Published May 10. 2014 4:00AM
At last, a warm, sunny day last Saturday brought a slew of kayakers to one of the best launch sites in Connecticut, Noank’s Esker Point Beach, where five of us branched off from a pack of paddlers and steered toward my favorite destination, Fishers Island — only a few miles offshore as the crow flies but somewhat longer allowing for our intentionally meandering route.
The water was mill-pond flat, the wind light, the tide near slack, and the powerboat traffic virtually absent — in short, perfect conditions for mindless drifting rather than white-knuckle power-stroking.
Joining me were Phil Warner and Ian Frenkel, longtime racers and friendly rivals; Day colleague Jenna Cho, who does most of her adventuring on terra firma but also enjoys maritime outings; and my son, Tom, who is always game for anything that will take him to the mountains, the open road or the open water.
We decided to head to Fishers because Tom, who was in town only for a few weeks to visit family and to run the Boston Marathon, wanted to get out on salt water one last time before embarking on a circuitous journey that would take him by bus to New Mexico to pick up his car, then by auto to Utah to meet friends for a week or so of wilderness mountaineering on some of that state’s highest peaks, followed by a drive to Minnesota to begin work as a kayak guide.
Our sojourn on the Sound would be a fitting farewell not only to Tom but also to seals that swim here from the Gulf of Maine and the Maritime Provinces during winter. By now most already have migrated back north, but I hoped to spot a few stragglers.
Sure enough, we hadn’t paddled more than a mile or so, just south of Ram Island, when eagle-eyed Phil cried, “There’s one at 10 o’clock!”
A shiny head bobbed above the surface for a nanosecond before ducking back under. Thirty seconds later, the seal reappeared for an instant about 100 yards behind us. Another 10 seconds and it came up only about 10 yards away.
“They’re curious,” I said.
We continued paddling toward Hungry Point near the northeast tip of Fishers, where in mid-winter I’ve observed more than 100 harbor seals and an occasional hooded or gray seal hauled on the rocks at low tide. On this balmy day, though, the rocks were barren save for a stray cormorant.
Every so often, though, a harbor seal or two surfaced to check us out.
Tempting as it was to linger we continued paddling. It’s against federal law to get closer than 50 yards to seals – not that they would let you. Though curious they’re also shy.
Another good reason to avoid approaching seals is that they have razor-sharp teeth.
Anyway, we kept our distance before surfing ashore to savor snacks and to soak up some sun – a rare experience during this soggy, chilly spring.
All too soon it was time to steer back to Noank. Happily, a light breeze picked up from the southeast and the tide approached the end of the flood, so we enjoyed a proverbial fair wind and following sea all the way to Esker Point.
Not far from shore a seal popped up one more time – possibly the final one I’ll see in the wild until next winter, and certainly Tom’s last, unless the marine mammals somehow managed to make their way to Lake Superior or the Boundary Waters.
Bon voyage, seals; bon voyage, Tom. Enjoy your summers in northern waters.