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Urban Adventure

Richard N

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Saturday, July 12, 2003


Lower Mystic Lake > Mystic River > Old Craddock Locks (Medford) > Amelia Earhart locks > Under Mystic River Bridge > Boston Harbor > Charles River > Under Leonard P. Zakim Bridge > New Charles River Locks > Old Charles River Locks > Charles River to Watertown

Our intrepid group of 4 paddlers met in Watertown to begin a 17 mile journey from Arlington (Lower Mystic Lake) to Watertown Square.

The day began with a safety briefing and an overview of our itinerary that would take us through 11 cities and towns. Because this would be an urban adventure, we used Street Atlas to chart our trip. Instead of nautical charts, each paddler had a conventional map that plotted our intended route using man made landmarks such as bridges, locks (dams) and historic sites (Constitution).

At 8:30 am Larry, Leslie, Pablo and I loaded our boats and gear onto a trailer, jumped in the van and were portaged to a seldom used launch site on lower Mystic Lake. At 9:30 we did a safety check and began our journey under cloudy skies.

An interesting element of the trip was that each member of our very compatible group would recount past memories relating to our particular location on the river.

Within minutes the surprises began. Just beyond the first bridge on the Mystic River we were greeted with thousands of beautiful water lilies that stretched for miles along the river. It was like a dream.

We progressed through the old Craddock dam and locks in Medford Square and continued counting bridges. By the time we reached the I-93 bridge (#11) the skies had cleared and we popped open the sun screen. It was to be a beautiful sunny day.

Up to this point ,we had observed only 2 boats on the river. The yacht club slips were all occupied and the marinas were full of boats. It didn't seem right to see millions of dollars worth of boats just sitting idle on a beautiful Saturday morning. Maybe they knew something we didn't.

The portion from I-93 to the Amelia Earhart locks is very picturesque with lush vegetation inhabited by an impressive amount of wildlife. Just as Leslie was pointing out the sounds of Red-Winged blackbirds, we noticed a Black-crowned Night Heron along the shore. She then identified the enormous bird proudly perched on a piling as a Great Blue Heron. What a beautiful sight!

We approached the Mystic River dam (Bridge #17) and noticed only one boat waiting for the locks to open. Within minutes we we're riding up the elevator and chatting with a very nice couple in their 34 foot "Mardi Gras" that was heading to the Charles River. The gates opened, we said goodbye to our lock neighbors and scooted out into the salt water portion of the Mystic River.

For me, it seemed spooky not to see more boats on the river.

It was now almost 11:30. Time for a stretch break. Up to this point, the scenery and the river had been calm and peaceful. We were now entering a busy commercial harbor with tug boats, barges, cranes and freighters.

While heading to our first rest point I heard an announcement on VHF-16: " Securite, Securite, Securite…..this is Coast Guard Group Boston…..all mariners are advised that the Boston Inner Harbor shipping channel is currently closed to all traffic to allow passage of the Constitution." Then I heard cannons firing!

WOW, talk about luck It's the annual turn around day for the Constitution!

I passed the news on to our group and asked if we should take a break or continue on to watch the big event in the harbor.

The decision to continue was quick and unanimous…….."let's get going" !

Just after we passed under the Mystic River Bridge (#20), the scene abruptly changed. Boats everywhere: police boats, Coast Guard, Environmental Police, Boston Police, MDC Police, XYZ Police (you name it). Talk about activity! Anyone with a badge and a boat was on the water with lights flashing. We had arrived just in time to witness the Constitution, proudly dressed out with flags flying, gracefully slipping into her berth. It was a breathtaking sight!

When the goose bumps subsided, we headed toward the Charles.

Checking our position (by the bridges) on our maps, we noted that we were halfway to our destination in Watertown.

At the old MDC locks (bridge #29) it was like WW-II. Landing craft (Ducks) everywhere. As each Duck Boat passed us, the tourists would wave and, all together, chant "Aflack". It was a real hoot!

After the locks we snooped into the Cambridge Galleria lagoon hoping to find a comfortable urban lunch spot. No luck…..but we did add two more bridges.

We then paddled cross the river, under the Charles Street Bridge and into the Esplanade where we found a lovely lunch spot directly in front of the Hatch Shell. The place was buzzing with activity.

During our lunch the Venetians pulled up in front of us with their gondolas. Yup…you got it. Romantic gondola rides are now available with music, champagne and a picnic basket for only $225.00.

Just as we were finishing lunch, a woman walking a small dog stopped and asked us…."didn't I see you folks earlier in the Mystic River Locks". She was surprised to see us and we were pleased that she said hello. Our new found friend mentioned that they were waiting for the evening concert featuring the Spinners. We would have spent the afternoon observing the fast moving events…….but we had to complete our mission.

Rested and refueled, we were off and paddling again.

As expected, the lower Charles presented us with a steady 10+ knot wind to our faces. Nice view, but a bit of extra work.

Just passed the BU Bridge (#41), at Magazine Beach, we were greeted with a booming loudspeaker: "hay...you kayaks…we're having boat races on the river…for your own safety, stay to the right of the markers. Just then an 8 man team rowed by me like a freight train. It was very distressing to me that these guys are not facing forward. Gosh…. when they are approaching me from behind, I can't see them and they can't see me. Not good!

Although the races were interesting, we made a quick decision to "promptly get the hell out of here".

The portion of the river up to the Elliott bridge (#45) is typical urban Charles. Just beyond the Elliott, the scenery made another abrupt change to lush vegetation. The river was again quiet and peaceful. It was hard to imagine that we were still in a densely populated area.

At our take-out location in Watertown, we were all smiles.

This was certainly a day to remember.

It was 5:00 pm. We had paddled on one lake, two rivers, numerous lagoons and through two abandoned locks, two working locks and historic Boston Harbor. Our day included spectacular views of the Boston skyline, old Charlestown Navy Yard, Constitution, Fleet Center, Bunker Hill, Beacon Hill, Zakim Bridge, Hatch Shell, Science Museum and so much more.

Oh, ya…….We paddled under 47 bridges.

Leslie has made the great suggestion that we do the trip again during the peak fall foliage. Sounds good to me!

Richard Najarian

Living to learn.

Romany White, Blue trim

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