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