Home Made Raft Adventure
A Tour of the Delaware River, 2008 Trip
Launching the raft
We push off the rocky shore and make our way to the center of the Delaware River. The splashes from the wood oars send ripples through the calm river.
Our launch point disappears into the distance as we round a bend in the river. There is no turning back now. A level of calm begins to settle in as the peacefulness of the river makes the worries of life evaporate. We stow away all the loose items left on deck, organize the raft, make some lunch and set up the sleeping quarters as we progress down the river.
Our first "white water"
What sounds like distant rain fall begins to grow louder as we draw close. We approach the rapids and wonder how the homemade raft will manage. Will we be able to maneuver it through the rocks? Will the raft flotation hold up or will the water pour over the deck?
At the top of the rapids we are sucked into the swift current. We use the strong wooden oars to steer the crafts past a large submerged boulder, away from the shore, around a gravel bar and through a quick chute of deeper water that is just wide enough to pass. Around another bend and as quick as it started it ends and the calm of the river returns. The roar from the rapids gives way to the songs from the birds. We are successful. Our raft design performed better than expected.
The Home Made Rafting Journey Continues
The river slows and the sun relentlessly beats down on us. It makes the cool water too tempting to resist. We jump into the deep clear river. The sight from the bottom is pristine. A few small fish scatter. Looking up through goggles we see the underside of our live aboard raft with the used inner tubes lined up supporting the raft platforms. The sun light reflects off the surface and dances about brilliantly.
The rafts swiftly move along like they have a schedule to keep. Fortunately we do not. When we tire from the swim we hoist ourselves back onto the raft like a seals making there way onto the beach. The day progresses and is filled with rapids, games of cards, fishing, snacking, talking, reading, laughing, napping and swimming.
Camping on the Delaware River: Our First Night
Late afternoon is upon us as we enter a large S-Turn in the river where the river runs slow through dark, deep pools.
Around the final turn of the S the paddles creek as we steer the large rafts towards the island in the distance. With dusk settling in it becomes harder to read the river. By the time we are forty yards off the tip of the island it is dark. We feel a slight bump, then another and another then we come to a grinding halt.
Stuck in the middle of the river!We have been driven into shallow water. Discussion persists about our options. Should we try to pull through the shallow water and possibly damage the rafts or should we hang tight and spend the night in the middle of the river hoping that the water does not rise as we sleep. We choose to stay put and set an anchor under large rocks in the river to make sure that we don't go anywhere. After starting a fire to cook dinner we batten down the tarps and set up for camping on the river. Finally we drift to sleep hoping that is the only place that we will be drifting during the night.
A new day of rafting
In the morning we wake to fog. There is a chill in the air. We start getting the wood rafts unstuck. We pull them up river to get around the low water that extends in front of the island. Then up river 60 yards, from where we camped, and we are finally free and are back in the main channel where once again the Delaware River is our guide.
The fog begins to thin but the sun still hides. Breakfast is made on our camping stove. The aroma from coffee fills the air while oatmeal, toast, bagels and fruit fill our stomachs. The sun finally peaks through the fog.
What is better in life then sitting in a comfortable chair, floating on a pristine river surrounded by friends and family with a steaming cup of coffee?
The sun begins to climb in the day as we continue on our home made raft trip. We make our way down the river navigating to the deepest waters to assure clear passage. Many times the river splits around the islands in the Delaware. We make a choice of which way to go hoping we choose correctly and avoid low water. Most times we pick the correct route. Later in the raft trip we are not so lucky.
A level of pure and utter relaxation sets in. A phenomenon that is very hard to achieve in this modern day. It is as if the river carries the burdens of life away.
Two leave the rafting trip.
Later in the afternoon Brian and Ryan depart. They were only along for the weekend and they have made it to the end of their cheap rafting trip (cost of food). Sorry to see them leave we paddle the home made rafts back out to the center of the river.
We pass under bridges and by towns as we progress on our river trip. There is a strange feeling of being removed from the busy world while watching it from the outside.
The people along the Delaware River who see the inner tube rafts stare from the shores. Some who are close enough will ask questions, share encouragement or give us advice on what the river will hold.
The late afternoon rolls around again with perfectly calm water and air. We consult our map to find our next camp site on the river.
On the river's edge sits the Shawnee Inn, a luxury hotel with a distinctive red roof. It is a throwback to the 1920's when this was the vacation destination of choice for the affluent at the dawn of the automotive era.
There is a golf course near the upscale lodge. The almost artificial green grass of the course occasionally peaks through the trees that line the river. A golfer stops to watch the home built rafts float by. A few expensive sport motor boats zip past us in this calm section of river. A large newer flat bottomed fishing boat leaves a dock along the shore and starts motoring out towards us. They cut the engine as they approach. We chat as they have many questions about the homebuilt rafts, where we started and how far we are going. Then they give us a rundown of the area with advice about the best place to camp for the night. While we float and chat we also cook steaks over a wood burning fire.
Another Night on the Home Made Raft
Like the pioneers used to circle their wagons we tie the rafts off end to end.. The day winds down along side of a vacant island and we have the luxury of a short but warm shower from our solar shower and the company of a warm camp fire before we retreat to our dry and comfortable sleeping bags. We fall asleep on our air mattresses quickly.
Late night encounter.
Deep in the night I quickly sit up; what sounds like a chain saw outside the tent snaps me into consciousness. A search light comes and goes. The intense screaming of the engine continues. My wife whispers to me. I power up my phone. It is 2:00am. What could be out there? I open the tent and peer out. It's a boat; it continues to come closer to us and then pulls back out into the river as it occasionally shines the spot light on our home made rafts. Male voices carry over the water. The sounds coming from the boat are not natural. The boat is struggling.
The engine keeps revving with an unnerving scream. A hollow thud from the hull of the boat hitting the occasional rock resonates. They must have a damaged prop. The wounded boat keeps trying to make its way up river. After 30 minutes the noise subsides. I lie down and fall asleep again. Not sure the outcome of the saga.
Home Made Rafting Thru the Delaware Water Gap
Morning comes with more fog on the river, thick as mud. We push off the shore and make our way under the Route 80 Bridge as breakfast cooks on the camp stove.
Around the next bend in the river we are about to enter the Delaware Water Gap. At the edge of the river the cliffs soar 1300 feet towards the sky. A chilly, stiff breeze howls through the Gap. Route 80 hangs onto the shore line at the bottom of the cliff. The busy world ferociously goes about its business as trucks echo between the walls of the canyon. The sun is eclipsed by the mountain and the temperate feels like it dropped 10 degrees. We are floating on used tractor trailer inner tubes above 55 feet of water. It's an eerie feeling. Erin and Scott climb into their beds for warmth. Our wood raft makes its way around the large bend. We come out the other end of the gap and the sun reappears.
Wood Raft Collides with a Boulder
Below the water gap we are faced with a boulder field in the river. While avoiding a large boulder we don't see a mostly submerged mass of rock that, like an ice berg has only a small portion poking its way above the water. We paddle hard to avoid it but the wood raft hits. We expect the worst as the homemade raft pauses. Water sloshes around the inner tubes. Slowly, our raft creaks and moans and finally it pivots off the rock as it continues on its way down river.
Dragging behind us is our canoe. Each hollow thud that sounds as it bumps into back of the wooden raft makes us wish we had not brought it. We thought it would be a safety net the canoe is more of a burden then its worth as it causes all types of issues with maneuvering. We decide a small inflatable raft is a better option.
Another Great Day Rafting the Delaware River
The day continues on as we resume our set routine of enjoyment and relaxation on this unique vacation. The changing scenery always brings us something interesting. A train trestle, luxury houses perched along the water's edge, unique rock formations and people jumping off a bridge.
It is Labor Day and we come upon a slow, wide deep section of the river. Cute vacation homes line the shore. Noisy power boats zip past us with tubers strung off the back. Everyone is taking advantage of this "last day" of summer.
Puncture in the Raft's Inner Tube
We notice that like a limping dog the large raft is leaning towards the water on the front right. I jump into the clear water and swim under the raft like a mechanic under a car. Bubbles push out a pin hole in the half limp inner tube. We start our preparations to change out the truck inner tube. Erin inflates a spare tube with a bike pump. Scott pulls the front corner of the large raft onto the top of the small raft to act as a crutch as we are still floating down the middle of the Delaware River.
We make our way to one of the best camp sites on the Delaware River. It sits at the bottom of an island. The trickle of water from the converging river lulls us to sleep along with the crackle of our camp fire.
Fouls Riff: Real White Water Rafting on the Delaware
In the morning we prepare our rafts for Foul Riff, the largest rapid in this portion of the river. It is a class II. We do not know what to expect from our plywood rafts floating on inner tubes.
Our guide book "Canoeing the Delaware River" warns of the dangers.
"Enter Foul Riff, beginning as Class I but quickly building to a class II rapid. The river drops 22' in the next mile, the main channel left of the island is peppered with boulders and ledges, Rapids become more severe, with many submerged and protruding rocks. The final ledge of Foul Rift, extending entirely across the river with a sudden drop of about 3 feet."
This description does not sound too promising and we are not sure what to expect. We fear for the worst as we head off down river. The decks of the rafts are cleared of all loose items. Our packs, water bottles and supplies are lashed to the deck. An additional inner tube is secured to the front of the large raft for added buoyancy.
We are several hours float from the white water so we sit back and wait like the climb to the top of a roller coaster before the first big drop.
We pass under the Roverton-Belvidere Bridge signaling that we are a mile away. The water is calm. In the distant we hear a slight rumble. We pass the corner and see the ominous jagged rocks that mark the entrance of Foul Riff.
Raft nearly jams under a log
Erin and I proceed through the rapids first. Scott hangs back on the small wood raft to see how we approach. On the right side of the river we aim for the clear channel. There is a strong sideways current that we miscalculate. It pushes us towards a massive oak that sits fallen into the channel.
Then through some more rapids and we turn around but we can't see Scott behind the tree. He finally appears from around the bend. Learning from our mistake he easily bypasses the fallen tree making it look like child's play.
Erin is paddling like hell while I give her directions standing on the center seat to get a better view of the river. She does an excellent job of steering the massive inner tube raft. Then the final drop off is in sight. A large rock is jutting out of the river. Beside it we see what looks like a good channel to make it through the final ledge. Ten yards out we are doing well but we need to straighten out so that we don't run the risk of capsizing. If the wood raft will ever flip this is where it will happen. We are fast approaching the drop and moving quicker then expected towards the protruding rock. I grab a paddle to push off the rock. We hit the rock. The boat starts washing sideways in the worst possible fashion. We go over the drop sideways. Then we are through. No problems. The stable inner tube raft has once again proved itself with nothing more then some water on the deck. Erin sits back and chugs a drink of water. We watch Scott come through again with ease. We all jump into the calm water for a swim and the day is perfect.
The next morning we wake to a crisp, clear day, our first morning without a heavy layer of fog. With the welcomed routine we push off back into the Delaware River and keep heading down river on our rafting trip.
Several hours later, north of Easton, PA we spot a rope swing that looks too good to resist. It sits between the river's edge and some abandoned train tracks. An old camp fire, various pieces of clothing, graffiti, broken beer bottles and a partially decomposed condoms litter the packed dirt of this sacred teen hangout. The worn rope with a giant knot on the bottom stretches high into the mammoth silver maple tree that reaches far over the river. Wading into the water I pull the rope to shore and scramble my way up the muddy, steep slope. I stand high above the steep river bank strewn with broken glass, large rocks and protruding roots.
Back on the river our fresh water containers are beginning to run low. We arrive at Easton, PA and the guide book indicates that there is fresh water by the boat ramp. It looks like recent construction may have eliminated it. We take our water bottles up the hill and find our way to "Jimmy's on The Delaware" who lets us fill up at his store (Thanks Jimmy!!!). We also indulge in the pleasure of cold ice cream, hot dogs and REALLY great chicken wings.
Rafting past Easton, PA
Our raft trip continues as we head under the many bridges that pass over the river in Easton, PA. We also pass by a homeless person who has made a tent home along the river edge. A heavy equipment operator along the shore stops his excavation equipment to gaze at our home made house boat as it goes by. Further down workers high above on a bridge where I-78 crosses the Delaware gaze down at us, surprised and intrigued by our presence.
We spend the night on an island and head out in the morning. Life on the river has become a fantastic routine with a balance of adventure and complete relaxation. With an itch to stop in town for breakfast we dock the rafts on the rocky shore by a bridge and we walk up the bank into one of the many tiny towns along the river to find a general store with a restaurant. We sit down and having been on the rafts for 5 days with almost no contact with land the room feels like it is rocking. Following breakfast we go over to the general store to stock up on a few of the bare essentials (We ran low on Hershey bars for Smores).
Home made Rafts Get Stuck
Later in the day we pass though a slow area of the river. I take off in the canoe heading down river towards an island to get some pictures of Erin and Scott maneuvering the rafts. The guide book is unclear about which side of the island is best for passage. On the island well below where the rafts are floating I see the channel they should be taking. As they slowly make their way down river they are positioning for the wrong channel. I wave the paddle trying to get their attention.
We spend the next two days traveling, fishing, eating and enjoying our time away from the world. The next evening we sleep on the Pennsylvania shore line. We set off into French Town, NJ for a nice dinner and a drink.
It is Saturday, a week from when we started. Life on the raft has become natural but the trip is reaching it's end. A major storm, the remnants of hurricane Hanna, is expected starting Sunday morning. Although we would like to spend another night on the river we do not want to push our luck as the river may rise quickly and furiously with the rain coming.
Starting around 11:00 a very strong, abnormal, north blowing wind is pushing us hard up river and we make slow progress. We put a "River Sail" into the water.
We head back into the river but the wind is blowing even harder and despite having the "River Sail" down we make very little forward progress and even start to go backwards. We are in a wide and unsheltered section of the river which makes it feel like we are rafting the Mississippi. The wind just might be our defeat. We start paddling but it does little to help.
Thinking the canopies are catching the wind like a sail we take them off. Still we are making no progress and the wind will not let up for even a minute. So we are stuck miles from where we can get out a distance that we normally would have covered in an hour with what seems like no options.
Frustrated we get out and start pulling along the shore line. To our surprise most of the Delaware River in this section is waist deep and relatively smooth which makes for slow progress but progress none the less. At the next island the water is over our head and the current picks up while the wind is broken by the trees so we climb back onto the rafts.
Our rafting trip comes to an end
Still fighting the wind but making progress we continue to make our way down river. We will be ending at Bucks County River Country in Point Pleasant, PA. It is private tube rental business but we called ahead and got permission from the owner to land because of our predicament (Thanks Bucks County River Country!!!).
We disassemble the rafts, deflate the tubes and load up. It was a long journey having traveled 80 miles in total and we are sad that it is over. On the way home sitting in a pizza shop for dinner we start making our raft trip plans for next year. This time we are going to do the whole Delaware River for a two week trip with 2-3 of the large rafts.