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A Sound Idea, Part One

Martha’s Vineyard. Block Island. Captains Harbor.

These were all ideas we had for a long weekend paddling off Long Island Sound (or Block Island Sound). We had a few constraints in terms of when we could take off from work, but the major ones were: where would we have a good chance of camping without getting in trouble? After asking around, we settled on another set of islands, based on the advice of some friends.

I won’t say specifically where, but basically the incredible Kayak Dov and I started in one place further east, paddled eighteen nautical miles, landed and camped for two nights, then paddled to where our friends lived, also about eighteen nautical miles.

Anyway, who wouldn’t want to live on an island all to themselves?

Weight for It

Pouring water takes time – and it’s heavy. I bought a couple of collapsible eight liter bags and filled them . . .filled them . . .filled them with water bought at the store.

As I poured, I contemplated that all that water would go into me, and then out of me. It was mesmerizing.

We figured we would need about fourteen liters apiece for the trip. Water weighs 2.2 lbs per liter, which meant that these bags alone added over 35 lbs of weight to my boat. I looked forward to dropping all that weight as the trip progressed.

We both brought along food as well. Snacks, as well as breakfast and dinner. I had a camping stove and fuel for it, as well as some enamel bowls and mugs.

Most of my kit I’ve looked up the weights and written on them (mugs, 4 oz weight). Of course, the biggest items were my tent and sleeping bag. My tent comfortably sleeps two. My sleeping bag crunches down quite a bit, but is still 3 lbs 3 oz.

Weight and volume. Suddenly kayaking involved elementary school math.


We’d found a little public launch about two miles up a river from the sound, right in front of a shopping center. Kayak Dov would leave his car there, take the train back, and come back to pick me up, when it was all done.

My boat was very near capacity. We could barely lift it fully loaded, and when I slid it into the water off the dock, the wood beneath creaked and groaned. However, once in the water, it was imminently paddle-able. I had good trim, a little biased to the stern. I could edge comfortably, and while it took a bit more effort to get going, I could go.

One kind gentleman questioned our plans. “The river gets up to ten knots. I’ve pulled people out myself. People just like you.” Really? Nothing we researched indicated such strong currents, and we certainly didn’t experience them. In a little more than half an hour we’d gotten to the mouth of the river and on to Long Island Sound.


We paddled past a lot of lighthouses and markers, including this one at Stratford Point.

Long Island Sound, April 2015
Kayak Dov rounding Stratford Point.

We debated whether to stay near shore or go farther out. I favored the latter, as for me this was a navigation exercise. I’d worked out that a heading of 240 based on a couple of offshore waypoints would get us there. However an offshore tailwind steadily blew us back towards shore, and I spent a lot of this leg of the trip just keeping track of where we were using buoys and landmarks.

We did keep ourselves entertained though. Pretty sure this was Black Rock. If you squint hard you can see that the sailboat is being towed in.

Long Island Sound, April 2015
Black Rock, towing.

Near an area called The Cows, we were a bit perplexed because we only saw one rock-mounted light where we expected two would be in sight. We later attributed this to one compass not being set correctly for magnetic deviation, leading to a lot of head math and a little disagreement about where things were. We took a guess that the lighthouse we saw was the outermost of the two, and in hindsight we were probably right.

Long Island Sound, April 2015
Black Rock, near The Cows.

We paddled on. One thing I learned – or had reinforced rather, as I’ve experienced it before – is that bearing paddling is very much an act of faith. If I keep going in this direction for two hours I will get there. It’s not totally an act of faith – have your wits about you regarding the wind and current. However, far from landmarks, there can be little sense of progress, and you just have to trust that as long as you maintain a given course, you’ll be near enough to your destination to find it.

Long Island Sound, April 2015
We paddled.

I have to confess a couple of things.

First of all, I was low on energy. I’d carb’d up the night before, and had a decent breakfast, and lunch, and power bar on the way, but I was flagging. I felt slow, though Kayak Dov later pointed out that, along the lines of what I wrote above, without anything nearby against which to gauge speed it’s easy to feel like you’re going nowhere. I stopped for breaks more frequently than I would have liked, and ten minutes felt like half an hour.

Once we landed, I worked out that I hadn’t been especially slow. Despite the deviation from plan, we’d more or less followed the plan and arrived only a little later than expected. It’s only that along the way, I hadn’t been feeling that.

The second thing was that I misread the horizon. There was one point where we were much farther offshore than I’d intended, perhaps half a mile to a mile. It’s easy to fail to distinguish between a piece of land many miles away and a low headland closer by. For the longest time I mistook our destination for a small spit that we never seemed to have passed, when in fact we were just so far out we never crossed it.

In short order we realized we had already passed the easternmost of these islands and could make what we thought were the middle and westernmost. Suddenly I had renewed energy, just like I’ve seen in clients. The destination is right there. Full speed ahead!

Unfortunately, we had a little more noodling around to do. There are many islands in this little archipelago, and some of them are connected at low tide. What we thought was our destination clearly wasn’t, on account of a house being on it, and the next one over was clearly for the birds only – there were signs posted. However, by now we were close enough to shore that I orientated myself and got to a beach.

We got out, checked it out, and made camp. Partly as a result of having to paddle around the islands we’d originally mistook for our destination, we landed at the wrong beach. Instead of a sandy beach with fire pits and outhouses, we were about half a mile around a small point, on a beach mixed of short reeds and large pebbles, with a long mound of shells forming a berm.

We didn’t know, and in any event decided it was good enough. We set up camp and made dinner, watched the sun set, and went to bed shortly after.

The Island

The next morning, we got up and explored the island.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
The interior pond.
Norwalk Islands, April 2015
The Argonaut after landing.

On Saturday I took a wee paddle by myself around the island – actually two islands, connected at low tide by a land bridge.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Much closer than usual to a gull.
Norwalk Islands, April 2015
The old lighthouse.

As I rounded the far point of the far island, I saw a paddleboarder putting out to sea from a long soft beach near the lighthouse. Now, I am a friendly paddler, and said howdy as we got close, but I got barely a response.

Maybe he thought I’d criticize him for being underdressed for the water, or maybe I was just ruining his zen. We were vessels passing in the day, and that was all there was to it.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
A paddleboarder.
Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Innermost shore of the westernmost island.

On the back half of my circumnav (duo-circ? It was two islands at once) I came across what I dubbed the wishing well and some old structures that I suppose once supported a walkway out to it.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Remains of former grandeur.

Opposite the north shore of the island was a power plant. That stack had been one of our landmarks the last few miles in. It was quiet, and not smoky.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
A power plant.

Several smaller islands dotted a small bay just northwest of our island. On the one hand, we thought it was a shame that they’d been turned over to private development. On the other hand, if we had one, we’d certainly put it to use! They seemed to be summer homes though. I didn’t see any signs of habitation in any of them.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Houses in the interior bay.
Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Each one Unique.

On this last house, the forces of erosion had clearly taken their toll. I don’t expect this home has too much longer, relatively speaking.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
High Ground – for how long?

When I got back, I joined Kayak Dov for a walk around the island.  At low tide, we saw quite a bit more than our earlier reconnoiter.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Dead Horseshoe Crab.

At times we saw other kayaks in the distance. This fellow was making great speed. We tried to identify the style of his boat. It looked somewhat ski-ish, or race-style sea kayak. Kayak Dov thought it might be a skin-on-frame boat.

We tried hailing him but got no response.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Another Paddler!

You can’t stop a boy from frolicking over nature !

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Tidal Strands.

As we came around the island, I found that parts of this bay were closed off at low tide.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Those same islands.
Norwalk Islands, April 2015
A wading bird.

What really took me about this island was that you could clearly see the effect of tide on the geography and local flora. At low tide so much more of the island was exposed, and at narrow bars of sand and stone you could make out the flow of water, and even visualize the slow erosive effects that must take decades, even centuries, to change the landscape. I really felt like I could see Earth as a living planet, and the effects that the tides, and by extension our moon and sun and our oceans and the wind, have on the world we live on.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Most of our isthmus.

This included the mussels and reeds. Most of the island’s flora were these short stubby reeds, amongst which sprawling clusters of mussels grew. Our camp awoke each morning to the calls of oystercatcher birds, and we could see them streaming down to the fields for breakfast. The tides, the moon, the sea, they pumped in and out, feeding the mussels, which filtered the water and fed the birds. We were living in a great organism, this little island, on our living planet.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Huge tracts of Mussels

In this next photo, everything greenish was submerged at high tide. Our first trek around the island we’d walked very close to the tree line and only seen the remains of one old dock. This time around, we saw so much more. There was quite a bit of old working equipment, indicating either a formerly working embayment, or that old ramps and docks and other detritus from those houses washed up here.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
A formerly working embayment.

As I mentioned, some parts of the bay closed off at low tide.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Grandeur from the Shore.

 Kayak Dov checked out the scene of the low tide plain.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Patrolling the Remains.

I spotted a little hermit crab. At first we thought he was dead, but he moved a bit. Perhaps he was lost, or got in a bad spot with the tide.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
A wee crab, lost in the reeds.

Speaking of crabs – we found this major crab city in a small channel at low tide. There was plenty of mud for them to build homes in, tons of little holes we could watch them crawl in and out from. I didn’t take video but believe me, they were scurrying all over the place. I’m not sure what kind they were – they didn’t seem to possess the huge claw of the fiddler crab. They seemed very busy – until we got too close and they scurried underground!

Norwalk Islands, April 2015

We ended our little walkabout atop a high point overlooking the north and east. I could spot my little wishing well from there, as well as a light farther out in the sound.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Tomorrow’s Horizon from a High Point.

Afterwards, we had an early dinner (“first dinner” – we’d eat more later) of bean and rice burritos with salsa, cheese, and bell peppers.

Norwalk Islands, April 2015
Burritos for Dinner!

This was the first part of an amazing trip. It was my first attempt at long distance trip planning and navigation, and I learned what worked, what didn’t, and what to account for once on the move. We had brilliant conditions for paddling – much less wind than expected, sunny, great visibility. It was my first really long trip of the season and I re-learned old lessons on pacing and managing nourishment.

Published in 2015 Backpaddle Camping Kayaking Sea


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