Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cruising Plum Island

Yesterday was my day off, and since the kids were at summer camp and it was about 109 degrees in the shade, my husband and I decided to take the boat out. There's nothing like being out on the water, with the wind in your face. Sheer joy. Of course, I always feel guilty when I go out on the boat, like there are a gazillion other things I should be doing (writing, or doing laundry). But the day was so beautiful, I decided that one day wasn't going to impact my deadline. So I packed a light lunch, threw some bottled water into a cooler with ice, and away we went. Here is a picture of John with the boat.

Our plan was to follow the Merrimack River to Newburyport, and then cut in behind Plum Island and follow the narrow channels that cut through the marshes, all the way to Ipswich. We caught an out-going tide, so made good time to Newburyport Harbor. On a typical weekend, this area is teeming with activity, and the whale-watching boats and deep-sea fishing boats, as well as the huge lobster trawlers, turn the mouth of the Merrimack into a surging, plunging washing machine of turbulent water. I hate going out to the ocean because doing so means having to navigate this treacherous stretch of water, and it terrifies me. I'm always afraid we're going to end up like the boat in this photo--smashed up against the jetties! We have a friend with a bigger boat than ours, and they go out all the time. However, their 8-year old daughter clings to her seat and screams the entire way, until we're safely out in the open ocean. I never make fun of her. If it weren't for the fact that I'm an adult, I'd be screaming, too!

But yesterday was a Monday and the entire harbor was quiet. The water was like glass and feeling brave, I told John we should go out through the mouth to the ocean. We followed two sailboats through the narrow passage and made it through safely. Once we were past the jetties, the temperature dropped by ten degrees -- it was wonderful. The ocean had these huge, gentle swells that just sort of buoyed you up. We went about two miles out, keeping land in sight, and headed south along the coast of Plum Island, a barrier island that runs eleven miles from Newburyport to Ipswich. Only about a third of the island is inhabited, and the remaining 4,662 acres have been preserved as an enormous wild life refuge for plover, herons, egrets, cranes, and bald eagles. The area behind the island is comprised of miles and miles of marshes and wetlands. If you know what you're doing, you can navigate a boat through these narrow channels.

We continued along the coast until we came to Ipswich, and turned inland at Crane's Beach, toward Plum Island Sound, which is the large, open bay directly beneath Great Neck and Little Neck, and extends along the back side of Plum Island until you hit the marshes. Here's a photo of the entrance to the sound, from the ocean. We dropped anchor near one of these sandbars and had lunch, and then began making our way through the sound to the marshes. It's a little tricky since all the narrow rivers look identical, and we kept a close eye on our depth meter, since some spots were just about 2 feet deep. Thankfully we have a flat-bottom boat that requires very little water in which to maneuver. But it was fabulous -- we saw so much wildlife, and even though we made a couple of wrong turns, just being out there was amazing. You feel like you're in a different world! We did finally maneuver our way back to the Merrimack River, and then it was a quick ride back up the river, with the incoming tide, to home. We came back sunburned and tired, but happy.

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