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The Joys of Winter Paddling


Dee Hall

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Sunday was a picture perfect day for winter paddling, except for a stiff southwesterly breeze as we left Manchester harbor. It slowed our pace, and chilled our fingertips. Otherwise, the sun was bright and the elements that drive us to mess with all of that extra clothing and endure the cold were there: the sound of the ocean uncorrupted by the continuous drone and whine of motorboats, shorelines somehow transformed from overpopulated suburban beaches to snow-crusted, seafaring New England towns, and flocks and flocks of birds that aren't gulls.

I admit to avoiding paddling on days much colder than Sunday, high temperature 39 F (briefly) and winds of about 12 kt. Although I've got some good solutions for keeping my extremeties warm during paddling, things can get pretty miserable when we get off the water. So given the wide fluctuations in temperatures in New England in the winter, there a plenty of warmer days to go kayaking. Other days are good for hiking, x-country skiing, etc.

I'm not quite sure how it hasn't happened before, but I think that this is the first time I've paddled with significant snow between me and the launch point. The novelty here is that portaging our boats from our cars to the beach mostly involved dragging them through the snow. Even a fully loaded boat was a breeze for one person. It made one wish that there were big snow banks at the edge of the water for a long, giant seal launch! (Who hasn't wondered what it would be like to sled with their kayak.)

The last few times I have paddled this fall/winter, I have been amazed by the number of birds. Recent trips have involved encounters with eiders, snowy egrets, great blue herons, osprey, and bald eagles. This last trip also involved loons, brant geese, some birds that looked like puffins but made calls, and a merlin falcon.

Naturally, the water is cold, or so I assumed. I haven't stuck any uncovered body parts into the ocean since October. It is incredibly clear. Sand, rock, and shells take on more definition and color now than they did during the summer, and the seaweed is a deep burgundy color like leaves of a red maple.

Otherwise it's largely the same ocean as it was in the summer. The wind ruffles it, just more often. The ocean swell sloshes it, also more often. In reality it always amazes me that I can launch from the same place a hundred times and between the differing sun, tides, wind, and swell the ocean will look, feel, sound, and smell different. Because we have more wind and swell in the winter, there are more interesting variations each time we go out.

Many of the harbors look very different in the winter. Once all of the boats and docks are removed, many harbors become unrecognizeable. One can see the whole harbor at once and paddling happens unimpeded and almost without hazard. A sea kayak feels more at home.

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Lovely, lyrical trip report. Definitely helps one appreciate the unique flavor of winter paddling.

I have heard that there are those who have sledded a fair distance through snow right down into the water in the right conditions.

Seabirds are definitely a great part of off-season padding. My last time out a few weeks ago (Portsmouth/Gerrish island) I saw many surf scoters and a flock of maybe nine pintail ( ducks, not boats).

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