on our own skills, weighing distance vs wind/current resistance to choose the best route. We chose the longer route. Some interns from previous years had joined us for the day paddle and they chose the short route. We arrived back at Sedge House at the same time, and didn't even loose anyone along the way...(always a good thing.)
Hors d'Oeuvres (fingers crossed on that spelling) were put out when we got back, and somehow the little terrapins wound up on the food table. Perhaps that is why they were so anxious! Someone asked where the toothpicks were. I assured the little guys they were safe. Ted serenaded us with some tunes on his guitar as we fueled up our bodies for some trawling from the pontoon boat before dinner.
Those of us who headed out to trawl threw 2 nets and came up with an assortment of critters. Lots of crabs of all sorts, pipefish, flounder, etc. and one lovely pregnant male seahorse. This was a great treat and he seemed to be the star attraction of the trawling expedition. We released him after showing him to others at Sedge house. I'm afraid the blue claws and clams from earlier did not receive such a favorable fate.
Now pretty hungry again, we stuffed ourselves at dinner and did a massive clean up. Earlier in the day, it was discovered that the hot water heater went out, and after many unsuccessful attempts at lighting it we were committed to heating water for dishes on the stove. Sedge House has gray water..which is OK for dishes but not so much for cooking. However.... it was realized a little late that the first pot or 2 of morning coffee was made with the gray water. No one died (always a good thing too), and hey, a cup of that coffee probably had more iron in it than a king sized bottle of Geritol. Not that we are old and need iron or anything....
After dinner we sat on the South Porch in the dark and talked about the fun and maybe not fun things that had happened that day...the exercise was called Rose, Bud, Thorn. Then after the confessions, we played a game in the dark called Electric Moon Snail. It involved sitting on both sides of the long table, holding hands. At one end was a moon snail shell on the table. On the other end at the head of the table was Jim with a flashlight and a quarter. He would put the quarter down in the dark and hit it for a second with the flashlight. If it was heads, the person on each side of Jim would squeeze the hand of the person next to them, and so on down the line. When the hand squeeze hit the last person, they had to snatch the moon snail shell. Whichever side snatched the shell first got a point, and then that team rotated positions so everyone got a chance. While we were playing that game, in that room were 13 adults screaming and howling like little kids. There were accusations and denials of cheating, arguing over the positioning of the shell grabbing hands, as well as condemnations of whoever squeezed hands when the coin was tails.
It was a full day, and people made off to either their rooms (or pontoon boat) for sleep, the living room for chatting, or the south porch for some more music courtesy of Ted. I believe his repertoire contained a lot of moon-themed songs. The moonrise was again spectacular, like a big ripe orange poking over the eastern horizon. The ocean could be heard even though it was over a mile away. The stars were abundant, and the Milky Way quite visible. Nighty nite!
On Sunday morning a lot of us went out for a Silent Sunrise Pajama Paddle. We got on the water at around 6am and paddled a short ways to face east and await the sunrise. No talking allowed! After the gorgeous sunrise played with a few clouds, we did a very slow silent paddle around Sedge Island, keeping close to the shore. Shorebirds were waking up and many could be seen carrying fish for breakfast. A few gulls protested quite loudly from shore when we passed them by, and they held their ground even though we were very close to them. By the time we got finished with the circumnav, I felt I had definitely attended mass at the Church of the Double Bladed Paddle.
While Bethany and I made pancakes (a very slow process on this stove indeed) and prepared fresh fruit for breakfast, the rest of the gang started packing up their rooms. A ceremonial stack of pancakes with candles was presented to Lois for her birthday. (I later saw her scraping wax off them...and again, no one died). After breakfast it was time to clean out the fridge and sweep out Sedge House for the next group. A couple of crumbs on a table and a piece of eel grass on the floor gave us a couple of demerits. Hmmm...de”merits” issued by Jim “Merritt”. What are the odds...
The paddle back to our cars was a bit windy, but quite doable. After everyone loaded up and said their goodbyes, Tom, Linda, Bethany, Ted, Jim and myself decided to go to the Beach Plum Festival being held on Island Beach on the way out. Jim was actually working the festival, not a bad gig. After tasting Beach Plum ice cream, looking at all the crafts as well as visiting the conservation displays, a few of us had a beer and then headed out for the drive home.
Another good Sedge experience, each year different than the last! Teri said: "Still my favorite trip, but next time lets have the wind and current going with us. :)" All righty then, I'll see what I can do about that!
And here's a great quote that Peter sent me that summed it up for him:
“I have an immoderate passion for water; for the sea, though so vast, so
restless, so beyond one's comprehension; for rivers, beautiful, yet fugitive and
elusive; but especially for marshes, teeming with all that mysterious life of
the creatures that haunt them."
― Guy de Maupassant, The House of Madame Tellier and Other Stories
Monica's pics/videos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/
Peter's videos: Friday - https://youtu.be/R0tqiF9hnhg Saturday - https://youtu.be/d0-vLsO4RPw Sunday - https://youtu.be/80LojVCrxBU