Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Merrimack River Kayak Trip - Schruender Park Methuen MA to Riverside Park Haverhill MA

View Kayak Trip 1 in a larger map

Schruender Park in Methuen is a great starting point for my kayak trips as it is just a couple blocks from my house .  I simply strap my kayak onto my kayak cart and it is a couple minute walk down the street to put in.  The park itself isn't currently very well maintained but there is a project in the works to convert it to a "Healing Garden".  As it is now there is a section with a large open space and some benches, the rest is wooded with a series of trails.  The put in is just off Riverview Boulevard, if you enter the trail at the sign in the pic below it is just a short walk to the river.  The trail to the river is a bit steep in one section but shouldn't be a problem if you can handle your kayak.  The only parking at the Schruender Park is on street.  There are usually a couple cars parked on the weekends, mostly people fishing.

Sign at Trail ro put-in

Trail to the river
I make this trip as a one way, down stream paddle so even though the trip is over 9 miles it only takes about 3 hours to complete.  There is also plenty of wildlife in this section of the river, I have seen heron, beaver and other rodents.  I have been told that bald eagles can be seen in the area but I haven't seen one yet.  The river is fairly wide and deep at the put in and stays that way for a couple miles.  The first time I made this trip in June I noticed a section of the river that got really shallow for a couple hundred feet. It was so shallow that I found myself bouncing my paddle off the bottom.  I paddled this section again in July when the river was a little lower and I ran aground and had to get out and drag my kayak behind me for a couple hundred yards in ankle deep water.  Kind of an odd feeling  given that I was in the middle of the Merrimack River.  I think this section is just a sand bar and I probably could have paddled around it had I been closer to shore, something to investigate for my next trip I guess.

The river does get much deeper after this short shallow section and after a couple more miles you will come upon the first route 495 overpass.  After the overpass there is an island on the right side of the river.  I have always stayed left of the island as I think it is a bit shallow in the right side. 

After the island the river gets a little more shallow and much more narrow as it curves around in almost a U turn.  There are couple sections of quick water with some rocks that will need to be navigated around.  This caught me a bit by surprise on my first trip through this section but I have since come to enjoy the adrenaline rush paddling trough this section.  My last trip through one of the quick water sections (when the water level was lower) I hit a submerged rock pretty hard.  Luckily I was able to bounce off and my kayak and I made it through unscathed.  Guess I need to learn to read the river better.

After a couple more sections of quick water you will pass under route 495 again and will need to navigate one more quick water section before the water gets flat.  In most of these quick water sections I tend to stay to the right as the rocks are more closely spaced on the left side of the river.  After a few more miles of paddling the river gets wider again as you enter downtown Haverhill.  Upon entering this section you will pass under a couple bridges one of them being the bridge for the Boston commuter rail.  Passing through downtown Haverhill is fairly interesting as this section has a long cement wall along the left bank with some interesting mill buildings to look at in the area. 

As you paddle through the downtown area you will pass under the South Main Street bridge which has some interesting little architectural towers on it.  The river gets a little wider again in this section and here you may start to see a bit more power boat traffic.  I have not seen any power boat traffic prior to this section most likely due to how shallow the river is.  Continuing on you will come upon a marina that juts quite a ways into the river.  At this point I usually make my way to the left side of the river as there are channel markers for the power boats in the middle of the river.  Since the river is so wide in this section there is not much current to push you along as the prior sections so you need to work a little harder here.  I have also heard that the river down stream from Haverhill is the start of the tidal influence so I guess that can work with or against you.

Just a couple more miles of paddling and there is an island along the right bank that is about a mile long.  I have always wanted to paddle around the island but haven't gotten the chance to yet.  Directly across the river from where the island ends is my usual take-out at Haverhill Stadium / Riverside Park.  You will need to keep your eyes open though as the stairs to the launch are set back a bit and are easy to miss.  The park is usually pretty busy with joggers and dog walkers but there is plenty of parking.  Although you will need to climb a flight of stairs with your kayak to getto the parking lot which isn't always easy after a couple hours of paddling.  Not helping matters is the erosion under the stairs making the first step up about three feet. There is a railing though so it is not too bad, I have never has a problen climbing up by  myself

This is a paddling trip that I really enjoy, there is an abundance of wildlife and a variety of conditions on the water that keep things interesting.  Prior to the Haverhill section the left bank in Methuen and right bank in North Andover are really undeveloped so you really feel you are getting away from civilizaton a bit.  Hoping to make this trip at least a couple more times this year. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Merrimack River - Upstream to the mouth of the Spicket River

View Upstream in a larger map

My first kayak trip was only mildly successful.  My start point was Schruedner Park in Methuen.  Ultimately I was attempting to get to the mouth of the Spicket River which is just over a mile and a half upstream.  Upstream is where the problem lies.  Even though the Merrimack is considered a slow moving river, paddling against the current is a lot of work.  I think after a few more months of paddling I may build up my stamina enough to make the trip, but for now it will have to wait.  I did make it a mile and a half upstream which took me about an hour.  Paddling an hour downstream I can travel about 4 miles.

The trip wasn't a total waste.  I learned that nice easy paddle strokes are more efficient than aggressive ones.  I also got a good feel for my kayak.  Since this was my first time on the water I didn't want to venture too far.  Of course the wildlife along the river is always a treat, loon, heron and hawks along this short stretch.  Overall it was an enjoyable two hours on the river

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Necky Manitou Sport Review

I did quite a bit of research online before making my first kayak purchase.  Being new to kayaking I knew right off the bat that I was looking for a recreational kayak.  My next decision was whether to go for a 10 or 12 foot kayak.  My storage space is a bit limited so a 12 foot kayak would be a but tight so I started leaning toward a 10 footer.  When I saw the Necky Manitou Sport at just under 11 feet I had to tale a look.  The Manitiou sport is a nice step up from an entry level kayak.  It has a nice waterproof hatch and plenty of deck rigging.  The seat is very comfortable and has lots of adjustments for those longer trips.  It tracks very nicely as well.  Some of the reviews I have read suggest that it tracks like a 2 or 3 foot longer boat.  I have not had an opportunity yet to take a trip with friends with longer boats but it will be interesting to see how much harder I have to work to keep up.  My only complaints with this kayak it that it does not have a drain plug and the knee/thigh pads are king of cheap and are not attached well so they are starting to fall off.    Very small issues though as far as I am concerned.  Overall I am very happy with my Manitou Sport and am looking forward to many years of enjoyment on the water.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kayak Carts

I am lucky enough to live just a few blocks away from my local kayaking spot (The Merrimack River).  The problem with living just a few blocks away is that it is too far to carry the kayak and too close to justify strapping the kayak down on the roof of may car. 

A quick little Internet search and I found the perfect solution for my dilemma, kayak carts.  There are many different types and price ranges on these carts.  I opted for LL Bean's Stowaway Kayak Cart that I picked up for under $50 on sale.   Some of the more expensive carts attach to the middle of the kayak which makes pulling the kayak along much easier.  Others have larger wheels for pulling the kayak through beach sand.  The model I purchased attaches to the stern of the kayak so you are pulling most of the weight of the kayak.  But it is still much easier than carrying the kayak on your own.  My trip to the river is under 1000 feet via paved roadway, a short walk down a gravel/dirt trail and then a fairly steep hill to get to the river.  This cart navigates the varied terrain with ease.  I will say that it was a little difficult pulling the cart back up the hill after a couple hours of paddling, but there is no way around that.

Another nice feature of this cart is that it is very compact.  It easily folds up and fits into the storage hatch of my Manitou Sport and leaves room to spare.  Attaching the cart to your kayak is as simple as tightening a strap around your stern and a hook the attaches to the back of your cockpit.  You can have it on and be rolling down to the water in less than a minute.  Very nice product for a good price that will save your back and save you some time if you find yourself needing to carry your kayak.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Riverside Cartop Kayak Carrier

So you purchase the kayak, the paddle and the PFD and then you realize that you need to get the kayak home and to and from the water.  Those Yakima and Thule racks are really nice but can can get really expensive especially if your car doesn't already have a roof rack installed, which one of my cars doesn't.  So I  picked up one of the Riverside Cartop Carriers for about $60.  I went with the extra wide blocks since I have a recreational kayak that is a little wide.  In hindsight, I probably could have gotten away with the universal set for $10 less.

The set consists of two foam blocks, 4 S hooks and 4 straps.  You plop the foam blocks down on your roof and loop two of the straps over the top of the kayak and though the car doors.  The other straps attach to the bow and stern and are anchored to with the S hooks to front and back of your vehicle.

Getting it installed the first time can be a little frustrating especially if you are in a sporting goods parking lot in 85 degree heat.  The directions aren't great but they have a website that provides better instructions.  My biggest challenge was figuring out where to attach the S hooks to the front of my car.  The back had some conveniently located holes in the frame.  The front of my Volvo V50 had nothing that I could easily find.  My first trip home was rather precarious as I didn't attach the bow to the front of my car properly.  To give credit to the product the Kayak still stayed in place at close to highway speeds.

When I got home I found that I can attach one tow hook in the little crevice about two feet under the front driver side of my car.  The other side can be attached to my car's tow hook.  After setting it up a couple times now I can have my kayak ready to go in a little under 10 minutes.  When lifting the kayak onto and off your roof you will probably want to lay a towel down as I scratched my roof when my kayak slid across it the first time I used the carrier.  You will also want to twist the straps so they aren't flat in the wind, otherwise you will get an annoying hum when traveling over 35mph.

The manufacturer suggests not traveling more than 200 miles with this product.  I haven't taken any long trips yet but it seems very secure at highway speeds.  The first couple trips you will probably want to stop a couple times to ensure that everything is still tight.    One thing I have wondered about is if it is possible/safe to carry two kayaks with this type of carrier.  There is no info on the Riverside website about it, but if anyone has any experience please post a comment.  Overall I am pretty happy with the Riverside Cartop Kayak Carrier.  It is a very functional, economical product for the price if you don't have the budget for the more expensive roof systems.