“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.


  • Andy says:

    Eric – I’m only halfway into this amazing narrative, and I’m beside myself with joy. I don’t think I will ever be able to do the sort of thing you describe here — fight huge waves, currents, and winds on the open sea — but I can dream about it. I only putter around Manhattan, Yonkers, and Staten Island in my kayak. But I know the kind of trip you are making. You capture so well the thrill of adventure that comes from uncertainty or ambivalence about route and destination, and the way solitude (and a lot of skill) lets you be completely spontaneous and lets you meditate on the visual beauty (rendered precious by the unsightly surprises) that continually surround you. I’m terribly terribly jealous. What an amazing trip! I can’t imagine being able to do this, or having the skill and gonads to do it by yourself, but I know it would not be the same trip at all if you were not alone, or you had made the same trip before, or were following an itinerary set by predecessors. 到可到非常到 “The Route you can plan is no guide” says the first line of the Daodejing. By the way, you write very well!

  • Nice trip report!

    You will find the Maine coast less developed, with many places to camp without company. Consult the Maine Island Trail Guide.

    Interesting to see how you wrap your kayak skin around a duffle bag.

  • Well I for one am impressed. That crossing is one I dream of making one day, as part of a larger trip or even on its own. Even better that it was in a collapsible and you winged the overall plan a bit. V impressed with the whole journey.

  • Eric says:

    Thanks for the nice comments everyone!

    Here are somethings I’ve learned since finishing the trip:

    – I should have checked the marine charts for that crossing then I probably would have been less surprised by the conditions I encountered. The shallows all along that route are bound to be rough when there’s any current. For some reason I thought that Plum Gut would be the worst part, but it was actually much calmer than the Sluiceway and The Race were. The marine charts app on my phone has a big wave drawn in the part of the Race right where I encountered the biggest waves. Doesn’t get any simpler that that!

    – I didn’t realize until yesterday when I did a little trip up and down the East River that slack tide occurs well after high tide. At Little Gull Island slack tide today is like an hour and 15 minutes after the high tide. I could have waited there longer but the current did help me along my way.

    Maybe I should read some books or take a class…

  • Hi Eric,
    I enjoyed your post. I’m considering getting a Heron and am trying to learn as much as possible about it before I make a plunge. I’ve pledged to not own a motor vehicle or use one regularly. I would allow myself to own and use a folding kayak. I have not been able to find a “real” review of the Heron on the web. I am hoping you will write a review and post it at paddling.net and let me know if you do. This way, I and many others can benefit. I would very much appreciate it. Please let me know if this might be possible. Best wishes, Charles Chandler

    • Eric Kittell says:

      Ok review coming soon, but I can affirm that it’s a really awesome boat, period, I love it! That said I might actually be selling it though I really don’t want to so if you’re interested let me know.

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