Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

Wallkill River
by Mary Orloff

November 18, 2006

The trip began uneventfully enough, with partly cloudy skies, minimal wind and a mid-November chill in the air.
We started down the river around 10:00 am. The leaves had all fallen from the trees, giving us a clear view of the beautiful countryside with its rolling hills and farmhouses.
There was at least one wildlife sighting of a turkey, but aside from that just a few small birds. We broke for lunch about an hour into the trip, relaxing on an old wooden bridge. Lunch was an eclectic mix ranging from Pomegranates to chili to Cheese Wiz on crackers. Dave provided us with entertainment as he demonstrated his 'Karate Kid' moves.
As we packed up to continue the three hours to the end point, Martin mentioned something about a 'strainer' up ahead. Not knowing what this was, I wasn't altogether too concerned. As it turned out, I should have been afraid, very afraid, for this particular strainer can best be described as a swirling funnel that will swallow a kayak whole.
The first to go down was Erin. As I clung to one of the logs comprising part of the strainer, I watched her bobbing in the water and briefly thought how miserable that had to be, imagining that her day was completely ruined. Turns out I didn't have to imagine long, for soon the current pulled me in and my kayak was slowly tipping to the left.
In an instant I was in the water under the kayak struggling to get extricated from my spray skirt and boat. Man was that water cold!!! It is extremely difficult to speak when you're submerged in frigid water. As I swam to retrieve my paddle, I notice that my kayak remained behind, trapped in the clutches of the strainer. I was soon pulled to safety and stood shivering alongside Erin on the side of the river. My kayak, along with my dry clothing, was still inextricably wedged in the strainer.
While just about everybody on the trip worked together to fix the situation, there are several people in particular that I need to thank. First and foremost is my wardrobe crew, Jason who gave me all of his dry clothing, including his only pair of gloves. If someone had told me at the beginning in the day that by the end of the day I'd be wearing the undergarments of a man I'd met only a few hours before, I'd never had believed it! Thank you also to Jean for the blue vest and Jeff for the orange hat.
Thank you to Martin and Jeff and all the others who managed to get a rope around my kayak and pull it free. To all the others on the trip, I appreciate you patience!
I found out later that Margaret had taken a swim as well when I saw an empty blue kayak emerge from beneath the strainer. Special mention goes out to Stan Kline for his unrelenting determination in freeing Margaret's kayak from the debris.
After a delay of about 40 minutes, we finally got back on track. The rest of the trip was relatively calm with some interesting wildlife sightings. I slowly approached a large white bird trying to determine if it was a Snowy Egret or something else in the Crane family. Turns out it was of the plastic lawn ornament species. Later we came across a group of Mallard ducks floating placidly on the water. I was amazed that they barely moved as we paddled on through. Apparently this is common behavior for inanimate decoys.
When we hit the take out point late in the afternoon I was cold and tired and dreaming of the Dunkin Donuts coffee that would soon be warming me up.
I learned many things that day. For the sake of brevity, I'll limit it to the top four:

  • When it's cold, bring 3 extra changes of clothing. Two for yourself and a third 'one size fits all' set for the sad newbie whose kayak and clothing gets wedged in a strainer.
  • Get some rope and learn effective lassoing techniques. While you may never have a need to wrangle livestock, this skill is invaluable in certain situations on the water.
  • When you're in a large group of kayakers and canoers, hang towards the back of the pack. When you come upon a situation where three people are already down, accept that it's better to get your feet wet than your entire body then get out and go around it.
  • And finally, If you are going to run into a situation on the water requiring patience, skill and compassion, there is no better group of people to be with than the members of the Hackensack River Canoe and Kayak Club.

I'll end this with a quote from Margaret... 'Now that I have a proper respect for strainers I'm looking forward to my next trip.'