Friday, March 16, 2012


As an urban paddler living in Boston there’s no better place for a quick escape than the rugged waters of the Outer Boston Harbor Islands. 34 desolate rocky islands, names like Devil's Back Ledge, The Narrows, Shag Rocks,The Graves,Roaring Bulls,instantly set off a mixture of anticipation and anxiety that makes my heart flutter and stomach turn at the same time. Navigating narrow peninsulas, outgoing/incoming tides, rip currents, shipping lanes, tankers, commuter ferries, power boats, and fishing vessels presents unique challenges even for the experienced paddler and when you do find your comfort zone it's never long before the weather changes, the tide shifts or a boat has it’s bearings on you (be especially cautions if my 4 yr old is in the captains seat)

Be prepared for unknown,
you might lose something.
But you might also gain something!

The Outer Boston Harbor can be deceptive in that conditions may appear flat calm against shore with a light breeze wafting offshore, but with increasing distance offshore wind strength increases dramatically. Be aware the small harbor island’s hilly coastlines with thick patches of forest and narrow topographic features funnel offshore winds. Nothing worse than getting yourself caught up in a whine and grind frenzy when caught in sudden or gradual change to an offshore wind.

The fun meter doesn’t have to go down, hug the shoreline intimately, even if it adds considerably to the distance paddled. I've been in this predicament on more than one occasion and if I had made the usual straight line crossing from Spectacle Island to Castle Island I would have drifted off course into the shipping lanes expending far more energy than necessary. To combat the ensuing wind and chop drift I paddled upwind along Thompson Island’s shoreline before kicking out on the crossing. If I charted the course on NOAA's On-Line Chart Viewer - Chart: 13270 Boston Harbor it would have looked like a sideways 7.

"The word adventure has gotten overused.
For me, when everything goes wrong,
that's when adventure starts"

-Yvon Chouinard

If you're planning to explore Outer Boston Harbor Islands by paddle this spring or venture onto the coastal New England waters below are three articles by local Gloucestermen Adam Bolonsky worth embedding in your brain.

Paddling Like a Boater
Kayak Navigation: the Basics (with Boston Harbor examples)
Make Your Mark

To learn more about the famous Shipwrecks of Boston Harbor Hull Lifesavings Museum and diver/author Robert Sullivan recently designed a fascinating interactive online chart