Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Branford Harbor

     The next morning couldn’t have been more different than prior evening.  No rain, not even a cloud in the sky.  No need to paddle around with the radio on listening for reports of thunder.  There was some mist rolling about, but it was light and decorative.
     As to the no-see-ums.  Well, forewarned is forearmed.  We’d simplify our kayak loading and be on the water in no time.  At 8AM, we were the first arrivals at the Branford River ramp, there at low tide.  At 8:02 an entire convoy of construction equipment appeared, and immediately began discussions of how best to repair the ramp before the tide changed.   So the bugs had a small feast while we confirmed that we could park our car and use the ramp.
      Branford River seems to be mainly a storage location for boats.  We passed by two large marinas and I knew of others further up river.  Handy poles marked the boat channel, kayaks can easily paddle outside the channel.
Parker Memorial Park, the beach partially obscured by foreground rocks
  At the mouth of the river is Branford Point, and Parker Memorial Park.  Once a huge resort hotel, it was donated to the town.  The town tore down the hotel and put in the beach.  (Early photos of the area can be found at Branford.patch.com
   Parker Memorial Park is a public beach, but with very limited parking for non-Branford residents. Amusingly Branford’s Recreation Department website states that public parking for the beach is available at the boat ramp.  At the boat ramp, signs say parking is for fishing and boating only.
                We headed along Indian Neck, admiring sights, the granite shoreline
          Variety of seaweeds exposed by the tide
        And cleverly located beach houses.
       As we came up on Jeffery Point we got a whiff of a nearby seabird colony.  Turns out, Spectacle is an island you can navigate by nose. 
       Before we reached Spectacle though we passed by Clam, with its array of modest homes.  And past this classic house on Sumac.
The Connecticut shoreline has no lack of overgrown houses on undergrown islands, though nowhere are they as tightly gathered as at the Thimbles.
         Sumac also had a wide variety of birds on it; a tree full of egrets, blue herons, oyster catchers,  and geese.

                Spectacle was more specialized with cormorants and herring gulls guarding their stick and seaweed nests, while black backed gulls waited in the corners hoping to take advantage of unwary parents.  I did a search to see if Spectacle was an actual bird sanctuary without finding any results.
     From Spectacle we turned west, heading across the harbor to Johnson Point and by a nice flashing buoy.

    And a gander keeping watch over his flock. 
     The goose is keeping watch on the grounds of Killiam’s Point, a retreat owned by a local church.  On occasion services are held by the cross, and I can’t help but feel the goose was inspired to be a good shepherd.
                Long Island Sound was quite quiet, so mostly we kept our eyes to the shore, admiring the great variety of houses, like this English Cottage with fortified cellar to retreat to in case of attack.
       As the clouds rolled in from New York, we headed back to the launch.  There the construction crew was still hard at work getting the area ready for the summer crowds.  They were done with the ramp though, so we could land easily and head off to our next adventure.
Along the Branford River, condos for crabs below, condos for folks above.
Summary:  Branford River Ramp, on Goodsell Rd, off Harbor Rd, Branford Ct.  A large field for parking, 2 portapotties.

An Aside About Access and other Resources: CT

   In researching any trip, finding out about access point is always important.  I often rely on guide books, Paddling.net's launch site map, and internet searches.  
One internet search led me to Connecticut Water Trails, which I mentioned at my Thimble Islands post.  Under Coastal Paddling, Connecticut Water Trails listed only one launch point for Branford, the Stony Creek Dock.  It did not list the public launch on Goodsell Avenue.   
    In Connecticut, unlike Maine and Massachusetts, the intertidal zone is publicly owned.  That doesn’t mean access to the water is unlimited; there is no right to cross private land, or use private docks to reach public water.  And many towns, including Branford, guard access to their beaches by providing a parking area for residents, and no parking anywhere nearby for nonresidents.  So I thought failing to mention the launch on the Water Trails was a part of a plan to concentrate the “general public” in a few areas.  After all, there is also no road sign at the intersection of Harbor Street and Goodsell (in BranFord) stating a public launch is available.    But when I looked on-line to see if Spectacle Island was a bird sanctuary, a link brought me to the Connecticut Water Trail.  Their page for Spectacle Island listed the access point for the island  as the Branford River Boat Launch.  It’s failure to be listed on the Coastal Paddling site is more likely to be just an oversight, as it is listed in the boat launch section.
  And as I looked about the site further I found that Connecticut Water Trails does link to the State of  Connecticut site about public access and a very complete list of access points.
  So I thought I’d list here a few more sites about water access:
  Finding access points in Connecticut:
  Paddling.Net  Launch Site Map
  Connecticut Water Trails:  Be sure to check Coastal Paddling Access  Coastal Access   and Boat Launches
    The site is confusing to maneuver about.
  The State of Connecticut's Coastal Access Guide:  About Coastal Access  Town Search for Coastal Access

  Information about  beach access in general:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Thimbles – Magic islands

    Salmon colored granite islands sprinkled across a green sea.   Fishing boats in the harbor.   Abandoned quarries which once sent granite to New York and Washington to build grand memorials.  A shoreline dominated by huge “cottages” awaiting their summer guests.
     Thus far the Thimble Islands, off Stony Creek, Connecticut sound like Stonington, Maine, but there are key differences. 
     There are many Thimble Islands, up to 365, depending on the tide and the generosity of the counter.  But rather than being scattered across a wide bay, they are concentrated in a tiny region, within two miles of the shore.   Also many Thimbles appear to be dominated by houses with greater square footage than the island possesses. 
      And forget landing on the islands- most are privately owned, festooned with no trespassing signs.
     Outer Island, a National Wildlife Refuge, is open weekends from June to September for a limited number of visitors. It was not open on the day we were there. 

     But access matters less with islands packed as tightly as these.  You can circle about and back and forth along the shore a few times in a couple hours. 
     There was so much to see.  Grand houses were getting ready for summer.  Backhoes and gardeners seemed to be everywhere. 
    It appears palm trees are the new must-have plant.
    Hundreds of terns danced over the sea; it must have been mating season.

    As a young girl, I once was invited to a gathering on Money Island.  Living near a lake, I eagerly awaited winter so I could explore the lake’s two islands.  But this was my first visit to an island by boat.  Money Island is covered with a cluster of small cottages.
Money Island
    It was a magical place, a neighborhood with no cars, a rocky shore to scramble over and explore.  And the tales I heard:  “Garry Trudeau owns a whole island.” “Captain Kidd buried treasure here.”  “Tom Thumb lived here.”

      A few years have passed since that first visit.  And parking by the ramp certainly hasn’t increased.  So the Thimbles are a good place to explore off season.  And our visit wasn’t ideal, there were rain showers, and on shore there were clouds of no-see-ums hungry for guests. 
Count the bugs...
      But still it was worth it, the Thimbles launched my love of islands, which call me out to explore every day. 

Summary:  Launch from Stony Creek (a division of Branford CT) town dock.  No kayaks are allowed on the town beach.  A portapottie is available.   About 1.75 miles in a straight line to Outer Island.
Bear Island used to have a quarry on it; granite from there was used in Grant’s Tomb, the Lincoln Memorial and the base of the Statue of Liberty.   Granite from an active quarry in Stony Creek was used on the Brooklyn Bridge and Grand Central Station.
The Thimble Islands are a part of Connecticut’s Water Trails.
More Information:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Road Trip!

Two boats, four paddles, lots of gear, three sets of water clothes, two sets of clothes for land.  No dressy outfits, but a couple ways to keep in touch with work. Water shoes in a mesh bag stored in a kayak cockpit, and clipped to a bungie.  If there's a theme to the journey at all, it's places we've been that greater priorities kept us on shore.  Four days, three nights, six short trips planned, a few alternatives in case of bad weather and we're off!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Saturday on the Charles

     Saturday, Mark, two others, and a whole car full of computer gear and related supplies were headed for Cambridge, MA to volunteer at a gathering.  I was recruited to drive because I have a relatively high tolerance for Boston area traffic and Mark knew, from prior experience, that at the end of the long, busy day he and the others were going to be ready to nap.  All I needed was a way to entertain myself during the day.   And I found it at Charles River Canoe & Kayak.  After dropping the guys, the gear and the car at a secret parking lot, I hiked over to the Kendall Square location to rent a kayak.

    Before you can rent a canoe, recreation kayak, or sea kayak you need to complete a multiple choice test, designed to insure you have some minimum information about boat “rules of the road” and staying safe.  I rented a Wilderness System Zephyr (wanted the skeg for the firmer foot pedals.)   It came minimally equipped with a paddle, life jacket and whistle.  To that I added a rope, and small sponge.  The day was warm and wind down, so I didn’t bother with the skirt (available if you confirm you know how to wet exit.)  Charles River Kayak also rents gear for taking their sea kayaks out to the ocean and Harbor.  I’d thought about that, but after looking at all the restricted areas in Boston Harbor, decided that might be more stress than I needed. 

    Instead my goal was to paddle along the Cambridge side down to Charles River Canoe and Kayak’s Boston, Allston location, stop for a break, than paddle back along the Boston side.
    The Charles River is everything you think it will be.  It is at once bucolic and urban, and above all refined.  Beautiful apartments and academic buildings line the Cambridge side, the basin is filled with sailors of all abilities, crews row by regularly followed by their coaches in motor boats.  Along the shore-side are joggers, walkers, bikes, painters and dozens of proud families from around the world, strolling with offspring who are, or one day, will attend these famed universities. 
Putting rowing shells away
    The water is full of life too:  Canada geese, cormorants, several green herons and  turtles.  The animals don't just exist here, they seem to thrive.  Large painted turtles hung out on the docks at the Harvard boathouses.  Canada geese nested below the trees.  This goose nest by Storrow Drive seemed to be abandoned, so I stopped for a photo.  It shows how exposed the other nests are. 
    Near the BU Bridge was a residence for several domestic geese and ducks.   Just beyond these waterfowl, a six foot wide break in the foliage marked the Canoe Launch at Magazine Beach.

    There are several restrooms along the way, but I was leery of abandoning my kayak, and settled for the Portapotties at the Boston, Allston Charles River Canoe and Kayak location.  That location was a little larger than the Kendall Square one, with folks ready help with the kayak anytime I was near it. 
    Heading downstream I had the City of Boston as a backdrop, which was just incredible.  At the Esplanade, where the Boston Pops play on July 4th, there was some sort of outdoor themed event.  Every other rented kayak and I were paddling behind the islands, and every inch of land seemed occupied: by displays, slowly moving crowds and sun worshipers.    Also hidden in the Boat Haven, a gondola, and a dragon boat, for those seeking alternative conveyances. 
    Finally I paddled the last section, over by the lock to Boston Harbor.
A duck boat heading up through the lock.
 behind the Museum of Science with its hidden boat house, and into a channel leading to the Cambridgeside Galleria, fronted by several tie down points.  Imagine a mall you can boat to; some places truly have it all. 
    About the only downside was the amount of stuff floating in the water, especially near the shore.  I took out just two grocery bags worth of trash, leaving enough for pretty much everyone else in the city to do the same. 

    Then it was back to turn in my boat and marvel at the line of customers waiting to get out on the water.  For me it was time to rehydrate, study and maybe even nap a bit before heading home to Maine.  
The line for processing on a beautiful Saturday afternoon; plenty of boats await

Friday, May 11, 2012

Keep Calm and Kayak On

This is a neat little variant of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster, available at this Esty site.  I’ve found myself attracted to it because recently life seems extra stressful.

   This is a picture of:
          o   A tiny snapping turtle found floating in the Penobscot
        o   A medium sized slug
        o   A kayak deck
        o   A metaphor for a slow start to the kayaking season.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pushaw Stream to Mud Pond, or maybe Perch…

Paddling among the trees; it must be Spring!