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Rocks Village to Newburyport, a round trip, literally and figuratively.

Kevin B (RPS Coach)

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It’s amazing what nostalgia will do to you. I’m convinced that it only fools you into attaching value to something you have long since disposed of, or at least should have due your lack of interest in it. Such was my initial thoughts as I paddled on the Big Mack (the Merrimack) today. Unexpected personal business this morning kept me from launching on time, so I departed at 1pm instead of 11am. This meant that I would not have the full force of the current as I departed Rocks Village in Haverhill, but I still managed to get an assist. The day started out cloudy and overcast, with torrential rains as I left Salem, but I persevered nonetheless. As I headed down river, I was somewhat dismayed to see the state of the river. Well, to be honest, the smell of the river. It remains quite apparent that she still harbors some of the pollution from the May floods that devastated it from Haverhill down to the mouth. Suffice to say, I did not roll all day. That aside, I did see quite a bit of bird life, from turkey vultures to great blue herons. My journey downstream was uneventful as I took in the area in which I use to guide. Quite a bit of the shoreline had changed due to the floods and there was a remarkable dearth of boats, both underway and moored. Soon my paddle began to wear on me with regard to interesting sights. I passed Indian River, a freshwater tidal estuary, the chain bridge (one of the oldest in the country), Carr Island (site of the water taxi service that existed before the chain bridge), Maudslay State Park, Lowell's Boat Shop and then finally Newburyport herself. She hasn’t changed much since I moved away in April, except to become even more gentrified, if that was even possible. All told, nine miles in ninety minutes wasn’t too bad for an average speed of about 4.5 knots with a 1.5 knot current assist.

I arrived in downtown Newburyport just as the tide was changing, so I decided to wait a bit for the current to build. To leave an earlier would have invited unnecessary competition with the river as there is an hour delay in the current change nine miles up river. I spent my time purloining an iced coffee and brownie, perhaps not the most nutritious but guaranteed to give you a great rush. I took some time to gaze at the beautiful lines of the Spirit of Massachusetts, who was moored in the harbor for some reason. The view of her masts against the backdrop of the river mouth and the open ocean gave the slightest glimpse of the Newburyport of old. Eventually, the buoys and moored boats indicated that the current had indeed revved up to acceptable speeds, so I decided to depart. Unfortunately, the speed was not so helpful and I soon outpaced the changing current to the point where I had no assist at all. The paddle back was different though since the sun had come out and changed what I had just paddled by. Once again past the bridges, the creeks, the estuaries and the few boats that had ventured out with the sun. It turned out to be a very tranquil and meditative ride back overall. The water had turned to glass and the cars had gone silent. As I approached the West Newbury line, I became surrounded by seven great blue herons and also stumbled upon a turkey vulture nest. Once the birds had taken flight, I was left to myself, with only the sound of my bow cutting through the water and the distant cry of sheep. All and all, a beautiful ride.

I’ve come to love the excitement of the sea, from the surf to the rocks; however, it behooves all of us to remember why we became kayakers in the first place. For me, my first kayak ride was on the Big Mack and I was terrified. Now, less than two years later, I find myself in command of my own boat, solo paddling those very waters where I first felt that fear and exhilaration; the first time I said to myself that I wanted to be a kayaker. I took the time to revisit the place that started it all for me, and the initial disappointment of the day melted away as I disembarked from my boat eighteen miles later.

Never forget where you started, and never stop paddling…


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  • 4 weeks later...

As someone who grew up on the Merrimac in Amesbury, I can tell you that the smell was probably not due to pollution from the rains. The bluefish have started feeding which means they chase the smaller fish upstream in terror. The warm weather we had a couple of weeks ago, would have reduced the oxygen in the water. Combine this with the fresh water from upstream and a lot of those fish would have died. Happens every year that the blues start feed in hot weather.

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