Trip Report: Boston Harbor and the Mouth of the Merrimack

Kayak Trips

Veteran's Day Weekend, November.

Out from Windmill Point, Hull, MA.

On Thursday night Drew called to ask if he could borrow a paddle for Saturdays expedition, an by the way, was I planning a trip for Friday (Veteran's Day). I said he could and, "No, I'm planning on working on my stitch-&-glue kayak." After talking about this and that the conversation ended with "I'll see you tomorrow at Windmill Point, Hull."

It took me less time than I expected to get to the put in so I had time to take in the fact that it was blowing like stink and was none too warm. Drew showed up in a little bit later, checked out the wind and temperature and proceeded to put on every piece of clothing he had over his wet suit.

I put on my dry suit, polypro, my cheap acrylic shirt with the arms ripping off, and pile pants. We carried down the beach and launched into dumping chop. I took on two good waves before slipping on my spray skirt. Drew made one attempt, got out again, emptied the boat, and tried again. We paddled across the rip to the lee behind Peddocks Island where Drew proceeded to take off half his clothing.

Peddocks Island has the remains of an old community, a school, a church, and some tumble-down row housing. It appears part of the island is run as a park, but at this time of year it is deserted.

We planned to follow the lee shore to the east end where we would head into the teeth of the wind up to Long Island. After following the shore of Long for a while we would go with the wind to Georges and back to Windmill Point.

The course from the eastern tip of Peddocks to Long was a little of the wind. Drew had to struggle to hold a course with the wind coming off the port bow quarter. He had to lean his kayak over with each stroke to maintain heading. Unfortunately, he found himself leaning down an up-rising wave. With a loud "$#!T" from Drew his kayak sent him on fish census duty. I turned back to offer a hand and was there as he set up to roll. Apparently his lungs took advantage of the nearing proximity of oxygen and sent an order to his head to "get up there and INHALE!" This resulted in the obligatory re-setup. This roll attempt was used to donate another expletive to the wind. After practicing his setup two more times he wet-exited.

He emptied his cockpit while holding the bow of my kayak, then climbed back in while I steadied. We then continued on towards Long, holding a course closer to the wind.

We pulled in to a beach with a driftwood supplied bench for lunch. The sun was warm but the wind made it hard to warm up. Lisa had supplied Drew with a bag of popcorn and I had some brownies, all was good with the world.

My dry suit is a two-piece job. While easier than a one-piece, the call of nature is still non-trivial.

Looking at the chart we decided a jaunt down towards Gallops Island then over to Georges was in order. The easiest would have been straight down wind back to Hull, but that would have gotten us off the water too soon. The crossing from Georges to Hull was going to have the wind on the stern quarter but, the crossing was not too long.

With the crossing from Long to Gallops we dealt with a broad side wind. It was primarily in the lee of Long so the waves were not too big an issue. Keeping to the more sheltered water on the leeward side of Gallops we headed out around the leeward side of Georges.

We followed the lee shore all the way around Georges until we were back into the wind. This brought us up as far into the wind as possible before making our crossing back to Windmill Point. We wanted minimize the degree to which we were paddling broadside to the wind and waves.

Drawing by Eric Schade

The tide was incoming and the wind blowing off-shore so the waves were high and steep. By surfing down the waves until we were turned back towards the wind and paddling until a convenient wave let us turn back down wind we made good time on the crossing. This "scalloping" reduces the struggle of trying to maintain a steady course.

A tough crossing can be made more fun and easier by adapting to the waves as they come. Waves seldom come from just one direction, at consistent heights. This may seem like a problem, but can be turned to an advantage. A wave will usually come along that will help turn you the way you wish to go. If you wait for it, you can reduce the effort used to get where your going. Catching the occasional little surf from following waves and a long slow slog turns into a fun ride. It may take as long or longer but the time passes faster.

We made good time back to Windmill Point. Drew felt he was at the edge of his abilities. He probably expanded that edge in the process. We pulled in to the beach a little further in from our morning put in to avoid the biggest waves.

When we got back Ruth reported that there had been a small craft warning out for the day.



Amesbury - Mouth of the Merrimack

Ruth, Lydia, Drew, Ian, Dave, and I met around 8:00 at the boat launch in Amesbury. Steve, a local kayaker, followed us down to the launch to kick himself for planning to go birding instead of yaking. He asked if we were an organized kayaking group. We responded, "No we are a dis-organized kayaking group."

We are a group of friends that have caught the sea kayaking virus. I may be the source of the initial infection after building my first kayak in 1986. My brother and I then disseminated the bug to Ruth and Dave. Dave infected Drew and Ruth helped promote the growth of the virus in Lydia. Ian already had a virulent form of the disease caught in England.

This trip had not been finalized until about 9:00 the night before. We had agreed in a series of e-mail exchanges that we would go kayaking on Saturday, however, where was very much open to question. The Merrimack River was chosen due to the predicted wind. The relative shelter of the river would make the trip less of a struggle.

The morning wind turned out to be negligible. We decided the tide would be more of a factor so we chose to follow the outgoing tide to the mouth. The morning was cold so everybody bundled up. This soon created the need for rotary cooling or removal of layers according to temperament.

As we cruised with the current to toward the mouth we drifted into seal territory. The seals were interested in checking what we were doing but did not appreciate similar inspection on our part. The would drift in close only to disappear with a splash as soon as they noticed we were looking back.

We pulled in to a beach for a Fig Newton break and nature call. Ian pointed out how my kayak paddle and pogies resting on the bow of my kayak looked very much like someone buried below the sand was trying to paddle free.

We continued down current to the rip where the river met the sea. The choppy waves provided good, bow-burying, I-don't-think-I-want-to-be-here, oops-Dave-dumped, surfing fun. We played until tired then ferried to the far side of the channel where the current was marginally less. We paddled up-current and pulled into the beach at the inland end of the breakwater.

Here Kelly, Afghan puppy (with owners), came by for a kayak inspection. Kelly had not yet grown the Afghan's sand collecting hair and her tail would not have looked out of place on a rat. With Kelly's departure we climbed back in the kayaks to continue the push up-current.

Stiff currents can usually be avoided in a kayak by following a VERY close to shore course. White water kayakers make good progress upstream by eddy-hopping. The same can be accomplish in a sea kayak.

Paddling back up through the seal convention we sought a lunch spot. At another sandy beach with a dune for shelter we settled down to the serious task of eating.

Dave drew cries of derision by whipping out a cell phone. With an attitude of "yes, your kayaking with a yuppie. You'll just have to cope," he called Donna, his wife. (idle speculation: whose idea was the phone Dave's or Donna's? Hmmm.) When he had finished relating the story of his successful combat rolls in the rip, I asked him if the phone was water proof. "No, it's not" he stated as he carefully placed it in a large puddle.

My lunch consisted of a most delicious roast beast sandwich prepared by Ruth, popcorn packed for Drew by Lisa, and Pringles brought by Dave. Lydia supplied the chocolate chip cookies. Where would I be without the generosity of others? Probably the same place, but hungrier.

From lunch we headed up into the marshes. After reaching one dead end Ruth and Lydia decided to head home as Ruth had to make it to a surprise party. The remainder went in search of another dead end. Convinced that the stream we were in would eventually dead end and would probably look pretty much the same at the end as it did right here we turned back to catch Ruth and Lydia.

I decided to take this opportunity to flirt with hull speed. With Drew close behind I sprint off to catch the women. The wind was opposed to the idea and the tide had not yet turned enough to assist, but after 20 minutes of hard paddling we caught up.

We landed on a substantially longer launch ramp than when we started. (because the tide was out, not that I was tired. Really, I mean it.)

build a wooden kayak

Nick Schade

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