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.