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

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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.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Merrimack River Kayak Trip - Manchester NH to Merrimack NH

View Merrimack River - Manchester to Merrimack in a larger map

Last Saturday I participated in another paddling trip with the Merrimack River Watershed Council.   I was really looking forward to this trip as it was a section of the river that I have not yet paddled and it offers a few sections of class II whitewater.  Having little whitewater experience this was a great trip for  me as it allowed me the opportunity to hit some pretty big rapids with some very experienced whitewater paddlers from the AMC.

I would highly recommend a spray skirt for this trip.  There were some on the trip without one who ended up with quite a bit of water in their boats when running through the big rapids.  My spray skirt isn't really watertight and I found myself needing to pump out a couple times.  There were about 20 people on this trip in various types of boats, there were 2 canoes, a half dozen or so whitewater boats, a sit on top kayak and the rest were in recreational kayaks, some with spray skirts some without.  Before starting our trip we were given some basic instruction on what to do in the event of a capsize and other basic class II whitewater techniques.  We were told at least 2 of us would end up on the water on this trip, I thought surely it would be me but I managed to stay in my kayak.  Unfortunately I didn't get many pictures of the first half of the trip as my camera was stowed safely in my drybag.  Someone in our group did have a waterproof camera and got some pictures of the group hitting the last section of rapids so I will post them when I get them.

Put in at Amoskeag Fishways
So we started the trip behind the the Amoskeag Fishways Visitor Center in Manchester, NH.  The visitor center is located just off exit 6 on 293 and has a cool fish ladder with large windows for viewing the fish swimming by.  This is also the site of Amoskeag falls and Amoskeag dam.  Our put in was a short walk down a trail to the water.  After shuttling the cars to the take out points we got underway.   We first paddled past Amoskeag falls on the left which is the site of some Class IV rapids called "Facial Abrasion" which are only navigable in the spring.  It isn't much more than rocks at this time of the year.  Less than a mile into our paddle we encountered our first major set of rapids.  This first set of rapids is located in front of Arms Park and is also know as crack pipe.  Not sure exactly how it got that name but I have to say I was a bit intimidated coming up upon it.  It is a pretty large drop followed by a series of large waves.  After watching a couple others make it through unscathed I went for it.  It was quite a rush, I kept my kayak straight and stayed upright.  I was completely soaked, including a few inches of water in my kayak where my new bilge pump came in handy.

This section of the river is fairly industrial with mills on both sides of the river.  Except for the random shopping cart the river was fairly trash free, I was told this section used to be a lot worse.  After the first three miles the banks of the river become less industrial and more residential.  There are various small islands along this stretch and the river banks become a bit more wooded.  A bit past the 4 mile point of the trip at the route 293 overpass are the second large set of rapids.  There is a large rock island in the middle of the river at this point where we got out to scout the rapids and the trip leader advised us which line to take through the rapids.  She also told us there was no shame if we wanted to portage around this section.  I briefly considered it but decided that I didn't come out here to walk.  I went into the rapids planning to take a conservative line but somehow got sucked over the large wave in the middle but I again made it though upright.  I actually paddled back up and re-ran the bottom section of these rapids a second time.  A woman in a kayak identical to mine capsized in this section but the leaders got her back in her boat fairly quickly.

Scouting the 293 rapids
The final section of class II rapids we encountered is called Goff's falls.  This was probably the lesser of the three rapids but had a bit longer section of rapids.  I again made it through this section upright, a mother and son in a canoe weren't so lucky and ended up capsizing and floated quite a way downstream before being rescued.  This was about the half way section of the trip where we stopped for lunch.  About half of our group finished their trip here at the Moore's Crossing takeout in Bedford. The rest of us continued on for a few more miles. 

Goffs Falls Rapids

The remainder of the trip was a bit more relaxing.  A few class I rapids were encountered but the river is more remote and slow moving in this section.  Apparently we passed a lock that survived from the old Middlesex Canal system but I somehow paddled right by without seeing it.  We also passed the landing approach for Manchester Airport.  Kind of cool seeing the large jets fly by right over your head.  Our takeout was at the Depot Street Boat ramp in Merrimack.  This is also the site of Reeds Ferry, named for Wilbur Reed who ran a ferry on this section of the Merrimack in the 1700s and 1800s. 

Smaller set of rapids

Depot Street - Takeout in Merrimack NH

Ramp at Depot Street takeout
I have paddled a bunch of new sections of local rivers this year but I have to say this was my favorite trip so far.  The total distance of the trip was just over 10 miles.  We paddled through the towns of Manchester, Bedford and Merrimack.  Including a spot for lunch and trip took us about 5 hours.  This is not a trip that should be paddled solo.  I would love to run this section again but I wouldn't dare without the company of some experienced whitewater paddlers.  Also a spray skirt and bilge pump are absolute musts.  Overall a great way to start the holiday weekend.