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


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