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                      


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