Kayaking Around Fishers Island - This Time Without Capsizing

The tide had just begun to flood as we four kayakers scooted past Wilderness Point on the south shore of Fishers Island the other day, and I began angling my boat toward a sandy beach for a short rest before tackling the most challenging section of our 18.5-mile island circumnavigation: the infamous Race.

This reef, the site of countless shipwrecks, can produce huge, confused seas in a swirling, chaotic mess of slop and chop in the right (or wrong) conditions.

We had already covered more than 12 miles without a break from our starting point at Esker Point Beach in Noank, and I looked forward to climbing out of the cramped cockpit, stretching my legs, gobbling a sandwich and steeling my nerves.

The irrepressible and indefatigable Phil Warner, though, paddling to my port, had another plan.

"Let's paddle around Race Rock!" he called.

This detour would add only a few hundred yards, but it would also put us farther out into rapidly intensifying currents. Not waiting for a reply, Phil, who lives in Hampden, Mass., aimed toward the stone lighthouse perched on a rocky island just off the western tip of Fishers, followed by Robin Francis of Wallingford, one of Connecticut's top women paddlers, and Ian Frenkel of Old Saybrook, for whom too much paddling is never enough. All of us have raced with and against one another for years.

"Six-point-eight!" Phil shouted, staring at a deck-mounted GPS that recorded not just our position but also our speed. That meant the tide was pushing us along at a pretty good clip — and also that it would be steadily slowing us down as soon as we steered toward home.

We weaved and bobbed past dozens of fishing boats anchored just outside The Race, circled the lighthouse and then pivoted toward the Connecticut shore.

"Here it comes!" Phil said excitedly, watching the waves grow a couple of feet higher. He is among those crazed kayakers who seek out rough water for surfing and practicing high braces.

I would have been just as happy to paddle in calm seas, but at this point we had no choice: The last leg back to Esker Point, cutting between North and South Dumpling, would be a bumpy ride.

"You doing all right?" Phil called over to me.

"Great," I replied. "Better than last time."

Although I've paddled around Fishers dozens of times over the years, last summer I flipped in rough water on the Atlantic Ocean side, and Phil had to help me get back in the boat. I was determined to redeem myself. I also had enough sense to switch to a more stable, but slower, boat for this outing.

A few minutes later the drone of a powerboat engine reverberated behind me.

I shot a look over my shoulder and saw the runabout bearing down on us. Fifty yards away, it slowed and then pulled alongside.

"Hey, Steve!"

It was my old buddy Jim Roy of Mystic, out fishing with his son, Jeff.

We chatted for a minute, and then they shot off toward Noank. Their trip back would take about 10 minutes; with aggressive paddling it would take us another hour.

The seas kicked up a bit more near the spindle off Groton Long Point, as they always do, but once we ducked into the lee of Palmer Cove the wind and tide worked in unison to propel us back to the launch site at Esker.

"A perfect paddle!" Phil exulted.

I agreed. "An ocean paddle is like a plane landing. Any one you can walk away from is a good one."

Never satisfied, Ian practiced Eskimo rolls and high braces before pulling his boat ashore.

Phil checked his watch. It had taken us about four hours – not exactly a leisurely pace, but certainly not pushing it.

"You know, Dave Grainger says he has the unofficial record for kayaking around Fishers: 2:56," Phil said, referring to a paddler from Plainville who has won many of the top races in the region. "I'm pretty sure we can beat it."

And so, in a few weeks, weather permitting, the four of us plan to return to Fishers. Robin and I will paddle a tandem kayak as the support boat, and Phil and Ian will paddle fast singles in hopes of breaking the mark.

I'll keep you posted.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Mount McKinley Renamed Denali: Better Than Mount Reagan

Three cheers for the Obama Administration’s decision this week to officially restore the name of North America’s tallest mountain to Denali, which is what early inhabitants called the 20,310-foot peak in the Alaska Range.

The Endless Summer: Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Remember when you were a kid how your mom wouldn’t let you have ice cream every day even though nothing in the world tasted better on a hot day than a double scoop of butter crunch?

My Favorite Kayak Race: The T.I.A.G.A.T.I.N.M.R. In Rangeley, Maine

Paddling like the dickens last Sunday on Maine’s Rangeley Lake, we competitors had two choices: steer clockwise or counter-clockwise around Maneskootuk Island.

Selden Island: Once A Bustling Quarry, Now A Quiet Haven

More than 40 years ago, Dave Wordell of Salem took his then-10-year-old son, Dave Junior, on a boat ride up Selden Creek, a narrow, secluded tributary of the Connecticut River in Lyme.

Life As A Lumbersexual

I can never remember – do you apply facial cleanser before or after the exfoliating scrub, and then finish up with healing balm and moisturizer, or should you start with the scrub, work your way through the cleanser and then top...

R.I.P. Cecil the Lion: Let's Make the Trophy Hunter an Endangered Species

The international outrage sparked by an American trophy hunter’s killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s beloved lion, justifiably vilifies the despicable practice of slaughtering wildlife for sport – but it also exposes the human...

All Who Wander Are Not Lost: Searching For The Elusive South Bog Stream In Rangeley, Maine

"Head for that tree stump," I instructed authoritatively one afternoon earlier this week, as if I knew for sure where we should be heading. I have learned to exude confidence when giving directions on any expedition, even...

Scott Jurek's 'Reward' For Breaking Appalachian Trail Speed Record: Three Summonses

When internationally celebrated speedster Scott Jurek scrambled last Sunday to the 5,269-foot summit of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he broke the record for the fastest assisted hike of the 2,189-mile...

No Swimming at Seaside: What’s Next? No Hiking at Bluff Point?

Most of the time I’m reasonably scrupulous about abiding by government regulations.

Training For Mystic Sharkfest: The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Swimmer

Among the many benefits of active recreation is hanging out with friends – which of course you can do at a bar, pizza parlor or coffee shop, but since most of my pals prefer to spend their leisure time on the trail or water, we...

Stung By Wasps AND Suffering From Lyme Disease: I Can't Catch A Break

You know that funny, itchy feeling when something is crawling around or worse, lodged where it doesn’t belong?

Which Is Worse: Getting Devoured By A Grizzly Bear Or A Great White Shark?

During years of roaming hither and yon on land and sea, I’ve been chased by a grizzly bear, nearly trampled by stampeding yaks, charged by a bull, attacked by swarms of hornets and almost struck by a copperhead – but what...

A Whitewater Dream Taking Shape in Willimantic

Asked to name the best whitewater kayaking and canoeing stretches in Connecticut, most paddlers would single out a gnarly, 2.6-mile section of Class IV rapids on the Housatonic River from Bulls Bridge Dam to Gaylordville, or Diana's Pool...