Kayaking Gold on Cape Cod Bay

By Vladimir Brezina

We really can’t set off on this summer’s kayaking adventures before we’ve written up all of last summer’s!

So, here is the last of them.


The previous days of our 2011 New England kayaking vacation (see here and here) were exhilarating, but by the same token just a tiny bit tense—although we had good conditions, they were exposed trips on which you can never really relax until you are safe home again.

In contrast, this leisurely trip on the protected, warm Cape Cod Bay was pure gold.

Our track:

On July 19, 2011, as the morning sunlight begins to filter through the surrounding trees

we eat breakfast at our campsite in Nickerson State Park (in Brewster, Massachusetts, in the crook of the elbow of Cape Cod—highly recommended!)

The sun is rising higher, flooding the forest with light—high time to go kayaking!

We arrive at the beach at East Brewster that we have scoped out yesterday evening as a good launch site…

Wait a minute, there was water all the way up to these rocks yesterday!!

Doh! It’s low tide!

The marine chart, and in retrospect even the Google Maps satellite image above, clearly shows the wide expanse of shallows all along the shoreline of Cape Cod Bay, so we should have foreseen the problem…

There are some nice tableaux of exposed marine organisms as we walk across the sands

The tide is coming in, but it will be a long wait.

Johna briefly tries magical thinking

but then we resort to a good old-fashioned portage.

Finally, we have water under our keels and we are off!



… at first across the turquoise shallows

and then into the deeper blue water of the bay…

Over Billingsgate Shoal off Wellfleet, out pops a seal!  A totally unexpected sight in this warm water…  But it turns out to be only the first of dozens.

Soon seals are frolicking all around, coming close to our kayaks, not afraid

.Johna gets out of her boat for a swim with the seals (in retrospect, perhaps not the wisest thing to do… especially in view of Dan’s comment concerning sharks below)

Then we press on past the shoals toward the range of sandy cliffs that we see in the distance.

After passing “Cormorant Rock”



we land on the beach at the base of the cliffs

Looking inland over the low dunes, a broad vista of Wellfleet Harbor opens up

We walk up the path through the fragrant pine wood at the back of the cliff


for lunch with a view

south over the shoals past which we have just paddled

as well as north toward Provincetown and the tip of Cape Cod

After lunch, a refreshing swim



before we head back through the turquoise warm waters

Over Billingsgate Shoal, seal heads pop up again


off the beach, in the tide rip, all around…

There is no wind at all and the afternoon grows hot

Finally we land back on the beach that we launched from, now mercifully covered with water

We are done kayaking for the day. But it’s too early to leave the water! We wade lazily through the warm shallows through which little waves now surge and horseshoe crabs roam



Content, we watch the warm, golden day come to a close…

Finally, we look back at the beach one last time as we head back to camp

for our evening activities: chopping wood in the twilight



cooking over the open fire as night falls

and, finally, the dinner that we’ve been ravenously anticipating!

The end of a perfect day!

Other photos are here. The other days of our 2011 New England paddling vacation are written up here, here, and here.

P.S. In contrast to my first response to Ailsa’s recent Alternative Photo Challenge, “Travel Theme: Summer”, this really is the happy, sunny summer travel post that Ailsa was expecting :-)

46 responses to “Kayaking Gold on Cape Cod Bay

  1. Pingback: Sea Kayaking Adventures in New England: A Few Photos to Start With | Wind Against Current

  2. Wow…I feel as if I were there, thank you. And those seals…how magical!


  3. Me too, I really feel like I was there with you guys too, what a perfect summer day out, Vlad. The only thing that would have made it even better would have been the addition of a pony ride. :) Cape Cod looks stunning, are you and Johna heading there again this summer?


    • Will this do? This is more the American style—

      (not on Cape Cod, but in Rhode Island on one of the other days of our vacation)

      No Cape Cod this summer—we are planning a circumnavigation of Long Island….


  4. Wow! Couldn’t have been more perfect!


  5. Absolutely beautiful!


  6. Fabulous! I loved the “calm reflections” and the “hot and still in the late afternoon” images – very evocative of the trip description – sounds like it was a wonderful day!


    • It was such a wonderful, relaxed day…

      Calm reflections like that are beautiful and certainly evocative, but from a practical standpoint unfortunately of heat… Although that particular day was just perfect, in general hot, windless summer days are the worst for kayaking as far as I am concerned. As Johna will tell you, I fall asleep, sometimes literally while paddling… but as soon as a little breeze comes up, I get motivated again!


  7. gold indeed, second photo my favourite [probably because kayak not needed], but love your oops forgot to wonder about tide time, from one who has also missed that kind of check


    • :-) We knew that the currents were fairly negligible, so we didn’t bother about the tidal height, which also wouldn’t have mattered if it hadn’t been so extensively shallow there… The tidal height doesn’t play much of a role in NYC where we usually paddle, but this is a useful reminder that in some parts of the world it matters a LOT!


  8. Love it! Have a great Summer! :-)


  9. I live my kayak adventures, vicariously through you. Thanks a lot, because there is no way I would do it otherwise. LOL


  10. I love the seals! This whole adventure looks amazing!
    And Johna, if you ever have a free weekend morning and want to swim, come join the open-water swimmers of CIBBOWS out at Brighton Beach! I can’t claim we’re as cute as seals, but we’re maybe even friendlier!


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Hi Janet–I would love to, actually!

      Strangely enough I’ve just started swimming again for exercise (got to do SOMETHING during the week!!). And although there’s a lovely pool in the building, I’m really wishing I were out in the open water.

      The next two weekends are out but I will check out your schedule thereafter!

      Thanks for the invite!


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  12. thanks for showing me a beautiful place and quite an adventure. Hope this summer brings many more equals.


  13. Seals and sea lions are protected under The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The penalty for swimming with them can be severe.


  14. “Food for thought” – I have lived on the Cape for many years, and love it very much to this day. Through the 70s 80s and early 90s – seeing a seal was rare, and white shark sightings even more so. They were almost never seen near shore. Things have changed. Please be aware that white sharks are now very common throughout all Cape Cod waters, and have harassed kayakers in the past….also swimming when seals are present- the reason white sharks are here in the first place – can be life threatening, as the sharks attack from below/behind and may mistake your profile from below as that of a seal -dark wetsuit and all. There have been no recent “known” attacks on people yet, but it is increasingly possible due to the ever increasing seal population near Cape beaches. It is now more common than ever to see White sharks right up near shore-especially in Chatham/Monomoy island areas. If you decide to take a dip and you are out kayaking, do so away from seals, and in water where you can see bottom. Never swim in channels near the shoals, or along the edge of drop offs.
    Most people residing outside the Cape, are oblivious to the dangers and have no idea what is swimming just out of view below the surface. The local authorities will not say much in fear of loosing tourist dollars. Please just be aware…The Cape is one of my favorite places. I fished kayaked, and hiked every nook and cranny. It is among my most favorite places.


    • Many thanks for your comment, Dan! That’s a very fair warning and sobering thought… I’ll highlight your comment in the main post.


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Hi Dan:
      Vlad beat me to it, but amen. I hadn’t realized it was such a recent phenomenon, but the day after I’d been swimming with the seals, I read about Great White sightings in the same area–and realized I’d been an idiot (no point in sugarcoating things).

      I particularly appreciate your tips on swimming safely: Stay away from seals, and make sure you can see the bottom.

      Thanks for your long, thoughtful, and helpful post!


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  16. A perfect day indeed. I love the sun-flooded forest–it captured the feel of the story for me.


  17. Looks like a great day – glad I could enjoy it with you.



  18. I grew up on Cape Cod, but have never been kayaking in that area…I HAVE had the experience of walking out seemingly forever in 3-inch deep water to finally get to float on the other side of the Cape. You’ve inspired me to seek out some new areas close to home!


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  24. wow, was jesta thinkin, 2 of those hulls under my ultralight would werk real good fer on da water :) an offa it :) ……


  25. Very nice to read your story. I didn’t know that seals would come that close. Beautiful images.


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