Sunday morning I had time for a kayak outing. I was looking for a change from my usual Columbia Island routine and so headed instead to Gravely Point, the next boat ramp down the Potomac. Gravely Point is distinguished by its location directly at the north end of the main runway of National Airport and so it's probably the loudest boat ramp in all of Virginia (unless maybe Oceana NAS has a ramp) . Gravely always has something of a party atmosphere, as it's always crowded with plane watchers, cyclists passing through on the Mt. Vernon trail, people who park there to enjoy the river views, picnickers, and boaters.
I launched at about 9 AM. As jets roared overhead I headed directly across the Potomac, catching some boat wakes as I crossed the boat channel, then headed around Haines Point and up into the Anacostia. The Anacostia River feels much more like a typical urban river than does the Potomac. Its banks are concrete and rip-rap and its shores are lined with working docks, marinas, and commercial buildings. It screams "city" much more than the park-lined Potomac.
The first major landmark on this route is Nationals Stadium. As always when I paddle past this point I think that it would be cool to come over some evening when they're having fireworks in conjunction with a Nats game - though that would mean a trip back across the Potomac in the dark. Next, up around Poplar Point is the Washington Navy yard, distinguished by the presence of the USS Barry, a decommissioned 1950's era destroyer. The Barry saw action in Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but today's it's kept as a floating museum. Destroyers are mid-size ships as naval ships go, being less than half the length of a battleship or aircraft carrier, but from a kayak's perspective the Barry looks pretty darn big!
I like the marinas on the Anacostia. Unlike Columbia Island, which is filled with shiny new (but seemingly little used) boats, the collections at Anacostia marinas tend to be older, more slipshod and therefore more interesting. Old Chriscrafts, houseboats, and cruisers fill the docks, some listing, some obviously in need of repair, and some shipshape. One marina even had a handful of old wooden-hulled pleasure boats - a bitch to maintain, I'm sure, but very cool to look at.
I paddled as far as the railway bridge, which marks the boundary between the "ugly" Anacostia and the "pretty" Anacostia. Above this point you get into Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens then the National Arboretum. Unfortunately I was at the limit of how far I wanted to paddle for the day so after a break in the shade by the shore just past the bridge I headed for home. As I started for the railroad bridge - which is low enough that you have to duck under it a little - a train came by and so I stopped just short of the bridge and marveled at its bulk as it lumbered by.
Every time I paddle the Anacostia I get yelled at. Last time some rowers from the Anacostia boathouse admonished a group of us for "going the wrong way" on the river and not observing "the rules". A post-trip web search revealed no such rules, save for those published by the boathouse, which carry something less than the force of law. This time I made sure to paddle in the direction the rowers expected (hugging the outside of the channel on the south/east bank on the way up, and the marina side on the way back). This time around I got yelled at by a group of fishermen who were lounging under a tree. My presence raised them from their torpor and they yelled that I was interfering with their lines and that I wasn't allowed this close to shore. "Read the Rules!" one guy yelled at me. Again, a web search revealed no rules, save for the regulations and procedures regarding opening the drawbridge section of the railroad bridge. My search did turn up a neat Anacostia Water Trail Guide (http://www.anacostiaws.org/images/maps/AnacostiaRiverWaterTrailGuide.pdf) which includes interesting historical facts: Captain John Smith explored this area in 1608, and it was a site of War of 1812 battles; the guide is, however, silent on "rules" of paddling the Anacostia.
My trip the rest of the way back was quick. The Potomac boat channel was busy and so I had to do a quick "frogger" crossing, then I made a bee-line back to Gravely Point. While I was loading my kayak a guy pulled up next to me on the ramp in a cool rowing wherry. I covet such a boat but they're much harder to pull in and out of the water than a kayak (they're bigger and heavier) and so I was curious to see how this guy transported his boat. He went and got his car - a mid-1970's Chevy Caprice station wagon. He backed the wagon down the ramp, put the back of the wherry on wheels, lifted the front into the wagon's rear gate then shoved it forward as far as it would go, securing it with a couple of thick rubber bungies. Those old wagons are pretty long and so it swallowed up quite a bit of the boat but even so there was at least eight feet sticking out the back of the thing when he drove off. I guess that arrangement works for short distances. I just hope he doesn't drive far that way.
All in all, a pleasant ten miles and another rule-breaking trip.