Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Opinion: Public Lands (including waterways) are Under Siege

Katahdin Woods and Waterways, Maine
Katahdin Woods and Waterways

I have been reading an alarming number of stories recently regarding the efforts of the Trump administration to roll back Obama administration designations of new public lands - and frankly, to go farther back into previous administrations' additions to our parks and refuges.These efforts have been emboldened by the court victory of Cliven Bundy and his fellow defendants against charges related to their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Closer to home here in the Northeast, the recently designated Katahdin Woods and Waters national monument in Maine has come under scrutiny by the Trump administration, urged on by Maine Governor Paul LePage.  

I am sympathetic to arguments and opposing opinions regarding the proper use of land resources. I do not think the exploitation of natural resources (logging, hunting, etc) is necessarily a bad thing. The myth that native peoples lived in a wild, untamed Eden before Europeans arrived is just that - a myth. Evidence suggests native peoples burned forests to promote the growth of nut bearing trees, and of berry bearing bushes - and to clear the undergrowth to make movement through the forests and the hunting of game animals drawn to fresh, post-fire plant growth easier. However, I would argue these people had an understanding of the environment far more sophisticated than any arriving European, and certainly a much lighter hand as they worked with natural processes.

Here's something I don't understand, however: the land donated for the Katahdin Woods and Waterways national monument was purchased by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt's Bees, purveyor of "natural" products like their well known lip balm. As far as I am aware, no seller was unduly pressured to sell his or her land, and it was purchased with profits made by an American based business - profits earned in the free and open market in the face of competition. If an American citizen spends her own legally made U.S. dollars on tens of thousands of acres, then decides to gift those acres for a national monument, why is the allegedly small government/free market supporting governor of Maine against that? It seems inconsistent. One might even say hypocritical. A cynical mind might wonder for who's interests the governor is actually working. Certainly, the folks who oppose this national monument could have purchased the land themselves when it was for sale.They didn't. Roxanne Quimby did. Because of that, and her generous gift to our nation, every U.S. citizen can access those lands for purposes of recreation and enjoyment. The very same process of privately purchased lands donated to the nation (in this case via the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations) resulted in the development of Acadia National Park on Maine's seacoast. Today, Acadia is an economic engine, driven by tourist dollars, for Mt. Desert Island and surrounding areas - besides being an incredible jewel of natural wonder, offering myriad recreational opportunities, including kayaking (see my post Bar Harbor - Gateway to Outdoor Adventure).

In a recent Boston Globe piece discussing the threat to Kathadin Woods and Waterways, David Abel writes:
Environmental groups immediately questioned the president’s legal authority to reverse a previous president’s designation, but the Trump administration has suggested that some of the restrictions on mining, logging, and other commercial and recreational activities have gone too far.  
Note the reference to mining and logging restrictions, then ask yourself who is really behind these efforts - and how much money they might be funneling into Political Action Committees and other coffers.

If you believe in the idea of lands designated for the use of all citizens, and for the welfare of the animals and environment within them, then let your voice be heard. Because, I can assure you, those on the opposing side with money to spend will surely make sure theirs are heard.

- TB on the Water

Read the full Boston Globe article here:

Environmentalists vow to fight Trump on Maine monument

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Paddle Trip: Pavilion Beach to Sandy Point

I thought I'd start featuring some specific trip descriptions - especially for anyone who might want to paddle a similar route. Here's my most recent...

For a short, local escape on a bright summer day, Tim (An Unexpected Adventure) and I departed from Pavilion Beach (map here) in Ipswich, MA around 1:00pm and headed east across the entrance to Plumb Island Sound toward Sandy Point State Reservation.This wouldn't be a long distance paddle, but the idea was for a few hours of relaxation started from a convenient launch spot. Pavilion Beach can get parked up pretty quickly in the summer, but this was a slow day, and we had no trouble finding a spot right at the edge of the beach. Low tide was a little after noon, so we'd have the incoming tide largely behind us as we made our way back. We had to carry the 'yaks 30 yards or so to get to the water's edge, but the footing was decent - not very muddy and largely sand. The water was smooth as glass at the shore, but a little wind chop picked up as we departed the beach. There are dozens of boats moored near Pavilion Beach and farther into the sound, and this is a popular passage to the mouth of the Ipswich River and the open ocean beyond for boats of all sorts, so we had to keep an eye out and cross the boat lanes carefully. The deep water channel curves closer to Pavilion than to Sandy Point on the other side, so boat traffic was an early concern. Fortunately, there were only a couple of power boats navigating the channel, so we crossed in short order, and got ourselves away from boat traffic.

Little Neck and Great Neck Ipswich viewed from a sandbar
Little Neck and Great Neck (launch location) viewed from the sandbar 

As we paddled farther across the sound, I noticed the tide was low enough that a long shallow section pointing south from Sandy Point was visible, even from a distance. The lighter colored water was a giveaway. We angled southeast toward this area, and discussed the possibility of crossing the channel again at its narrow point and heading south to Crane Beach. I wasn't about to commit to that without laying eyes on the current in the narrow section of the channel before deciding. As we moved along the edge of the shallows, however, I began to notice that a sandbar in the distance appeared to be on our side of the channel - across the shallow section from us. Several boats had pulled up to it, and people were enjoying the temporary island while they could. We opted to head to this sandbar and investigate. The wind and the incoming tide were roughing up the conditions over the shallows, and as we progressed, wave chop grew. It was manageable, though, and actually fun to navigate. Having an opportunity to paddle in challenging (even mildly) conditions, when the water is shallow enough to walk in it, is fantastic. It's a great chance for a new or rusty paddler to work on skills without the risk of capsizing in deep water. In fact, if you run across a situation like that, it might be a good place to intentionally capsize, to practice your emergency skills. Just make sure it's deep enough if you intend to roll your boat - you don't want to knock your head on the bottom. 

Looking south toward the Crane Estate from a sand bar
Looking south toward the Crane Estate from the sandbar

We crossed the choppy shallows and pulled up to a pristine sandbar, that was still pretty expansive at this stage of the incoming tide. Folks were lounging, swimming...I saw a group playing bocce. It was a temporary oasis so long as the tide allowed it to remain. I took a swim while Tim caught some rays, and then walked out to a quickly disappearing strip of sand, off the larger bar, that pointed north toward Plumb Island. The water was rougher here, as crisscrossing waves collided with each other. A striped bass flashed past my my leg in the clear water. This was a beautiful spot, but it was evident that it wasn't going to last. By the time I got back to the kayaks, they were almost in water, and Tim had moved them once already.  

Looking north to Plumb Island from a sand bar
Looking north from the sand bar toward Plumb Island

We got back in the 'yaks and paddled north toward Sandy Point. The inbound tide had increased the previous chop to a small swell now, and we rode the face of the swell toward the point. As the water grew shallow again around the point, I started to notice occasional rounded shapes on the bottom. I realized they were horseshoe crabs, and doubled back to see if I could grab one. I managed to hunt one down and to pick it up without getting spiked by its pointed tale or pinched by its mini-pincers. I never lose my fascination with these creatures; they are so alien, so ancient looking. After some brief examination, I released the animal back into the water. I guessed that it was a male, because it was smaller in size than some of the others I saw - my understanding is that the males are smaller relative to the females. We continued north along the western edge of Plumb Island, and into a natural harbor formed by the mouths of a couple creeks that meander into the island marsh grass. Houseboats are moored in this area, and I mentioned to Tim my envy for these vessels - who knows, one day maybe I'll own one.   

I took a look at my watch, and saw it was close to 3:00, so it was a good time to head back. We still had to cross the sound, and then paddle for a stretch against the inbound tide to get back to Pavilion Beach. As we headed back across the sound toward Great Neck I noticed how much the tide had increased the water flow. The current flowing into the sound with the the tide was sufficient to drag us as we pushed to cross it. This can be a challenging scenario when you're among moored boats, as we were. You need to anticipate where your paddle rate and forward momentum will move you relative to the force of the current dragging you in a different direction. You'll end up drifting behind some boats that you initially thought you'd paddle in front of. That's OK though, so long as you're making general progress toward your goal - in this case, getting across the sound and the swifter channel. We eventually made it across, but now faced directly into the inbound tide and the wind as we proceeded along the coast of Great Neck, south toward Pavilion Beach. It was a challenge, and the hardest part of the trip, to make that final effort back to the beach, but I was glad for the exertion. I tried doing this same section once in a much smaller kayak, but couldn't beat the current and had to drag the kayak along as I walked the shore. My Sea Dart did fine,though, and we drifted onto the beach at Pavilion around 3:45pm.

A quick reminder about safety - even though I wasn't alone, and this was intended as an easy paddle, I made sure to text my wife before I departed with the details of our location, and again when we landed back at the beach to let her know we were out of the water.  

All in all, this was a great local paddle with some beautiful natural highlights. I'd recommend it to anybody - just watch the tide and conditions, and keep an eye out for boats.

- TB on the Water


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Gear: Benefits and Weaknesses of SOT (Sit-On-Top) Kayaks

I briefly discussed some of the benefits of SOT kayaks in my previous post Safety is a Mindset, but I'd like to get into the subject in a bit more detail. 

The primary benefit, in my opinion, of an SOT kayak is safety. It is a kayak that can be climbed into without the restrictions of a closed hull cockpit, and water in the cockpit hull will self bail through a drain hole, or can easily be dumped out if the kayak is turned over - even in water. Draining a swamped closed hull cockpit is significantly harder to do. There is no self bailing drain hole, and the main idea is to keep water out of the cockpit in the first place. That is one of the reasons closed hull 'yaks are fitted with a spray skirt - to seal the kayaker into the cockpit and away from the water. This requires the kayaker to "roll" (video tutorial here) the kayak. Alternatively, the closed hull kayaker can pull the front loop on her spray skirt and wet exit the cockpit - which will then need to be bailed out, re-entered, and re-fitted with the spray skirt. In challenging conditions, this can be difficult, tiring, and add to the overall danger of the scenario. Now, picture an SOT kayaker rolling her boat over (video tutorial here) and climbing back on it - faster, easier, less tiring...less dangerous. Remember, a swamped kayak sits much lower in the water, which makes it much more likely it will continue to get swamped in rough conditions. It is also incredibly heavy if you try to drag it onto land. Several cubic feet of water is a huge weight, and very hard, or even impossible, for many people to move. I remember foolishly beach landing my previous closed hull kayak (a Perception touring model) without a spray skirt. It got swamped by waves, and dragging it onto the beach was incredibly difficult. Trying to punch back out through the waves without the spray skirt was also nearly impossible, as the cockpit took on water and made paddling the heavier, lower kayak much harder. Then, I had to bail out the cockpit, as well as I could, to continue on my journey - I thought "never again" on that trip. 

So, a spray skirt and the commitment to learn how to roll a closed hull kayak are essential to its safe operation - especially if you plan to venture into cold ocean waters. The beauty of that design is its efficient rolling capability. Closed hull kayaks are built to roll. That's part of the overall strategy to keep water out of the kayak in the first place. Think about it - the native peoples who invented the kayak had absolutely NO interest in a wet exit. The water and air temperatures they operated in meant almost certain death if they got wet. And they weren't operating their kayaks for recreation. They were hunting. So, the death of a hunter could mean starvation for his family. That was NOT what anyone wanted. They designed a craft, therefore, that, in concert with the acquired skill of rolling it, could keep them dry in the event of a capsize. That is either a benefit or a weakness of the closed hull design - depending on the acquisition of the rolling skill. 

SOT kayaks take acquiring the rolling skill out of the "necessary" category, and move it into the "nice to have" category. This can also be seen as both a benefit and a weakness, because SOT kayaks are not designed to easily roll. They are wider, sharper edged at the chines (the side transition between the lower hull and upper deck), and the paddler is not "locked in" to them unless she affixes thigh straps. However, it can be done. This kayaker shows how - note he has thigh straps deployed...  .

SOTs put the paddler in much more direct contact with the elements. This requires proper clothing. If you roll your SOT, you will get much wetter than by rolling a closed hull 'yak. So, full body clothing protection is required. This may mean a dry suit - which can be expensive (see my post 8 Tips for Dressing Right for Your Kayaking Adventure). 

SOTs are heavier than closed hull 'yaks, therefore they are harder to put on your vehicle, harder to carry, and are slower to get going on the water. Finding a touring or expedition style SOT is difficult, and they are not without their construction issues. You should do extensive research on what SOT is right for you (see my post 10 Tips for Which Kayak You Should Buy ) and check them out in person before buying. Try a couple models at least for a test paddle to see how you like them. If you don't want to shell out for a new one, find a current model that has great reviews, then see if you can locate the same model from a previous year used, or a similar model from the same manufacturer (sometimes changes in model year are small, and even model name changes aren't hugely significant) that has been phased out - you can often get these at a discount. 

SOTs can often be more expensive than comparable closed hull kayaks. This makes opting for one a decision that requires careful consideration. In my estimation, however, that consideration is well worth it if you can locate an SOT you are happy with. For me, it comes back to the safety issue. How much effort is it worth to locate the right SOT if it saves your life one day? I think it's worth every second of time, energy, and expense.

A few years back, I tried surfing a closed hull kayak in waves (see my post What's That Thing Called? ). My experience being upside down in a closed hull, without a solid roll convinced me to switch to a sit-on-top waveski. After seeing how well that set up worked in waves, it was a no-brainer to apply that knowledge to my touring kayak. So, I ditched my closed hull 'yak, and found a used Heritage Sea Dart SOT (unfortunately, no longer manufactured), and I haven't looked back.

My safety is my greatest priority when heading into the water. Not all risks can be foreseen or avoided, but they can perhaps be mitigated (see my post Please, Stop the Kayaking Deaths! (proper risk management)). It's something to think about if you're looking into an SOT option.

Plan for the worst, then enjoy the best.

- TB on the Water 


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Travel: Newcastle, New Hampshire - a Kayaker's Dream

Happy 4th of July!

I can't think of a better seacoast area to explore by kayak over the 4th of July holiday than Newcastle, New Hampshire. Newcastle is essentially an island that sits due east of Portsmouth, NH, adjacent to the mouth of the Piscataqua (locals pronounce it pis-CAT-a-kwa, but I've heard pis-ca-TAK-wa is more correct) River. Newcastle proper defines the eastern border of a protected body of water that is considered part of the river, but doesn't have any current, save for the flow under 2 bridges that, along with their respective causeways, mark the northern and southern edges of this expanse. These causeways are part of the looping Rt.1B that shoots off coastal Rt.1A just before Sagamore Creek in the south and reconnects to Portsmouth Ave./Newcastle Ave. and downtown Portsmouth in the north. South of the Rt.1B loop is another protected body of water that is defined by the mainland to the west, Odiorne Point to the south, 2 breakwaters opposite each other to the east, and the Newcastle coastline and Rt.1B to the north. 2 protected water expanses, plus access to Sagamore Creek, the ocean beyond the breakwaters, and the impressive Piscataqua River is quite an array of paddling opportunities in a relatively confined area. That said, the area is not without its challenges, and even dangers.

View of Sagamore Creek

As one might imagine, kayaks are not the only craft making use of this area. Boats of all types are present, and jet skis appear from time to time. Fortunately, they are relegated to deeper sections, and much of this area is relatively shallow. Kayaks truly have an advantage here. Currents are not a major factor in most of the area, but they can be profound with tidal flow under the causeway bridges and around points and the breakwaters. I've never been turned back by a current here, but I could see it happening, depending on the tide. I think the biggest danger in this area is complacency. It is so ideal, that a kayaker might get a little too comfortable and not fully focused. Pinch points like bridges should be navigated with respect for their dangers. Also the Piscataqua is a substantial river - one of the bigger rivers in the area. It moves a tremendous amount of water. No one but experienced kayakers should venture beyond Newcastle Ave. and into the main river - and, forget about paddling against the current unless the inbound tide is pushing you. It is a seriously dangerous area and should not be taken lightly. The ocean beyond the breakwaters can also be dangerous, so the same advice applies. If you decide to paddle beyond them, watch for the lines of fishermen who cast off the end of the south breakwater.

Parking is available at Odiorne Point State Park for a fee, but gates may be closed in off hours. The parking lot can also fill up fast in the summer. There is limited parking on the other side of the short wooden bridge adjacent to the lot entrance, but it is a steep slope and the tide can rise and swamp your vehicle, so be careful to park above the high tide line. I have parked here many times, but it can be challenging, and the bottom is quite muddy at low tide. There are several spots on the Portsmouth Ave. section of Rt.1B in Newcastle, with a gravel boat launch suitable for kayaks, but I am unaware of any required fees or permits to park there. I have parked on the roadside in the past, and have not received a citation or had any issues. There is significant parking and a boat launch on Pierce Island, just off the Strawberry Bank section of Portsmouth. However, this is north of Newcastle Ave., and is in the main river. The water is protected on the south side of Pierce Island, but if you want to access the Newcastle protected waters, you will have to pass under a bridge that could have a significant current on an outbound tide.   

Paddling options are plentiful here. You can wander through the many islands in the section encompassed by Rt.1B. You can paddle upstream on Sagamore Creek, which stretches west and expands into a wider, less developed section . You can raft onto the beach at Odiorne Point and go for a swim (expect cold water, though). For the experienced and adventurous, you can paddle into the Piscataqua, and travel downstream to circumnavigate Newcastle, then re-enter past the breakwaters on the south side. This area is also a decent location for kayak fishing, although I never hooked a striped bass here in the 'yak. One unusual option for the adults is to pull up onto the small beach to the left of BG's BoatHouse on Sagamore Creek and enjoy a couple of libations and maybe a lobster roll, before you head back out to the water (just make sure it's not more than a couple libations - operating a kayak while inebriated is dangerous, and possibly illegal). 

Newcastle is also home to the historic Wentworth By The Sea Hotel, which was the location for the signing of the treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese war. Odiorne Point to the south was once home to huge defensive battleship sized guns, designed to attack possible invading German Navy ships during the 2nd World War. Many of the installations, although decommissioned and in disrepair, are still present - as well as secretly accessible (though officially off limits) underground tunnels and chambers. 

With mostly calm waters, multiple paddling options for all skill levels, and amazing scenery like the Wentworth By The Sea, you would be hard pressed to find a better kayaking location than Newcastle, NH. You could even rent a kayak or two, if you don't own one, at Portsmouth Kayak Adventures located right on Rt.1B (called Wentworth Ave in this stretch). Oh, and I haven't yet mentioned the many attractions in nearby Portsmouth - one of this country's oldest cities and home to great shopping, food, and near to my heart, beer at places like Earth Eagle Brewings.

So, show your patriotic pride and travel to a historic area that played an important role in fighting the Revolutionary War, ending the Russo-Japanese War, and protecting our coast during the 2nd World War, in addition to building and repairing all manner of U.S. Navy ships at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard - and enjoy it from the perspective of a fantastic paddle adventure on its welcoming waters.

- TB on the Water