The Pole punt expedition
(or a small creek cruise)
by Wojtek Baginski
A need of the second boat
I think that powerboats are similar to airplanes in a particular sense. To have an airplane you need a plane and an engine. Teamed up together they give you an excellent or average or poor airplane. The same with powerboats. We built Jim Michalak's excellent campjon, but we were complete beginners on outboard motors and had a poor one in the beginning. Not a problem if we were boating south of Warsaw and our marina, there we could always driftft back. The problem was more serious if we were downstream from the marina. Because the Vistula river is rather empty of other boats, we started to think about building an auxiliary boat with foolproof and shallow water propulsion so that we would be able to pull our “flagship” upstream in case of motor troubles.
After some practice we're managing our outboard problems, but a new circumstance has appeared. The Vistula river summer shallow state. In the middle of the summer most of our time has been taken up looking for the way among the shallow streams than going for a real cruise. If a navigator did not stand on the bow deck and look for the way, our propellor's cotter pin would be lost again and again.
Anyway that part of the Vistula river is fantastic for it’s wild nature and emptiness so we weren’t going to give up. But we were surprised to find that we started to enjoy rafting after a motor failure. We liked it's slow, silent motion. Since we first went out onto open wide Vistula waters, we found the air and silence so attractive that we started to think about rowing from time to time. These reasons led us to purchase Jim Michalak's Polepunt plans.
Campjon had been pulled out of water for the winter and it was a good time to start construction of a polepunt. The first thing we purchased was a 10 foot long bamboo pole. Even though it was a pole for a boat that didn’t exist yet, I found it very useful for logistics. I intended to cartop plywood sheets from a local lumbe ryard to my garage. It worked as a stiffener for those 8 foot long but narrow and flexible elements during transport. Next we purchased 2 hatch covers for the air boxes we'd planned. We always make floatation boxes in our boats, even when they are not shown in the original plans. Now we were ready to begin the construction.
After building campjon this one was relatively easy and quick. Polepunt's symetrical layout allowed us to cut up to 4 elements at the same time. But one thing went differently than two years ago, during campjon construction. Optical glasses appeared on my nose. When I was cutting plywood with a jig-saw, they were sliding off my nose because of vibrations, causing me to stop cutting and correct their position several times. Think of all the time we saved because of the symetrical layout!
But let's get back to boat building. This winter, shortly before beginning the construction, I made a really amazing discovery. I “Discovered” a creek, a very small side stream of the Vistula river passing by my backyard. I supposed it was navigable for small boats like our future punt. I used to cross it riding a car almost every day. I found on a map that the nearest point where I could reach it is 2 km (a bit more than a mile) from my home. I started to think that it was the best way to delivery our future punt to the marina, instead of trailering it. And, of course, an opportunity for another boating adventure.
I took a closer look at the map. First we could pull or push a punt on wheels 2 km to put her onto the water, and then raft about 10 km downstream to the creek's outlet using a pole or paddle oars. I expected a number of dams and low bridges on the route, but polepunt's weight is only 70 lbs, so ' wasn’t afraid of carrying it. From the mouth of the creek we would then go 12 km down the Visla to the marina. One morning I jogged to the creek to check the idea and to look for a good place to launch the punt. Well, the results were encouraging.
The punt has been built and registered with the Warsaw City Environmental Dept. The crew, which means my campjon partner Wojtek Holnicki (Wojtek H) and I, were waiting for a good day for the cruise. At last, one early July morning some friends and neighbors gathered in front of my house to assist in launch ceremony. It quickly became apparent that they would be necessary to launch the boat at all.
I made a sort of chassis for the 2 km trip from my home/garage shipyard to the nearest publicly accessed creek shore. I made it as a kind of vise on the hull. It worked surprisely well. As for such small wheels on public road, only one thing was wrong: I used wheels with pivoting axles, so the hull was trying to run off the side of the road. The solution was to ask neighbors to control the rear part of the hull with a rope (in fact, they were pulling it too, good neighbors).
This taxi (to stay with aeronautical terms) took 1 hour and we launched the punt smoothly at a nearby narrow bridge for pedestrians over the Jeziorka creek. The bridge became sort of a quay, and we loaded our life vests, paddles, and bag from it. At last we waved goodby, and our adventure began.
The creek is 4-8 meters wide at the first part (6 km long), depth perhaps down to 2 m., but it turned out that every 200-300 meters it is completely choked off with trees and branches, and lots of floating garbage which is stopped by them. What a jungle! After taking the first two of these we realized that there was no way back. The creek banks were very sheer and crowned with fences of private properties. Practically no public access.
Working intensively, we quickly learned the rule which says: the larger the barrier, the easier the crossing. Big trees are much better ground for feet than a bunch of sunken branches. Generally the boat was acting like a mobile floating bridge for her crew. In some cases we took the barriers successfully staying inside the boat. First we gathered on the stern, and next, after the center of the boat passed by over, we were walking to the bow, and the boat was sliding to the water again. Anyway, the first 5 km (hard to say how many kilometers it was actually, because the creek was meandering in that section) took 4 hours of intensive work.
In the last kilometer of this section of our journey the wild creek has changed into a more civilized form and become free of fallen trees, (which meant free of floating garbage too). Clear water allowed us to see fish, diving ducks and all those things you can see when boating. We relaxed and even tried pushing our punt with the bamboo pole. We found it to be very effective, but it requires a bit of experience. A Noble "Cambridge like" look was hindered by the fact that our boat and her crew got incredible dirty during the jungle section.
Because of the unexpected delay we decided not to waste more time with cosmetics. At last our wild creek changed into a small man made lagoon. The lagoon is formed by a dam with no navigation lock, built to accumulate water for the old XIX century pre-steam industry water powered paper factory. Today it's a shopping center. One arm of the creek flows under the factory building to move machinery. The second one falls from a 2 meter high stage. This one was on our route. So, to end the 1st part of our journey, we landed next to the dam, and pulled the boat out of water onto high flood wall. Then we carried her to the creek below the dam.
This part of the creek is an almost regular narrow canal (but still has its current) within wide, dry beds bounded by flood-walls. It passes through settled areas and fields for about 5 km. We were admiring some very picturesque walls of 3m. high rush on the banks, when one biker riding along the creek said: "hey guys, there is another obstacle ahead of you." Another one? No problem for us after crossing the jungle and the flood wall! But after several minutes we started to hear a noise. Then we saw it. He said "obstacle". That “obstacle” turned out to be a cascade with five concrete stages of falling water running roughly through fish passes. We were too tired to pull the punt out of the water again!
We decided to leave the boat and raft her through the fish passes controlling her with ropes from the shore. It was like the hull was designed for just this situation: every side has an inch of free space. It got a few strong hits and scraps anyway, but the external chine logs gave good protection. This extra adventure was completely unexpected. Twenty minutes later we saw our longed for destination at last: the outlet to the Vistula river.
Well, this story was to be about a small river cruise. Time to end. What can I say about the Vistula river downstream cruise? Not much. It doesn’t mean that nothing has happened. Lots has happened actually. There was lots of space, water, air and light. There was that particular quiet sound of endless big mass of water moving on… Hey Wojtek! What did he say? An obstacle? Those bikers!