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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    No problem parking in Newport, if you arrive by kayak

    Near the end of a nearly 13-mile paddle, kayakers approach the Claiborne Pell Bridge, preparing to paddle back from Newport to Jamestown, R.I. (Photo by Steve Fagin)
    The schooner Aquidneck heads toward its berth at Bowen’s Wharf in busy Newport Harbor. (Photo by Steve Fagin)
    The image of kayaker Curt Andersen is reflected on the side of a yacht in Newport Harbor. (Photo by Steve Fagin)

    Buffeted by chop, a gusty breeze and wakes from yachts, tour boats, fishing boats, jet-skis and schooners, friends and I bobbed in kayaks off Southwest Point in Jamestown, R.I., and stared across the mouth of Narragansett Bay.

    We would have to traverse this busy, mile-wide channel twice – to Newport and back – as part of a nearly 13-mile voyage last Sunday.

    “When do you think we should cut across?” I called over to Curt Andersen, who organized the expedition.

    “I dunno,” he replied, “When do you want to go?” The longer we delayed, and the farther out we paddled toward the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the rougher the seas would get.

    “How about right now,” I said.

    Curt nodded.

    “OK everybody,” he told the rest of our group, Kurt Hatem, Andy Lynn and Valerie Wozniak. “We’re heading across. Let’s stick together.”

    And so, we pointed our kayaks east and began paddling toward Rams Head, near Newport’s southern tip.

    A minute or two later, we spotted the high-speed ferry from Block Island rocketing toward the bay, at close to 40 mph – almost 10 times faster than kayaks can paddle.

    “Hold up, everybody!” Curt announced. We waited for the ferry to cut in front of us, a comfortable quarter-mile away – but didn’t delay too long, because a cabin cruiser motoring out of the bay was closing in. More vessels also were approaching from other directions.

    It was like the vintage video game Frogger – except that there were no make-believe alligators or snakes to dodge, only real vessels. A wrong move, it would be “Game Over.”

    After 20 minutes of stop-and-go, we made it across, not far from the Castle Hill Lighthouse, and then began heading north. In less than a mile, the thump-thump-thump of an amplified bass guitar reverberated above the sound of crashing waves, joined by drums and a saxophone. We were approaching Fort Adams, where crowds gathered for the Newport Jazz Festival, in full swing.

    Tempting as it was to hang out a few yards offshore and enjoy the concert, rolling swells and boat wakes made lingering impractical, so we continued paddling around the fort peninsula into Brenton Cove, and pulled ashore at King Park.

    This haven offered a welcome respite after eight miles of paddling – calm water, a sandy beach, benches, restrooms – all free, for us. If we had arrived by car, we would have had to pay $50 for a seasonal parking permit. Friends and I visited this park a couple years ago on a similar outing organized by Curt, who lives in Stonington. He plans a Newport voyage at least once a year.

    “It’s my favorite trip. Lots to see, a nice mix of challenging and peaceful conditions,” he said.

    We hung out at King Park for about half an hour, long enough to munch snacks and stroll along a walkway leading to a statue of General Rochambeau, who commanded French forces that helped the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

    The monument serves as a reminder that Narragansett Bay was a military hub long before it became a playground for the rich, tourism epicenter, (and occasional destination for Connecticut kayakers). During our paddle we also passed cliffs and grottos at Jamestown’s Fort Wetherill State Park, a former coast artillery station, as well as Fort Adams, originally a U.S. Army post established in 1799.

    We also paddled past Clingstone, a three-story, 23-room, 10,000-square-foot “cottage” built in 1905 on a rocky slab, part of an island collection known as The Dumplings. Locals call it “the house on the rock.” The home was named Clingstone because someone once referred to it “a peach of a house.”

    For $8,000, our group could have rented Clingstone for a week. Maybe next time.

    Refreshed after our visit to King Park, our flotilla proceeded north into the maw of Newport Harbor, where pontoon party boats and inflatable dinghies maneuvered among sleek sailboats and luxury yachts, all under the watchful eye of a police officer aboard a patrol boat who served as a nautical traffic cop.

    We paused to watch the Aquidneck, an elegant, 80-foot schooner loaded with dozens of passengers, pull into its berth at Bowen’s Wharf. We had seen the vessel under sail earlier while crossing the bay; it would soon head out for another cruise.

    After exiting the hectic harbor, we steered around Goat Island and approached the east end of the Claiborne Pell Bridge, commonly known as the Newport Bridge that connects Newport with Jamestown. The main span measures 1,601 feet, making it the longest suspension bridge in New England. Overall, the entire bridge is more than two miles long. At its highest point, the bridge reaches 217 feet above the water – high enough for sailing ships and large commercial vessels to pass beneath.

    Sure enough, one enormous freighter was approaching when we began paddling to Jamestown, so we slowed our pace to avoid crossing its path.

    This was a problem for Kurt Hatem, whose sleek sea kayak is designed for speed and must be paddled quickly to maintain stability. While the rest of us treaded water in place, he zipped back and forth amid swirling currents stirred up by a changing tide, wind and boat wakes.

    All of us were happy when we made it across safely and headed toward a beach in Potter Cove, where we had launched about four hours earlier. It felt good to stand again on terra firma.

    While loading boats back onto our vehicles at a parking lot, Curt was already making plans for next year’s Newport excursion.

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