Peter Macfarlane's 2013 Solo Through-Paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
in a Cedar-Strip Canoe by Otter Creek Smallcraft

NFCT's Map of Overall Route Peter & Sylva completing the NFCT

Day 6

30.8 miles

Friday 24th May

North Hero - Swanton


Day 6 route on Google Earth imagery

After sleeping in until 6:00 am, it's rhubarb scones for breakfast, thanks to Viveka. My clothes are now clean and all my gear is dry except for the rucksack straps. On the drive back to North Hero, we look at the Alburgh passage. It seems to be the most sheltered area, important as the wind is something more than the predicted 15 mph. By 8:00 am I'm back on the water where I took out. It feels good to be well fed and rested.

Paddling strongly I aim around the headland and am soon at the carrying place where, despite its name, I do not have to carry. Rather there is a culvert that I can float through, pushing off the corrugated metal. Immediately I emerge, a blast of wind hits me on the face. It's strong and it's cold from the north-north-west. Paddling hard now, I head to my right, the north, and seek shelter behind the first headland. Then it's time to brace for the beat across to the next headland. Progress is quite slow, but I'm paddling well. All is good except for my hands which are cold. I then beat across the south end of the Alburgh Passage to the east shore of the Alburgh peninsula where I pick up some lee, albeit not as much as would be comfortable. It's now raining hard and continuously.

The Carrying Place

Shelter in Alburgh Passage

Then begins the long trek north, sometimes sheltered, sometimes not, according to the shape of the shoreline. Some bays leave me little option but to ferry glide across them, head down into the wind. The rain water is being driven up my sleeves and down my neck, but paddling hard is my comfort and my warmth.

The view to Route 78 road bridge

At the Route 78 road bridge disaster strikes. I'm reaching behind to sponge out the copious rainwater that has accumulated, and put all my weight on the rear rail of the seat. It is not designed for this, and cracks, collapsing out of its supports. I am deposited on the floor of the canoe behind the seat, but at least still upright. This is potentially trip-threatening. For now I fit it back in place, but lower the front rail for a kneeling position, my weight partially on the front rail only.

My brain is now processing various options: which route to take to get to the Missisquoi delta, and how to reach Maine with a broken seat.

For the former I reject the possibility of the long direct crossing from the bridge to the north-east. This would be highly exposed to a very strong wind and a long fetch. Instead I continue up the shore of the Alburgh peninsula almost to the Canadian border. After leaving a SPOT point to find out just how close to the border I am, as well as informing my ever-watchful support crew of my whereabouts, I head out to the east while the wind pushes me south. My line is perfect, closing in on the mouth of the West Branch of the Missisquoi. The waves are steep and choppy, not conditions that I like, but I ride them well and only a few slop into the canoe. More water accumulates through the incessant rain.

After beginning to head across the north of Metcalfe Island, I soon realise my mistake, and backtrack to the mouth of the river. Another SPOT confirms my safe crossing. Immediately the current is noticeable. Last time I paddled here it was almost still. I'm aware that this is the start of several days of upstream travel, so am mentally prepared for it. Still, the speed of current takes me by surprise.

I hug the banks, seeking eddies where they exist, and am making reasonable progress. My wariness of falling trees returns as I witness a silver maple breaking off about 6 feet above the ground a little way back from the river. And then disaster strikes for the second time. The front rail of my seat suddenly cracks and gives way. I suspect it was weakened in the first collapse. I now have no seat at all. This is a serious blow. I wonder about the possibility of being picked up, going home, making a replacement seat, and re-starting. But that would put me well behind schedule. For now I kneel up. A little later I realise that I can swing the seat out of the way, and therefore can kneel down, sitting on my heels. This is quite comfortable, but I doubt would remain so for the next three weeks all the way to northern Maine. I toy with the idea of sitting astride my pack, but that would upset the trim. What I really need is something like an exercise ball to sit astride while kneeling.

Starting upstream on the Missisquoi

Approaching Swanton Dam

The cold wind continues to sap my body heat while the rain still falls heavily. And then, amid the gloom and despondency, a ray of good fortune shines. A few miles upstream, floating in an eddy and going nowhere, is a child's beach-ball, adorned with Disney fairies. Just sometimes wishes are granted. I sit astride this ball and, buoyed by improbable good fortune, paddle strongly all the way to Swanton.

Swanton Dam

Below Swanton Dam

Approaching Swanton the current becomes ever harder to paddle against, and, as the dam comes into sight, I can see that the flow over it is high, producing significant rapids below. I edge up on my right until a little above the take-out, and then dive into the rapids to ride a wave across to the river right, hitting the take-out with pleasing precision.

Surprisingly happy

I'm planning to stay in the motel tonight, and could walk there from this side of town, but would rather circle around the town this evening by water and approach from the east.

So I carry around the dam, photograph the dam and rapids, sign the register, clean my canoe as well as possible (although the rain has done most of this), and paddle the last few miles around town to the Route 7 road bridge take-out. It's 5:30 pm, and I've been paddling hard in atrocious weather for well over nine hours with no real break. As I carry the half mile to the motel, the cold begins to spread noticeably through my body. I need to get indoors, and soon.

Fortunately there is a room available, and before long I'm in a hot shower. It becomes very apparent that the heating has been turned off: my room is cold. I set to with the hair dryer to dry various articles of clothing and my camera case. It's a long process. The rain initially deters me from going out to find food, but hunger wins. Even if it means getting my dry clothes damp, I have to go out, and so end up at Cody's, where I have two meals. It's still raining as I return to the motel to sleep in damp clothes in the hope that they will dry.


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