Posted by: ecckayak | January 30, 2012

Nauset Marsh ~ the last weekend in January

The perserver of Nauset Marsh, Coast Guard Beach, the Great Beach, so named by Henry David Thorueau, is a geological barrier beach surrounded by the pounding Atlantic Ocean to the East and by Nauset Marsh to the West – an area whose history is intimately tied to its ‘water people’ and the changing coastline.

Cedar Bank Trail

The Nauset Marsh system and its associated Town Cove, Nauset Harbor, and Mill Pond waterways and habitats ~  reflect the Cape’s glacial origin, natural beauty, and at least 9,000 years of human activity. The observable shoreline change, the tidal fluctuations, and tidal dynamics including, in my humble opinion, evidence of  a rising sea level, shape the marsh’s paddling experience. The seals and 4-seasons of migratory wildlife, beaches, sand spit, inlet, tidal flats, salt marshes, and the meandering channels combine to spark a passion in me, in a way that can only be described as the continuation of an evolutionary process thousands of years old.

This morning, there is a simple cadence of sound that fills the air. Soft wavelets of ocean surf silently overlapped flats and newly formed sandbars. Not even the winter water fowl, tucked into a sheltered creek, want to disturb the cloak of peacefulness draped upon the landscape. Looking south from the bluff at the former Coast Guard Station, scanning miles of stretched beach spit, over the distant inlet, and past clumps of salt marsh hummocks, to the heights in East Orleans, the most beautiful horizontal dunes system stands before you.

I was summoned to the seashore today by the alluring orange sunrise. It just looked beautiful. Each of us has ‘it’ inside 0urselves. ‘It’s’ a passion for something that makes us happy. Blue sky, brown sand, dark cold water, the dormant cordgrass ~ simple features that provoke a profound respect for what ‘it’ creates.   Some of us have more of ‘it’ than others. And, sometimes, ‘it’, those passions, change. However, the passion to follow ‘it’ ~ the morning glow, the urge to paddle on the marsh, will never change for me.

To step into my kayak on the last Sunday in January, into the waters of the North Atlantic, is to step into a 5,000 year old tradition. Native people hunted the marsh for the same species now revered; early settlers fished for the same striped bass; it’s a bird watchers paradise for four seasons, the migration of all living things magical; rumrunners have turned into clammers and kayak guides. It’s a community in constant transition.

Moving about, we may all carry with us a sense of history, or the courage to embark in a journey in a kayak in 39° water, But, we will never forget, that every time we head out onto the waterway, we become one with our passion; one with the coastal environment. It is what binds all ‘water people’ together, a survival strategy, based upon the elements, that will ensure safe return.

The wind was light, no more than 6 mph, out of the WNW, at the landing. Studying the leafless locust and pine trees swaying east of the landing, though there is no wind to experience at the landing, I can tell the breeze is blowing 12-15 mph in the open water of the marsh. That is why I chose to launch from the leeward landing at Salt Pond, Eastham, on Nauset Marsh.

Calculating a plan, I only want to paddle for two hours. The tide is hours along into lowering water, so I am paddling on an ebbing tide, with the breeze behind me going out and the wind will be in my face for the return.

Salt Pond Landing, Eastham, directly off Rte 6, is a quarter mile north of the traffic light which  hangs at the intersection of the Eastham Town Offices/Eastham Superette/Eastham historic windmill. The landing is shelter and located at 41° 50’05.93″ N / 69° 58 24.16 W, within the Nauset Marsh system.

Salt Pond Landing has a paved parking area, but is limited to 10 cars. The ramp is gravel, sloped, and not practical for power boats, of any size, that need to be trailered and launched. The regulations for parking at Salt Pond change, so it is recommended to call ahead to the Town of Eastham or look around the parking lot for a small sign that explains the parking regulations au joir.

If there are no parking places available, pull to the right in the lot, along the Rte 6 hillside and wait ten minutes for a returning dog walker who will  open a spot for you to park once their walk is completed.

Start your paddle by leaving Salt Pond leading into Salt Pond Creek, which flows into Salt Pond Bay, with the marsh islands (hummocks) outlining the horizon.

Whether a winters-January day or a dog-day of August, when exiting Salt Pond Creek, you have two trail options: paddle to the right or to the left. Heading straight out into Salt Pond Bay will usually get you into shallow water and you don’t want to muck in the silt.

Observing the wind out of the WNW and tide, ebbing quickly, the surface water pushed by the wind, I decide to head out of Salt Pond Creek and swing northeast, or to the left, before entering open water. At a moderate pace, in a Tempest 17ft touring kayak, hugging the shoreline as I paddle, you can paddle for an hour, east, into Station Bay, at the base of the Coast Guard Station parking lot, and in view of the bike trail bridge that spans the northeast corner of Nauset Marsh. Along the way, the sun’s low rays heats up the north side Cedar Bank Trail and radiates warming air into the cool breeze. Great Blue Herons perch themselves within the Cedar trees. Red-tail hawks and ospreys, share pines and oaks with kingfishers, who have arrived back early this winter.

Immediately upon turning around to head back, following the same route for the return, you will undoubtedly feel the wind pushing wavelets into white-caps and the downwind surface water will have a certain friction against the hull of your kayak.

Boat House

The slow progress is refreshing as you become more comfortable with each foamy paddle stroke. Once you pass the boathouse, you are half way home. At this point, the winds will pick up as you enter Salt Pond Bay, and increase as they funnel down the creek.

Back at the landing at the water’s edge, I am no longer alone to be within my thoughts. But that is okay. The Natural Resource deputy officer wants to know how the water is, and new arrivals question whether they want to paddle in the chill and wind. I try to describe my happy thoughts of two hours well spent.

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