Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Paddle Trip: The Plumb Island River from Plumb Island (Refuge Lot 1)

I'm back for the first paddle trip post in some time; due to a busy schedule, it's been a while since I've gotten out on the water (with the exception of a recent paddle down the nearby Merrimack River - read my post The Merrimack River - from Rocks Village to Merrimacport). I managed to carve an early morning paddle out of this past Saturday's schedule, though, and it was well worth the effort.

I've written about paddling Plumb Island Sound in posts like Pavilion Beach to Sandy Point and Plumb Island Sound - A Natural Beauty, but this trip on the Plumb Island River was the first time I put in at the National Wildlife Refuge Public Boat Launch. I have been remiss not to take advantage of this resource in the past, but I will surely take advantage of it in the future. I was joined on this trip by Tim (see my post An Unexpected Adventure) who has also been tied up with a busy work schedule, but provided the refuge pass we used to park in Lot 1. We arrived fairly early (around 8:15 a.m.) with the expectation Lot 1 would fill up fast. It's the primary parking location for folks hitting the beach on the ocean side of the island. Only a few cars were there at that point, though, so we had our choice of parking spots. We drove down the short dirt track to the boat launch, dropped the boats, then parked back in the lot for the duration. 

The boat launch is a concrete decline into the Plumb Island River which ends at two tall marker posts. It's grooved across the surface for traction, and I didn't find it too slippery. The angle is slightly steep for getting into your kayak with maximum stability, but it's not so steep as to make it precarious. The tide was outbound, but just recently, so we had plenty of depth beneath us. We opted to paddle southwest, against the tide, toward Plumb Island Sound - rather than with the tide through Plumb Bush Creek, under the bridge, and into the Joppa Flats and the mouth of the Merrimack. We knew we'd have the tide with us on the return trip, so getting some harder paddling out of the way up front made sense.  

The Plumb Island River is fairly wide at the launch - maybe 30 yards across, but you have to keep an eye out for occasional boat traffic crossing from the Merrimack to Plumb Island Sound, and the mouth of the Ipswich River beyond. There are tidal creeks meandering to the east (port side/left) that could offer a paddle diversion at full high tide, allowing you to get closer to the west side of the island. We stayed on the main branch of the Plumb Island River until it turned almost due west. Then, we paddled right (northeast) to head further into the marsh and to explore what might be seen there.

Shortly thereafter, we came across some numbered marker poles with small metal flags on them. It took me a good while to realize we were on the water trail I had read about during previous research of the area. This is a great amenity provided for paddlers, and a fantastic paddle venue - especially for beginners. The conditions were not too challenging (although, be aware of surrounding marsh mud walls (read my post Safety is a Mindset)) as the tide drains out), but we were still paddling against the outbound current - even deep into the marsh. We passed a marker that was labeled 8 END which appears to be the end of the water trail. Using this marker as a return point, we explored 2 creeks (one to the southwest and one to the north) a bit further, but ultimately got chased out by greenhead flies. I managed to squash 3 of these relentless, "Terminator" like monsters that will not die - a veritable massacre for my part. I felt a great sense of accomplishment as I washed fly mush off my hands in the brackish water.

The return paddle picked up substantial speed by moving with the tide, rather than against it as before. We moved quickly back down the water trail, and I could see various sand bars forming as the water level dropped. This area might be fun at low tide, if the river is still navigable by a kayak. There would be multiple opportunities to stretch your legs on sand bars, and maybe play a bit in the water (warming up nicely as the tide waned). We paddled south around the bend, further down Plumb Island - my having confused us, and not taken the left to head back upstream, toward the launch. The depth was getting pretty shallow across a wide stretch of the river. Deep hulled boats would not make it through, or so it looked. We had the widest part of the river to ourselves. We had crossed the threshold to where the river flows out to the sound. Not wanting to get too far out from our return (we were already close to 4 hours paddling), we turned around and paddled north again against the tide, until we re-crossed the drainage threshold, and rode the tide back outbound toward the launch. After a brief diversion past the launch to get within view of the bridge, we turned around again and paddled against the tide, one final time, to the launch and the end of our journey.
The view west from the Plumb Island Turnpike Bridge

For the first paddle back (with Tim, anyway) in a while, this was a great relaxing morning under the sun, on a flat tidal river, in the beautiful marshland of a National Wildlife Refuge.

Life could be worse, for sure.

TB on the Water                           



Unknown said...

Thanks for the trip report!

TB on the Water said...

You're welcome! Be advised, however: I paddled that same area a week ago, and the paddle trail signs were not deployed that I could see. You can familiarize yourself with the online map (maybe print it off, take it with you), and go from there. Also, at extreme low tide, you may have to drag your boat at a couple of low spots. Happy paddling!