For the past several years, I have tried to get some adventurous souls to join me on a New Year's Day paddle, but weather often dictates the feasibility of this tradition. This year was no exception, with high winds forecast for January 1st. Although it is supposed to be unseasonably warm (near 50!), when wind gusts get up near 45 miles per hour, and the ocean temperature is in the low 40s, the risk margin gets mighty slim, not to mention the fun factor. So this year, we looked at the day before, and drastically lower wind speeds made it an easy decision. Was it the right decision, well so far....
.... I would say so. But the wind is only part of the story - what about the waves created by this wind.....
Granted, this buoy is 11 miles out into open water, but even if the waves closer to the coast are half that (as was forecast) well, let's just say that January 1st is a good day to have lunch with a group of paddling friends!
The plan for the day was to have the light 5-10 knot SW wind in our face as we paddled out of Manchester-By-The-Sea (not to be confused with just Manchester) and around some of the islands in Salem Sound. Four of us (myself, Prudence, Mike, and David) started off at a put-in at a location that most (or all) of us haven't used before. Masconomo Park is a small public ball field and playground, with a parking lot that allows for non-resident parking in the 18 center parking spaces. Even though this wouldn't be an issue this time of year, I will warn others that a police patrol came through both while we were preparing to launch and also while we were packing up at the end of the day. Nice to know it is a secure area, but I would caution about following the parking rules.
Once on the water, it was encouraging to see that the wind was actually quite manageable, and the temperature was warm enough that the wind that was there was bearable. It was quickly decided that Children's Island was not in the itinerary for the day, but going out to Baker was definitely doable. As we paddled out through Ram Island(s) and out around House Island, it was apparent that the sea was relatively calm, but there was actually some energy there too. I counted one swell to be around 12 seconds, and there were a few that created some drama among the rocks alone the island shorelines. Even through David had his helmet on, and was closest to the shore for most of the day, it was an unspoken given that this time of year tends to make one a little more cautious and enjoy the sounds and visions of the wild water from a respectful distance.
As we left House Island and paddled across to Bakers, we got the sense that the day was really not about making open-water crossings, but about enjoying the scenery, listening to the waves on the rocks, and just spending time with friends. Prudence noticed a halo around the sun and pointed it out to the group. It seemed to me to be an early indicator that weather might be coming in (a system was forecast for that night). We made sure to hit Baker at the nearest point we could, and hugged the shore as we paddled out and around the exposed side. It was a little more active out here, but just a little, and the chatting subsided a little as the small 1-2' swell rose up just in time to break on the rocks and fill in all the nooks and crannies with frothy water. On a summer day, we might have spent an hour playing out there, but today it was more about just being out on the journey.
Rounding Bakers Island and seeing Children's off in the distance beyond the Gooseberrys, the earlier decision not to head out there was a really good one. Chills were starting to creep into various bits, and lunch was beckoning, so on to Misery Islands. Turning north with the SW swell coming in had us in quartering seas on the way, but not anything that couldn't be easily dealt with. I think that the pounding winds from the west on New Year's Day would have including a lot of yelling about skegs and trying to keep the group together as some boats turn more in a cross wind than others. Yup, good choice to go a day early.
At the Miserys, it was a decision to either land on Misery in the sun but exposed to the wind, or Little Misery which was more shaded but better wind protection. Since the sun was being highly filtered anyway, opted for more wind protection (and more sea glass to look at). Lunchtime consisted of discussions about Christmas paddling swag and plans for the upcoming year, before it was time to get back on the water.
We seemed to be enjoying the day enough, and hadn't gotten enough coastal paddling in, that we decided to round House again and hit the coastline northward for a bit. The wind to our backs and the following sea was only slightly quartering, but generally an easy go of it. Once at the coast, we talked about the size and styles of houses along the shore (I would be perfectly fine to take the little tool shed, thanks!) as we mildly bounced along this exposed bit of coast line.
We didn't go too far, just to Lobster Cove, where we naturally came to a halt and just sat for a moment, before deciding that was enough for the day and made the turn back once again into the wind. It was just slightly stronger now, but only minimally, and a good reminder of how easy the last stretch back into the harbor would be. Making our way back in through Ram Island(s) and into the harbor, we pretty much drifted with the wind and incoming tide. We took note of the more classical architecture of the still massive houses, with one exception that got a lot of comments.
We were not quite sure what the take-out would be like so close to low tide, but we had no problem getting near the parking lot with a minimal carry over packed sand/gravel with small rocks to walk around. With the easy carry, we were quickly packed up and ready to hit the road. I had a wonderful day, and a great way to end the year! Thanks to Prudence, Mike, and David for joining me on what turned out to be just a really nice day out on the water.