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Sunken Treasure

Some years ago I lived outside Washington, DC near Great Falls. Just below a notorious play-spot called the Maryland Chute is a nice little beach at the end of the standing wave train that serves to catch gear and boaters both intentionally and otherwise. It is also a terrific spot to practice kayak rolls. One summer day, I joined two amiable strangers who were practicing there. The water was warm, and at least an hour remained before dusk. I was using an older, two piece take-apart kayak paddle with plastic blades and an aluminum shaft. This was the first time I had used it in a while, as this was normally my "backup" paddle. I had forgotten my primary blade in my haste to get on the water.

After multiple successful rolls, and some futile attempts as I tired, I missed my catch and rolled out with a wet exit. This time, the paddle slipped from my fingers as I popped out of the boat. I looked for the missing paddle but could not see it as I swam to shore with my boat under my arm. The two kayakers watched me until I was safely on the beach. A minute or so later, they turned out into the current to head back to the takeout. I asked if they had seen my paddle but they replied no. Neither boater apparently had a spare nor did they offer me a tow. Not really worried I assumed I would find my paddle and be on my way home soon. I scoured the beach, and the nearby waters but had no luck.

After a while, I looked for driftwood or other flat surfaced material to use as a makeshift paddle. Oddly nothing presented itself but round sticks and these didn't work at all in the current. Giving up, I fastened my sprayskirt and hand-paddled the mile and a half back to the takeout staying as close to the shore as I could. It was at least an hour later and completely dark when I arrived at my car. As I dumped my pfd, helmet and other assorted gear into my vehicle my mind asked: 'could my paddle have actually sunk?' It had always floated before.

To get an answer, I returned the next day with a mask and snorkel. It took only one dive into the murky water and I found the paddle resting among the rocks on the bottom at about 12' depth. It was right below where my boat had been during that last roll the night before. Why had it sunk? The 1" long foam plugs that were meant to keep water from entering the paddle shaft at the joint had shrunk with age. Water had then completely filled the length of the metal shaft. It had always been a heavy paddle so I did not notice the added weight while using it. Determined to permanently fix it, I removed the original plugs, drilled holes just before the blades, dried it out, and shot the entire shaft full of canned expanding foam from the hardware store. Now it really can't sink and I still use it occasionally for a backup to this day.

Incidentally, I also found a nice set of earplugs and a nose clip while on the bottom.
Could they be yours?


Written by: Ken Penland - Williamsburg, VA


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