Of the many reasons to love New England, one of the best is that the ocean is close by and ready to be enjoyed.
Now I’m not a ‘beach person’, but I enjoy bodyboarding (having failed to learn to surf and windsurf) and beachcombing (which really results in a hike along the seashore. sea), and I especially love sea kayaking. August, when it is often too hot for hiking and biking, and too dry to paddle most rivers, is sea kayaking season.
Now almost anything that floats can be used to paddle a quiet cove or saltwater river estuary, but if you want to explore where wind and waves are factors, nothing beats a sea kayak. general, most sea kayaks are at least 15 feet long, usually between 21 and 25 inches wide at their widest point (wider than that and they can become unstable on steep wave faces) and they have often a rudder on foot or a drop-down fin (keel) to help them maintain a straight course in wind and waves. Good paddling technique can compensate, but it’s just easier to have a rudder or a centreboard.
Real sea kayaks take some getting used to. For people who have used wider, flatter “recreational” kayaks, a sea kayak often feels “lively” when you first step into it. But when you take them out in waves or choppy water, the water tends to flow harmlessly under the hull rather than trying to tip you over. They may feel ready to rock, but they really aren’t.
Another good thing about a sea kayak is that it also works wonderfully on large lakes, easily handling wind and boat wake. On some large lakes like Winnipesaukee, Candlewood in Connecticut, Champlain in Vermont or Sebago and Moosehead in Maine, a sea kayak is almost necessary if you want to paddle on a busy summer day. The wakes of colliding boats can create more waves and choppy water than you sometimes encounter in the open ocean. If you mainly paddle large waters, a smaller sea kayak is a good choice for a multi-purpose boat.
Getting to know your sea kayak opens up a whole world of paddling possibilities. You can head out to the ocean almost anywhere along the New England coast and find a nice spot to paddle. Some days it may be in the open sea, while other days it will require more sheltered areas.
I literally dipped my paddle in the water at dozens of places between Westport, Connecticut, and Eastport, Maine. Some of my favorite spots include Great Bay and Portsmouth Harbor here in New Hampshire, the Thimble Islands off the Connecticut coast, Buzzards Bay and Chatham in Massachusetts, and Casco, Merrymeeting, Penobscot and Cobscook Bays in Maine. I also paddled my sea kayak on Lake Huron, the St. Lawrence River, the Saguenay Fjord in Quebec and on most of the great lakes of New England. I don’t remember having a bad day on the water, whether the trip was short or long, under clear skies or clouds.
If you are new to the idea of sea kayaking I suggest you either start with a professional instructor (that’s how I started) or find a group of sea kayaking enthusiasts who will let you follow along. and learn as you go.
I did my first sea kayaking trip with
■ Start in protected waters and slowly expose yourself to greater challenges. Remember that the weather can change in an instant.
■ As soon as you decide you like sea kayaking, attend a rescue and re-entry clinic. Practice these skills regularly.
■ Never paddle alone. If you are in trouble, you want to have people around you.
■ Always wear your personal flotation device (PFD) when in a kayak.
■ Give plenty of space to motorboats and sailboats and make sure they can see you.
■ Someone in your group should have a marine radio. If you’re heading for open water, everyone should have one.
■ Wear sun protection and pack plenty of snacks and water.
Tim Jones is the editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and can be contacted at [email protected]