Delaware & Hudson Canoe & Kayak Club
Circumnavigation of Cape Ann, Massachusetts

June 16, 2001
High Tide at Annisquam: 7:37 am
6:30 am: Gloucester High School
"There's supposed to be a boat ramp around here someplace," I said as I piloted my Volkswagen through the High School parking lot, followed by two more cars and a mini-van with kayaks strapped to the roof. None of us had paddled on Cape Ann before.
David Leshan rode shotgun, trying to get loose for the 20-mile circumnavigation. "How about around the other side, where those big cranes are?" he offered as our little caravan extracted itself from yet another dead end in the sea of asphalt.
"Cranes?" I thought to myself. This is why I hate being the trip leader.
We circled around the north end of the High School and found a roped-off construction site where the boat ramps used to be. "Um," I explained to the growingly skeptical crew, "the website didn't say anything about construction." Nevertheless, David and Arnie Braeske found an adequate seaweed-and-gravel launching area onto the Annisquam Canal, separated from the parking lot by only 20 yards of bug-infested weeds. We parked the cars, undid the rope, and started to unload.
The weather was promising as we readied our gear. The sky was clear and the morning sun hot, with a slight chance of late afternoon showers. I had planned this trip using information on tides and currents from Reed's Nautical Almanac and information on put-in spots from the North Shore Paddlers' Network website: http://www.nspn.org. High Tide was about 45 minutes away, and according to Reed's the ebb tide flowed out from both ends of the Canal, with a weak 1-knot current ebbing north into Ipswich Bay and a 3-knot current ebbing south into Gloucester Harbor. Our launching spot at the High School was about mile up from the Harbor, so I figured if we got on the Canal at 7:00 am we could paddle north on slack water for the first hour, then catch the ebb tide flowing north into the Bay. On paper and on NOAA Chart #13279 it was a perfect plan, but I really didn't know.
None of that seemed to bother anyone as they busily unloaded, seemingly satisfied with my hopeful reading of the charts. Five of us had driven up from New Jersey yesterday: David, me, and the Newark Star-Ledger crew -- Sharon "Danger Girl" Russell, Linda Grinbergs, and Arnie Braeske. We overnighted at the Delaware & Hudson Canoe & Kayak Club's official New England Clubhouse in Sudbury, MA, and were joined by the Clubhouse Keeper himself, Curt Audin, and his son Leigh. We were a crew of seven, ranging from 15 to 64 years old.
7:30 am: Annisquam Canal
After mistakenly leading the crew into the marina instead of under the railroad bridge, I got myself oriented on the chart and turned properly northward in the Canal, starting our clockwise circumnavigation. The water was slack and flat, with no wind.
After spending the spring on the waters of New York and New Jersey, the Canal was an incredible treat. Working fishing boats, lobster buoys, and lighthouses reminded us that we were in New England. The pink granite of Cape Ann felt like Maine. The channel in the Canal was well marked, with lots of room on either side to avoid the slow-moving boat traffic. Everyone on the water was feeling good with the promise of calm seas and blue skies on this almost-summer Saturday morning. Fishermen waved. A local kayaker paddled slowly near the entrance to the Jones River, towing his young son who was fishing intently from his own little boat. I asked about the paddling conditions ahead and he claimed to have circumnavigated the Cape himself many times, advising us to stop at Halibut Point at the very northern tip of the Cape to enjoy the nature trails and at the town of Rockport to use the public bathrooms.
9:00 am: Annisquam Light
The ebb tide pushed us comfortably into Ipswich Bay as the sun grew hot. Arnie lined us up for a group photo in front of Annisquam Light before pushing on up the coast.

10:00 am: Halibut Point
Rounding the Cape into the open ocean we were happy to find only a light wind and calm seas. None of us knew for sure, but we had a strong feeling that we had lucked into one of the finest paddling days of the year on Cape Ann.
The State Park looked inviting but there was no way to land on the rocky northern tip of the Cape. Waves crashed against the granite and a couple of whitewater kayakers played in the surf, but we stayed offshore. A solo seakayaker in a fiberglass boat zoomed past, a big red "71" taped to his bow.
"Is there a race?" I shouted through the wind.
"Only against myself," he replied breathlessly without missing a stroke. He disappeared toward Gap Head, probably training for the Blackburn Challenge next month.
Unable to land at Halibut Point, we decided to paddle into Rockport to stretch our legs and find a bathroom. We pointed our boats into the breeze and headed for the white church spires of Rockport.

11:00 am: Rockport
We pulled into the beach to the delighted screams of children wading ankle-deep in the freezing water, "Look, Mom, canoes!" Rockport is a kayak-friendly port, with two sandy beaches and public bathrooms. (Kayaks are allowed to land on the beach to the west, while the eastern beach is for swimmers only, according to a friendly local cop.)

11:30 am: Rockport
Over lunch Linda and Sharon traded boats to share the burden of paddling the Wilderness Systems Pim-Yak, a discontinued experimental model made from green plastic and lead and molded into the shape of a giant Cuban cigar.
While we lunched a group of kayakers from the North Shore Paddlers Network assembled, carrying their boats from their cars and preparing for a short paddle to Milk Island. While planning our circumnavigation I had emailed several times with the NSPN leaders, seeking advice on local conditions and inviting them to join us. Although NSPN announced our trip to their members, and a few had even emailed me expressing interest, none showed up.
As we paddled from Rockport toward Gap Head a lobsterman hauled a trap from the bay and pulled a codfish out by the tail, holding it up for a picture.

After passing inside Straitsmouth Island and turning south into the wind, we paddled with the NSPN group near Loblolly Cove, exchanging paddling stories and discussing our trip plans. "Where you headed?" asked an NSPN'er paddling a yellow fiberglass P&H Sirius.
"We going all the way around," I replied proudly as we paddled into the wind and waves, headed south along the coast. "We came up from New Jersey last night." To starboard the surf crashed against the blocky pink granite in a frenzy of white foam, while off to port the twin lighthouses of Thacher Island stood tall under a blue sky before the endless Atlantic Ocean.
"You came all the way up from New Jersey just to paddle?" the NSPN'er asked incredulously.
Just to paddle? "Well, yeah," I responded as two cormorants flew low across our bows.
"Wow," he said, "that's a lot of driving."

1:00 pm: Lands End
Curt fell behind when he stopped to rescue two seagulls caught in a length of abandoned fishing line, cutting them free with his knife. After the rescue he paddled hard to catch up, recounting for us his diagnosis of their avian distress: "They weren't behaving like seagulls normally do," he explained.
The NSPN'ers headed for Milk Island and we decided to paddle straight for Brace Rock, taking the direct route across the edge of the Atlantic instead of hugging the shoreline along Long Beach and Good Harbor Beach. The wind and waves were picking up, and this long landless stretch would deprive us of bathroom stops and test our endurance for the rest of the afternoon.
2:30 pm: Brace Rock
"Two-thousand four-hundred sixty-two . . ." Arnie was counting strokes, trying to gain a higher state of paddling consciousness and overcome the rude fact that he, like most of the crew, had now been paddling for 7 hours straight after not having paddled all fall, winter and spring.

Sharon, Leigh and I fell behind, trying unsuccessfully to surf the waves north of Brace Cove. The waves were breaking offshore over the shallow hard-rock bottom and it would have been treacherous to breach and roll there, so we only gave it a half-hearted effort before turning south to finish the journey.

3:00 pm: Gloucester Harbor
The wind blew from the south and the waves pounded the jetty as we paddled past Eastern Point and into the Harbor. A schoonerfull of tourists sailed by, heading out into the ocean.

We paddled toward the entrance to the Canal at the top left corner of the Harbor, in perfect time to catch the north-flowing flood tide back to the High School.

3:30 Gloucester High School
The Canal was fast-moving and narrow, with three small standing waves giving us a bounce under the drawbridge.

After a few minutes on the Canal we found ourselves back at the High School, pulling into the mudflats above the construction site, at the end of a perfect 20-mile day.

Photos by Bruce Taterka and Arnie Braeske

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