Monday, January 29, 2007

1/21/07 - Norwalk Islands

Been so busy working on weekdays and playing on weekends, seems I'm falling a bit behind on my trip reports!

Had a lovely excursion taking the cutest schooner in New York Harbor to the Tottenville Marina (south end of Staten Island & for Staten Islanders and people who like working boatyards, worth a visit in and of itself) yesterday, a good paddle with Stevie and Kayak Boy on Saturday, following a club meeting that's got me pretty psyched about some upcoming events...including an attempt to break the world's record for circumnavigating Long Island!

But I'm going to take the liberty of skipping around a little, just to play catch-up. One thing I like about this winter is that TQ gets the occasional Sunday off. The 21st was his January Sunday.

Take a wild guess what we did with it...

Yes, some people think that this is what you do with boats in the wintertime...


Not me!


And lucky me, not him, either. Nope.


As you can see, winter's finally decided to get all wintery, finally. Haven't seen ice around the dock at Sebago yet, but up here in South Norwalk, the water is getting all CRUNCHY! You drop your boat in the water - CRUNCH. OR if you are TQ and paddle an ultralight Sparrowhawk, you drop your boat and it just sits on top of the ice until you get in (the heavier Slipstream he fixes me up with when I paddle up there broke the ice).

For anyone who's stopping by from, oh, Malaysia or Hawaii, here's what it's like:

First paddlestroke - CRUNCH. Then krshlkrshlkrshl as you pull your boat forward. then you stop, and CRUNCH, and krshlkrshlkrshl again. TQ's overdramatizing the "CRUNCH" moment in the above picture! As the ice gets thinner and you pick up speed the krshlkrshlkrshl gets longer until it's one long continuous KRSSSSSHHHH while your strokes go CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH...and then all the sudden you're clear and everything gets quiet.

It was a really odd day weatherwise. It was cold; it was pretty clear in the morning (to the point that we were both concerned about our lack of sunscreen), but by the time we'd finished stoking ourselves for the day (which we did at the incredible champagne brunch at the Silvermine Tavern - not going to go into too much detail because gosh darn it, This Is Not A Relationship Blog, nor do I plan to turn it into a Charming Inns of Fairfield County blog, but my goodness that place is LOVELY - TQ was looking out the window in the morning when it was still all blue & sparkling outside & said "I've driven for hours to stay at remote places in the mountains that felt less secluded...") it had turned overcast - but it was a HIGH overcast. The air at sea level was incredibly clear. There's actually a line of 4 smokestacks directly across Long Island Sound from the Norwalk Islands - TQ uses those as a clarity meter. When you see what looks like one smokestack as you're paddling out, that, he says, is clear. When you see 4 smokestacks, it's really clear. I don't think I've seen 4 before!

There was also an interesting mirage going on - all the islands appeared to be suspended in air a few feet above the water - and also reflected upside down in the very air in which they floated. That was particularly noticeable when you looked across the Sound to Long Island. The land you see behind the lighthouse here is actually Long Island. Yes, Long Island, as in one Long continuous Island - but all the lowlying parts are hidden behind that layer of mirage. This went away later on in the day, but the air stayed clear; at one point we could see the towers on Manhattan.

It made for at least one funny moment during out paddle - we'd set out in a roughly northeasterly direction, heading for the north end of the island chain (our plan was pretty much "Let's go paddle around some islands" and we sort of set out northwest because it we'd gone east to Shea & Sheffield our last couple of trips - just fun to mix things up a bit. Eventually, I was confidently heading for an are that appeared to be open water; TQ told me we'd need to veer off to port because that might LOOK like open water, but he expected to start seeing a low sandbar pretty soon. I'm glad I didn't argue because sure enough, as we approached Cockenoe (pronounced Koo-kee-nee - don't ask me, I just visit there) it, the sand gradually rose up over the shimmer.

We had the place to ourselves. There are usually oyster boats out working all winter, but they stay home on Sundays, so it was just us and many, many longtailed ducks. Funny, again a difference just a few miles north of Jamaica Bay. I'd just seen my first pair of these during my paddle to Brighton Beach - here in the Norwalk Islands, they were everywhere. And skittish - for good reason, as we found out later.

Besides the the ducks, and the usual seagulls & a few crows, we saw a hawk perched in a tree overlooking the little cove that's the center of Cockenoe. The sandbar arms shelter the cove, and at high water, there's a salt marsh that you can paddle through. Something to look forward to next time.

We didn't stop anywhere, just paddled. On around Cockenoe, then along the eastern edge of the island chain. Again, like the week before, I'd gotten into a good, strong-feeling rhythm, and I felt like I could have paddled the rest of the way on around - but it was cold enough that our decks had a coating of ice & as we approached the next islands in the chain, the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky. When TQ suggested that we cut between Grassy and Chimon Islands (the islands shown in this picture), I didn't argue!

Although in a funny reversal of the earlier situation, where he swore that land would be appearing where there didn't appear to be any, this time, the water was low enough that I almost thought we'd be doing a portage - and in fact TQ was on the verge of wondering if we'd be able to get through when we spotted the "channel". Wouldn't have worked for anything but a kayak, but we got through without having to walk at all. I think that's part of the fun paddling with somebody who really knows their territory - learning the funny little shortcuts that they know you can do at point A in the tide cycle, but not point B. Easily amused? Yes, perhaps!

We headed back to South Norwalk with the light beginning to fade - randomly talking of random stuff, or just enjoying the quiet. As we neared Calf Pasture Beach, we noticed that we appeared to be paddling up on a longtailed duck - a bizarrely tame one, compared to all the ones that took to the air almost before we knew they were there. At first, I thought it was sick, or hurt - but as we approached, we realized that it was not an actual duck at all.

"So that's why they were so skittish" was TQ's comment once we finished laughing about this poor abandoned iced-up decoy. I asked him about hunting in such a heavily populated area & he said that it's permitted, although heavily regulated.

By this time it was getting cool enough that stopping moving to take pictures was enough to cool down - so we raced each other back to the marina to warm up. TQ was slightly ahead as we turned into the kayak launch, and he was moving, and when he hit the ice there was the loudest crunchiest KRSHLKRSHLKRSHL!!!! of the whole day!

And of course I couldn't just follow him in, I had to do my own icebreaking!

Fun finish to a lovely day.

Now, if you're still here, don't need to get back to work just now, and want to read a little bit about that lovely little schooner trip I did yesterday - head on over to Tugster!

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