First Paddle of the Season

I took the kayak out for the first time of the season this afternoon. I’d put the roof racks on the car a week ago, but hadn’t actually loaded the boat onto the cradles, meaning I had to spend a fair amount of time centering them up yesterday. I also discovered how out of shape I am, and how heavy the kayak is.

I’d originally wanted to leave very early in the morning, but ended up going mid-day instead. I decided to go back to the landing in Auburndale, opposite the Newton Boathouse. I headed upstream, and stopped just short of the Route 16 dam; where there are shoals.

Once past the golf course footbridge, the current picked up noticeably; and going past the old railroad bridge, it felt like I was paddling as hard as I could just to stay in place. The payoff came when I turned around and the river grabbed the boat and I flew downriver.

Everywhere I looked, trees and shrubs were leafing out; their brand new foliage contrasting with the dead, leftover branches from the year before.

Near the Park Ave bridge, I saw this swan.

Swan

Swan

Swans can be aggressive and territorial, but this one didn’t seem too much bothered by me.

I’m still learning the ways of this boat. I must have accidentally shifted the pedal positions for the rudder pedals; with the rudder down, I kept recurving to the right. It’s nigh impossible to adjust them while in the boat, so I ended up flipping up the rudder and paddle steering. I’m getting a little better at getting in and out of the boat, but feel that I still have a ways to go.

I’m realizing that the Thule Glide and Set carrier I got to mount the kayak to the roof is not a great match for a Honda Element. The premise of the carrier is that the rear cradle is relatively slippery; you get the bow of the boat into the rear cradle, and then slide it forward. There are two problems using it with the Element: first, the car has factory mounting points, and the rear points are about three feet forward of the end of the car and secondly, it’s a tall car. It’s hard getting the boat up that high, and the kayak ends up resting on the roof until I can get onto the tailgate, lift the rear of the kayak up, and slide it forward. Last fall, I managed to put some fairly deep scratches into the roof paint trying to load the kayak; I’ve since picked up a cheap mat that I lay on top of the roof while loading and unloading. Fortunately, the Element is roomy enough inside that I can take along a small bench to use as a step stool to help me get the kayak on and off. I’m hoping to get faster with the loading and unloading process.

New Kayak

I first went kayaking in 2004, on a rainy day in Bonaire, on a guided trip through the mangroves of Lac Bay (which, according to our guide, was not a swamp. Despite appearances).

I started paddling the Charles around 2007, through Charles River Canoe and Kayak. I’d been using their winter business, the Weston Ski Track, and decided to give kayaking on the Charles a try. I liked it, especially in the Newton/Auburndale region, and have been a season pass holder for the past couple of years, and have been thinking about getting my own for a couple of years, but have been holding off due to the uncertainty at work.

Unfortunately, Charles River Canoe and Kayak lost the concession to the Newton Boathouse in 2013, and have been operating the boathouse for the new concessionaire, Boating In Boston. Apparently, that relationship is ending, and they’re closing the paddling store with a going out of business sale*, with equipment 30 – 50% off. I got a boat, life jacket, paddle, and some foam blocks and straps to get the boat home for around $1,200, saving $500.

The boat I got is a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145. Most of my paddling has been, and probably will be on the Charles, but I wanted something I can take out on the ocean, or at least Cape Cod Bay in the future. I was a little hesitant–I’d had a very unpleasant experience with a Tsunami 140 on one of the shuttled river trips, but the 145 is a designed for paddlers who are (ahem) slightly larger. I tried it out a couple of times, and found it to be comfortable.

I’ve had the boat for two weeks now, but only really got to take it out yesterday. I was busy last Saturday, and it took me a good chunk of of last Sunday getting the roof rack set up – don’t get me started on multilingual instruction sheets that are all diagrams with little explanatory text, so I only had enough time to whet my appetite for it. Yesterday, I took it for a nice long paddle through the Charles in Dedham.

Due to the drought, the water levels are noticeably low. I put in at the boat launch off Great Plain Avenue, and the river bank at the water’s edge is actually river bottom, which I found out the hard way when I sank into the mud up to my knees, and got stuck. My flip flops are now stuck there until some future archeologist finds them. I paddled upstream to the put in at Charles River Park, intending to go further, but there wasn’t enough water. So I turned around, and continued back downstream until I got to Motley Pond, where I turned around.

The boat is comfortable –my two concerns had been a tight cockpit, and back support. The cockpit is small, but not too tight. I was able to adjust the seat back so I was able to sit up comfortably, and used the leg raisers to bring my legs up to the roll pads. The boat has a rudder, but the water was shallow enough in several places that I had to flip it up. The boat tracks well even with the rudder up, but obviously steers better with the rudder down.

The boat definitely is more “tippy” than a recreational kayak. I got so that I was comfortable taking my Nikon D80 on the rental kayaks I was using, which was great since it allows for longer lenses and a polarizer. I think that for a while anyway, I’ll be back to my Canon G12 inside the waterproof housing – just in case.

About the only thing I don’t like so far is the color – I bought it on clearance, and the “dusk” color was the only one available. It’s really ugly, with a base color of a kind of tomato orange with oversprayed areas of gray. Having my own boat vs. renting definitely has tradeoffs: I had to pick up a roof rack, it takes time to get it up there and snugged down, and it takes up a lot of space in the garage. On the other hand, I’m no longer limited to rental locations, and I’m really looking forward to exploring the waterways around me.

*After a couple of weeks the message changed, and the sale was now billed as a “moving” sale. They’ve found a new location for the store – 132 Charles Street in Newton.

Nahanton Downstream

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Sunday, I paddled downstream from Charles River and Canoe and Kayak’s Nanhanton Park location. Unlike the upstream side, which runs about 14 miles, this is about a two mile trip before you have to stop just short of the Silk Mill Dam. The river is narrower, and the trees crowd the river, providing lots of shade. There are many more human structures nearby, starting with the radio towers looming in the distance. Continue reading

Last Paddle of the Season

Today was my last kayaking trip of the season. I’ve had a season pass this year at Charles River Canoe and Kayak, and wanted to go one last time before they transfer over to the  Weston Ski Track for the winter. The weather was sunny, but seasonably chilly — a little over 50°, I’d guess. With water temperatures in the forties, though, wet suits were required,  so I wore my diving 7mm suit.

I wasn’t the only one on the river, either. As I was getting ready on the dock, a guy in a dry suit was returning on a stand up paddle board, and I saw a couple of other folks in kayaks over the course of the trip. It was fairly comfortable while I was in the sun; slightly chilly when I was in the shade. All the maples, and many of the other trees, had lost all their leaves, but the oaks still had their leaves, brown, but just beginning to drop. Continue reading

10 Mile Paddle

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Sunday, I did Charles River Canoe and Kayak’s Shuttled River Trip from their Nahanton Park location. You meet at Nahanton Park in the morning, and they drop you and the kayaks ten miles upstream, at Charles River Park, a small turnout along Route 135.

The scenery is very nice along the way, and the weather was perfect. Some parts are very wild looking — you’d never know you were close to civilization. In other parts, you’re drifting under bridges and past some very impressive homes. Continue reading

Up a Lazy River

I took advantage of the nice weather on Sunday to spend some more time on the Charles. Earlier in the afternoon, I went in town to go rollerblading for the first time in a long time. I started in Allston, and skated up the bike paths, then crossed over the Anderson bridge to Memorial Drive and skated up to Western Avenue. There was a dragon boat race there, so it was really crowded. It was fun to be back on skates, but boy, was it painful. My legs just aren’t what they used to be.

After getting back to the car, I headed back out to Newton to go kayaking. I’d gone downstream last week, so this week I was determined to go upstream, all the way to the Route 16 dam if I could.

Continue reading

Kayaking the Charles

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Despite the clouds and mist, I went kayaking along the Charles today. I headed downstream against a fairly stiff breeze out of Charles River Canoe and Kayak in Newton. Along the way, I saw a number of swans, a bunch of canadian geese, and the fiberglass animals that one of the homeowners has deployed along the way. Continue reading