Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Milestone: CWK Celebrates its 30th Post!

When I started this blog, I must admit, I had no firm idea where it would go. I knew I had some advice that might be useful - especially for beginners. There are plenty of kayakers out there who have a great deal more experience and expertise than I do, but I still see some value in adding my voice to the conversation. On many occasions, when the topic of kayaking came up in general small talk, I found myself answering questions for folks who seemed unaware of the basic requirements for safe enjoyment of the sport, and who (let's face it) probably won't ever really get into kayaking in anything but a casual way. That's fine. I have no problem with people recognizing they don't have the time or interest level to fully commit to any particular activity. I enjoy kayaking and waveski surfing (see my post What's That Thing Called? (it's a waveski)), but I work a full time job and have limited hours to spend on each pursuit. Surfing has shifted into the forefront of my water activities in recent years - I can get to my usual break in less than an hour, surf for a couple hours, and get back before noontime after a morning surf. I do enjoy the several times a year I get the long boat (what I call my touring kayak) out for a paddle with Tim (see my post Paddle Trip: Choate Island and Crane Beach) or Mike (see my post 5 Tips for Kayak Fishing (once in a while)). The fewer times we can fit touring or fishing paddles into our schedules makes me appreciate the occasional trip all the more. So, I can understand anyone who might have only a peripheral interest in trying out a kayak. I hope the advice I have given in posts like 10 Tips for Which Kayak You Should Buy (hint: maybe none at all) help steer those folks to kayaking opportunities that don't require a huge commitment - like rentals or organized tours, for example. For those who do want to take the next step, I have aimed to provide some advice for lowering the cost of entry to the sport, and the cost of maintenance of your equipment (see my post Kayak Repairs That Last - 10 Tips for Maintaining Your Kayak). I still have some more advice on those topics for future posts, but the post links above, and other posts I have published are a good start for anyone wanting to learn more. I have also linked to other resources that can provide additional information, and I strive to make sure those resources offer the level of quality my readers deserve.

Another aspect of my blog content has been the promotion and appreciation of my local New England coastal waterways. I have been drawn to these waters since my youth (see my post Why I Love the Ocean), and my wish for my last breath would be to release it while gazing upon the shining Atlantic. My love for New England and its waters was only heightened by a brief foray to the southern California coast in the early 1990s. When I drove back across this great country (ostensibly for a temporary visit - and boy, Texas takes a long time to drive across!), I knew, when my eyes caught the glinting morning light reflected through thin ice on Connecticut hardwood trees, that I would never leave. My first gaze upon my beloved Atlantic only confirmed that knowledge. I am a New Englander. It is in my bones, and I hope that condition shines through my posts about local paddle trips and locations. I try to offer as objective a viewpoint as possible, including some criticism of local shortcomings like parking and access to the water (see my post Essex Bay - A Northeast Massachusetts Gem (but where's the parking?)). Let's face it, though, I am a booster for all things New England, and will continue to be. If a reader from another region or part of the world gets a taste for this beautiful coastline from my blog, then I've done my job as I see it.

Rockport, Massachusetts ocean view
The beautiful Atlantic Ocean off New England 

My readership has grown quite a bit since my first post, and it's been interesting to see who's viewing my blog. Of course, the lion's share of views have come from the U.S., but there are also views from many countries throughout the world, on most continents. I hope I represent New England residents, and kayakers more specifically, well. I can imagine a resident of some distant land, who may not have much knowledge of the New England area, having her perspective on the region at least partially shaped by my posts. That idea gives me a sense of responsibility that will continue to inform my writing moving forward.

With the exception of the month of June, 2017, I have been publishing weekly blog posts. Now that 30 posts have been accumulated (a goal I set for myself a few months ago), I will be posting less frequently. I haven't yet fully decided how often that will be, but my Posting Schedule page will list updates to my posting frequency. Less frequent posts may take on a different tone - maybe longer, maybe a series on a specific topic - I'm not quite sure yet. I also want to curate more useful content onto my blog, to make it more of a "one stop shop" for my readers. Whatever form this blog takes in the future, I will continue to strive with integrity to provide my honest viewpoint and perspective on kayaking New England waters.

Thank you to anyone who has visited this blog (or may be visiting now, for the first time). The concept that anyone might find what I have to say useful or interesting is humbling. In an ever busy world, time is ever more precious. Thanks for spending some of yours with me. 

Be safe, take care of your gear, plan your trips well - then get out there and paddle with a song in your heart. Here's to the next 30 posts!

- TB on the Water   



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Season: Kayak Touring New England Fall Foliage

New England is famous worldwide for its glorious fall foliage. The amazing color variations of leaves during this season include reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and everything in between. Different plant species change color at different times, so the color palette changes over the course of the season, and from place to place. Color change comes earlier in the north, and later in the south, and can also be affected by elevation and micro-climate conditions. When exactly the change begins and ends differs from year to year, and can be affected greatly by the amount of summer rainfall and the weather patterns. So, it's no guarantee any particular year will be ablaze with color variation. Most years, though, reward us with spectacular scenery. 2017 is forecast for a spectacular show (story here). New England fall tourism can generate billions of dollars of revenue for the region. Most people drive to their favorite locations, like the White Mountains, then hike a trail, or stop at a scenic lookout. Folks get out on foliage train ridesboat cruisesbike tours, ATVs - so, why not include kayaking in the fun?

New England fall foliage
New England lakeside fall foliage

One of the great advantages of viewing foliage from a kayak is you'll have much less competition for a prime viewing spot. Unless you're in a busy waterway, you'll have nothing between you and the trees. In some places, you'll be able to paddle right up to, or underneath, them. Another advantage is, well, you'll be in a kayak, enjoying all the benefits kayaking offers the rest of the year. It's just an enhanced version in the fall. Daytime temperatures can remain quite warm during the fall, but will chill as the season progresses. Dressing in appropriate layers is key to comfort and safety (see my post 8 Tips for Dressing Right for Your Kayaking Adventure). Shortened days give you a narrower window in which to enjoy the water, so time your paddle to return well before late afternoon. With proper planning, though, you can enjoy sun filled days with crisp, clean air, amidst a vibrant visual display.  

In order to get close to the best foliage, you might consider a lake or river paddling location (here's a list of rivers from That said, ocean bays and inlets can offer foliage options as well. Either way, chart a course that keeps you close to land, or at least among islands with leaf bearing trees, so you can get a good view. If you plan on taking photos, paddle somewhere quiet and placid, so you can concentrate on getting great shots without sacrificing safe operation of your kayak. I like quiet backwater estuaries that give you the best of all worlds - salt water (and its attendant wildlife) and proximity to the coast. One great example of this scenario close to me is Newcastle, New Hampshire (see my post Newcastle, New Hampshire - a Kayaker's Dream). There are plenty of coastal trees here, as well as trees on multiple islands, and Sagamore Creek is available to get farther upstream and inland. This leads to still waters that reflect the foliage for a great photo subject.

Squamscott River foliage, Exeter, New Hampshire
Fall foliage reflected on the Squamscott River in New Hampshire

Fall fishing can be pretty good, too. Stripers are chasing baitfish all over the New England coastline. You can fish with a view of the glorious leaves as your backdrop. Then, if you land a big one, your buddy can catch the foliage in the background of your show-off pic 😉. Fall is also a great time to beach your 'yak near a trail and take a short hike to view the leaves close up. The bugs are mostly gone, and you won't get overheated in the cool air. Boat safety is better - boat traffic has diminished in most New England locations after Labor Day, but lakes and rivers could still be busy, so practice due diligence.

So long as you dress right, practice proper safety (see my post Safety is a Mindset - 10 Tips for Kayaking Safely), and make sure you time your paddle correctly, the fall is a great time to kayak in New England - and an even better time to enjoy the show the trees put on every year, before they shed their leaves for the long winter sleep. Do yourself a favor: get out there and take advantage of the season for paddling - before your long winter sleep.

TB on the Water


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Advice: Launching Your Kayak

It seems like a fairly straightforward proposition; paddling your kayak means putting it in some kind of water. However, some consideration and technique can be brought to bear on the specifics of launching your kayak, and I think it's worthwhile to examine what those specifics might be. I briefly touched on launching in my post 10 Tips for Which Kayak You Should Buy, but I'll go into more detail here.
The beginning of your journey

The first thing that always comes to mind when I'm researching a launch location is: are kayaks allowed? Sounds a little basic, right? Consider Lake Cochichewick in North, Andover, Massachusetts - not far from where I live. I've spied this lake as a possible paddling spot for a few years, as it is abutted on its western shore by conservation land, is big enough to offer a couple hours of circumnavigation, and looks like a nice, easy destination to enjoy some fall foliage. After researching this spot, though, I determined that it is suitable only for town residents with closed hull kayaks. Lake Cochichewick is a drinking water supply for several towns. It does offer access to non-motorized boats, but via a town boat launch specified for residents' use. It also requires all boats to not have any possible communication between the water and boat occupants - which means a cockpit drain hole is technically not permitted. So, in this example, kayaks are permitted, but only under specific conditions that don't apply to me and my 'yak. My research saved my a wasted trip and maybe even a fine.

The next thing I think about is parking. I know, the whole idea behind kayaking and other activities in nature is to get us out of our cars and to be surrounded by the natural world. Well, unless you live on a lake, the ocean, or a river, then you're probably going to transport your kayak(s) via a combustion engine. Having a dependable parking spot close to your launch point takes one logistical issue out of your paddle trip. If parking is not close, you will either have to drop your boat at the launch site, then go park, then walk/jog/run back to the water, or, you will need a wheeled kayak carrier to get your 'yak from your vehicle to the launch. In that scenario, you'll have to plan on what to do with the carrier. Does it fold sufficiently to fit inside a hatch? Can you carry it on top of your kayak? Remember, it will add weight, possibly affect you ability to roll your kayak (see my post Safety is a Mindset), and may be subjected to salt water (and therefore, can rust). Also, if you are heading to a new (for you) paddling location, is there more than one parking option? You can't know exactly how busy it will be, or whether any construction or other unforeseen issues will thwart your first choice for a parking spot. Be prepared for unknown parking restrictions (like "resident parking only") as well, and bring quarters for old-school parking meters and a credit card for newer meters. 

After permission/suitability and parking, I think about the launch conditions. Is it rocky or sandy? Will there be mud to slog through? Is the grade to the water a gentle slope, or a steeper drop-off? Do you own a type of kayak you don't want to scratch (it's a good idea to avoid scratching any kayak hull, but fiber glass and wood finishes can be particularly affected by gravel and rocks - which is why my 'yak is plastic 😏)? Are you launching from a beach, from a concrete boat launch, from a dock? - the type of launch can greatly affect the best practices for getting in the water (still mostly dry 😉) and getting out. Different launch types can favor different kayak types. Dropping a heavy fishing kayak off the side of a dock, for example, can be tricky. Getting into/onto your kayak can be tricky, too. Different techniques are required for different launches. A word here about assisted kayak launches (someone giving you a push): in my opinion, don't do it. I can recall a launch off some rocks in Magnolia where some helpful divers, fresh out of the water, offered to give me a hand launching. They pushed straight into the trough of an oncoming wave, and had, without telling me, folded my rudder on top of my 'yak. I plunged bow first off rocks into an oncoming wave with only my paddle to control the boat. Do yourself a favor - leave your launch timing and gear status to yourself, and fully in your control. Folks may think they're helping, but in the end, it's your ass in the cockpit.    

The most versatile and easiest launch type is a gently sloping, sandy beach near flat water. This can be at the ocean, on a riverbank, or on a lake or pond. The gentle slope allows for an easy carry to the water's edge. If the sand is fine grained, you can drag your kayak with minimal scratching (fussy fiberglass hull paddlers might still want to carry theirs all the way to the water). That said, a 45lb kayak can be a tough drag (or tougher carry) for many people. Wheels will roll easily if they are made for sand. Pneumatic tires work well on sand, but thin, hard wheels - not so much. You can pull your kayak half way into the water, get in it, get yourself organized with your gear, then shimmy yourself forward until you're in water deep enough to float. A couple of paddle presses off the soft sand bottom, and presto, you're on your way. 

Mounting your kayak when it's already in deeper water (like on the side of a dock) means an error could send you splashing into the drink. I personally have unceremoniously tumbled into the water (on a return landing, no less...embarrassment is a great teacher 😖).This can be a safety issue in a current, and could float you and your boat away - and away from each other. There are specific techniques for controlling your kayak and bracing off the dock. Here's a video from that shows you how to do it...


Steep drop offs into deep water and rocky launch points add another level of difficulty, so choose a launch that suits your ability. Launching into the surf is for advanced paddlers and deserves a post of its own, so I won't go into it here, aside from saying don't do it unless you have a spray skirt deployed or are on a sit-on-top kayak and know the paddling techniques required to safely punch through waves. Do your research, and practice in small surf first. Getting tossed by waves in a touring length kayak is no joke - it could break your neck. Landing in surf conditions is even more challenging. So, avoid surf launches unless you are advanced. 

Another consideration for your launch point is what will the conditions be like when you return from your paddle? If the tide goes out and leaves nothing but thick mud between you and your landing, that could be a long, hard slog. You might even get stuck. I have lost footwear in thick mud. Trust me, you want to avoid it. This is one reason why known boat launches are good candidates. They have already been vetted for changing tide levels. Launching into a river current might be easier on the entry - the return could require landing at speed. Coming into a dock at the speed of the current can be difficult - you don't want to get smashed into the side of it, or dragged under a gangway.

Like most aspects of kayaking, selecting the right launch may be a bit more complicated than it first appears, but don't let that intimidate you. Your launch point is where you leave your terrestrial life behind and slide onto liquid. It's the gateway to your kayaking adventure, and the port that welcomes you home. Consider it thoroughly, choose wisely, then leave the land and its troubles behind you - at least for a little while.

- TB on the Water  



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Location: The Mouth of the Danvers River & Nearby Islands

I'm not going to write about a specific paddling trip to this area in this post, but I have paddled its waters on several occasions, including while casting for stripers. Both Tim (see An Unexpected Adventure) and Mike (see 5 Tips for Kayak Fishing (once in a while)) have set out on these waters with me, and we have launched from a few different spots - exposing us to its varying conditions. While the body of water surrounded by the shores of Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Magnolia, and Gloucester to the north, and Salem and Marblehead to the south is technically part of Massachusetts Bay, its seems like it should have its own name - but I haven't found one. The Danvers River drains into this waterway from the west, and open ocean lies east of Gloucester and its opposite, Marblehead. There are several harbors adjacent to these waters, including those at Gloucester and Manchester-by-the Sea on the north side, and those at Salem and Marblehead on the south side. Islands lay from north to south, including Misery Island, which is a Trustees of Reservations property and offers hiking trails and seasonal restroom facilities, should you need to stretch your legs. Crowninsheild Island is also a Trustees of Reservations property, but is on the south side of the waterway - just outside of Marblehead Harbor. It's small, with no amenities, but could be a great base for some kayak fishing, or as a rest stop before heading to other islands farther into the bay.

This area, in my opinion, is not suitable for beginner kayakers. In fact, experienced kayakers would do well to take the conditions here seriously. There have been kayaking fatalities in these waters. Currents can be very strong. I was caught in the Danvers River current on one trip with Mike, and had no option but to paddle hard toward the Marblehead shore to keep from getting swamped. Crossing currents drove random waves over my bow, and it took all my skills and 45 minutes of paddling to get me out of the current. Even Salem Harbor can have strong currents depending on the tide conditions. The wind chop can get challenging there as well. Paddling to islands farther into the bay will take you over deep water - far from land and in near open ocean conditions. I would not recommend paddling far from shore alone. As in all paddling trips, give thorough consideration to all safety related preparations (see Safety is a Mindset), especially in this area. These waters are not to be taken lightly. If you would like to stay in calmer areas, then Marblehead Harbor and the coastline along Beverly should work. Salem Harbor and Gloucester Harbor are more challenging, and paddling to any of the islands (other than Crowninsheild Island) is more advanced.  

Parking can be tricky depending on your launch point, but, given the vast surrounding coastline, options can be found throughout. Decide where you will launch, then check out the town website (links are in the first paragraph) for boating access. Some locations may charge a fee. I also use Google Maps (like the one above) to scan coastlines for possible launch locations. If you're lucky, you can find a small beach area with nearby free parking that will suffice. 

Boat traffic can be heavy in the harbors, so keep your head on a swivel there. Powerboats don't always follow "no wake" rules, and will wash you with wake waves. Stay out of the main boating lanes, or cross them quickly when there is a lull in the traffic. Sail boats have the right of way, so give them a wide berth.

Marblehead Harbor
These waters are deep and cold outside of the harbors, so dress appropriately - the wind over the water will be substantially cooler than back on shore. Plan for plenty of time to get where you're going. The islands can appear closer than the actual time it takes to paddle to them. This area is to be enjoyed in smaller bites - then, with experience, you can push your paddling to make a bigger meal out of it. This coming fall could provide great weather for enjoying this area, but it won't last long. Shorter days will bring the temperatures down quickly. Viewing foliage from a kayak, however, is a beautiful thing indeed (see my post Kayak Touring New England Fall Foliage). Afterward, you can stop in Salem for a pint and some beer snacks at Notch Brewery & Tap Room.

I always try to treat this waterway with the respect my experience here has engendered. That being said, if you have skills, plan correctly, and paddle with company, these waters offer a rugged adventure with remote island beaches that can put you in another world.

- TB on the Water