Monday, May 26, 2008

A Trying Trip...

A group of paddlers "raft-up" to wait for the stragglers who struggled with a relentless headwind.

The 17th Annual United Nations International School canoe/camp trip took place last week during the coldest and windiest weather of the entire spring.

This class of 110 fourteen year old students representing thirty-some nationalities were tested like no other. Tuesday featured a steady rain during most of the 13 miles between Dingmans Ferry Bridge and Walpack Bend. Wednesday was mostly sunny but we fought a stiff and steady headwind for all of the 10 miles down to Worthington. Thursday featured periods of sun punctuated by heavy rain showers with 40 mph tailwind gusts. At one point I saw an Old Town Discovery canoe flip underneath the Portland RR Bridge, and while broadside to the wind it blew down the river like tumbleweed.

Despite the extra-challenging conditions I suspect this class will carry fond memories back to school for the next group. The weather was kind during the campground activities and everyone made the most of these rain free moments along the Delaware River.

The twenty river safeties had plenty of action with a total of 6 or 7 boats capsizing during days 2 & 3. That's one of the main reasons we're on the trip.

Resting on the beach below Mary Rift while the unfortunate "swimmers" dry off and change clothes.

It was March 1992 that I moved to Lambertville to work for the Delaware Riverkeeper. My first project was to organize the UNIS trip. At that point in time I was an avid hack paddler. But I knew enough about the potential hazards involved to worry about how to safely lead 85 teens and several teachers from Manhattan down a 38 mile stretch of the river, with two nights camping involved.

The quest to make this trip work safely and still be enjoyable led me to the National Canoe Safety Patrol training weekend in Barryville, NY. Ultimately it led me to American Canoe Association courses, river rescue training and ACA Instructor Certification. Over the years the safety planning and running of the trip has evolved to become the single most important aspect of this "right-of-passage" for 9th grade UNIS students. A few of us have done safety for nearly all of the 17 trips. The first students that paddled down the Delaware with Gene Berliner and me are now about 31 years old. I have a photo of Fred Stine of Riverkeeper and me from year #2 and we both had dark brown hair, now turned thoroughly gray and white.

That's a long time running an annual canoe trip.