February 2001
Volume XII
Issue 7
Abridged Edition

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Sea Kayaking the Merrimack River in Newburyport

By Jim Lewis

Newburyport, Level 3 Sea Kayaking Trip Report 12/24/2000

Participants: Jim Lewis, Steve Shultz

[Click on the images to enlarge]

The weather was almost perfect for the end of December. The air temperature was 32 degrees, absolutely no wind and clear skies.

We agreed to meet at Cashman Park, which is just upstream of the Route 1 bridge in Newburyport at 8:30 a.m. in the morning. The plan was to paddle upstream with the incoming tide (High tide was 10:45 a.m.) and paddle back with the outgoing tide.

What's the difference between the Titanic and Sea Kayakers on the Merrimack River in Newburyport? Give up? When the Titanic hit and iceberg, it sank. When sea Kayakers on the Merrimack hit ice they bounced off.

Upon arrival at Cashman Park the river looked like the Delaware, when George Washington crossed the river to descend upon Trenton on Christmas Day. Yes the river was choked with ice floes and very little open water. Plan B required us to look further downriver where the ice was not as dense. Along the way we stopped at the Coast Guard Station for the latest weather report and sea conditions. Having received a favorable report we headed out and found the put in we were looking for at Joppa Park where we put in at 9:00 am.

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Ice Floes on the Merrimack River

While we were preparing our Kayaks for the put in a nice woman approached us, introduced herself, stated she recently moved to the area and started paddling kayaks last summer. She also invited us back to her home for coffee or cocoa after our trip. A short while after she left her husband came along and introduced himself and the conversation went similarly as it did with his wife.

At first we followed channels of open water between large areas of ice pack. Occasionally, we acted as icebreakers until the ice got half an inch thick. Then we had to retreat and find thinner ice that we could break until we found another channel of open water. As we neared the mouth of the river the ice disappeared and we had open water for the rest of the trip.

At the mouth of the river we landed just inside the jetty and crossed the isthmus to inspect the ocean before we had to commit ourselves. As the ocean was almost perfectly flat with no discernible rollers or chop we committed ourselves and headed out the breachway. To our enjoyment we startled a harbor seal, which disappeared off the rocks and into the ocean.

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Steve Schulz inside Newburyport Harbor

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Jim Lewis off Plum Island

We paddled south along the shore of Plum Island until noon. Then we turned around and headed back to the put in. For this entire leg of the trip the ocean remained almost flat with no discernible swells or chop. We could just as easily been on any large fresh water lake, except the water was a bit salty.

As we neared the breachway at the mouth of the river, we noticed the buoys quite healed over with the outgoing tide. The current was approximately 4 knots and choked shore to shore with all the ice upstream. Therefore, we decided to land on the ocean side of the jetty and carry over to the river. Then we paddled shore eddies to the Coast Guard station at the end of Plum Island. Rounding the last turn we experienced a stronger outgoing current that attempted to sweep us out to mid-channel and eventually out to sea. We landed at 2:00 p.m. and were offered a ride back to our cars by some of the local citizens.

One of the reasons I like to paddle in different places is meeting all the many nice people I meet along the way. On this particular trip the couple we met at the put in invited us to their home. We accepted the invitation. On the return leg a group of men offered us a ride back to our cars. The first couple may soon join our little organization and become close friends. Yes, this was a perfect trip!




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