03.20.2019 - 1st Day of Spring Paddle: Merrimack River, Point of Rocks to Cashman Park
Simple relative newbie paddle - but fun happens at all levels of skill and experience…
First day of spring and I convinced Donna to drop me and “Pure Bunny Jr.” (my Northstar Trillum 14’6” solo canoe) off at the Ferry Park launch in West Newbury, right by the West Newbury side of the Rocks Bridge. Geared up (including dry suit - the water’s still cold) and got on the water just before 3PM.
Initial plan was to paddle downriver to the Amesbury town boat launch (about 5.3 miles or 5,038 Smoots), and then possibly extend the trip to Cashman Park boat landing (another 3.1 miles or 2,913 Smoots).
Launch was smooth. I started out using the Adirondack sneak paddle - long blade, narrows from head to tip, somewhat like a voyageur paddle, but without the sharp shoulders. Very small palm grip, which makes rotating the paddle for things like a sneak stroke very easy.
Wind picked up almost like it knew I was on the water, and what I had expected to be a NNW wind behind me turned out to be in my face blowing up river. After passing under the bridge I worked over to river left to try and catch some wind shadow, but didn’t find much shelter there.
The paddle to Amesbury itself was pretty and uneventful, a fairly sunny afternoon with moderate temps. Just kept working into the wind, but the Trillium handles it extremely well - I love that boat. If I had been soloing in Pure Bunny Sr. (a Mad River Malecite) it would have been a whole different experience.
The Trillium is tuned as a lake boat, designed to track well in the windy conditions. It has a low profile, so not much for the wind to grab to start with, and just a small amount of rocker in the stern which helps keep it from weathercocking. The consistent flair in the sides means when you need to turn quickly you can lay it over on its side to let the stern slip and really spin. But if you keep it upright, tracks very nicely.
One comment for kneelers - the Trillium’s low profile means there isn’t a lot of clearance under the seat even with the short hangers. I’ve got size 11 1/2 feet and was wearing low profile Chota Mukluks and I still had to twist my feet sideways to get them under the leading edge. I’m not concerned about entrapment (been in the pool with the boat and can easily get out), but it can make a longer duration paddle hard on the ankles.
Got most of the way to Amesbury when I decided to change position from kneeling to off leg extended, paddle side leg folded under the seat. Worked well and took some of the pressure off the folded leg by giving a bit more room to stretch the foot out. I also switched from the sneak paddle to a Dri-Ki otter tail. The sneak paddle has a varnished shaft and that, combined with no callouses from not being on the water for most of the winter, meant I had developed a small rub spot on the inside of my shaft (right) hand thumb. The Dri-Ki has an oil finish (I use hemp oil) and doesn’t have the same tendency to create hot spots.
Did the first leg to Amesbury boat launch in about an hour and a quarter, including position shifts and a bit of playing in the eddy behind one of the Rocks Bridge supports. Decided to press on to Cashman Park, so paused to let Donna know before moving on.
The second leg of the trip was a bit more interesting. The wind picked up, blowing straight upriver, and the river narrowed at the I95 and the Chain Bridge. Water got swirly with boils and picked up a speed as it was squeezed.
I chose to stay in the channel on river right - I wanted to look at the remains of the Colonial shipyard boat ramps on the southwest (Newburyport) side of Carr Island. Not necessarily the best decision of the day. No danger, but river right side of Carr Island is also the tightest squeeze for the main flow of the river, and with the wind blowing at what I later found out was 15 - 20 mph there was a fair amount of wind direction v. water flow confusion going on that added small chop to the swirling water. I did mishandle an eddyline in the gap between Deer and Eagle Islands and briefly ended up heading downriver backwards, but was able to leverage another line to get back to where I was facing the same direction I was heading in.
Once past Eagle, I snugged up to the shore of Carr Island, which provided some wind shelter, so from that point it was mostly just digging in against the wind to make the last bit. I switched paddles again, to the Dri-Ki beavertail for a bit more grip and slogged on down to the boat ramp at Cashman Park.
The second, shorter leg took just about as much time as the longer first leg and the paddling was a bit more interesting, particularly because I”m still learning eddy management. It was a nice short tutorial courtesy of the Merrimack and the wind.
Overall, a good first day of Spring paddle - helped to knock some of the rust off and provided a bit more learning - all that one could ask for.