Pleasures of early spring paddling

Friday May 4, 2012

The weather forecast for the last day of April was perfect sunny(er) skies, warm(er) temperatures and, most critical, light(er) winds than we'd been enjoying(?) for some time.

At the very top of my work "to-do" lists was shooting some photographs for a "How To Pick A Kayak Paddle" story for Sometimes, I love my job!

That's how my sweetheart, Marilyn, and I found ourselves with Theresa Willette of Coastal Maine Kayak (www.coastalmainekayak .com), in kayaks on the Mousam River, not far from her shop in Kennebunk. It was my second time in a kayak this year, Marilyn's first.

Last April, when there was still snow in the woods, I'd paddled with Theresa on the Kennebunk River right behind her shop. That was my first paddle adventure of 2011. Then in October, we went out again on the Kennebunk with Theresa as she gave Marilyn a wonderful private lesson in paddling techniques. (Theresa's an accomplished kayak instructor who seems especially good at working with other women, though she's taught me a lot, too). That would probably have been our last paddle adventure of 2011 except that Marilyn insisted we go paddling the next day, so she could practice what she'd learned (which tells you just how good the lesson was ...)

Though the winds were supposed to be gentle that day, a stiff sea breeze had developed by the time we met for our afternoon paddle. That's why we chose the Mousam River, launching at the Route 9 bridge just upstream from Parsons Beach. The Mousam here flows through high, sharply cut banks so you can almost always find shelter from the wind.

The tide was low and just turning when we launched, so we had to dodge shallows as we paddled upstream with the wind at our backs. I wanted a very familiar boat to shoot photos from, and used my own trusty Prijon Seayak.

Coastal Maine Kayak sells and rents Valley kayaks, so Marilyn and Theresa were both in lovely 16-foot Valley Avocets, especially designed for smaller paddlers. Beautiful boats. Both were equipped with easy-to-use drop-down skegs (a small keel which can be deployed or retracted by sliding a lever), which helped keep their boats tracking straight in the gusty winds. I was a bit jealous -- my boat has a more cumbersome foot-controlled rudder.

It didn't take long to shoot the photos I needed (though many were spoiled by salt spray on the lens -- one of the perils of shooting paddling photos on a windy day). "Work" done, we continued paddling for pure pleasure.

The sun was warm, the air was cool, the wind was downright chilly.

Paddling upstream on the rising tide with the wind at our backs was easy -- too easy, as a matter of fact. At one point, I caught a tiny tidal wave in the middle of the river with the wind at my back and surfed the boat effortlessly a couple of hundred feet without a paddle stroke. By the time we realized how easy it had been, we had a long paddle against both wind and building current to get back to the car. No problem, exercise is good for you, right? That's why kayakers have such nice shoulders, abs and obliques.

In all, we spent about three hours on the water -- it's easy to lose track of time in a kayak. Perfect for an early season warm-up paddle. I'm glad we seized that beautiful day -- the weather has turned against us since.

Are you going paddling anytime soon? If you don't have other plans, I'd recommend that you consider the paddling around Kennebunk. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Better birding by boat

Quiet, low-profile kayaks are the best wildlife-watching conveyance ever invented, and bird watching is a regular part of any kayak adventure. That's especially trues in coastal marshes, where bird life is abundant, diverse, and enthralling.

On this particular spring afternoon, we had a variety of gulls floating overhead, soaring symbols of the sea. Perched cormorants solemnly ignored us when they could, lumbered into the air if we got too close for comfort. Small flocks of mallards and black ducks exploded from the water at each turn in the river. Nesting pairs of Canada geese eyed us suspiciously and honked at us from the banks. Willets probed the mud with long beaks, whistled at us as they flew past. Kingfishers chattered, sounding for all the world like an old-fashioned typewriter in a speed-typing contest. A great blue heron stalked the shallows as we paddled by.

What a joy to be surrounded by so much life!

More on cold water safety

A few weeks ago, I wrote about cold-water paddling safety. The water's still very cold everywhere in New England and safety precautions are still very necessary.

Shortly after writing that column, a reader, Van, wrote to tell me about some useful information on the website University of Sea Kayaking ( They've seemingly done their best to hide it, but if you go to their home page, click on "library" in the left-hand nav bar, then "environment," then "exposure," you'll find a good hypothermia chart and some very useful tips for dressing for cold-water exposure. My thanks to Van for digging this out.

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail ( has just published two excellent brochures, one on PFD use and the other on cold-water paddling. You can download them at

Tim Jones is the Executive Editor of the online magazine and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email:


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