Rain and Sunshine on the Connecticut River

Boathouse on the Connecticut River

By Johna Till Johnson

I’ve never understood why people don’t like to paddle in the rain.

Wind? Sure. Once it’s over about 15 knots sustained, it’s not a paddle, it’s an endurance test. Even a steady 10-knot breeze can create substantial “chop” and bouncy conditions, which you might or might not be in the mood for. (I usually am).

But rain? You’re afraid you might… get wet or something?

Come on, people!

Kayaking is a water sport. If you’re doing it right, you’re wearing clothing that keeps you warm whether you’re wet or dry. That’s actually kind of the point: frolicking in the waves and rain with impunity.

So the steady drizzle on a recent Saturday morning didn’t bother me a bit.

I loaded Cinnamon, my little red Gemini, on top of the car in the parking lot of my mother’s retirement community in Connecticut. I was visiting for the weekend, to enjoy dinner with the “Friday night girls”, a group of fascinating women in their 90s, spend time with my mother…and of course paddle.

I haven’t yet found a great source of current information for the Connecticut River (if you have one, please let me know in the comments!) so I winged it based on the tides, making the simplifying assumption that slack would fall at or around high and low tides.

High tide would be about 3 PM, so if I launched at noon, that would give me a good three hours of flood, assuming high tide and slack coincided.

Or, actually, of minimal ebb current. One of the sites I’d found (and later, frustratingly, lost) warned in big letters: “There is no flood in the Connecticut river.”

In other words, it was a proper river, not a tidal estuary like the Hudson.

So I wouldn’t count on a flood. I’d cross over to the Eastern side and meander up the side of the river, staying out of the current and exploring the little coves I’d passed before.

If the current wasn’t too strongly against me, I’d paddle up Selden Creek, a peaceful wonderland that wended its way through the reeds and rocks, and eventually rejoined the Connecticut River up north.

By 11:45 I was at the charming little boat ramp in Essex. It took just a few minutes to unload and gear up, and as hoped there was street parking within eyesight of the ramp.

Seagull eyes me warily

By 12:15 I was launched.

As forecast, the rain had subsided, but clouds roiled overhead. It was the tail end of Hurricane Michael, which had headed well out over the north Atlantic to the northeast, but whose effects could still be felt. Fortunately the wind was minimal; a few gusts up to 10 knots, but the rest a fresh northerly breeze.

As I pulled out of the marina, I passed close by a seagull perched on a piling. Atypically, it didn’t move as I stopped for a photograph. It just regarded me warily out of one eye.

My guess at the current seemed correct. Though there wasn’t much ebb, there definitely was no current against me crossing the river.  Some sailboats skidded by like white leaves born on the breeze.

Sailboats and grey skies

The far shore was festooned with rocks and reeds. Soon I came to one of my favorite landmarks, a red wooden boathouse jutting out on the water. As I paused for photographs, I noticed the tide was quite high. Surely there had been a few more feet of clearance last time?

The thought disappeared as quickly as it came.

But it would be back…

Cinnamon finds some friends!

I took my time paddling up the river’s eastern shore, watching for rocks and breathing the cool, fresh air. It was unseasonably chilly, in the high 40s, but even with the wind bearing down from the north, the effort of paddling kept me warm. Then I turned right and headed into the little embayment I’d noticed before.

My plan was to explore it. The chart called it “Hamburg Cove”, but it was more than just a cove. There was a sheltered marina, and then a creek meandered off to the right, into the hills.

Almost of her own volition, Cinnamon hugged the rightmost shore. There was a splash of color on the green bank that seemed to exert a magnetic pull. Cinnamon nosed right up: Two little kayaks, one red, one blue, huddled in a companionable pile.

We continued on. Suddenly a flash of white caught my eye. Two swans were gliding noiselessly on the calm green water.

Swans and autumn foliage

I didn’t dare come up close (swans can attack) but took as many shots as I could.
Farther along, another creature appeared, gliding almost as silently: A woman in a canoe, with a small child in front. I gasped with delight. They seemed like an apparition, the woman ageless, with flowing gray hair, and the little boy bubbling over with incandescent delight.

Mimi and Lucas

She was Mimi. The boy was Lucas. And she let me take their picture.

I continued on. There were boats moored at marinas, shabby-chic in the early fall colors. The water widened, then narrowed, then widened again.

I went around a bend and stopped to take a shot of a house on the water…

High tide

…whose front lawn was almost submerged.

Hurricane Michael’s impacts reached far. The hurricane that had recently devastated parts of North Carolina had reached all the way up into inland Connecticut. Wow!

Ahead, the water narrowed. There was a beautiful white-gold bridge with three arches spanning the creek. I paddled underneath, stopping only for the classic “kayak entering a bridge” photo.

Bridge and tunnel… :-)

On the other side, the current seemed to have turned. Little flecks of foam drifted towards me. Current… foam… there was probably a waterfall ahead!

I kept paddling, through the ever-narrowing creek. Tree limbs draped over the water, and rocks poked up, the current rushing and roiling against their sleek heads.

I came to a big rock, sluiced with roaring water. The creek turned sharply right, and beyond it was… whitewater.

Even my nimble Gemini wasn’t truly a whitewater boat, I concluded. Maybe there was a waterfall past the rock—but I would wait to see it another day.

With a little difficulty, I turned around amidst the rocks and rushing water, and sailed back down the creek, carried by the current. I passed the boathouse where I’d seen Mimi and Lucas, waved at the swans (still gliding majestically) and proceeded along the north shore until I popped back out into the main river.

I turned northward once more.

River, sky, reeds…

My destination was the mouth of Selden Creek, a calm and peaceful path that paralleled the river to the east, carving off the island of Selden Neck State Park. Last time I’d missed this entrance, so I scanned the shore carefully.

Sure enough, the weather continued to brighten, and before long I found the entrance to Selden Creek, marked by golden reeds and a bright patch of sky.

Selden Creek has a different personality from the rest of the river. It’s calm and peaceful, with few signs of human habitation: just water, reeds, trees, rocks, and sky. It’s a “vacation inside a vacation”… a peaceful oasis inside the journey.

Cinnamon meandered slowly through the reeds, as the sky slowly cleared and the sunlight broke through. The current against us was getting stronger; the flood had evidently begun. I checked my watch a bit nervously—would I get back to the boat ramp before dark? I’ve paddled after dark alone before, but this time I’d promised my mother I’d be home by dark, and we had restaurant reservations.

The entrance to Selden Creek

I stopped near the northernmost point of Selden Creek  for a quick bite and drink of water, without getting out of the boat. Then a quick paddle west and Cinnamon and I rejoined the main Connecticut river, now bathed in sunlight.

The flood was much stronger, and the boat fairly flew downstream. We passed a rescue vessel towing a motorboat. I thought of the book I’m reading, The Grey Seas Under, by Farley Mowat, about a Canadian salvage vessel in the 1940s. It gave me a new respect for this small towboat on the placid Connecticut River.

Rescue at sea

The trip down was fast, with a ripping current, and I rounded the corner to Essex boatramp just after five, as I expected.

At rest

We pulled ashore. Cinnamon looked jaunty on the dock, but appeared faintly sorry the trip had ended. Next time, little boat.

Working quickly, I unloaded my gear. The Connecticut River Museum was having its annual gala that night, and although I was on the public road, I didn’t want to block traffic.

A couple strolled by on the pier above me. The man was quite interested, and asked a few questions about the boat. The woman looked skeptical.

“Was it nice out today?” she asked.

It had been lovely, I assured her. Her face wrinkled in disbelief. “But it was raining!” she protested.

I just laughed.

Home port

Trip details:

Paddle Name: Connecticut River 10-13-18
Craft: Cinnamon (red Valley Gemini SP)
Paddle Date: 10-13-18
Paddle Launch Point: Essex Boat Ramp
Paddle Launch Time: 12:15
Paddle End Point: Essex Boat Ramp
Paddle End Time: Approx 17:15
Distance Traveled: Approx 15 nautical/17 statute
Time Paddling: 5 hrs
Average Pace: 3 kt

30 responses to “Rain and Sunshine on the Connecticut River

  1. ‘Kayak entering a bridge’….I love that photo, Johna!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thank you! It’s a classic kayaking shot, but when the opportunity presented itself, I had to take it.

      And nature was cooperating with just a hint of lovely foliage beyond…


  2. Rain can be beautiful. It changes colors, reflections, sounds, clouds. Can add rainbows and quiets things sometimes. Never duck the rain.

    Thanks Johna

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That is quite the trip! David has remarked a couple of times that I might bring my Gemini SP along the Delaware or another of the easier moving water rivers. Not quite sold on that idea, myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Julie, you should totally come with me on a CT River run one of these days. We can put you up (my mother has space) and it’s really different. Like the Hudson but… different.

      I’m hoping to do a camping trip from the CT river back to NYC next summer (drive up to Essex, launch, paddle to Yonkers, train home and back to Essex).


  4. Thanks Johna. As always, I love your posts. Hope you’re doing well and it would be nice to see you on Long Island sound with Jean in the near future

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      That would be awesome, Rick! As you can see from my post to Julie, kayak-camping on Long Island sound is percolating upwards as a goal. Maybe in spring versus summer (although spring can be so treacherous!)


      • Would you come out within the next month or two to the sound? I assume you have a dry suit. I will talk to Jean in maybe we can arrange an outing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Johna Till Johnson

          Dry suit? I have two. :-) I do a lot of winter paddling, mostly solo these days.

          Can’t commit within the next month or two but it’s certainly an option! Let’s talk…


  5. Hi Johna – thank you and Cinnamon for taking us along on your paddle, it was lovely. And you’re right about kayaking in the rain. Three of my own favorite outings were rainy day ones. Best, Babsje

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      I really do love paddling in the rain. Unfortunately the photos fail to capture the entire experience, because the smell can be so intoxicating…. Thanks for reading and posting!


      • I agree about the smells! Whatever happened to the “smellovision” they were touting years ago? (Actually nevermind, those perfume inserts in magazines don’t portend well for any tech incorporating scent with photos!) Best, Babsje


  6. Thank you for this delightful trip on the river. It’s like a mini-vacation.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That is wonderful, Johna. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thank you for reading, and posting, Harry! I hope in some small way it keeps you feeling connected to Vlad. Speaking of which, I have a few upcoming posts you’ll appreciate….


  8. Your images are great but no, I can’t get enthusiastic about being on the water in the cold. Rain I can cope with (walking, preferably) but cold hands and feet no. I wish it were otherwise, but I’m glad people like you can go out and take the pictures to make me jealous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks for reading and posting! And I am glad you enjoyed the images!

      If you’re properly dressed, you aren’t cold–that’s the point! And you should always be dressed to get wet paddling, because kayaking is a water sport.

      That said, I hear you on cold hands. Mostly I get them in the wintertime, when I’m paddling in a drysuit.

      I’ve long said there are only two things I actually hate about kayaking: cold hands in winter, and the smell of wet neoprene.

      Both are small prices to pay…to me at least :-)


  9. Love the images 💕💕📸


  10. Marvelous post! Paddling in the rain is great fun as long as the rain is gentle and warm!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks for reading, and posting! I actually don’t mind a strong cold rain if I’m dressed for it… except while camping. That can be tricky….


  11. Happy times…love the photo of Mimi & Lucas…and the blue skies, finally…I had to look up the location – didn’t remember the river was that far east. I lived for a bit in Norwalk, right on the Silvermine, which flooded sometimes in spring, badly. Thank god my car was on high ground elsewhere the day it reached the doorstep (and the cottage was on a raised foundation!). one day. Those weather systems can surprise you, right? :-) But CT is beautiful and your mother’s situation, with her ability to enjoy her friends and still get out, sounds excellent. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Yeah, the river is pretty far East, kind of surprising.

      Mimi and Lucas was really quite the apparition. They arrived so silently, and Mimi just looked… amazing. She’s laughing because that’s what I said right before I snapped the photo…

      Thanks for reading and posting!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I loved reading this post, wondering what Nature would come up with on your paddle. Beautiful photos too. Your posts keep me going until I can get on the water again, which will be next week in Baja if all goes well, as we sail across Saturday.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Very nice post, good read, very nice pictures so I am going to reblog this one for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Beautiful pictures and amazingly written.

    Please check my blogs and share love – http://mesmots1987.wordpress.com


  15. No such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing


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