Posted by: ecckayak | December 22, 2011

December Outing Club on Waquoit Bay

Unseasonably warm weather settled on Cape Cod this past November. The (weather) doppler images showed a cold air mass to the North and warm air to the South. And, in between, Cape Cod is sitting within a strong high-pressure system, mixing a perfect temperature for us put on the fleece and paddle all day.

It might be December 8, 2011, but the water temperature is still 48 degrees and the air temperature is forecast to be in the low 50’s, and Erin and I had just gotten off the water after a day on Little Pleasant Bay. So you can only imagine, when a group of college students, members of an outing club, called to say they were on the Cape and asked if we were still offering tours. My answer was a resounding yes and plans were set to meet the next morning at the public parking lot at Edwards Boat Yard in East Falmouth on Rte 28.

The morning chill feels good, as paddlers take their last sip of morning coffee. Pitch pine shadows cast by the dune hillside at the landing reflect in the glassy flat water at the entrance to Child’s River and put me a little more at ease when considering the elements. It may feel like October, but it is December! 9 tandem kayaks fanned out from the shoreline. 18 kids, bundled up, loading each boat with dry bags full of snacks, extra clothing, binoculars to study the water fowl, and extra gloves. You always take too much, no matter how I stress to be a minimalist. I am not going to bust their chops today, more is good. Passing around the paddles, cinching lifejackets, giggles and camaraderie, team building fills our space as we all ready to launch.

One more bit of information before we leave. Though the wind was non existent, the weather service is reporting 15-20 knot winds, a practical forecast considering the morning air was 41 degrees and the sun’s radiational heating was being trapped in the atmosphere by low hanging stratus clouds. I explained that by 11 am, winds would be pushing hard over the water from the West. Everyone should know in anticipation for our way home into the wind.

Waquoit Bay is a perfect waterway to paddle in the winter. It has about 850 acres of ‘paddleable’ area, but fingers of sheltered rivers and treed uplands provides safe exploration. It is also an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), protected by federal law to be “preserve, restore, and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the area”. The Reserve, itself, encompasses 1,286 acres of upland, including pine barrens and sand plain grasslands – and that is where we are paddling towards. It is a shallow bay, with a maximum depth of about 9 feet. Once you get out by the barrier beach spit you never loose sight of the bottom. I believe the mean depth is something like 3 feet. That is why it gets so warm in the summer, causing eutrophication, and in the winter, the water is colder than the neighboring Sound, hence why I am concerned about hands and extremities this time of year.

An hour or more, we arrive to the sand plain grasslands of the barrier beach, now, totally, out of the protection of the leeward shoreline. Open fields of prairie and beach grass dominate the sandy soils. After a moment of talking about Cape Cod’s glacial formation, it was too nippy to stand around. The mood turned playful, two freebies caught by the building breeze, floated past unaware gulls, and landed twenty feet off shore, next to a flock of surprised sea ducks.

Long past warmth, spongy codium fragile dominate the wrack line along Vineyard Sound beach. Discussions begin, led by students studying botany, future botanists I hope, correctly identifying the major groups of seaweeds (macroalgae), divided into classifications  called phyla – greens, browns, reds. Working in this environment each day, I had to give them all credit, they knew their stuff. At this time of year, especially,  it is tough to distinguish one Protista from another. It was fun, nevertheless, to try to identify the different seaweeds.

Too soon, our day ended. The wind did pick up. It took us longer to push through the chilling wind. Noses started to run, eyes occasionally watered. But, no one complained, no whining was allowed. As I often say, when asked what my favorite water trail is to paddle, it is not the water trail that makes for a wonderful day, it is actually the people I paddle with that makes a day memorable. Today, December 9, 2011, I had a group to paddle with that will long stay with me in spirit. Everyone took the elements seriously, we adapted our plans to the conditions, and together, we built an attitude of learning and loving on Waquoit Bay.

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