“The Race”, Rhode Island & New London

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A couple weeks ago on a Tuesday I took the Long Island Railroad from Brooklyn to Greenport, NY.  I brought my Feathercraft Heron folding kayak along with camping gear and supplies and paddled up to Orient Point and spent the night near the ferry terminal there.

The next morning there was a heavy dew and not much sun so it took a while for everything to dry out.  I finally packed up and paddled east towards the southern most point of Plum Island.  The tide was coming in and I had to paddle against the current as I crossed the south side of Plum Island, which I later found out is called “Plum Gut”.   There are many large signs posted on the island warning everyone to stay out.  I think I could have stopped on the rocks below the bluffs at the eastern end of the island if I really needed to stretch my legs but I was still good and just took a short floating break near there instead.

I then headed towards the gull islands and encountered more current which forced me to paddle at almost a 45 degree angle to the right the line of sight so that the 2 islands would stay lined up, with the Little Gull light house appearing to rise out of Great Gull Island.  Even as a I paddled at an angle I was still being pushed to the left into the sound.  After a time I was pushed into an area of choppy water that seemed to slow my progress even more although I was still slowly gaining on the Great Gull.  Eventually I noticed that the water was much calmer even further to the left so I moved over and was able to pick up a little speed and finally came around the back side of Great Gull.  There are signs here too asking you not to land as it is a research station.  I did stop briefly at the platform out over the water there since I really needed a break after battling that current.  There is a gang way that connects the platform to the island but it looked like it had been blown down by a storm and there was no sign of researchers on the island that is covered with white bird blinds that they use for observing the birds up close without disturbing them.

Next I paddled the short distance to Little Gull through some pretty turbulent but very manageable water.  I had planned to eat lunch there and thought I might even stay there over night as a worst case scenario but I found it to be inhabited by many gulls, their nests, carcasses, and poop.  To top it off the fog horn at the light house there was emitting a  loud tone every 30 seconds or so.  After landing I grabbed my food bag and headed to the rocks on the south side of the island where there was some obstruction between  me and that horn so I could eat in relative peace.  There I saw a number of seals swimming in the swift currents, smaller grey ones that kept looking at me and one larger darker one with a long snout that I took to be the bull or maybe it was another species all together.

According to the chart high tide at Little Gull was supposed to be at about 2:30 pm so I decided to wait until around that time before continuing east to Fishers Island.  The currents around the island seemed to lighten up just a little bit though it didn’t seem like it was going to get very slack.  Just before 2:30 I decided to try to paddle to the green buoy just to the east of the island to get a feel for the current.  I figured the worst case I could go right back to island and wait for more favorable conditions.  I pushed off and tried to get close to the buoy to observe how the current was running around it but I found it hard to get very close since I was being swept past it towards Fisher’s Island so I decided to just go with it.  The current was pushing me along and also pushing me into the sound so I again paddled at an angle to my line of sight destination that was now the lighthouse at Race Rock just off of Fishers Island.  The seas were pretty choppy at times and less so at others and the waves seemed to change direction until they were coming from directly behind me and got very intense at a couple points about half way to the Rock.  I was later told that standing waves in this area can get as high as 6 feet, I think they were more like 4 when I went through and thankfully there weren’t that many large waves until I reached a much calmer area as I was able to discern more and more details of the lighthouse on the Rock.  The current also changed so that now it was sweeping me out to sea instead of into the sound and the lighthouse that had appeared to be moving to the right across the visible sections of Fishers Island was now moving to the left.  There were many fishing boats around this area, a little further out to sea, and I later learned that this area is called The Race where the really big fish are to be found.  I think if I had paddled a little further out closer to those boats I wouldn’t have had to contend with such strong standing waves as I did trying to keep on a straighter line to the Rock.

The current wasn’t as strong any more and I was soon scaling the long ladder to the foundation of the lighthouse at Race Rock where I could have kissed the concrete.  I then made the short crossing to Race Point at the western end of Fishers Island where I decided to spend the night as it is a very lovely spot and also popular with the locals as I soon discovered.  I met one guy there with his family who was also a kayaker and suggested paddling across the Race to Gardiner’s Point.  It looks interesting but I’d hate to get there and find it’s another sea gull hell like Little Gull.  That’s a pretty long crossing!

The next day I took it easy and stayed at another spot suggested to me near the other end of Fishers Island and the morning after I under took the crossing from there to Napatree Point in Rhode Island.  There was a lot of current there also but it was mostly in my favor again.  The biggest challenge was avoiding the many power boats that speed past Napatree.  The long beach there is really nice except for maybe the dead power boat that’s beached there.  The little tourist town of Watch Hill just past that is very nice and not obnoxious and I stopped there for more bottled water and a big deli sandwich.

For the rest of the day and the next I continued east along the coast of Rhode Island until I landed in heavy surf near East Matunuck State Beach trying to find some place to spend the night.  A local there was very helpful and suggested going into the pond nearby to find a spot so I paddled through the breachway and found a little beach near Jerusalem.  I paddled around the connected ponds looking for a better spot but eventually another local told me the the best place was the little beach I had already found, known as “Dog Beach”.  It turned out to be very nice and I found a little hide away in the trees away from the water where people walk and picnic.  There was a white hawk that perched in one of the trees there before sunset making it’s peeping noises apparently not very disturbed by my presence.

I had originally planned to continue on to Cape Cod but the coast seemed to be getting more and more populated as I was heading east so I decided to turn back towards Napatree Point and Connecticut where the surroundings are a little more natural.  I was really tired of looking at beach houses at that point.  It only took me a day to get back to Napatree and I enjoyed being able to explore it a little more than I had the day before.

The next day there were predictions of 100% chance of very foul weather and I was woken by the first drops of rain on my face at 5:45 AM.  I packed up and headed into the moorage at Watch Hill and had breakfast at the diner there.  As I ate the rain started falling hard but had subsided a bit by the time I left so I headed out towards the north west.  I paddled across the channel that lets out of the Pawcatuck River without realizing it, normally there is very heavy boat traffic there but this day I was the only boat on the water and passing the nature preserve after that I really felt like I was out in the wild.  The wind was getting a little stronger and the rain harder as I passed the end of Sandy Point island towards Stonington.  There I was exposed to heavier seas and there were 3 tiny sailboats out in Stonington harbor and a power boat zipping back and forth between them.  One of the boats tipped over and the sailor was clinging to the side of it in the water.  The power boat sped up to it but didn’t interfere as the sailor righted the craft and continued the course that the sailboats seemed to be following.  I also saw a big trawler coming into Stonington from the sound and that was the only other boat I saw on the water that day.

I used the sea wall at Stonington as a shield from the weather as I approached the small bay that I would have to cross on my way to Mystic which seemed like it would be a good place to get lunch.  The waves got worse as I headed towards a small rock island in the middle of the bay.  The cormorants moved to the opposite side of the island as I paused barely out of the wind there to check Google Maps to make sure I was heading to the right point behind which I would find the short cut into Mystic River.  I set off again and the waves became even worse at times.  The hiss of the heavy rain drops falling on wind blown waves was stark and mesmerizing.  The crossing was very short and I was soon out of the worst of the weather and making my way into the Mystic river where I found a slick new restaurant with convenient docking that wasn’t the quaint New England water front venue I had imagined but was very accommodating anyway.  The Guinness and Irish coffee were very nice also!

There I used the AirBnB app on my phone to find a room just outside of Mystic near the river.  The worst of the weather had passed, the predicted lightening never materialized but the wind had gotten even stronger and after trying to paddle back out into the harbor I decided it would be much better to just spend the night indoors.  My AirBnB host was incredibly accommodating and setup an air mattress for me in her living room since her spare room was already rented out.  In the evening she drove me and the other guest, a travelling glass blower, to Mystic Pizza for supper.

The next day was sunny again so I launched from the river dock where a local family had so graciously allowed me to leave my boat over night.  The wind was still kind of strong and I confronted very choppy but manageable seas while making my way to Bluff Point which is another area of natural beauty.  I stayed at the far end near the U. of Conn and a small airport whose planes flew low over head but at least not that frequently.  There I decided I wouldn’t head any further west along the Connecticut coast since it seemed to be getting very populated again.  I went into New London the day after which is a pretty industrial little port though it has a very nice water front strip of cafes and docks separated by train tracks.  I had a second breakfast, bought a few items at the organic market and scoped out the docks.  There is a large floating public dock that doesn’t seem to be used very much at all that’s a minute walk from train, bus and ferry stations. A very convenient transportation hub indeed!

I headed back towards Bluff Point and then to Mystic Harbor and Napatree and Sandy Point again.  I had a lobster roll at Abott’s along the way, a local institution, and on another day had lunch at the Cooked Goose along the Pawcatuck River.  On my way back west I stopped at the tiny hamlet of Noank at the tiny public dock and beach there.  It’s very quaint with just a few tiny shops including a very convenient bakery coffee shop next to a liquor store and also a huge old white church that seemed kind of out of place there.

I stayed on Bushy Point again, there are a couple spots on the little island there.  The day after that I headed into New London again on the last day of my adventure.  I tied up at a tiny floating dock there and had lunch at the Exchange whose deck directly overlooks the little dock so I could keep an eye on my boat while I ate the pizza that was pretty decent but not great.

After lunch I paddled the boat to the big public dock again where I unloaded and disassembled and packed the boat.  The dock is a bit high for kayaks but I managed to unload without too much trouble though it was a little challenging.  With most of the gear removed it was very easy to lift the bow onto the dock, even at that height, so that the stern teetered up out of the water and I could then rotate the whole boat onto the dock.

After I got everything packed and rolling I managed to get it all over to the Greyhound bus station only to find it closed!  It was supposed to be open from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm and I was supposed to retrieve my will call ticket there that I purchased online earlier.  The train station office next door was open and the nice lady there wasn’t surprised that yet another person was asking about the Greyhound office that was closed when it was supposed to be open.  She told me I should have just gotten a ticket from her on the commuter train to New Haven and change there to the Metro North to the City.  I called the Greyhound complaint line and they told me I could just show the driver my ticket reference number and photo id and it would be ok.  When the bus did show up half an hour late the driver started to give me a hard time about it and saying it wasn’t his problem that the office was closed.  Finally after scrutinizing the receipt email on my phone he reluctantly let my onboard.  That and other things like the way he was driving led me to the conclusion that he wasn’t having a very good evening.  At first I wanted to give him a little piece of my mind about customer service when we were safely arrived at the Port Authority where he couldn’t kick me off the bus any more but by the time we arrived almost 2 hours late at 2AM I was over it and just wanted to get a taxi home and go to bed as soon as possible.

Besides crossing the Race and riding the rain storm it wasn’t an incredibly challenging expedition though paddling most of the Rhode Island coast in one day was pretty strenuous.  I crossed from Noank to Napatree one day, and back another which didn’t take too long going with the current.  My next expedition will definitely be in some place that’s much more wild.  I heard there’s a water trail in Maine that’s quite nice.  Besides Cape Cod maybe the rest of the New England coast is just too developed and so many beach houses and suburban power boaters who don’t understand what you’re doing get to be tiresome after a while.  If I were to kayak Rhode Island again I’d go through more of the breach ways and explore more of the ponds, there’s usually more nature to be found in them, unlike the ocean front that is dominated by beach houses and large public beaches with just a couple notable exceptions.

Things that worked really well this time out were:

  • My home made Pemmican energy food / protein bar / meal replacer. The saturated fat packs time release energy and more of it than any sugary bar. I kept some on deck at all times to avoid paddling on an empty stomach. You never know for sure where and when you’ll be able to prepare or procure your next full meal. Recipe to come…
  • Larabars! A great sweet treat when the pemmican is getting monotonous. Very impressive list of ingredients, no sugar, no junk.
  • My home made, just add water, gluten-free pancake mix with buckwheat and TigerNut Flour. I’m not anti-gluten per se but these ingredients just have more nutrients than wheat.  They were great with clarified butter I made from grass-fed butter and raw honey! Recipe coming soon…
  • Home made dehydrated salt pork!  Very easy to make and perfect in scrambled eggs made with Ovaeasy Egg Crystals.  Even after being carried around for 2 weeks the pork still smells and tastes fresh!  The pre-cooked bacon they sell these days is a good choice also.  Boar’s Head makes a nice one.
  • My home-made, ‘soffritto’ based beef jerky cooked with organic orecchiette, sun dried tomatoes and garlic.  Jerky is easy to make at home but you have to use very lean meat so of course this dish gets a generous dose of olive oil and some of that butter too.
  • Buffalo Trace White Dog. At 125 proof a little goes a long way.  Concentrated liquor is easy to carry, just add water.  A comparison of the effects of white spirits to those aged in wooden barrels could be the subject of another post.  This is powerful medicine!
  • CC Pocket AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio.  The weather was hard to listen to but helpful, some of the NPR talk shows weren’t too bad, and I got to catch up on the world of party/power mix radio! (“Where are u now that I need ya?”, “Watch me ne ne.”, etc…)
  • Sea to Summit Mosquito Net. Actually kind of a pain to get it stretched out comfortably but still a lot easier and a tiny fraction of the weight of a tent. I brought a silnylon tarp along also in case of rain though I only used it twice as shelter on very windy beaches.
  • Trolling with floating lure and sinkers on a simple foam winding board.  Caught a porgie first time out then the lure got snagged and lost.  I’m replacing it with this one that’s a little bigger: Rapala Original Floater 11 Fishing lure. I got the board in Croatia, they sell these things at any tackle shop in the Mediterranean but I can’t find any like this with Google.
  • Kokatat Tropos Light Storm Cag did the job in a heavy storm: acts like a poncho on land and perfect protection on the boat as long you’re not trying to paddle into strong winds.  I wasn’t worried about being seen with the bright orange cag as I am sometimes in the dark grey Heron.
  • My electric bilge pump system described in another post.  It was very helpful after some of my surf launch and landing mishaps. A kid working the chandlery in Greenport said the pump itself seemed excessive but I find it’s perfect, that boat can hold a lot of water.
  • Big cheap duffle bag that held all the parts and many accessories for the Heron, except the skin that I just rolled and strapped around the duffle bag.  That sat perfectly on a standard kayak cart that has a bar that flips down for a stand like this one but without the strap in the middle, the bag needs to sit down in there.   Much cheaper and easier to handle than Feathercraft’s own wheeled bag system and I like the dual purpose for the cart, though I only used it for the assembled boat once.  Probably wouldn’t work out so well for air travel.

 

Drying out my gear at the dock in New London before packing.

Drying out my gear at the dock in New London before packing.

All packed and waiting for the bus.  I should have taken that train back there instead.

All packed and waiting for the bus. I should have taken that train back there instead.

Sardinia Kayak Tour, August 2012 – part 1

For this tour I did about half the coastline of the island.  It might be possible to do the whole island in a month but I was more interested in enjoying myself.  As I’ve noted in another post here I eat “dinner” in the afternoon, and “supper” in the evening.  “Pineta” is Italian for a grove of pine trees that grows near the water at many parts of the coast.  At many places where I stopped I went for a dip in the crystal clear Mediterranean waters.  The satellite maps at the end of each day show where I stopped for that night.

Day 1, July 31st

In the afternoon I vacated the 2 bedroom apartment I had been renting in Santa Maria Navarrese for almost 3 months.  The last of my Airbnb guests had left and  I had already sent most of my luggage to Barcelona where I would meet up with it in September.  During the day I had walked some supplies down to “la Pineta”, the beach bar where I had been keeping my boat, a brand new dark grey Feathercraft Heron, since May.

During my final preparations near the beach the diminutive, ancient Sardinian priest who always hangs out at the bar there came up and asked me a few questions in Italian, like if my huge straw hat was from Mexico, where I was from, etc…  and then wished me a good trip.  I took this as a sort of blessing and good omen and finally set off around 6PM.

My first stop was only 2 hours away at Portu Pedrosu, the hidden cove at the some times treacherous cape of Monte Santu that I was already very familiar with from previous excursions.  There were not so many moths harrassing me during my supper as there had been on the previous occassions so it must have been a temporary phenomenon linked to the insects’ reproductive cycle.  The small trees there are just big enough to hang a hammock so I was very comfortable.

 

Day 2, Aug. 1

The next morning the sea at Monte Santu was unusually calm.  I decided to skip Cala Goloritze and take a short cut to the shore further north.  As I approached the boat traffic became heavy and big wakes swept water into my cockpit a number of times.  My electric bilge pump removed most of the water very quickly every time.

This morning I realized that my nearly brand new Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 waterproof camera had stopped working so unfortunately there are no more photos until much later in the trip.

I stopped for dinner at a tiny beach with a small sea cave that I had used for the same purpose more than a month ago, at which time there was nobody there.  This time there was barely room to beach my boat with all the tourists there.  A group of young people asked me a few questions and I thought they were Italian at first but they turned out to be from Albania.

I cooked a packet of instant Rissotto and threw in a can of tuna for a satisfying, if not quite gourmet meal.  After eating I headed north again and enjoyed many amazing views of the cliffs and mountains that meet the ocean in that area knows as the Golfo di Orosei.  I found a cave with a small opening that opened up into a huge gallery with stalactites at the far end and a small Madonna icon hung in front of them to turn the place into a natural chapel.

Not far from there I found another narrow cave opening at the bottom a huge nearly vertical crack in the cliff face.  I went inside and followed it more than a hundred meters back into the rock face as it got even narrower and amplified the waves making things challenging until after a point where the waves began to dissipate.  At the end it was getting quite dark and a small boulder blocked the kayak from advancing any further.  I could have continued on wading and/or swimming another 20 meters or so, maybe more, I couldn’t be sure and decided to turn back rather than risk getting stuck so far underground.  I pulled the boat backwards with my hands on the rock face and as it got wider and wavier I was able to back paddle and got out relatively easily since I was trying hard to keep the boat straight in reverse and not get stuck at an angle.

I continued north to arrive at the popular beach Cala Luna around 6:30PM.  I staked out a spot behind a big rock, the only place on the beach where you get some protection from the 7AM sunrise as I knew from a previous stay there.  A young, friendly couple of Spanish rock climbers came by and asked me if it was OK to camp on the beach and I replied that many people seem to do it, though I wasn’t sure how legal it really was.  A number of people showed up later to sleep on the beach so we weren’t the only ones plus there were a few sailboats moored off the beach where people slept tossed by the swells that were crashing onto the beach that evening.  I was glad to be on solid ground myself though it would have been nicer if there had been trees to hang my hammock instead of sleeping on the air mattress that I had also brought.

 

Day 3, Aug. 2

In the morning the French hippie family that had camped near me seemed a little perturbed at the amount of time it took me to pack up and vacate the spot behind the shade rock and they finally ended up taking refuge in one of the many huge, dank caves that characterize one side of Cala Luna.

After I finally got on my way I found a number of other small sea caves on my way north along with too many power boats again.  I also went into the sea cave entrance of a large system of caverns that seems to be quite popular with tourists who are brought there in large boats that dock at the mouth of the cave.

I continued north as the cliffs and mountains receded and stopped at the small marina town of Cala Gonone.  It’s definitely a bit bigger and more touristy than Santa Maria where I stayed.  I had an opportunity to stay there back in May but instead opted for the smaller and more local town further south.  By August I had come to realize that in Sardinia bigger and more touristy is actually better, up to a certain point at least.

Fully loaded again I headed north towards Orosei.  After Cala Gonone there were almost no power boats at all which was refreshing, but there was absolutely no breeze either which was not refreshing at all and I started to sweat profusely in the relentless Sardinian sun.  I finally made it to the long pinetta at Marina di Orosei where the terrain was now completely flat and stopped there to cook a late dinner of spaghetti, tomato sauce and the chicken cutlet I had purchased at Cala Gonone.

After dinner I headed north again past more beaches and pinettas and decided to stop at the very last substantial pinetta that I could see on the satellite map, near the mouth of a small river.  When I got there I found to my dismay that the pine grove was completely fenced off and though the fence was down in one or 2 spots I decided not to go in and instead found a few more pine trees at the other end of the dirty beach there in a much moew open and presumably public area.

Becuase of the river mouth the beach was quite popular with beach fisherman and underwater spear fisherman alike.  I met one Sardinian man on vacation with his wife and his cheeky teenage son and daughter who tried to parrot his English which was not bad at all.

 

Day 4, Aug. 3

After packing up I headed out of the pines down to the beach where spear fisherman were already active.  As I paddled north I experienced severe irritation near my armpits due to crystallizing salt water and had to stop at the first beach to dig my tiny tin of Bag Balm out of the back of the boat in order to treat the rash.  After that I made a point of rinsing down every evening with fresh water that I carried in my MSR Dromedary bag which was no longer any good for drinking water at this point as it imparted a nasty chemical taste  (a known issue with this product).

After this I reached a more arid zone with many beaches and fewer pines, mostly just Junipers and other bushes.  There were many people out but the beaches were not obnoxiously packed, there was a lot of space for everyone.  I stopped to cook spaghetti with clams in a shady spot under a large Juniper bush.

After this I paddled past an extremely rocky zone that extended for a number of kilometers.  I think I only saw one person in this whole area.  As the afternoon progressed the Scirocco wind got stronger to the point where I was able to put up my mast and sail northward until I finally passed the lighthouse at the cape of Comino where I entered a very different area than what I had seen so far.  Generally things looked a bit nicer and the rolling hills reminded me of northern California with groves of green trees surrounded by meadows of dry, tan colored grass.

I passed a barren island on my right, and headed left towards the shore past 3 large yachts tied together.  I wanted to check out an area of high dunes with Juniper trees nestled among them.  As I pulled up to the beach a man standing there took off running.  It seemed strange but I guessed he had been just taking a break from his exercise and just happened to start up again at that moment.  I had also noticed a couple of men standing on top of the highest part of the dunes as if they were on guard duty or something, strange.  As I approached the dunes I noticed more men here and there, no women, and by then it was apparent that I had stumbled across an unofficially designated gay beach.  I decided to scale the high dune anyway and after I had found the summit the guys that had been standing there suddenly left, I guess I was not their type, lol.  Not wanting to intrude on this scene any further I quickly made my way back to the boat and the open water.

A bit further north near Santa Lucia I found a public park in a pineta with huge trees, picnic tables, and segregated recycling and trash cans everywhere.  After I setup camp I heard the sounds of drums echoing throughout the forest.  Apparently someone was practicing and stayed just until it was very dark then drove off again.  Later a group of Sardinian teens showed up in a car to sleep at the tents that I had noticed setup there earlier when I arrived.  Luckily they weren’t obnoxious.

 

Day 5, Aug. 4

I headed north again and stopped at La Caletta for water and supplies.  In the port I found a boat ramp that was fenced off but it was easy enough to climb around it.  In town I was able to get online, check my email and buy a disposable waterproof camera, which did not survive the trip, so no photos yet 🙁  I also found a really cool little ‘enoteca’, or wine shop, where I bought a bottle of high proof Filu e’ Ferru (Sardinian home style distilled wine leavings, like ‘grappa’) at 50% alcohol.  I noticed that in La Caletta there were absolutely no public trash receptacles any where in town, not on the streets nor at the port/marina.

Back by the port I had a light lunch of square pizza slices by that I had found at a very nice but sweaty little bakery and then headed back out onto the water.  By this time the Scirocco had come up and was pretty strong again so I hoisted my sail and let it hurl me northward.  I was getting a lot of water in through the cockpit with the following seas but the bilge pump handled it nicely every time.

As I approached a point to the north the wind direction would not allow me to clear it with my downwind only spinnaker sail so after getting very close to the beach I took the sail down and paddled out though the chop to a point where I could hoist it again and make it past the rocks.  I continued to sail north as the wind weakened to the point where I finally took the sail down again and started paddling.  I didn’t get far before the wind came up again so I again hoisted and sailed.  I reached an area with long, crowded beaches punctuated by an irregular rocky point that was not crowded at all and home to an even nicer pineta than the one I had camped at the night before.  I used the water bag to shower with soap this time.

 

Day 6, Aug. 5

I headed north again, this time without the sail.  The region become more arid as I progressed and I finally stopped for supplies and dinner at the small tourist port at Puntaldia.  The power boats in this area were getting pretty dense again while the yachts were getting bigger.

Puntaldia is an artificial community of condos and a mall like shopping area that were all built at the same time, in the same style, to appeal to some affluent tourists.  I had pizza for dinner there, a luxury in Sardinia and most of Italy, where most places don’t fire up the wood ovens until the evening.  A few restaurants will use an electric oven in order to offer ‘pizza a pranzo’ (pizza for lunch).  It’s not as good as what you get from the tradtional wood fire but it’s cheaper than getting the usual 2+ course dinner that most restaurants offer as the only mid-day meal option.  The many pizzerias in Santa Maria Navarrese never have ‘pizza a pranzo’.

At this point I had to head east in order to make it around the cape of Coda Cavallo, which means “Horse Tail” in Italian.  The seas were very heavy at this point and they were made much worse by the wakes from the large boats the were coming around the point and heading back towards Puntaldia.  I was travelling to the far left of the boat lanes so I would be closer to shore and make it easier to turn my bow into the wakes of boats that were passing me in the opposite direction to my right.  Pointing my bow into the wakes so often kept moving me closer to the boat lanes and I kept having to angle in towards the shore to try to get further away from the boats again.  It was not a very pleasant paddle until I finally got around the point.

When I made it around to the north side of the point I found a beach on a wide shallow bay that looked like a power boat parking lot with what seemed like a hundred boats or more.  Apparently this place was the source of all the traffic I had encountered on the way there.

Beyond this bay I found a small cove with a kind of private looking beach and housing development but with no posted signs or anything.  I landed there and the people seemed to be nice and there was a friendly family atmosphere so I figured there’d be no problem to setup my hammock in the back of the open pineta there for the night.  After supper and sunset I went back down to the now nearly deserted beach to relax a little.  There the guy who was apparently in charge of the beach told me that I needed to leave because because it was all private!  I asked where can I go at this time?  So he relented and said ok, just for the night.

 

Day 7, Aug. 6

At 8AM a much older and politer man asked me how I had slept and then asked me to get myself and all my stuff back down to the beach as soon as possible since apparently some of the householders in the community had noticed my light at night and complained.  On the beach, which is technically public, I met the younger fellow from the previous evening who was much nicer now and full of questions and compliments for me, the boat and my adventure.

From here I headed to the south side of the island of Molinara, a hunk of rock uninhabited except for a few goats, 3 of which I observed on the slope on the far side of the island.  One of them was all black which I felt should be meaningful somehow, just daydreaming.  I saw some interesting rock formations while the sea was pretty calm with gentle swells while the sky was over-cast giving me some relief from the summer sun.

From there I headed to the west end of Tavolara island where I landed on the sand bar and was greeted by 2 older Italian women who were very friendly.  I walked over the sand bar and noticed that the north side of it was mainly deserted and would be a good place to cook my afternoon dinner so I paddled around to that side to cook a little spaghetti alla putanesca.

After my meal I decided to circumnavigate the island.  Near the eastern end I found some type of military installation with a very tall steel tower with extremely long wires hanging from it to the massive rock outcroppings that surrounded it.  I didn’t get close enough to this area to be able to read the signs warning boaters not to get any closer.

At the south eastern corner of the island I saw a huge natural arch carved out of the cliff face towering high over the waves among boulders where I tried to find a little shelter.  The south side of the island was all cliff face affording a little shade here and there from the sun that was back in full force by this time though getting lower.  I had hoped to find some sea caves among these cliffs though I only found one which I attempted to enter but the swells were going so high up and down the sides of the cave walls that it didn’t seem wise to proceed and I backed out of there before I even got past the entrance.

I returned to the sand bar where I had a beer at the beach bar and then headed further down the strand to camp on the beach.  There were a few very large yachts moored just off the beach there including a massive, ostentatious double masted sail boat with a British flag that pulled in just after sunset.

 

Day 8, Aug 7

From la Tavolara I headed northwest into strong head winds towards the gulf of Olbia.  I was planning to cross the gulf to Golfo Aranci on the north side but I started to feel rather weak and a little ill so I stopped at the first beach I could find on the north side of the peninsula that defines the south side of the gulf.  I found a tiny piece of beach between large boulders next to a small beach with a few people.  I pulled in there as it was the perfect little kayak port with over hanging Juniper bushes that I used to hide out from the sun.

I had just planned to rest a while but instead of feeling any better I started to feel a little bit worse.  I wasn’t sure what the problem was but now I’m pretty sure that it had to do with being out in the sun all afternoon the previous day without a drop of sunscreen.  This was just the first time the sun got the best of me.  I was very tan at this point and I only burned slightly.  I felt fine the previous evening so it seemed strange that it would hit me the next day.

Near where I had landed I found a bunch of very cheap and totally empty small tents set up between small trees.  It seemed like they were meant for a large group of small children.  On the other side of a dirt road paralleling the shore I found a series of lovely hidden camp sites nestled amongst the boulders and trees.  Many spots had been creatively landscaped with smaller stones and one had a simple wood table.  There was even an excavated latrine where the inhabitants had used charcoal from campfires to cover their business.  This whole unofficial campground area was completely deserted.

After cooking my dinner by the beach I moved back up into the camp area hoping nobody would show up to claim the space.  The types of objects and tarps that were still hung up there seemed to indicate that the usual inhabitants were regular Sardinians, as opposed to Italian hippies or other tourists.  I setup my hammock for an afternoon nap then cooked a little supper and slept there the whole night without interruption.  I was almost glad that I hadn’t been feeling well otherwise I wouldn’t have found this unique place.

 

Day 9, Aug 8

Feeling better but still not %100 I decided to cross the gulf to Aranci which took about 2 hours.  There I was able to procure excellent quality supplies and was pleasantly surprised by the cordiality of the beautiful young Sardinian woman behind the deli counter at the supermarket.  When I was loading everything up back on the beach I was overwhelmed by a group of small children who had a seemingly endless stream of questions.  One kept asking me what happens if you flip over as if not willing to accept my assertion that I never flip over 😉  I didn’t really have the energy to try to explain a ‘wet exit’ and re-entry to a small child in Italian at that moment.

I decided to look for an afternoon pizza again and found a restaurant for that was not too far away on the beach.  When the pizza arrived I could see it was not fresh at all.  It was a plain pizza cooked the previous evening and then re-heated for me after adding the requested toppings.  It was ok but I did complain to the waiter who played dumb and ran away.

From Golfo Aranci I headed east and in less than an hour I had found a very cute little beach with a lovely park and pineta just behind it on a low bluff about 5 meters high.  There were a number of people there but not too many since the closest parking was maybe a kilometer away. I rested there during the afternoon and camped there at night.  There was a house nearby but the inmates did not bother me directly, though I over heard their shouting argument during the evening and their 2 dogs that were prowling the area barking at different things for a long time though thankfully not at me.

 

Day 10, Aug. 9

This morning I was feeling even better and headed west around the point that defines the northern edge of the gulf of Olbia.  It was quite early and I saw some fishing boats so I let out my fishing line to do a little trolling with the silver spinner I had used with a little luck previously in the summer.  As I went around the point I was surprised to see a huge tuna jumping out of the water ahead of me.  Neither it nor any other fish hit my lure.

As I headed east along the peninsula, behind Aranci now, the west wind started to pick up.  I finally reached a small bay on my left at which point the wind was quite fierce but I decided to fight my way across anyway and try to find a place to cook dinner on the western shore out of the wind.  I finally made it across after dodging power boats among the waves as I approached the shore that was acting as a wind block as I had predicted.

This area was all very expensive private property.  I noticed waterfalls coming over the low cliffs at the water’s edge which seemed quite out of place.  When I investigated them more closely I found them to be fed by large man-made tubes.  I guess that was to supplement the artificially green grass and sandy beaches that these kinds of developments usually have in this part of Sardinia.   Apparently those that occupy real estate in this area don’t want to be subjected to the typical, arid Sardinian landscape.

I found a rocky piece of shore under a Juniper tree just outside a fence where I was able to cook in the shade.  I was fairly comfortable but it kind of felt like camping by the side of the road in a ditch next to a private golf course.

From there I headed north taking advantage of the intermittent protection from the wind that had, if anything, gotten stronger in the mean time.  I quickly reached the end of the point where I didn’t have many choices of direction.  To the west on my left there was a larger bay but the wind was much to strong to make any forward progress in that direction.  I decided instead to head north, across the wind, to a small archipelago of barren islands in the middle of the big bay.  I knew that would be challenging also but at least I’d be able to make decent progress.  Before I headed out I put on my spray skirt which was absolutely necessary with all the strong waves that were soon washing over my deck.  I would have wasted too much battery power trying to use the pump instead of the skirt, not to mention the time and concentration wasted on turning it on and off.  As usual the height and strength of the seas were intermittent and as it got stronger I turned my bow into it and as it dissipated I headed more northerly, though aiming my bow well to the west of my intended landing point to make up for the effect of the wind blowing me sideways to the east.  I believe this wind was a Maestral whose dramatic energy I would encounter again later on my journey.

The crossing was a little scary though mostly exhilarating and it didn’t take very long before I was in a protected cove between small islands.  I found a tiny sandy beach where I could rest in the shade of a small bush with my feet in the water.  In the evening I moved to an isthmus between 2 other small islands as that was the only level, sandy spot I could find to sleep on.

 

Day 11, Aug. 10

Without any shade I got up with the sun at 7AM and after breakfast headed north again.  The west wind had stopped over night.  The day before I had noticed that this bay was populated by a number of huge white yachts.  This morning I counted at least 25 of them, some were hard to differentiate as their silhouettes merged together in the distance.  I guess if you own a mega yacht and take it to Sardinia for the summer you want to see and be seen by all the other mega yachters there.

I reached the shore again on the north side of the mega yacht bay and found some interesting rock structures there including a towering boulder split in half that I paddled into.  I almost made it out the other side but smaller boulders blocked the way so I had to back paddle out again.

I needed supplies so I stopped at the next port, Porto Cervo.  It was soon obvious that this was the home base for the mega yachts and the center of the infamous Costa Smeralda, playground of the rich and famous.  It was hard to find the supermarket at the back of the outdoor shopping mall.  I was practically invisible as I made my way though the maze of high end boutiques.  I bought a salad and a whole roasted chicken which I ate in the small Juniper grove next to the commercial center, the only other person there a young female employee on a cigarette and cell phone break.

As I packed up to leave an Italian man with his family asked about my boat and my trip, clearly able to appreciate what I was doing just by seeing the kind of boat I had even though it was dwarfed by the massive crafts at the marina.

From here I headed north and west around the rest of this ’emerald coast’ area, fake beaches, grass and palm trees everywhere.  As I headed into a long bay stretching to the south I passed the Phi beach club where perfect young bodies were taking in the sun on massive wicker chairs like thrones.  As I headed further south into the bay all of a sudden I was in Sardinia again and as I checked different beaches for a good campsite I was subject to the blank, mute stares of the locals.  I found a nice little beach with a pineta not too far up on the bluff behind it where I was able to sleep very comfortably except for when I was awakened by a barrage of fireworks that went off very nearby at around 11PM.

 

Day 12, Aug. 11

I slept late in the shade of the pineta and eventually made my way back down the cliff to the beach below.  I packed up the boat and headed to the end of the bay where there was an estuary at a river mouth.  I tried to enter a series of lagoons through a shallow channel but soon found they were much too shallow to navigate, even in a kayak.  I went back into the bay and headed west until I found the actual river mouth which is much deeper.  About a kilometer up the river I found a place on the right bank where I could land and enter an open gate into a cork oak grove where I cooked putanesca again.  The river itself smelled a little funky but back in the trees there was no smell.  After dinner I sat in the shade on the river bank watching clam diggers and fish jumping in the dirty water.

I then headed up the west side of the bay to Cannigione which is a real Sardinian town with the kinds of shops catering to local tastes you find all over Sardinia.  I must say that Sardinians produce some of the best cheeses in the world and their cured meats and wines are top quality also.  At many deli counters you’re given the choice between the Italian or Sardinian version of a product.  You choose the Sardinian if  like me you’re willing to pay a little more for better quality.  I found some really great bread in town also.  Everything was much better quality than anything I could find back in ritzy Porto Cervo.

From the town I headed north to a campground on the western shore but when I got there it seemed so obnoxiously over crowded that I couldn’t imagine actually sleeping there so instead I headed out across the boat lanes back to the same pineta on the eastern shore where I had camped the night before.  After I had unloaded there again a large extended family group of Sardinians showed up and setup camp right on the beach at sunset.  They didn’t bother me as I again slept well above beach level in the pineta but there was loud, live blues music wafting in across the bay from I don’t know where that forced me to use earplugs to be able to fall asleep.

Day 13, Aug. 12

The next day I slept kind of late again then after breakfast packed up most of my stuff and hid it between some bushes and a stone wall at the back of the pineta and paddled across the bay back to Cannigione to have my clothes washed at the laundry there.  After a little shopping and pasta at a nice little outdoor restaurant I headed back to the pineta to hang my clothes out in the sun to dry.  At that point the pineta was over run with locals who were apparently reinforcements for the group that had camped out over night.

I eventually decided to move my camp to the cork grove on the river at the back of the bay.  There I noticed a group of tourists riding around the marsh on horseback. I found a really nice spot with the smell of wild herbs in the air and cork trees close enough together to hang the hammock.  The only problem was that there was an unusually dense population of mosquitos there that began to attack me en masse.  I hurried to bathe in fresh water from my Dromedary bag since getting wet and soapy always provides very effective yet temporary relief from the little monsters.  After I dried myself I applied insect repellent to my entire body and lit up 2 mosquito spirals thereby solving that problem so that I could eat my supper in peace.

Soon after eating I heard the sound of a small moped racing through the grove which soon reached the spot where I was relaxing in the hammock.  The driver shone his head light on me and started yelling “non si puo!” (it’s not possible!).  The issue was that he had let his horses loose in the grove and for some reason my presence was incompatible with theirs.  I didn’t think to ask him at that moment whether he believed that they were a danger to me or I to them or both.  I ended up re-hanging my hammock outside the gate that was now closed, by the river between 2 eucalyptus trees.  At least the river was much less smelly in the cool night air than it had been in the heat of the day.

 

Day 14, Aug. 13

I woke with the rising sun and the site of more clam diggers wading in the shallows of the river.  I packed up and paddled to Cannigione again and bought some very nice supplies.  From there I headed north and out of the long bay towards the island of Caprera.  There was a lot of boat traffic around the southern tip of the island and as I approached it and felt like I was close enough to be out of the way some other boat would come along and decide to cut it even closer to the point and pass in front of me.  I had another close call from one of these yachts whose driver didn’t even look back as it sped away.

I finally landed on some rocks on the east side of the point and got out to explore the abandoned structures there which turned out to be some kind of former military installation.  I paddled to the east side of the point and hauled my dinner supplies up to a series of open and relatively clean rooms in one of the old buildings at the fort.  The dead wood I tried to cook with was from some kind of bush that doesn’t burn very well so I had to scour the area to find just a little dead juniper in the nearly barren landscape.  I finally had spaghetti with clams again.  Meanwhile there were a few other people wandering around the fort grounds inspite of the entry prohibited signs that I had also ignored.

From there I headed north around the east side of the island while the sea got rather rough but not too difficult to deal with.  I eventually reached an amazingly beautiful point with 2 small beaches and a seemingly endless array of weird rock formations punctuated with juniper trees and bushes.  The number of boats and people there was excessive but it was already early evening and they were starting to leave one by one.  The beaches were still too crowded to even land so instead I found a little spot to tie up the kayak in calm water while I explored some of the rocks as I waited for it to clear out some more.

As the last people left I paddled to one of the small beaches where it seemed like I would be able to hang the hammock on two junipers but I couldn’t make it work due to some rocks in the way so I ended up sleeping on the sand instead.

 

Day 15, Aug. 14

I was awoken early in the morning by a lady with a very loud voice, dressed in what looked to me like a tennis outfit.  She and her male companion who swam briefly didn’t stay on the beach very long and I was able to go back to sleep.

Another couple came ashore in a dingy from a small yacht that was moored just off the beach.  They were very polite and careful to try not to wake me as they headed inland to do some trail running.  I had met the man briefly the previous evening and after I had breakfast I got to meet both of them as they returned to the beach on the way back to their boat.  They were very friendly and spoke English fairly well.  I found out they were from Milan and they invited me stop at their boat for coffee after I had packed up my kayak.  The man whose name I forgot was very envious of my solo tour as it seemed he was starting to get cabin fever from being cooped up on that yacht with his wife, kids, their friend and her kid also.  They had sailed to Corsica from Genoa and then south to Sardinia.

After a little extra breakfast I bid my hosts ‘arivvarderci’ and headed north along the east side of the island.  I found more abandoned military structures, some of which I explored, a few of which seem to have housed squatters some time in the recent past also.  I made my way around the northern tip of the island where the shore line was very chaotic with large boulders.  I climbed one to a shady cave that I had seen from the water that was kind of hard to get to, otherwise I would’ve had lunch there.  There was no good place to take the the boat out of the water either, it was getting tossed around quite a bit by the waves as I looked down on it from my climb to where I had tied it to a rock.

On the west side of the island I came across a series of coves and near one I spied a boulder that had space under it that had been walled off with smaller stones leaving a very low entrance way.  I figured that would be the best place to get out of the sun and it worked well enough as a dinner spot though the ceiling was rather low and the loose wall of stones didn’t blocked some air flow since these structures are setup by Sardinians as a way to escape the cold winds of winter.

Heading further south I found more coves and a huge abandoned resort that must have been the club med the people from Milan had mentioned that morning.  I eventually paddled under the bridge in the middle of the causeway that joins Caprera with Maddalena and then headed into a shallow bay where I found a public park with a lot of pine trees where I could camp.  The was a house on a knoll just next to the pineta whose residents became very audible at times during the night, along with some kids in a car who were blasting this heavy, depressing music that sounded like a bad impression of Pink Floyd.

 

Check back for part 2 where I continue west towards Porto Torres and finally have some pictures I took myself.

Monte Santu, Portu Pedrosu, Golgo, Nuraghe Orgodùri

The cape of Monte Santu is a point on the east coast of Sardinia where towering cliffs meet the sea, funneling wind and waves in a such way to make sea conditions very rough and challenging for sea kayakers in comparison to the areas just to the north and south of it.  Luckily there is a hidden cove called “Portu Pedrosu” right at the roughest part where you can take a break, stretch your legs, and even camp for the night as many people do even though it’s technically prohibited to camp or bivouac anywhere in the area of Baunei.  It’s also a good base for hiking up into the surrounding landscape though hiking is pretty strenuous in this area at this time of year for people like me who don’t perform so well in high heat and humidity.

I spent last Friday night there and then on Saturday I paddled a bit further north to Cala Goloritze, one of the most scenic beaches in this part of Sardinia.  Most people arrive at this beach by driving to the high plain up behind Baunei, an area called “Golgo”, where they park their cars and hike an hour and a half down 500 meters in elevation to the beach.  Boats are not allowed to land there as at other beaches but kayaks are ok.  My plan was to leave my boat there at the beach and hike up to Golgo with a back pack with everything needed to stay over night and attend the “Sagra di Capra” or goat festival being held there that evening outside the historic San Pietro church that resides in the middle of Golgo.

The hike was pretty rough in the summer heat but not so bad since it was already after 4PM.  At top there is a parking/camping area and small cafe that sells over priced drinks and water which I was counting on to rehydrate myself after the trek.  After that I walked about a kilometer to the church/fair grounds just in time to get on line for the roasted goat feast.  They were also offering a plate of local cheeses so I decided to get one of each.  The strips of goat flesh on the skin were greasy tasty but the actual meat inside was very dry and tough and I over heard a man commenting that the goats were too old.  The cheese was quite tender on the other hand.  The fresh ricotta was amazing and there were a couple very nice pecorinos and a soft smoked cheese that was so strong that one bite burned my mouth to the point where I couldn’t taste any of the other cheeses afterwards.

After eating I headed through the brush to a nearby tree covered nuraghe to setup my hammock.  I lost my shirt along the way and had to scramble through the dry stream beds again the next morning to find it.  Once I was setup I put on the spare shirt I had and walked back to the church, this time along the road, to check out the evening’s entertainment.  On stage a man was playing traditional Sardinian songs on accordion along with more modern material accompanied by electronic rhythm tracks.  Much of the performance was pretty far from traditional but there were many opportunities for people to practice their traditional Sardinian dances, mostly teenage girls dancing with each other.  There was a large, well-served bar where all the men folk were standing around discussing whatever it is they discuss.  I enjoyed a few cups of home made aquavite di vinnacia (“abbardente”, “filu ‘e ferru”) and then headed back to my illicit camp site.

In the morning I was awakened by a small heard of goats who stood around staring at me while the bells around their neck jangled making it impossible for me to fall back asleep so I finally had to get up and scare them away.  Just getting out of the hammock was enough to send them scurrying as they seem to be pretty skittish animals.  This area is home to a huge population of domestic animals wandering around freely: goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, donkeys and even a few horses.

After a little breakfast of cereal biscuits I packed up and headed back to the church to maybe catch some of the religious procession scheduled for that morning though mainly I wanted to retrace my steps and find the shirt that had dropped off the back of my pack the evening before.   Luckily I didn’t have to go too far back into bush to find where it had fallen.  I suppose it was lucky that it hadn’t been eaten by goats yet either!

I returned to the church and had some water and saw the end of the procession where they take the efigy of San Pietro out and carry him around.  I bought two small brass livestock bells from a vendor there as souvenirs and headed back to the cafe at the trail head that leads back down to the beach.  I had an amazing mozzarella and tomatoe sandwich with a Coca Cola, something I never drink, but at noon the heat was such already that it seemed like something I needed.  The walk back down to the beach was almost worse than the walk up the day before as the sun was higher and hotter and I always find going to down to be more difficult, although less strenuous, than going up.

After transferring my load from my pack back into dry bags and launching the kayak again I headed back south towards Portu Pedrosu again.  Not far from the beach I stopped at a little sea cave to cool off.  As I paddled into the cave the cold air from inside hit me as a very welcome relief.  I beached the boat inside and took a little swim.  I also climbed out of the above water entrance to the cave, jumped off the rocks into the water and swam back in though the water level entrance.

I spent two more nights at Pedrosu.  I took a little hike the next day but it was so humid and still that I was exhausted and feeling a little ill again after just 2 hours with only minor ascents.  On Tuesday morning I headed back out into the wind and chaotic waves at Monte Santu but I didn’t have to battle the seas very far until conditions got much calmer just to the south.  I felt much more comfortable out there on the waves than I did out on the trails.  I had enjoyed a couple hikes back in May and there were a lot of tourists in the area at that time specifically there for hiking and trekking.  There’s not much of that now though there are still some die hards.  At this time of year the best place to be is in the shade or on the water, or maybe lying on the beach in the sun and moving as little as possible.

Below are pictures of Nuraghe Orgodùri which is not very well preserved being mostly caved in and filled in but it’s still an interesting place as just a huge pile of rocks covered with big shade trees. The cove shown is not Portu Pedrosu, but the next cove just north of it called Portu Chuau which is also very protected but not the best kayak landing.

Bear Mountain, Bald Mountain, Dunderberg & Doodletown

tree porn

Only an hour and a half away from midtown Manhattan by bus, this place, along with Harriman State Park, is a real treasure.  I can’t believe it took me this long to finally go check it out.  I’ve always admired the wooded areas just north of the city from inside the confines of motor vehicles.  The weathered boulders and large trees with lots of space between them plus little to no undergrowth always seemed very inviting. If you’re looking for some place to hang a hammock for the night, as I usually am, even when I don’t have plans to actually do so, then it doesn’t get much better than this.  You’re spoiled for choices here though most of the trees are actually too far apart for a comfortable hang.

Besides the magnificent trees there are rocks everywhere, of all sizes, and in many places the trails are quite difficult to walk due to the uneven surface.  You never know if the next rock you step on is going to stay put or shift under your weight.  The last thing you want is to fall and or twist your ankle especially with a heavy pack on your back.  Good hiking boots are essential and I’ll be sure to buy myself a good pair of trekking poles before I ever head out there again.  The steep trail up the north face of Bald Mountain was particularly brutal!

At the top though it was all worth it.  The view was incredible and the setting was quite lovely.  Water was a bit of an issue though.  On the south side of the mountain there is another trail that crosses a little stream that is fed by a small swamp.  No matter which part of the stream I chose to pump water out of it kept clogging up my filter so that I’d have to clean if after every liter or so.  Even after it was filtered it retained a weird greenish yellow tint to it.  I dubbed it “Dunderberg Tea”.  It was however quite cool, refreshing and tasted just fine.

To the east I found part of the Dunderberg Spiral Railway route that was never completed.  According to the map construction ended abruptly in September 1890.  Sounds kind of suspicious though I suppose there’s a good reason you could find if you cared to look it up.  The trail got really rough there and then I found myself between impenetrable walls of short straight trees on both sides of the path which was kind of strange and spooky in sharp contrast to the openness of most parts of the forest.  I had to turn around since I had already run out of water some way back because I hadn’t been able to filter as much as I had wanted to that morning…

On the lower elevations to the north, between Dunderberg and Bear Mountain itself, you have the abandoned village of Doodletown with a number of old homestead sites and cemeteries.  I didn’t get to explore it much because I was hurrying to catch the bus back to the city which I ended up missing anyway.  All of this stuff was starting to remind me of the Blair Witch Project but then I have an over active imagination some times.

Again the top of Bald Mountain was marvelous and there is plenty of room to have a group camp out there some day.  I believe you’re not supposed to camp outside of the provided shelters in the park(s) but as long as you’re smart and not obnoxious about it you can do pretty much whatever you want, especially in the off season.  For such a gathering I would bring some kind of bucket to try to let the sludge settle out of the swamp water before attempting to filter it.  I would also try the trails to the south to reach the road and use one of the bus stops there instead of the more obvious Bear Mountain Inn stop.  You could bring all kinds of fresh breads, cured meats, cheeses, and wine (without the bottles) and make it a wilderness gourmet event with spooky trail hikes for added amusement.  The best time would be an unusually warm and sunny weekend in spring or fall.  Contact me if that sounds interesting and/or if you know of any other particularly interesting areas like that within those parks, I’m sure there are many!

this frog thinks it looks like a dead leaf

good map to have

 

Brooklyn to Montauk… by kayak!

This is a trip I had been planning for a few months and finally got around to launching on Sep. 11, 2011.  It was a chance to test my new Grabner Discovery 2 inflatable kayak (Peschke Design)  on an extended tour.  It was also the first time I’d be using a lot of freeze dried foods for cooking camp dinners.

 

Day 1 – Sep. 11, 2011

I finally got everything sorted out for launch from the Sebago club dock in Canarsie some time in the dreary mid morning.  Conditions on Jamaica Bay were a little rough but once I got into the channel leading to Breezy Point it was smooth sailing with the the current until I got around the point where the conditions got rougher the further east I went.  I had hoped to make it to Fort Tilden but it got so difficult to progress into the wind that I was forced to land on the private beach just past Breezy Point park.  The landing was a bit rough with a lot of water into the cockpit but the boat stayed upright the whole time.

The passers by I met were friendly.  The birds were very aggressive.  There are framed walkways through the dunes there to protect people walking to and from the beach from the little beasts.  After dark they got very rambunctious chasing each other and fighting all night long, often just a few feet away from me!  They seemed to avoid hitting me directly but they didn’t leave much of a buffer.  They were really intent just on harassing each other.  I tried to create a no fly zone above where I slept by standing the paddle up and hanging my trunks on it.  They’d fly up and down they beach, their squawks  fading into the distance but then they’d come back every 15 or 20 minutes to fight near where I was again.  Eventually I got some sleep…

 

Day 2 – Sep. 12

The weather was much nicer this day with somewhat less surf which was much more predictable so I would be able to easily time the wave sets and launch between them.  Finally security did get around to telling me to get out of there and we came to some kind of agreement depending on the fact that I was already on my way out.  The wind had changed from east to west so I could ride the waves all the way to Rockaway inlet.  When I got there the tide seemed pretty slack and there was no problem getting into the inlet.  I chose one of the sandbars on the channel opposite Long Beach for a camp site.

 

Day 3 – Sep. 13

I decided to explore the marshes a little bit and went back to Crooked Creek and headed north east.  Eventually I ran into a very industrial area and had to head directly south back to the main channel.  On the way to Point Lookout I passed more marshes with cute little marsh homes.  I landed right on the point itself near the ball field and headed to the home of some relatives that live in the village for a nice meal and comfortable bed!

Day 4 – Sep 14

I continued east underneath both the Jones beach bridges.  Then I headed through the marshes just north of the main channel.  At one point I thought I might be lost in one of the twisting natural channels.  Finally I made it to the two solid ground islands I had spotted in Google satellite.  One of them had a relatively wide beach where people sometimes camp as I was told by a local Long Islander who was there with his power boat and 2 small dogs that he kept berating.  The other island was more mysterious with it’s interior all hidden by steep and heavily overgrown banks.  The guy told me that helicopters sometimes land there. Later that evening I observed a small helicopter make several circles of the area, landing briefly on the island each time then taking off to do it all over again and again.  Weird!

 

Day 5 – Sep 15

I crossed the wide inlet between Jones Beach Island and Fire Island.  The skies turned cloudy and then a fierce north wind blew up but by then I’d already crossed the open water.  I found a sheltered spot for lunch sitting on a drift board beneath some reeds with my feet in the water. After I headed out again the wind died out and the water got very calm for a while but after an hour or so the north wind started up again and eventually got much worse than it had been earlier.  I had to fight my way across the wind to the Watch Hill campground and got to try my new bilge pump after some waves washed into the cockpit.  I got blown into the entrance to the marina with no hope of fighting my way back out against that wind. There was no place to take the kayak out of the water there so I was forced to moor the boat in the marina.  That part actually worked out well.

In the campground the wind was blowing really hard all night long and it took me a long time to figure out the best way to pitch my tarp on the ground to keep it from flapping excessively.  In the end I think I was much better off than my neighbors using actual tents.

 

Day 6 – Sep 16

This was a wash and bathing day at the Watch Hill campground facilities.  The weather was much milder and I was able to paddle the kayak out of the marina and onto the beach just outside where I could dump the little excess water out of it and load it more easily the next morning.  I then hung out on the ocean side beach, checked out the nature trails and had a burger at the marina restaurant where there was a kind of weird bar scene with a gang of Long Island power boaters.

 

Day 7 – Sep 17

I started out paddling into a strong east wind.  I found that by staying as close to the shore as possible I was able to avoid the main brunt of the wind most of the time.  At one point I passed a small deer that was walking along the edge of the water.  I didn’t get as far as I had wanted to but I found an old derelict dock on a little beach at a very narrow part of the island where I could walk over to the ocean side.  I hung out there reading while multiple SUVs and pickup trucks drove up and down the beach, many of them with large fishing poles mounted on them.  I noticed a small structure nearby and a couple parked there with their SUV.  After a while they left driving past me and the woman hung out of the window and told me I should go over and check out the memorial to her late husband!  I did as she had bid me and took some photos of the “Surf Shack” memorial.

 

Day 8 – Sep 18

The east wind was much stronger this day and the direction had changed a bit making forward progress almost impossible.  Using Google satellite I found a man made channel through the marsh to avoid some of the wind.  I didn’t get past Fire Island and camped in the “trucker beach” area again.

 

Day 9 – Sep 19

The east wind was much weaker today so I was able to continue much further.  In the afternoon I stopped at West Hampton Beach for supplies.  The whole village downtown area and strip mall are a short walk from the free mooring at the end of the inlet there which was very convenient!  I camped in Shinnecok bay at a spot I found with Google satellite: an old dock and broken concrete slab with strange band graffiti painted with a brush all at one time it seemed.  When I landed there I met a local in his pickup who then drove off and nobody else came down that road until the morning when I was already packing up.

 

Day 10 – Sep 20

West wind going my way!  I continued east under the causeway and seas got a bit heavy there.  I then turned north towards the channel to Peconic Bay.  I entered the channel with caution and encountered little or no current and soon reached the lock where the traffic light was green and many signs beckoned me to continually more forward which I did until I neared a closed flood gate which I didn’t want to get too close too.  Soon I heard the noise of machinery behind me and looked back to see a set of doors starting to close behind me just like the ones closed in front of me.  Once they had closed I heard other noises and started to get a “sinking feeling” as the water level was lowered.  Finally the doors in front of me began opening and after a moment I looked up over my right shoulder to the control both where a door was open but nobody could be seen behind the glass due to the the angle of view.  I shouted “Thank You” , heard back “You’re Welcome!” and then continued my journey.  From there on everything was much different, I had entered a different world…

Across the Greater Peconic Bay I could see Robin’s Island, a private island, but was it posted?  I had a Clif bar and decided to go see.  If it was off limits then I could easily cross to the south and stop along the south side of the Little Peconic Bay.  I passed some huge mansions and a large Dutch wind mill on the south shore.  The wind was getting stronger and seas were getting higher then suddenly the long screw that holds my rudder pin broke and now I had this hunk of of metal dangling behind the boat in the water attached by the rudder control cables.  I decided it wasn’t too rough to hop out onto the deck behind the cockpit where I pulled the rudder closer with the cables and grabbed it with my left hand behind my back.  Then with my right hand I was able to lodge the rudder into the cart attached to the stern of the boat so it would be out of the water.  After I got back into my seat the seas started getting even rougher and I had to control the boat with the paddle.  Using the paddle as a rudder was easy but tended to slow the boat a lot.  Using hard strokes on the opposite side took much more energy but was I successful at times in maintaining a good forward momentum that way.  It felt like the the boat frame was flexing with the waves so it couldn’t ride them as much as I would have liked.   A fishing boat came to my aide but I wasn’t in need of any and by then I was getting pretty close to the south end of the mysterious island.  I told them I was fine and thanked them for checking on me.  I had checked my bilge pump and it was operational but I didn’t end up needing it and soon enough reached the shore and crossed to the other side of the island away from the waves.  There I observed many well maintained POSTED signs as well as an off limits bird nesting area.  I stopped at the edge of the beach and made repairs to my rudder with the spare parts I had brought.  Not wanting to trespass for too long I made my way south across heavy seas through a zone where the waves from the greater bay were transformed into short steep swells just west of the shallows extending south from the island.

On the other side I landed on a public beach with vehicle access that was bounded by more private posted land.  Continuing east along the shore I found an inlet to a small bay bounded by marshes and forests where there was an overwhelming fragrance of cedar wood!  The west side of the inlet was a continuation of the public beach with a very tall and steep embankment.  On the left side of the embankment there was a lower shelf, about 10 feet above beach level, where I was able to pitch my tarp over the sand and out of the way.

The evening was very quiet, I don’t think I saw a single power boat on the water.  It was actually kind of eerie there.  Earlier I noticed that all the beaches in this area had a lot of polished stones and pebbles plus many pretty little translucent yellow and orange shells.  It definitely looked and felt like a different world there between the forks…

 

Day 11 – Sep 21

The next morning a middle aged French couple were walking straight up the tallest part of the steep embankment and then walking back down diagonally across it with their arms stretched out straight to each side.  Obviously they were exercising but it looked like some strange ritual and probably contributed to the erosion of the slope.

I Crossed the Little Peconic Bay to a peninsula that is a wildlife preserve where signs on the beach instruct you not to go past them.  There I had lunch.  After that I crossed the next bay to another peninsula which contained a very picturesque residential area with very large houses and tall trees coming down to near the water’s edge.  I passed a small beach with a picnic table and stopped to enjoy the shade of the huge oak tree growing next to it.  After that I continued past the Shelter Island ferry that runs continuously across the narrow channel there.  I started to cross the channel but I soon realized that the current was very strong in the wrong direction and that I would have to work very hard to get around the next 2 points which looked to be all off-limits wildlife preserve.  I relented and went back to the little beach and started to unload not sure what the status of this property was though it seemed to be fairly public, there were 2 public park type heavy duty barbecue grills installed and a little bit of graffiti written and carved onto the table .  A young woman with 2 small children came out of the woods and said “hi” then continued to the right around the point and out of sight.  Then a middle aged man with 2 black labs came out, noticed my boat, had a few questions and comments and was generally impressed.  He reminded me of some actor or newscaster or an actor that has played newscasters.  Both he and the woman left by the same way they had come.  Later I checked out the trail through the forest and found a very nice kayak rack with some beat up plastic kayaks and a trail about 100m long that led to a traffic circle with a house or 2 on it.  The entrance to the trail had waist high stone wall corners, upon one of which were metal letters spelling out “BEACH TRAIL” with a feather stuck in the A of beach.  I figured I must be inside a gated community, you don’t usually find public places that nice in the real world!  I setup my hammock between 2 trees just behind the kayak rack so I would be out of the way if any early morning strollers happened by.

 

Day 12 – Sep 22

In the morning the tide was going out and the current carried me out past one point that was quite lovely and wooded.  I then turned to go past the next point with an old lighthouse.  This land was not posted anything (for future reference ;)).  The fog was getting heavier so I stopped to install my compass on the deck and prepared to cross the bay on the right/south side.  I could not see Gardiner’s Island due to the fog but I knew it was there off in the distance.  As I neared the next point, the one nearest to Gardiner’s Island, the fog had receded and soon the island didn’t look very far away at all so I decided to cross and see how private this one would be.  It took less than an hour and it turned out to be very private with a lot of “Private Land” signs spaced closely together.  I stopped for lunch and then crossed to the south end of the island to the sand bar there.  There were a lot of signs there also.  I finally found a spot to cross the sandbar through a shallow gap against a very strong current.  The next sandbar was posted as well and smelled like the many birds who make their home there so I decided to cross the wind and head to the nearest beach to the southeast on the Long Island “south fork”.  GPS and compass were helpful here as it was hard to see the low lying beach in the distance over the waves though I could see vegetation and embankments up beyond it.  The seas got pretty rough and I tried to hurry before it got any worse.  Finally I arrived at a nice public beach not too far from Montauk where I could sleep for the night.

 

Day 13 – Sep 23

I got up late after having to deal with tarp pitching and bug netting in the middle of the night.  I tried to find a place between that spot and Montauk where I could setup my hammock.  On the way I saw 3 loons in the water.  I found a road where vehicles reach the beach through a forest which was very wet and full of mosquitoes and undergrowth between sinisterly twisted little oak trees growing out of some very uneven ground: not a great place to hang a hammock.  I kept going all the way to the bay near Montauk and entered it to find an open area on the right where there were tents, port a potties and a big teepee!  I decided to investigate and found a floating dock on the side of long peer leading to a large lawn with trees and a hill beyond.  There I was told they were setting up for a weekend boy scout jamboree or whatever they call those things.  With that I left the bay and went back out to the west to camp on the sand near the embankments just north of the Hither Woods.

 

Day 14 – Sep 24

I headed back to the bay and found the beach closest to the railway station.  There was a lobster joint with a nice little lawn beyond their garages where I could disassemble and pack the boat.  Some of the aluminum tubes would not separate and had to be left protruding from the boat package.  I hoped for the best at the train platform.  I found the handicapped compartment where large items can be loaded and the conductor didn’t seem to mind it.  I had to change trains at Jamaica, Queens but the next train arrived on the same platform so that was easy enough.  At East New York I tried to walk everything home but it was rough going and after 2 blocks I found a smart young car service driver who figured out how to the get the awkward package into his back seat and drove me the few remaining blocks to the edge of Bushwick for $7.

 

So then boat worked well enough, I’ll post a full review of it soon.  The dried food was pretty good.  I think dehydrating and freeze drying produce better results with more flavor than freezing or canning but of course fresh is always the best!   Long Island is kind of a suburban wilderness where there are many marinas you can stop at but few places where you can buy real fresh food near the water with the noted exception of West Hampton Beach.  After 2 weeks though I was getting kind of tired of that dried stuff.  The simpler recipes with fewer ingredients seemed to work better than the other times when I threw too many different kinds of veggies into the soup.  I may or may not get around to posting some recipes here some day after I’ve had a chance to experiment some more.