by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
Paddling season is here! If you enjoy canoeing, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), summer is the perfect time to get out on the water. The weather is warm, the breezes are light, and getting your feet wet – or even your entire body – might actually be welcomed.
The North and South Rivers offer several appealing options for traveling by boat or board. Once you know where to park, where to launch, and how to plan your route, you’ll be ready for a few enjoyable hours on the water.
But first… you have to get there. Or more to the point, you have to get your boat there. And that’s not always easy. Have you ever driven down the road with one anxious arm out the window, attempting to hold a wobbly canoe in place atop your vehicle? You’re not alone.
I recommend two items that will make the process infinitely easier: cam buckle tie down straps made of nylon webbing, and a roof rack with crossbars. Employing the right tools for the job makes a world of difference. Run the straps across the top of the boat, not underneath it – one toward the front, and one toward the rear. Go over and back with each strap, using the crossbars to hold the straps in place. This works so much better than foam pads, bungee cords, and those random moldy ropes you found in your garage.
Once you learn the best way to secure your own particular vessel to your own particular vehicle, and once you’ve successfully done it a few times, much of the stress of boat transport will fall away.
NORTH RIVER ACCESS
There are seven public access launch sites on the North River and its tributaries. The most user-friendly for canoes, kayaks, and SUPs are the Marshfield Launch on Union Street, the Pembroke Town Forest on Brick Kiln Lane, and the Hanover Public Launch on Indian Head Drive. They all feature free parking and direct access to the rivers. More experienced paddlers might also check out the Driftway Conservation Park in Scituate, and Damon’s Point in Marshfield, being very careful in the areas around The Spit and the river mouth, where the waters are more challenging to navigate. Lucky Norwell residents have access to two additional sites. Your green recycling sticker grants you parking spots at the Norwell Town Landing on Bridge Street, and the fishing pier/boat launch at the end of Chittenden Lane.
SOUTH RIVER ACCESS
There are three public access launch sites on the South River, all in Marshfield: the Town Landing on Ridge Road, the dunes at Rexhame Beach, and the Francis Keville Footbridge on Ocean Street, behind CVS. As above, these sites offer parking (in season at Rexhame, there is a fee if you don’t have a town beach sticker), and reasonably direct access to the river. Keville requires a 0.15-mile carry, and Rexhame is a little farther than that.
WEATHER, WIND AND TIDES
If your schedule is anything like mine, finding a few hours to get out on the water can be a major accomplishment. But that’s just the start of the planning process. You also have to consider the weather, the wind, and the tides.
No matter how beautiful a day it happens to be at the moment, check the forecast before you even think about unrolling those nifty cam buckle straps. Thunderstorms and paddling don’t mix, and storms can seemingly come out of nowhere on a hot summer day. Luckily the weather professionals generally know well in advance if that’s going to happen.
Clear skies are good. Light wind (or no wind) is also important! Even if the tide is in your favor, if you try to paddle against a strong wind, you will have quite the workout (and you will get tired). You can still paddle on a windy day, but make sure the wind is blowing in the right direction. Also remember that our rivers have LOTS of twists and turns, so the “right” direction may quickly become wrong when you round the next bend.
Tides are a huge factor as well. Our local launch sites can be accessed at any tide, but in most cases, you’re going to want to travel at mid-to-high tide, not low. It’s not just about how much water there is – it’s also about how swiftly the water is moving (especially if it’s moving in the “wrong” direction!) Low tide paddling will generally involve at least a little bit of wading, portaging, or scooching (when you sit in your boat and try to “scooch” it over a sandbar.) It can also present some fierce currents.
For an out-and-back paddling trip, where you start and end at the same location, launch an hour before high tide, head upstream, and begin your return trip around when that hour is up. If you prefer a longer trip, go earlier, still turning back at high tide.
For a one-way trip, where you stage a vehicle at either end, depart 2-3 hours before high tide and ride the incoming current to your endpoint. You can just as easily do this in the opposite direction, when the tide is going out.
For either case, it’s important to understand the tidal offset on the rivers. Start by looking up the time of the Boston high tide, then for the North River add 1 hour for the launches at Union/Bridge Street and Chittenden, 2.5 hours for the Pembroke Town Forest. Add up to 3 hours for the Francis Keville Footbridge on the South River and the Hanover Public Launch on the North River. Damon’s Point and Rexhame Beach both involve a 40-minute delay. There is no tidal offset for the Marshfield Town Landing on Ridge Road or the Driftway.
One final note. A PFD (personal flotation device), aka life jacket, is required for every individual when boating. A whistle clipped onto the zipper of your PFD increases your odds of getting help when you need it. Please be safe out there… and have fun!
For detailed information about all of the launch sites mentioned above, as well as a more in-depth review of “Timing the Tides,” visit nsrwa.org or exploresouthshore.org. and download our Timing the Tides Guide. See you on the rivers!
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. You will also find 20+ years of Kezia’s Nature columns there.