Writing & Photography of Jim Murtagh

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The Writings & Photography of Jim Murtagh

Kayaking the Marsh

Perched high on a marsh reed, a Red-winged Blackbird spies our approach. The sentinel announces our presence through song to all the other birds in the area. Barely making a ripple as our wake, we silently paddle through a backwater slough on the Connecticut River. The colorful hulls of the kayaks leave a distorted reflection on the glossy water. A pair of Canada Geese tends to their nest which is well hidden in low-lying clumps of green and brown grass. In a few days, the tufted yellow goslings will hatch and create havoc throughout the marshland as they curiously begin to explore their new world.

Several Great White Egrets hunt in a wild rice field. One snow-white bird stands statuesque in the mud just a few yards from us. Its body frozen and neck retracted, the bird is ready to strike an unsuspecting fish. In a flash, it snares its morning meal. Swallowed whole, the struggling fish distorts the bird’s slender neck as it gets pushed down the hunter’s gullet by a series of gentle undulations.

Kayaking provides an unfamiliar water level view of the surroundings. The plumed heads of the phragmites stalks and the sword-shaped leaves of the cattail reeds have begun to grow tall. By summer, they will form a wall that completely obscures the view across the marshland, hiding the twists and turns of the meandering creek until they are right upon paddlers.

Occasionally, the yellow tip of my feather-shaped paddle blade dips too deeply into the water and becomes stuck in the soft mud, as if grabbed by an unseen denizen of the marsh, and reminds me that the water is only six-inches deep. The skinny water makes this area inaccessible to vessels with larger drafts while the stealthy approach of the kayaks allows us to observe the wildlife without causing alarm. We pass by cormorants, swans, and a host of other water birds, taking pictures as we go. After paddling for half-an-hour, we turn around to retrace our path back to the Deep River Landing launch site.

With the launch site in view, my kayaking partner, Karen Lipeika turns and says “What a wonderful way to start the day.” Lipeika is the Director of Marketing for North Cove Outfitters in Old Saybrook, a unique outdoor equipment store that prides itself on the fact that all of its employees are active outdoor enthusiasts. Lipeika will spend the next eight to ten hours working in an office but she will be content. “When I get up in the morning and go for a paddle, I feel like I’ve already accomplished something for the day.”

Kayaking continues to grow in popularity along the shoreline because it offers people a great form of exercise in a natural relaxing setting. Requiring just three pieces of equipment, a kayak, a paddle and a personal flotation device (PFD), it is also very affordable. To educate buyers how to choose the proper kayak, North Cove Outfitters recently held its 13 th Annual Paddlesports Demo Weekend at Camp Hazen on Cedar Lake in Chester. The event drew several hundred people over the two days and provided an opportunity for guests to get out and paddle various boats and to attend informative lectures.

Visitors were encouraged to test any of the 40-50 different kayaks lining the camp’s beach and received expert advice on making their selection. There were three broad categories of kayaks: sea kayaks, recreational kayaks, and fishing kayaks. Lipeika advises that buyers “Look for a boat for five years down the road.”

Kayaks vary in length as well as the material used for their hull. “Composite boats are more efficient, flow more easily, are more responsive, and require less energy to move.” says Lipeika. They also cost quite a bit more than their plastic counterparts. Kayaks typically weigh between 40 and 70 pounds, depending on whether they are made from plastic, fiberglass or Kevlar.

Fishing kayaks are becoming extremely popular with anglers. Refinements in hull designs allow fishermen to stand-up in the boat for easier casting. The boats can be rigged with electronic fish finders, outriggers and rod holders.Guest lecturer Jerry Wylie, from Connecticut Coastal Kayaking, provided prospective buyers with a simple formula to select the “right” kayak. He explained that by combining “why you paddle” with “where you paddle” you can determine the type of kayak that suits your basic needs. Add in your particular comfort features and factor in price, and then you can hone in on a particular model. In the end, the kayak chooses you, but you can still select its color!

The demo weekend provided an opportunity for shoppers to view the latest kayaking accessories, such as the Hullavator by Thule, which eliminates the hassle of hoisting a kayak onto the top of your car. This ingenious lift system enables just about anyone to load or unload a kayak with ease. For those buyers that picked out the perfect kayak at the show, sales people were on-hand to explain the proper technique for securing the vessel before hitting the road.

Also under the white sales tent was a wide selection of PFD’s and paddles. Lipeika recommends buyers consider carbon fiber paddles, even though they cost more than traditional aluminum or fiberglass designs. She says “After a couple hours on the water, their reduced weight can limit arm fatigue and can add to the day’s enjoyment.” She also makes it clear that everyone needs to wear a PFD at all times.

Kayaking is a great solo or family activity that provides exercise and is a wonderful interruption to the daily grind. “If you can escape and go on the water, even for just 5-10 minutes, it relieves stress and tends to relax you – it’s tranquil.” says Lipeika. North Cove Outfitters offers a series of in-store lectures about popular outdoor activities, such as kayaking. For more information, browse their website at: www.northcove.com