You can tell David M. is getting antsy to paddle Pleasant Bay, he sent us this photo (thumbnail at end) this morning from Florida – but the photo isn’t of FLA, it’s of Pleasant Bay looking south, down Broad Creek, towards Chatham.
What began years ago as a classic paddle to the remote islands of Pleasant Bay has become a journey of tales told through other people’s adventures. So it is with great excitement each time I enter the waters of Big and Little Pleasant Bays to find our own stories in this, the largest estuary on Cape Cod.
In earlier times, Pleasant Bay was referred to as Monomoyick, and the bay islands were used by the native Monomoyicks as summer fishing camps. Folklore also has it that Captain Kidd buried booty on Hog Island.
Getting to Hog Island or Sampson’s Island is just half the enjoyment. On a calm day, paddling silently over the eelgrass (Zostera marina) blades, just a few feet above the bottom, please take the time to observe the wonderful aquatic habitat, a shelter, nursery, and feeding ground for the bay. Horseshoe Crabs move through the dense tangled grasses. Rust colored rhizomes, attached to the eelgrass blades, sway melodically. Be aware that at low tide the floating eelgrass blades can almost hold your paddle and burden your stroke.
On a breezy day, paddling to the islands in Pleasant Bay can get a little dicey. Know your level of paddling, and your comfort zone, before setting out to cross either bay. In most cases, there is no leeward shelter, while fetch winds blow consistently.
Once through the eelgrass beds, a creek opens to a narrow channel called Hog Island Creek, between Sampson’s Island and Hog Island. As the creek opens to a salt marsh meadow, the edge is dotted by three osprey platforms. The platform on the north side of the channel, seems to be inhabited each year. If you make sure you are a responsible distance from the nest, and none threatening, you can float within 25 yards of the nest. If you get too close, the osprey will give off a high pitch notice and tell you about it. Also, don’t paddle down the narrow mosquito control dike that passes under the platform. You would just be causing unnecessary stress to the osprey (Pandion haliaretus)adult and young.
Passage along Hog Island creek leads to Broad Creek along the inside of the Nauset Beach, the barrier beach. Here, the flow of water off your paddle face, the squawk of a laughing gull, and the faint echoing sound of pounding ocean is all you hear. It’s as if the sound of solitude embraces the awe of barrier beach beauty.
Crossing the flats of Little Pleasant Bay, bearing south, head towards Strong Island in the Great Bay, a.k.a.Big Pleasant Bay. One can only image what it must have been like to view the sea-planes launched during World War 1 from the Naval Air Station across the main channel between Strong Island and the sand cliffs of Nickerson Neck in North Chatham on the mainland. The land of Strong Island is divided into public and private lands. Simply, the west side of the island is private. The east side is public.
From Strong Island, heading north back towards The River entrance, you can island hop. Little Sipson’s island in maintained by the Orleans Conservation Trust. Big Sipson’s island, however, is privately owned, so stop on Little Sipson’s, which is only separated from Big Sipson’s by a 100 yards.
Navigate NE from Little Sipson’s to a island bump called Money Head. This is where legend has it Captain Kidd buried his treasure, while being chased by British warships. Hog Island is also maintained by the Orleans Conservation Trust and open to the public for landings and launch.
Rounding out the islands, Sampson’s Island lies north of Money Head, a short paddle across Hog Island Creek, and is a great place to land and take a walk around the island. This too is maintained by the Orleans Conservation Trust. When exploring the island, stay on the paths, ticks are everywhere. Just do a body check of each other before getting back into kayaks and heading home.