Riverkeeper on trial

Published 10:25 am Friday, November 21, 2014

Spirit of Moonpie and I spent the 14th through the 16th on the Nottoway below Delaware. The water was 52 degrees clear and as low as I have ever seen it in my entire life. Air temps ranged from 26 to 54 degrees. Trash or water quality issues were non-existent.

The log I was hung on and where water should be beyond that living tree on the right.

The log I was hung on and where water should be beyond that living tree on the right.

The fishing on this trip for catfish was not too bad; I caught 7 I think, but none of them were over 4 pounds.

I did not get much time to cast again because I was on trial. Oh, well let me explain the trial of the Riverkeeper. I already mentioned the water was as low as I ever seen it. This is not from lack of rain, but from the wind pushing the water out of the sound 60 miles away. When that happens it drains the Chowan, which in turn then drains our rivers. Knowing that, I anchored the boat the first night out from shore so I would not get grounded.

Amazingly, sometime during the night the water went out even further instead of coming back in like it normally would, and grounded the boat. It also did not help, I’m sure, that morning at 6:45 some yahoo came past camp throwing a monster wake and more than likely started my trial by shoving the boat over a log and hanging the transom up on that log.

So anyway, when I crawled out of the tent that morning the boat did not look too bad off. However, I could not budge the thing. It was then I discovered that the transom was being held in check by this log. So I decided I would go ahead with morning camp duties and chop wood, etc., and hope the water would rise and float the boat off. After an hour and a half there was no change.

About that time a guy came by in a boat and I asked him to ride by me a couple of times throwing the biggest wake he could. Yeah, I know, strange for me to be asking for that and I think at first he thought I was being a wise guy or something. Anyway, we tried that a couple of times to no avail. Moonpie and I both were pooped, and I was scared I was gonna mess up my back with all that heaving and shoving.

So the next step was to start taking everything out of the boat — gas tanks, coolers, anything heavy in an attempt to float the boat up over that log. I did that and heaved and heaved to no avail.

Next step was to get in the water and try to heave the boat sideways to get it up on the log. So I started that process and,of course, fell in the mud. Then with 17-inch boots on the mud was so deep that on my first shove I took on water in my boots. However, the boat, did get up on top of the log after several more aquatic shoves. So I slogged out of the river and got back on the front of the boat. but it still would not move. By this time I was ‘bout to have a heart attack from all that work. And now the last-ditch effort was going to be to remove the two 70-pound batteries from the boat, which is a really hard thing to do for me cause they are just so heavy.

Just before doing that, though, my light bulb went off and I decided to try an old trick. So I started trimming the motor down and the boat was at just the right position. So, amazingly, the hydraulics on the boat worked and when the motor leg coming down hit the tree it pulled the boat backward about 8 inches. I looked at Moonpie and said, “All right, get your tail up here and let’s push one mo’ time cause this is all we got.”

“On three,” I said, and with one big shove the boat moved a foot. I could not believe it, but we had finally ungrounded the boat and were floating again. Now I know you think that must have been what I was talking about being on trial and all, but oh no, the Trial of the Riverkeeper was not over.

That afternoon as we were puttin’ around, I started smelling gas really bad. To my horror we were leaving a gas slick on the river. I looked and looked but could not find the source, but noticed it was only happening when the motor was running. So we decided we would only use the motor when we had to, but eventually it started making noises and then completely stopped running. Now we were stranded again. Luckily, all my limb lines were set from camp back upriver toward the boat landing so the next day we would gather them up as we tried to electric motor our way back to the landing.

So that next morning we started the slow process of gathering up the limb lines using the electric motor. Then to add insult to injury, it started raining on us as we crawled along at 2 mph toward home, warmth, food and Freezing Deer.

So let me recap the Trial of Jeff Turner, Riverkeeper: boat stuck for half a day, fell in the mud, boots/feet wet and 26 degrees that night, motor breaks down, and then of course it rained. So yeah, it was a rough trial, but in the end I was found “not guilty” and the river spirits allowed us passage back home. And as tough as all this was, I am guilty of still loving being on the two river’s we call the Nottoway and Blackwater.

JEFF TURNER is the Blackwater/Nottoway Riverkeeper. He can be reached at blknotkpr@earthlink.net.