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    Friday, September 30, 2022

    Kayaking amid the splendor of Narragansett Bay

    Kayakers paddling on the East Passage of Narragansett Bay off Jamestown, R.I., last Sunday, approach the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge. (Steve Fagin)
    Mackerel Cove in Jamestown is a quiet retreat from the bay’s east and west main channels, where boat traffic can make for challenging kayaking conditions. (Steve Fagin)
    Cormorants perch on a rocky island in Narragansett Bay. (Steve Fagin)
    Rocky cliffs line much of Jamestown’s east shore. (Steve Fagin)
    Sailboats head south off Newport on Narragansett Bay while Robin Francis paddles north off Jamestown. (Steve Fagin)

    Under abundantly sunny skies, a powerful ebb tide pulled our fleet of kayaks around Taylor Point in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, and propelled us along the rocky shore off Jamestown.

    As an elegant schooner under full sail swept by, one could imagine a similar vessel plying these waters nearly 500 years ago. In 1524, Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano and his crew aboard La Dauphine became the first Europeans to enter the bay on their voyage up the East Coast in search of a route to the Pacific Ocean. They wound up spending 15 days with members of Rhode Island’s Narragansett and Wampanoag tribes before continuing north to Maine, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

    Today, some of the nation’s most exclusive communities surround Narragansett Bay, including Newport to the east and Jamestown to the west.

    We weren’t out to visit Newport’s Gilded Age mansions or celebrated yacht harbor on Aquidneck Island, but confined ourselves to the less-hectic coast of Jamestown’s Conanicut Island. The shoreline here, lined with steep cliffs pockmarked by bays, inlets, coves and lagoons, makes it a particularly appealing paddling destination.

    Robin Francis and Curt Andersen of Stonington organized last Sunday’s excursion, inviting fellow kayakers from southeastern Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We launched from a beach into Potter Cove and soon passed beneath the two-mile-long Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge, a fitting gateway to our nautical adventure.

    In less than two miles we poked into a grotto at Fort Wetherill State Park. Formerly a coast artillery fort, the 51-acre military installation was turned over to the state after World War II and now is managed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. It is one of several old forts in Jamestown and Newport repurposed for public recreation.

    Almost exactly a year ago, seven of us launched from Fort Wetherill for a 12-mile paddle to Newport and back, but Curt decided that our group of 13 last Sunday was too unwieldy to cross the bay twice during peak season. Instead, he devised an alternative 11-mile route that for the most part kept us away from main channels often traversed by sailboats, fishing boats, tour boats and cigarette boats roaring along at 60 mph.

    Just beyond Bull Point, we shot through a powerful tidal rip and bounced past The Dumplings, a collection of small islands where the 23-room, 10,000-square-foot Clingstone “cottage,” built in 1905, is perched. Locals call this imposing structure, which can be rented for $8,000 a week, “the house on the rock.”

    Next, we scooted across Concord Gulf Cove, rounded Southwest Point and entered Mackerel Cove, a 1.3-mile-long inlet graced with a sandy beach. We pulled ashore at the east end of the beach, far from the swimming area, and took a short lunch break. All too soon, it was time to head back.

    Before climbing aboard, I sponged out my cockpit, where waves had washed in during the landing.

    “You know, there’s a better way to get rid of the water,” Graham Jones said with a straight face that disguised his British-honed, wry sense of humor. I looked up and took the bait.

    “How?”

    “Just drill a few holes. But then you’ll have to paddle really fast to reduce the pressure so water won’t leak back in,” he explained.

    Overhearing our exchange, Joan Love rolled her eyes and groaned.

    “Don’t tell him that! Now he’s going to put it in the paper and make you look like an idiot!” she exclaimed.

    “Don’t worry,” I lied.

    Back in our boats, a south wind had picked up, pushing against the end of the ebb to create a few choppy stretches.

    Nobody was more delighted with these conditions than Kurt Hatem, who zipped along, happily surfing waves and boat wakes.

    All in all, it was a wonderful outing, well worth the hour’s drive from southeastern Connecticut. There is no shortage of wonderful places to paddle closer to home, but none quite like Narragansett Bay.

    “The mix of currents, winds, rocks and coastline make for churning, variable seas and a rollicking good time,” Andy Lynn of New London noted.

    The Potter Cove launch site we used is located off Freebody Drive. Other Jamestown kayak accesses include Fort Getty on Beavertail Road; Fort Weatherill on Walcott Avenue; Jamestown Harbor on Conanicus Avenue; and Jamestown Shores Beach on Seaside Drive.

    A comprehensive list of Rhode Island launch sites is available on the interactive website ExploreRI.org.

    New London Cup paddleboard, kayak and surfski race will benefit swimming program

    New London – The second annual New London Cup stand-up paddleboard, kayak and surfski races will take place Aug. 28 at Ocean Beach Park.

    The event, which organizers hope eventually will develop into a qualifier for international competition, raises money for a swimming program run by the New London Recreation Department.

    Race founder Ike Brody said he was alarmed to learn that only 10 percent of New London youth know how to swim.

    “We created a water race to raise money to teach New London kids and adults how to swim. Our goal is to raise enough money over the lifetime of the New London Cup to teach every New London resident who wants to learn how to swim and help educate residents on the need to protect our ocean and beaches,” he said.

    Entrants can compete in three separate courses: a seven-mile race, from Ocean Beach to the mouth of Waterford’s Jordan Cove and back; a 2.25-mile race consisting of three laps in front of Ocean Beach; and a half-mile race off Ocean Beach for children. People also can participate by paddling out to watch the races.

    Brody said he hopes a $500 prize for the winner of the long-course race will attract some of the region’s top paddlers.

    “We’re hoping for a big turnout,” he said.

    The event will also feature live music, food and post-race massage therapists.

    The seven-mile race is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m., followed by the 2.25-mile race at 10:35, and the youth race at 11:30.

    Entry fees are $70 for the long race, $50 for the short race, $20 for the youth race, and $40 for those who simply want to paddle out near the course.

    More information and registration details are available at www.NewLondonCup.com.

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