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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Rivers, Long Island Sound, marshes and islands – all in one day

    Tiny islands spread out in Long Island Sound off Branford. (Steve Fagin)
    William Kenyon paddles through a quiet salt marsh. (Steve Fagin)
    A rock partially obscures Gretchen Whitteberry’s kayak as she cuts through a narrow passage along a cliff. (Steve Fagin)

    Decisions, decisions.

    Some kayakers prefer poking into secluded coves and quiet rivers; others would rather venture offshore amid wind and waves. Exploring isolated locations may be rewarding, but then so is ducking beneath bridges, paddling alongside yachts, and passing elegant waterfront homes to observe how the other half lives.

    Curt Andersen organized a group outing in Branford and East Haven the other day that satisfied all preferences.

    “This route has something for everyone,” Curt said, as our group launched from a state boat ramp on the Branford River.

    During summer weekends, this 10.5-mile-long river – home to 13 yacht clubs and marinas, as well as 1,800 boat slips and 65 moorings – bustles with power boats and sailboats. But on a sunny Saturday in autumn, Branford Harbor was largely devoid of marine traffic, except for our fleet of nine kayaks. Joining our merry band were Carmella Kalafa, Dave Kalafa, William Kenyon, Elyse Landesberg, Kate Powers, Maria Scaglione and Gretchen Whitteberry.

    Along the way, we passed sheer cliffs and rocky crags that make this section of the sound appealingly distinctive.

    “A major reason for this diversity lies in our unusual geology,” Lauren Brown, past president of the Branford Land Trust, writes on the town’s website. “A fault runs through the town, on a diagonal from the foot of Beacon Hill to the northeastern end of the Supply Pond,” she notes.

    Consequently, the basalt coast here, shaped by tectonic forces some 400 million years ago, looks more like Maine than Connecticut.

    We took a circuitous route into tidal marshes, where a bald eagle soared overhead, while egrets and great blue herons stalked the shore.

    After exiting the harbor and entering the sound, we could have steered east toward Branford’s most popular offshore destination, the Thimble Islands. But most of us had already paddled through this archipelago off Stony Creek, so headed west.

    Along the way we landed on a tiny island, which required some gymnastics to exit our boats without crunching hulls or flipping over into the 60-degree water.

    After a short lunch break, we hugged the shore of Granite Bay, rounded Kelsey Island and entered the Farm River. This 16.5-mile waterway had been known as Beaver River, Deborah River, Deborah's Stream, East Haven River, Foxon River, Great River, Ironworks River, Mainnuntaquck, Moe River, Muddy River, Scotch Cap River, Stony River, and Tapamshasick, before its name was changed in 1968.

    We soon passed 61-acre Farm River State Park, which had been part of a run-down neighborhood before the state acquired it to create a public recreation area in 1998. The paddle north became increasingly difficult as the ebb’s tidal current intensified, and the river became a whitewater torrent where it narrowed to a shallow creek near the East Haven Marsh Wildlife Area. Time to turn around.

    The rumble of a vintage rail car from the nearby Shore Line Trolley Museum echoed through the marsh as we departed. We made one more stop, at Branford’s Short Beach, before rounding Johnson Point and re-entering Branford Harbor.

    A snappy south breeze kicked up rolling waves across the harbor, which made for a rollicking ride back to the protected river.

    “This is an adventure!” I called over to Kate, who was paddling nearby.

    “Fun,” she agreed. Years ago, Kate had been in a kayaking group that completed an epic, 57-mile voyage that went from Stonington to Montauk Point to Block Island and back to Stonington in one day, so our 12-mile escapade in Branford and East Haven was no great shakes.

    Still, Long Island Sound on a blustery day gets the heart pumping, so all of us were happy to pull ashore. And stopping for ice cream at the Branford Green before driving home made it a perfect day.

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