Friday, August 24, 2012

Otter Creek Shallow Water Guide

South Burlington, Vermont

I use this blog for lots of purposes.  However, one thing I resist is trying to make it into a cruising guide.  My reason is that it seems that everyone expects cruising guides to tell first and foremost about local marinas and restaurants.  We tend to avoid both, and thus we're ignorant on those important topics.   I'll make an exception today because I've been getting lots of questions about Otter Creek.

Cruising up and down the 6 miles of Otter Creek between the lake and Vergennes is one of our all time favorite things to do.  Indeed, I almost always break into song singing "Up a Lazy River."  The nature is beautiful.  The few houses and camps along the banks are quaint.  And in most years, the navigational hazards are few.  This year however, the lake level is lower than we've ever seen before.  Today it is 94.4 feet above MSL.  Most years it is 95 to 96 feet MSL, and you'll see nothing less than 8.5 feet anywhere on Otter Creek; 15 or more feet depth most places. The consequence is that there are hazards to watch out for in Otter Creek.  Unless the lake level goes up, we won't attempt it any more this year.

August 2012
August 2011, after Irene for comparison.

The pictures below highlight the hazards we have discovered.   When describing these pictures, I'll use the words left and right assuming that the boat is headed upstream.   The pictures came from our chart plotter.   You can see the latitude and longitude at the bottom left.  Ignore the other numbers. I also retouched the pictures to show shallow spots in red.

The purple lines show our most recent actual tracks.  Do not use them as a guide, actual GPS tracks vary by 50' or more day-to-day depending on how many satellites are visible above the tree line.

Above: The entrance to the creek has always been tricky, hight water or low.  The charts are incorrect showing the deep and shallow spots, you must approach and leave from one direction only, and there are no red-green buoys to help.   I saved a GPS track on my chart plotter (the blue line).  Just follow that and you'll see nothing less than 10 feet, even at a lake level of only 94 feet.

You see I went aground on the right entering the creek (AGD OTTER).   It happened on our first entrance this year.  In previous years there were two "Slow no wake" buoys right in the middle of the channel.   This year somebody (I'd like to wring his neck) decided to move them way off to the right.  I thought maybe the channel had shifted after Irene and head for a buoy that took us right to a mud bank.  Just follow the blue line.  The deeopest water is on the left close to shore.

Above:  There is a rock shelf we ran aground on this year when Libby ignored the depth alarm.  The shelf is on the left.  Just stay in the center and go slow.

Above: Everyone warns about shoaling where Dead Creek intersects Otter Creek.  They tell you to keep left.  This year, we've seen no evidence of that shoaling left, right or center.  Still, better safe than sorry.

Above:  There's a rock dead center in the channel.  We bumped it even when lake levels were 2 feet higher than today.  Someone said it is a concrete remains of a bridge abutment.  Anyhow, stay to your right for about 100 yards, stay centered before and after.

Above: For the last 200 yards before the public docks the deepest waster is on the left side.  This week we came up the creek with the depth alarm set at 7 feet.  It never alarmed once.  When exiting a couple of days later we had to plow through mud for 100 feet on the center line.  I should have stayed left (right when exiting).  

At Vergennes, the public docks are on both sides of the creek.  Both sides have free power and water.   The deepest water is on the left.  On the right side docks, it is too shallow for sailboats except at the furthest upstream spot on the right (watch out for the tree overhead).  Sailboats should prefer the left side.   At 94.5 MSL,  the depth at the docks by the left wall were 1 inch too shallow for us.  The docks past the wall are in deeper water.

If the public docks are full, there is a private dock owned by a nice man named Matt.  With Matt's permission you can tie up there.  You can also anchor just upstream or downstream of the docks.   

Do not go more than 100' upstream of the docks; it's shallow past that line.  You can see my waypoint where we learned that the hard way in 2005 by running aground.   That one was funny in retrospect.   We arrived, and I gave Libby the helm while I prepared fenders and docking lines.  I expected her to hold position.  However, the beauty of the waterfalls attracted her like a magnet until bang, we grounded on rock.  Fortunately we had dead slow speed so that we could back out.

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