Sunday, November 6, 2011

Merrimack River Kayaking Trip - Scruender Park, Methuen to Pines Recreation Area, Groveland

View Methuen to Groveland in a larger map

After the freak snowstorm we had last weekend I thought my kayaking season might be over.  But the weather warmed up enough for me to get out on the Merrimack this morning.   Temperatures were in the high 40s when I put in but quickly warmed up to the mid 50s, pretty comfortable kayaking weather.  Wind was pretty light but picked up a bit toward the end of my trip.

I was looking forward to some foliage paddles this season but I somehow seemed to miss it.  Colors now appear to be varying shades of yellow.  I was hoping with most of the leaves gone from the trees I might see an eagle in the trees but none seemed to be around this weekend.  There was a lone Great Blue Heron, some cormorants and ducks still hanging out.  Water levels are still pretty high with a brisk current I am paddling at an average of 5 mph.

I paddled around the back side of a small island just past the 2nd 495 bridge and found myself in a short narrow little area (below) that reminded me a bit of the Ipswich River.  It was pretty shallow so I am not sure this section could be paddled in the summer but it was nice to get out of the sun and wind for a few minutes.

My destination for this trip was the Pines Recreation Area boat ramp in Groveland.  I stopped here for a break on a trip a few weeks ago and chatted up an older gentleman working there.  I think the ramp is for Groveland residents only but I couldn't find any information on it.  The ramp was gated off for power boats but no problem for someone carrying a kayak.  There is a nice flat ramp and  parking area just a short walk away.  My typical takeout is at Riverside Park in Haverhill.  The problem there is you need to climb a fairly steep flight of stairs to get to the parking lot.  Not always an easy feat after a couple hours of paddlng.  The Pines Recreation Area is just about a mile past the Haverhill and I may try using it again in the future as long as nobody kicks me out as I am not a Groveland resident.

Pines Recreation Area

Total mileage of this trip was just over 10 miles and I completed the trip in 1 hour and 50 minutes. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Merrimack River Kayaking Trip - Mouth of the Merrimack Seal Paddle

View Mouth of the Merrimack in a larger map

I have been wanting to get out into the mouth of the Merrimack for a while now but have been a bit hesitant to get out there without someone with some experience.    This area is a large tidal expanse that can get a bit dangerous when the tides are coming in or going out.  I recently found that Plumb Island Kayak offers guided tours of the area and one of the tours even makes a trip out to see some seals.  So I gave the guys at Plumb Island Kayak a call and they told me they had some availability in a tour going out Sunday afternoon.
Pu in / Take out

The put-in for this trip was a private ramp right behind Plumb Island Kayak.  This trip is usually planned just before low tide so as to ride the tide out to the seals and the tide the incoming tide back.  I would be paddling with a group of about 15 college students and there were 4 guides on the trip.  Weather today was a little cool - mid 50s  but there was no wind, pretty much perfect conditions.
First Seal Sighting

Our destination was Badgers Rocks where the seals tend to congregate at this time of the year.  We headed out across the river to the Salisbury side and hugged the shore for about three miles as we headed toward badgers Rocks.  As we approached the rocks we could see at least a dozen seals on the the rocks.  We approached slowly but as we got closer the seals ungracefully made their way off the rocks and into the water.  As we just drifted past we would see numerous little heads popping up to check us out.  We drifted around in the area for about a half hour and just watched the seals popping up and down.   Every once in a while one of the would slap its tail at us warning us that we were too close.   

Close up of a big guy

Soon the sun was going down and it was getting cold so the group headed back.  Total distance of this trip was just over 6 miles and we were out on the water for about 2 and a half hours.  This was a great late season trip, definitely will be paddling this section of the river again. 

View of the Mouth looking toward the ocean

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Merrimack River Kayaking Trip - Methuen to Haverhill

With the weather calling for 20 - 25 mph winds this morning I wasn't planning on any kayaking.  But knowing my opportunities for paddling this season are getting short and the cool crisp air and blue skies calling my name I headed out.   This section of the river is my go to paddle if I am just looking to get out for a couple hours.  Total distance of this trip is just over 9 miles and it usually takes me about an hour and forty five minutes depending on how much I stop to admire the scenery.

My put in for this trip was Scruender Park in Methuen.  Water levels are still very high and thus the current is strong making for an average speed of 5.2 mph (based on my gps).  I thought about paddling upstream a bit but a taste of headwind in my face and I quickly thought better of it.  The wildlife on the river was pretty sparse today.  I saw a couple cormorant, a few pairs of ducks and a lone great blue heron.   Unfortunately no eagle sightings today.

One would think by mid October the foliage would be in full bloom but the trees really seem to be holding onto their green this year.  After turning the corner about halfway through the trip the wind was no longer at my back so I hugged the shore for a bit of shelter.  I soon found my self in downtown Haverhill and paddled past workers at the marina disassembling the piers for the season,

Landing at my take out at Riverside park I was glad to be landing at low tide and have a but of shoreline to land my kayak.  The last few trip this year have all been at high tide where the water covers the bottom of the steps making it a bit precarious to get out of the boat without getting wet.

Hopefully the the weather will cooperate and I can get a couple more trips in this season.  Otherwise I may just have to invest in that wetsuit I have been looking at....

Monday, October 10, 2011

Merrimack River Kayaking Trip - Scruender Park, Methuen MA to Cashman Park, Newburyport MA

One of the reasons that I purchased my Perception Avatar kayak was so that I could take longer trips.  Anything over 10 miles in my 11 foot Necky and I was done.  One trip in particular that I was looking forward to is the trip from Schruender Park in Methuen to Cashman Park in Newburyport.  I have paddled this stretch of river in two separate trips but it had been my goal to paddle the entire stretch as a day trip.  Total mileage of this trip is just about 23 miles so it is a trip that takes a bit of planning including leaving a car in Neburyport or having someone who will pick you up.  For me the one good thing about having a wife that doesn't really like to kayak is she is always available to pick me up at the end of my trips.

Due to the increasing boat traffic after Haverhill I didn't want to attempt this trip during the summer.  I have been warned that things can get pretty crazy downstream with all of the marinas.  You also need to time the tide right so you are not paddling against and incoming tide.  The rule of thumb is to hit Haverhill just about at high tide. 

This past Sunday everything seemed to line up perfectly for my trip with a high tide at about 10:30am.  I put in in Methuen around 9:00am, weather was cool with no wind and forecast to warm up to the mid 80s later in the day.  The first 10 or so miles of my trip went great I was making good time but I did notice that my kayak seemed to be pulling to the left a little.  I assumed I must have bent the skeg a little at put in, something I could straighten out when I stop for lunch.  Once I got past Haverhill the boar traffic started to pick up significantly no doubt because of the unseasonably warm weather.  A bad omen was the three large and extremely loud powerboats like the one below that screamed past me.

At about the 15 mile mark my left arm was really starting to get sore from correcting strokes needed due to the bent skeg so I decided to stop for lunch and see what I could do about it.  I was able to straighten it out a bit but it was still pulling a little but I decided to power on.  Boat traffic continued to increase as I headed downstream making crossing the river a bit precarious.  I wanted to be on the left side of the river when I got to the Route 95 bridge so I could paddle north around the islands in Newburyport / Salisbury,  The last time I paddled this section I was on the right side of the river and wasn't able to get across due to the strong current and tide. 

This time around I was able to stay north of the islands and was treated to less boat traffic and some really nice scenery along Deer, Eagle, Carr and Ram Islands.  Quite a contrast to the marinas and the hundreds of boats on the other side of the islands.  I planned to paddle north around Ram island but was pretty tired at this point so I cut between Carr and Ram Island headed across the Mariana and into the boat Launch at Cashman Park to finish up my day.

Eagle Island

Carr Island

Between Carr and Ram Island heading toward Cashman Park

Total mileage of my trip was just under 23 miles and I was on the water for just over 5 hours.  I have some pretty sore arms and shoulders today but I am glad to have completed the trip at least just to say that I did it.  The area around the islands in Newburyport is really nice.  If I wasn't so tired at the end of my trip it would have been nice to explore a little.  I guess that will have to be a trip for next season.

Monday, September 26, 2011

More On The Hooksett Wastewater Treatment Plant Disks

There were a couple interesting articles in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune this week about the spill this past March that released millions of plastic waste water filtration disks into the Merrimack River.  The first article is about the steps they are taking in Hooksett to prevent something from happening again.

Taking steps to prevent another disk incident in the Merrimack

The second article is about a gut from Merrimack MA who has picked up 12,000 of the disks on a short stretch of the river.

The 12,000 Disk Man

Sadly, despite the new measures put in place and the cleanup efforts of many I fear we will be finding these disks in and along the Merrimack for years to come.

Seals Sneak Spray Skirt Review

When I purchased my new kayak earlier this month with plans for taking it into the ocean I knew I would be needing a spray skirt.  I went back and forth regarding getting a neoprene or nylon model but finally settled on nylon as every time I see someone trying to attach a neoprene skirt they always seem to be struggling or asking for help.  Since I spend a fair amount of time paddling solo I needed something easy to get on.

After a bit of research I settled on the Seals Sneak Spray Skirt.  This skirt is advertised as a recreational skirt for light to moderate conditions.  It has a lot of great features but at the top of the list is that it can be purchased for under $90. 

Some of the features of this skirt are:
- Detachable Suspenders
- Tensioned deck stay
- Zippered Front
- Mesh Pockets
- Comfortable Neoprene Waistband

I had a chance to use this skirt a few weeks ago in some pretty windy conditions in Boston Harbor.  The waves were between 2 and 3 feet.  A few waves washed completely over my bow and to the skirt's credit I stayed dry.  This is a very comfortable skirt, I have used other skirts without suspenders and they never seem to stay in place.  The zippered front of this skirt is really nice feature.  This allows to to get at the contents of your cockpit and you can just unzip it and step put of your kayak without needing to reattach.  Another nice feature is the pockets allowing you to keep waterproof items close at hand.

Overall a great spray skirt for short money.  Probably will need to upgrade in a couple years if I ever plan on open ocean kayaking but I think this will server me just fine for years to come.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Boston Harbor Kayak Trip - Thompson and Spectacle Islands

View Boston Harbor Islands in a larger map

One of my goals for this season was to put my kayak in the ocean.  One of my co-workers kayaks pretty frequently in Boston Harbor and we have been trying to schedule a trip all season.  Finally this weekend our schedules meshed and we were able to get out there.  Our plan was to put in in South Boston and paddle to Thompson Island and then on to Spectacle Island.  I have been checking the weather forecast all week as it was supposed to cool off a bit. I was not concerned about the temperatures as much as the wind.  Up until Saturday night the forecast was saying 5 - 10 mph winds.  When I woke up Sunday morning the forecast changed to 15 - 20 mpg winds.   Supposedly my new kayak is built for this kind of weather so I headed out in spite of my better judgement.

We arrived at Pleasure Bay Park at 9am.  Pleasure Bay Park is located on the South West corner of Pleasure Bay on William J Day Boulevard.  There is a good sized parking lot at the park and a short walk down the beach to the water.
Beach at Pleasure Bay Park looking toward Thompson Island
The wind wasn't too bad as we headed out but about a quarter of a mile into our paddle to Thompson Island it started really picking up.  The wind was blowing at least 15 mpg right into our faces.  This made paddling a bit of a workout to say the least.  The paddle across to Thompson Island is just over a mile.  Thompson is a private island that is currently home to an Outward Bound Education Center.  We hiked around the island a bit and saw some of the climbing apparatuses...not for one afraid of heights.  Historically the island was home to a farm and trades school from the early 1900s to about 1970.

Thompson Island looking toward Boston
North East side of Thompson Island looking toward Spectacle

After hiking around the island for a half hour or so we headed over to Spectacle Island.  We paddled around the northern tip of Thompson Island straight across to Spectacle.  The trip across was just under a mile and a half and we were again going into the wind.  We also needed to cross a shipping channel.  This late in the season the boat traffic was pretty light but we did need to wait for a ferry and a large pleasure boat to pass before we made our way across the channel. 

Top of North drumlin looking toward Deer Island

North drumlin looking at visitor center and Long Island

We landed on Spectacle Island just to the left of the pier.  Spectacle Island has an interesting history.  In the mid 1800s it houses a couple hotels that were closed due to illicit activities.  It then became a horse rendering facility and a city dump which was active until almost 1960.  In the 1990s the excavated dirt from the Big Dig Central Artery Project was used to cap and resurface the island.  The island opened to visitors in 2006 as a recreational park.  There is a ferry that runs to the island is Spring, Summer and Fall.  The island also has a visitor center with a seasonal restaurant / snack bar.   There island consists of two large hills or "drumlins".  We hiked to the top of the north drumlin and the 360 degree views were great.  The city skyline on one side and the outer harbor islands on the other.

After hiking back down we headed back to South Boston with the wind at out backs which made the paddle much much more enjoyable.  I was really able to test my new kayak on this trip in conditions that it was made for.  My paddling partner who kayaks in the harbor almost exclusively has a kayak a bit shorter and higher volume than my Avatar and I found myself having to stop and wait for him.  This was in no way due to my superior paddling ability but exclusively the speed of my kayak.  I am very impressed with how fast it is especially in rough conditions.

Total distance of this paddle was about four and a half miles.  We were out in the harbor for about 3 and a half hours.  We probably spent less than 2 hours actually paddling the rest of the time was spent exploring the islands.  It was great to finally get into the ocean and experience some real waves and rough conditions.  There are about a dozen more islands out in the harbor to explore. I just wish the season wasn't coming to an end.  Looking forward to getting out there at least once more this year and will have something to look forward to in the spring.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Perception Avatar 15.5

When I started kayaking last year I never would have anticipated being the owner of three kayaks in just a year, but here I am just having purchased a third kayak.  Over the past couple months I have found that I seem to be outgrowing my 11 foot Necky.  I still love my Necky and it is perfect for small winding rivers and trips under 10 miles.   But for trips over 10 miles I find that I am reaching the limit of my little boat.  I also have been really wanting to get into the ocean and my Necky is just not the right boat for that type of trip.

So over the past couple months I have been scouring Craigslist looking for a nice, inexpensive, used sea kayak.  My criteria was something around $500, over 14 feet in length, with a skeg or rudder and generally something that I could grow into.  Last week there was an ad for a Perception Avatar, I looked up the specs and read the reviews of the boat and it seemed like it would be a great fit for me.  It met all of my criteria and was being offered at a good price so I headed over to take a look and ended up coming home with a new boat.

From what I can tell the Avatar family of kayaks were manufactured from 2003 through 2008.  They include a 16 foot composite version, a 15 foot 10 inch plastic version and a 15 foot 7 inch plastic version (which I purchased).

The specs on the boat are as follows:

Length: 15' - 7"
Width: 23 1/4"
Weight: 54 lbs
Cockpit: 34" x 19"

According to Perception, the Avatar was designed with the Greenland style in mind and reflects progressive thinking by our touring boat designers.  Brent Reitz was very instrumental in the design of the Avatar.    The Avatar features a multi-chine hull design that relies on its graceful sleek hull design for turning rather than a rudder system.

First Impressions:

I took the boat out for for my first trip this past Saturday.  I wanted to paddle waters that I was familiar with so I headed down to the Merrimack River in Methuen for the 10 mile downstream paddle to Haverhill.  My first disappointment with this kayak is that I found that my kayak cart will not fit into either the bow or stern hatch.  I was able to easily fit this cart into the stern hatch of my Necky.  The stern compartment is taken up by the skeg box and the bow is fairly shallow making it impossible to fit anything tall inside.  I believe this is due to the Greenland style design.

Getting into the water I immediately noticed that this kayak does not have the initial stability that the rec kayaks that I usually paddle do.  The boat felt pretty twitchy as I was heading out and took a couple miles to get used to.  I was also paddling into a pretty stiff wind which was pushing me around more than I expected it to.  The wind shortly settled down and I settled into a nice rhythm.  I could tell that this was much faster than my 11 foot necky.  I could get it up to speed faster and it has a really good glide to it.  I had to make some seat and foot adjustments along the way to get comfortable but once I was locked in I found the boat to be very comfortable.  Especially the seat which has a great Geltech seat pad. 

One aspect that will take some getting used to is that I could not position my feet vertically on the foot braces as I am accustomed to.  The bow is so narrow that I needed to angle my feet outward in a V to fit comfortably.  When reading reviews of the Avatar one of the complaints about this boat is if you wear over a size 12 shoe your feet won't fit.  Not an issue for me though as I wear a size 8.

I was hoping to try out the skeg on this trip but the mechanism is a bit sticky and needs to manually be pulled up and down.  I will need to do a little maintenance on it in the off season. I was not sure if I was going to feel too confined with the much smaller cockpit in this boat, made even smaller by the thigh pads.  But I quickly got used to it as I was able to lock my self in and really feel connected to the kayak.  Before I knew it I was at my take out in Haverhill and I noticed it took me quite a bit less time to get there than when I took this trip just a couple weeks ago.  I checked my GPS when I got home and found that the Avatar is significantly faster than my Necky Manitou.

I last paddled this route in my Necky on August 26th.  It took me 2 hours and 23 minutes with and average speed of 3.9 mph.  This past Saturday in my Avatar it took me 1 hour and 46 minutes with and average speed of 5.2 mph.

Overall I am very happy with my Perception Avatar 15.5.  It is a very fast boat that will allow me to get out on longer trips and into the ocean.  This is a boat that I will be able to grow into.  I am really looking forward to longer trips and my first trip into the ocean.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kayak 3 Rivers in 5 Miles - Merrimack, Spicket and Shawsheen

View Shawsheen and Spicket Rivers in a larger map

At the end of last season I attempted to paddle upstream on the Merrimack River to the mouths of the Spicket and Shawsheen Rivers.  They are on opposite sides of the river about 2 miles upstream from where I put in at Schruender Park in Methuen.  On my last attempt the water level was too low so I was only able to look from a distance at these rivers.  Over the last couple weeks we have gotten quite a bit of rain which seems to have replenished the river levels quite a bit.  So I decided this past Sunday to make another attempt to paddle upstream on the Shawsheen and Spicket rivers.

I strapped my kayak to my cart nice and early and hiked down the street to my put in at Schruender Park in Methuen.   As expected the water levels were higher that they were a few weeks ago and after just a few minutes of paddling against the current I could feel it in my arms.  But I pushed through it and continued about 2 miles upstream to the mouth of the Spicket River.  I was glad to see that there was indeed enough water flowing so I would be able to paddle upstream for at least a short distance.  I was pretty disturbed by the amount of trash deposited along the banks, tires, auto parts, appliances, pretty sad actually.   
Mouth of the Spicket River
After paddling about 200 yards upstream I encountered a sand bar that I needed to portage over and another 100 yards or so I encountered another shallow portion that I considered portaging over as well but looking upstream it looked like I would be doing more portaging than paddling so I decided to turn around , head back downstream and see what the Shawsheen River had to offer.  There were a couple interesting features in this section of the Spicket river.  First being the discharge waterfall of the lawrence canal.  The seconsd was the very large pipe that ran under the Canal Street bridge.  Not sure wat that pipe carries or once carried but it was huge.  I was a bit disappointed that I was only able to paddle about 300 yards upstream but I was glad to have at least done that.

Lawrence Canal discharge

Upstream toward Canal Street Bridge
Under the Canal Street Bridge looking downstream
The mouth of the Shawsheen river is interesting in that in order to get through it you need to paddle through a 200 yard tunnel.  There are actually three tunnels side by side so you have a choice of which one to paddle through.  I sat in front of them for a few minutes contemplating if I really wanted to paddle through and if so which one.  Finally I decided to just pick the one in the middle and went for it.  I have to say it was pretty damn creepy.  You at least have the light at the other end of the tunnel to guide you but when you get to the 100 yard mark it is very dark.  At one point my paddle caught on something which felt like something pulling on, this really freaked me out.  Needless to say I picked up the pace and eventually made it to the other end and daylight.
Tunnels at the mouth of the Shawsheen River
Daylight!!!! Other side of the tunnel
After paddling through the tunnel I was able to paddle another 250 or so yards until I encountered some rocks and quick water just under the Haverhill commuter rail bridge.  Not feeling much in the mood for any more portaging I turned around headed back downstream through the same middle tunnel I came through and headed for home.  The trip back through the tunnel was uneventful but no less creepy.
End of the line on the Shawsheen River
On the way home I decided to hug the shoreline a bit in hopes of another bald eagle sighting, I was not to be disappointed.  About a mile downstream a beautiful mature bald eagle took off from a branch above my head.  I did not have my camera ready but I watched as he soared a few hundred yards downstream and flew into the trees.  So I readied my camera and continued hugging the shore paddling downstream just in case he decided to surprise me again.  Just as I was thinking I missed him he popped out just above my head again but I had my camera ready this time.  Not a great shot but if you click on the picture below you can see the white on his tail.

Total mileage of this trip was about 5 miles and I was on the water for just under 2 hours.  I was really hoping to be able to paddle further upstream on the Spicket and Shawsheen Rivers but I am beginning to think it may only be possible in the early Spring.  Overall a nice little trip the highlight being my second trip of the year seeing a bald eagle.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Merrimack River Kayak Trip - Lawrence MA to Bradford MA

View Merrimack River - Lowell to Bradford in a larger map

I attended another trip today with the MRWC.  This trip was on my home turf as it would take us right past my usual put-in in Methuen.  I have paddled this section of the river many times but this was my first time using the put in and take out that we used for this trip.

Boat Launch at Pemberton Park, Lawrence MA
Merrimack River just below the Great Stone Dam Lawremce MA

We started the trip at the boat launch Pemberton Park in Lawrence. This launch is just below the Great Stone Dam.   The ramp itself is very nice and is in pretty good shape.  There is a small beach area at the bottom of the ramp that was great for launching kayaks.  The park leading to the ramp was another story,  There were numerous homeless people living in the park and what appeared to be other illicit activity going on.  Nobody bothered us but I would not be really comfortable leaving my car there for an extended period of time.

After shuttling our cars to the takeout we were underway.  The first mile and a half of this trip takes you through downtown Lawrence.  There are large mills on both sides of the river in this section.    This section is also where the Spicket River empties into the Merrimack on river left and the Shawsheen on River right,  At about this one and a half mile mark we passed under route 495.  Once under this bridge the banks of the river appear much more rural with mostly wooded banks for the next 6 or so miles.  The river is pretty wide but the current does give you a nice little push.  Currently though the river is very low.  Lower than I have seen it in some time, so the current was not helping too much.  The low level also reveals the rocky bottom.  There are several rock gardens to navigate as most of us found as we slid over or just heard the thud of the rocks hitting out boats.  There is one short section of quick water once past the island at the 6 mile point but because of the low water level it wasn't as quick as it is at other times of the year.

The highlight of this trip had to be our bald eagle sightings.  I have paddled this section of the river at least a half-dozen times over the past couple years and I have never seen an eagle.  I have always wanted to and I was told they are out there but they have always eluded me....until this trip.  We saw four eagles and I couldn't have been more excited.  The first two were pointed out to be by another paddler.  They were soaring very high above us and if someone had not said something I probably would have just though they were hawks.  But as I looked closer I could definitely see the telltale white tail and head.  I snapped a picture but they were so high they just look like a dot unless you zoom way in on the picture.  See above.  I would have been satisfied with the first sighting but a few miles downstream another eagle flew over our heads at treetop height.  If that weren't enough another mile downstream we watched an immature eagle fly away with a large fish.  I was unable to get a picture of the second two eagles as I was just enjoying watching them.  This would have been a perfect time to have my DSLR camera with me but I just can't bring myself to drag $800 worth of camera and lens near the water.  Might just have to invest in some type of waterproof enclosure so I can get some pictures of these majestic birds.

After our excitement with the eagles we paddled our final couple miles through downtown Haverhill.  This final leg was made a bit harder as we were working against the tide and were baking in 90 degree sun.  But we all made it to our takeout at the public ramp next to the Crescent Yacht Club on Ferry Street in Bradford.  As I mentioned earlier this was my first time using this boat ramp.  There were a few powerboats putting in here bit there seemed to be plenty of parking.  Nice to know this is an option if I don't feel like going the extra couple miles to the car top launch at Riverside park on my next trip.

Publir ramp next to Crescent Yacht Club,  Bradford MA

Total miles of this trip was just over 10 miles and it took us about 3 hours excluding our stop for lunch.  At higher water this past June I paddled this section of river in under 2 hours so we were a bit slower than normal.  Another great day on the water and it was amazing to finally see some bald eagles practically in my back yard.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Merrimack River Kayak Trip - Lowell to Dracut

View Merrimack River - Lowell - Dracut in a larger map

Last weekend I participated in another of the MRWC kayaking trips.  I penciled this trip into my calendar early this season as it was the only section of the Merrimack River in Massachusetts that I have not paddles.  The trip started at the foot of the Pawtucket Falls in Lowell and we took out at the Dracut / Methuen line.  Our put in for this trip was right behind Lelacheur Park.  The walk down to the water was a bit hairy as it included a walk down a fairly steep embankment covered with gravel as well as traversing a few washed up trees.  One of the kayakers on the trip is an usher at the park so we were able to leave our kayaks under the bleachers while we shuttled the cars to the tale out.
Put in behind Lelacheur Park
Once underway we headed straight across the river to do a little exploring of the mouth of Beaver Brook.  This was as fun little side trip for me as I remember fishing in this brook as a kid.  The brook was fairly shallow so we were only able to paddle 100 or so yards upstream before we had to turn around.  Wildlife was pretty sparse on this trip, along with a few Great Blue Heron and Cormorants we did see the below gaggle of geese who waited patently for us to vacate beaver brook.  Nice to see non-Canadian geese for a change.
Beaver Brook Geese
Upon exiting Beaver Brook we headed downstream passing under the Aiken Street (Ouellette) Bridge.  Once under the bridge we encountered our first set if rapids.  This section of the river is very shallow and rocky so our trip leaders directed us through a chute on the right side of the river.  We all made it through upright although most of is bounced off a couple rocks on our way through this section.  I have crossed over the Aiken Street bridge countless times over the past few years looking forward to kayaking this section of the river so it was great to finally conquer it.
Looking downstream from Aiken Street Bridge

Looking upstream toward rapids and Aiken Street Bridge
The next mile of the is the urban section of  the trip which took us past various old mill buildings.  Some of these mills have been restored and converted to condos others are in a pretty bad state of disrepair.  Passing under these mills are the Lowell canals which at one time provided power for the mill machinery.  We paddled past a couple sections where the canals emptied themselves back into the Merrimack.

Lowell Canal discharge
Our next side trip took us through the mouth of the Concord River.  We paddled as far as we could upstream which was only about 300 or so yards where the river got a bit shallow.  We were just behind Lowell Memorial Auditorium at this point.  There were a couple small waves in this section so a couple of us stopped to play.

Mouth of the Concord River
Continuing on another mile downstream and we passed under Hunts Falls bridge and then encountered Hunts Falls itself.  Our trip leader advised us not to attempt to paddle over the falls as there was not enough water and we would most likely get hung up.  We paddled through this section on the left side of the river through a nice little section of quick water.  We then decided to break for lunch.  After lunch, before we continued downstream the trip leader asked if anyone was interested in playing in the larger waves of the falls.  Even though I don't have a whitewater boat I was feeling brave so I headed across and surfed a bit in the big waves.  Looking it the wave in the picture below I think there was plenty of water to paddle through this section.  Although I am probably better off now that I didn't.

Looking upstream at Hunts Falls

Playing in the big waves at Hunts falls
For the final three or so miles of the trip the river widens up a bit.  Right after Hunts Falls there is a waste water treatment plant that smells pretty ripe on some days.  It wasn't too bad on the day we paddled this section, I didn't even realize we passed it. Right after the falls the river is dotted with a bunch of small rock islands.  The current moves fairly quick so the three miles goes fast.  The river gets a bit wider and deeper as well so the power boat and jet ski traffic increases.  They seemed to be pretty courteous though and gave us a wide berth.  The right side of the river in this section is fairly residential and also tales you by a few golf courses in the Town of Andover.  The left side of the river follows Route 110. through Lowell, Dracut and Methuen.  Out takeout for this trip was the small launch just before the Dracut / Methuen line that I used as a put in for my trip to Lawrence last year.

Total length of this trip was about 6.5 miles and it took us about three hours including a stop for lunch.  Due to the fast current and abundance of rocks this is probably not a section of the Merrimack River that I would paddle alone.  It was a great trip for a group paddle though.  This trip completes my goal of paddling the entire length of the Merrimack through Massachusetts.  Next year I will start tackling the New Hampshire sections.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Paddle Float Self Rescue

One of my kayaking goals for this year is to get into the ocean with my kayak.  I realize that kayaking in the ocean is much more dangerous than the local rivers that I am used to.  A friend of mine who kayaks mostly in Boston Harbor has been trying to get me out there with him.  I promised myself that before I put my kayak in the ocean I will learn some self rescue techniques. 

For Father's Day I asked my wife and daughter to get my the rescue kit linked to the right.  It includes a bunch of gear that I have been wanting to pick up buy most importantly it has a bilge pump and paddle float.

For the past couple weeks I have been watching YouTube videos of people performing paddle float self rescues.  Some of them seem to have a easy time of it while others seemed to fail miserably.  I fully expected to fail miserably on my first couple attempts bit it turned out not so bad.

So this past Sunday I paddled out into a local lake to practice  my paddle float self rescue.  I was actually able to get back into my kayak pretty easily on my first try.  I was on a fairly smooth lake and the water was warm so the conditions were fairly favorable.  I am sure that it would not be so easy in the cold, windy ocean.  It look me about 2 minutes to get back in on my first try.  I was a bit faster on my second attempt.  Most of the time was spent inflating the float and getting it secured in the deck rigging.

Kayaking purists seem to frown on the paddle float rescue as not a useful skill for rough conditions.  They claim the Eskimo roll is the only fool proof rescue technique.  Until I learn to roll my paddle float will have to suffice.  Rolling will be one of my goals for next season. 

I posted a quick video below of my first attempt at a paddle float rescue.  I apologize for the shaky camera work.  My wife had our crappy video camera zoomed all the way in and and was trying to watch our daughter while filming.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lake Mascuppic Kayak Trip - Tyngsboro / Dracut

View Lake Mascuppic in a larger map

Hard to believe that today was my first kayak trip on a lake.  I am so close to the Merrimack River that is usually my go to destination .  But I decided to change things up a bit and try a little lake kayaking.    I grew up across the street from Lake Mascuppic so it would only be appropriate for my first trip to be on this lake.  I have lots of fond memories of swimming. fishing, ice skating and many other activities on Lake Mascuppic growing up.  So I packed up the girls and we headed out early this morning for a little trip around the lake.

Lake Mascuppic is approximately 200 acres and has shoreline in the towns of Tyngsboro and Dracut Massachusetts, the majority being in Tyngsboro.  There is a state boat ramp in Dracut at the intersection of Tyngsboro Rd and Willowdale Rd and there is a residents only town beach in Tyngsboro that used to have a boat ramp as well, not sure if that ramp is still in use.  Most of the shoreline is developed with residences and a few businesses.

We put in just south of the intersection of Tyngsboro Rd and Mascuppic Trail.  There is on-street parking here and a very short walk down a gentle slope to the water.  We paddled our kayaks counter-clockwise around the lake trying to hug the shore to stay out of the way of the powerboat and jet-ski traffic.   My wife was in the Vapor with my daughter for this trip so we paddled pretty slowly but were able to get around the lake in about an hour and twenty minutes.   Total Distance of this trip was about 2.25 miles, although we could have made it longer had we hugged the shore a little closer.  Not a whole lot of wildlife on the lake, a few ducks here and there but that was about it. 

We did see quite a few other kayakers out on the lake as well as many houses with kayaks in their back yards waiting for their next trip.  I do have to say after completing this trip that I much prefer paddling on a river than a lake.  Half way into our trip the wind started to pick up a but and on the lake there was nowhere to hide from it.  Between the wind and the wakes from the power boats the chop was pretty brutal at times.  My wife was having a bit of trouble keeping straight with the high profile of the Vapor.  As we neared the last third of the trip the power boat and jet ski traffic seemed to increase a bit.making it a bit treacherous to be in a kayak.  Having my wife and daughter out there with me had me a bit nervous with my head on a swivel to make sure none of them were coming at us.  At one point there wasn't much more than than 20 yards between my wife and my kayak and a jet ski drove between us.  He slowed a bit but it still was enough to make us decide to call it a day.   A couple pics below of the girls.