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Back aboard with the Tuesday Night Paddlers

Pushing against a flooding tide, a lone kayaker ducked beneath the Masons Island Road bridge late Tuesday afternoon and resumed gliding toward the mouth of the Mystic River at Fishers Island Sound.

Seconds later, another kayaker squeezed through the narrow opening, and another, and another — all single file.

Within a minute, 20 paddlers formed a flotilla that cruised past Andrews, Dodges, Enders and Ram islands.

After a year of limited outings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tuesday Night Paddlers (TNP), an informal group that schedules weekly kayak voyages along the southeastern Connecticut coast, is back at full strength.

Nick Schade of Groton, paddling an elegant wooden craft that he designed and built, surveyed the fleet with a smile.

“TNP will be OK,” he said.

Nick organizes the weekly paddles, which are free and open to the public, with scheduling assistance from Elyse Landesberg of Waterford. Both said they are delighted by the turnout so far this spring, and expect popularity of the sessions to continue to grow throughout the summer and early fall.

This week’s excursion, launched from Williams Beach Park at the Ocean Community YMCA – Naik Family Branch in Mystic, attracted paddlers who ranged from teenager to septuagenarian.

“I’ve been paddling for a year,” Sammy Stacy of Ledyard, who turns 14 next month, said as she expertly steered her vessel past a massive stone seawall protecting the St. Edmunds Retreat at Enders Island.

Her neighbor, veteran kayaker Carl Tjerandsen, introduced Sammy to the sport, and beamed as he watched her paddle with confidence.

“She’s amazing,” he said.

Several people had driven down to Mystic from the Hartford area, making for happy reunions among friends who hadn’t gotten together for more than a year. There were handshakes and hugs in the parking lot, rather than the coronavirus fist and elbow bumps that had been the accepted greeting over the past year and a half.

The presence of out-of-towners reinforced why local paddlers consider themselves lucky to live so close to the water. With a shoreline graced by hidden coves, tiny islands and sandy beaches, southeastern Connecticut indeed is one of the state’s premier paddling destinations.

On any given week, the outing also brings some of the region’s top kayakers.

Dave Fasulo of Essex joined the fun Tuesday. He has staged some epic excursions, including a 70-mile, one-day kayak trip on the Connecticut River, from Agawam, Mass., to Old Saybrook, which I joined for the last 30 miles. Dave also came up with the idea for the so-called Stonington Triangle, in which kayakers launched from Stonington Borough, proceeded to Montauk Point on Long Island, then continued to Block Island, and returned to Stonington — 54 miles of open-ocean paddling, in one day.

Kate Powers of Essex, also in attendance Tuesday, completed that marathon voyage with Phil Warner in a tandem kayak.

“It was a very long day,” she recalled with a grimace. Their beamy boat could not hold a straight course, and they struggled to finish after dark.

Happily, the TNP gatherings are nothing like that endurance event, she noted.

“I think it’s great that all different (levels of) paddlers show up,” Kate said.

While the group sticks together loosely, each kayaker goes at his or her own pace, and usually finds someone to paddle alongside. Afterward, paddlers share a potluck picnic.

Routes and distances vary, depending on conditions. Although seas were exceptionally calm and winds light on Tuesday, possible thunderstorms were forecast, so the itinerary was relatively short — about five miles — and did not venture offshore.

After rounding Ram Island clockwise, the group headed back along the west shore of Masons Island, passing Ice Harbor, Poggy Bay, Money Point, Mud Cove, Ram Point, Clam Point, Abigail Point, and finally, Pine Point, where we steered east back to Williams Beach.

Sammy’s dad, Jim, was waiting there patiently. Jim said he is not now a kayaker, but one day may take up the sport so he can join his daughter and the other TNP paddlers.

Next week, June 15, the group will launch from the state boat ramp at the end of Bayberry Lane in Groton.

Paddlers are asked to be in their boats by 5:30 p.m. and abide by guidelines posted on the meetup.com website:

“Please dress appropriately for the water temperature, in case of a capsize, and wear your life jacket. We are a leaderless group and plan our evening's route spontaneously. Sometimes we don't all go to the same place, allowing for paddles of different degrees of challenge. Most participants have boats 14 feet or longer and our usual paddle distance is 5-9 miles per evening. We don't cancel paddles except in extreme weather.”

The guidelines state that anyone not fully vaccinated against COVID should wear masks while loading and unloading boats, and to remain physically distanced during the picnic.

For more information: https://www.meetup.com/Tuesday-Night-Paddle/events/

 

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