By Eugene Buchanan
Want to do a pre-emptive strike on working off some of that turkey and apple pie for Thanksgiving? Dip your blade in Plymouth Harbor—yep, right where the Pilgrims landed—to feel good about going back for second helpings.
Steeped in history as much as your mashed potatoes likely will be in gravy, Plymouth Harbor—best accessed from the launch points of Nelson’s Beach and Stephens Field—offers something for all skill levels of sea kayakers. And even if you can't make it out this Thanksgiving, it's there year-round for taking you back to our country's beginnings.
Beginner paddlers can stay in the inner harbor and along the shoreline for a couple of hours, complete with a cockpit-eye's view of the 180-ton Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship that carried 102 passengers from England to the New World in 1620, which is now back in the harbor after seven months of dry-dock for restoration. Paddling the harbor also affords a commanding view of Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims landed.
While history buffs can enjoy seaside views of Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II, the paddle also offers plenty for naturalists. Plymouth Beach is a three-mile-long barrier beach supplying a prime nesting area for terns and piping plovers,.
More adventurous paddlers can turn the paddle into a 13.8-mile loop, and even head out to the outer harbor to play in the waves and wakes from the boat traffic, weather permitting (beware the channel markers and give right of way to power boaters). You can also paddle over to Long Beach for a quick break. More advanced paddlers can also launch from Plymouth Harbor for trips to Saquish Beach, Gurnet Point Lighthouse (the oldest wooden lighthouse in the United States) and Clark’s Island (the first landfall for the pilgrims in Plymouth Harbor). These are higher-level trips requiring appropriate skills and equipment (as well as channels and boat traffic, also pay attention to the current and tides—low tide can sometimes leave miles of mud flats).
"It's quite a sight to see these historic sites from the perspective of the water," says Chip Hebert, a member of the area's Wild Turkey Paddling Club, who advises going out before high tide and returning at its peak. "The marina at the other end of the inner harbor also has some great boats to look at."
Sea Kayaking Coastal Massachusetts
by Lisa Gollin Evans (Appalachian Mountain Club Books)
Want more info? Check out Sea Kayaking Coastal Massachusetts by Lisa Evans. From the rocky shores of Newburyport to the southern waters of Cape Cod, the guide describes more than 40 sea kayaking trips in pilgrim-land. Blending detailed trip descriptions with practical advice, from spotting wildlife and choosing the right kayak to environmental stewardship, it's perfect for everyone from novices to advanced paddlers. It includes maps, directions, and launch sites; tidal information; campground recommendations; local outfitters and resources, including guides, kayak clubs, and paddling associations; information on essential skills, safety, gear, and navigation; and coastal conservation, access rights, and environmental issues.