144 Water Street, Norwalk, CT 06854 (203) 854-5223
Welcome to the newest feature of our website. I'll update this on a regular basis, bringing you news from the shop, some interesting ramblings, and stories that you might find fascinating. Feel free to e-mail me if you have something that you would like to share.
The Small Boat Shop's WhiteHall 13 rowing craft as rowed by Gaeton.
May 22, 2013
The Rule of Twelfths
It is often useful, in coastal areas, to be able to estimate how far the tide will rise or fall in the next hour or so. You may want to know if you’ve pulled your boat high enough up the beach to stay through your lunch break. If you are planning a paddling route through some shallow areas, you may want to estimate what sandbars will be coverd or exposed at various stages of the tide. Here at the Small Boat Shop, we estimate how much flooding in the parking lot we will have during storms. This is when we use the rule of twelfths.
The tide does not rise and fall at a constant rate throughout its cycle. The tide’s rise (or fall) starts off slowly, gains speed, changes the fastest at its mid point, and then slows down again as it reaches high or low tide. There is an average of six hours and thirteen minutes between high and low tide. If we round this down to six hours, we can use the rule of twelfths. In the first hour after low tide, the tide rises 1/12 of the total. In the second hour, it rises 2/12ths, and in the third hour, 3/12ths. The fourth hour’s change stays at 3/12ths, the fifth hour is down to 2/12ths, and the last hour’s change is back to 1/12 of the range.
For example, take a hypothetical average tide range of 7.5 feet. If we plug this value into our formula, the following table is produces.
Hours after high or low tideAmount of change in that hourHeight in feet above low water
One 7.5 x 1/12=.625 feet .625 feet
Two 7.5 x 2/12= 1.25 feet 1.25+.625= 1.875 feet
Three 7.5 x 3/12= 1.875 feet 1.875+1.875= 3.75 feet
Four 7.5 x 3/12= 1.875 feet 1.875+3.75= 5.625 feet
Five 7.5 x 2/12= 1.25 feet 1.25+5.625= 6.875 feet
Six 7.5 x 1/12= .625 feet .625+6.875= 7.50 feet
These are only estimates. Look at your local tide tables to get the average tide range in your area, and note how much the range changes during the lunar cycle. Also remember that low pressure weather systems (storms!) result in higher than normal tides, often by several feet. High pressure systems, lower the high tide and create lower low tides.
April 11, 2013
THIS YEAR’S PADDLING GOALS
Its time to look at he paddling season ahead and plan some destinations. There are some old favorites that I’d like to revisit, but I want to try several new places this year.
Working on the water here in Norwalk, one would think that I’m out at the Norwalk Islands regularly, but circumstances last year prevented me from taking a trip any further than Peach Island in the Norwalk River. This year I’ll make it to Sheffield and Cockenoe Islands, and take several sunset trips to Chimon and Shea.
I haven’t been to the other end of Connecticut lately, so I think a visit to the Barn Island launch ramp is in order so that I can see how the recent storms have shifted Sandy Point Island and Napatree Point. While there, a jaunt into Stonington Harbor is usually called for so that I can inspect the fleet. The Mystic River is also a pleasant protected water paddle, but my favorite breakfast joint, Kitchen Little, is no longer on the river, so I can’t visit by water. An exploration is called for to find a new “paddle to breakfast” place. Hey, the Charles W. Morgan is scheduled to be launched this summer at Mystic Seaport after restoration! Maybe I can watch from the water.
The Connecticut River is a beautiful place to paddle, and I have two ideas for this summer. I’d like to paddle from Hartford, Ct 60 miles down to Long Island Sound. It will probably be a three day trip, with overnight camps at River Highlands and Selden Neck State Parks. I’m familiar with the lower Ct. River, but the Hartford to East Haddam stretch will be new to me. I’ve been told that in Haddam there is an outdoors restaurant called the Blue Oar that is well worth a stop by land or water. I will let you know.
In East Haddam, there is a summer outdoor concert series on Monday nights, on the lawn next to the river by the Goodspeed Opera House and Gelston’s Inn. I’m thinking that it would be almost magical to be listening, with my wife, and candlelight and dinner, from a little boat anchored out in the river. Closer to home, we can do the same in the Saugatuck River listening to performances at the Levitt Pavilion in Westport.
The Boston Harbor Islands are on this year’s list. I scouted the area out on the Park Service ferry, and now I want to bring a seaworthy boat up to Hull and give myself a good long trip amongst the islands. There are some wonderful historic ruins and forts on these islands. This will probably include camping out on one of the islands to make the trip worthwhile.
Some dear friends live on Cape Cod, and whenever we visit, we check out how the sands have shifted around Chatham. This will be the year to bring boats and explore Monomoy Island, Pleasant Bay, and the Cape Cod National Seashore.
If I get up to Maine, it would be good to visit my friends’ island in Penobscot Bay for more than an overnight. I would also like to launch onto the Damariscotta River and get out to visit Damariscove Island, which Europeans had started to populate before the Plymouth Colony.
Most of my paddling destinations are to the east and north, but for this Autumn, a paddling/backcountry camping trip at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland might be in order.
Well, as usual, there are more paddling plans than time available. I’ll let you know which trips actually come to fruition.
March 22, 2013
SPRING IS HERE
In spite of the fact that I still have snow in my yard, Spring has arrived and we are all thinking about spending more time on the water. If you didn’t do it last Autumn, now is the time to go over your kayak, canoe, or rowboat, or in my case, the fleet, and make sure that everything is in good and safe working order. Every year we get frantic calls from people who are leaving on vacation with their boat ‘tomorrow’, and need a vital repair done that could have been done last September.
Start with a good wash and thorough rinse to get the winter dirt, tree droppings, dust, and mice droppings off. Soft scrub works well on stains. Look at nuts, bolts, and screws, tightening up where necessary. . Examine the bottom of the boat, especially in the ends where she is run up on shore, for any worn or thin spots. Most scratches are just cosmetic reminders of the adventures you’ve had. Deep gouges in poly should be filled with patch-n-go. Poly hulls that were not stored properly may get dented, and these dents can sometimes be removed by bracing the dent from inside and letting the boat sit in the sun’s warmth for a few days. Plastic does have a memory for its shape, but as with people, memory gets a little shaky with age. Chips in gel coat that expose fiberglass or Kevlar should be filled with appropriate material according to the directions. Fiberglass and Kevlar kayaks can be recoated, refinished, and repaired, but damaged or worn poly boats are problematic and older ones may just have to be recycled.
With a kayak, check any bungee cords, decklines, and straps, looking for wear, chafing, or brittleness. Don’t forget any adjustments like backrest straps. These are all pretty easy to replace yourself. Look at any hatches, looking for old-dried out or UV damaged rubber. This is a good time to put the kayak up on sawhorses, throw a bucket of water into the end compartments, and rotate the boat, looking for leaks around the edges of the bulkheads. If water seeps past the bulkhead, clean it in the location of the leak, and reseal it in the spot with the factory recommended adhesive sealant. Make sure the rudder doesn’t have any worn or corroded components and that rudder cables are not frayed. The slot for a retractable skeg should be cleaned of debris, and the control cable tube should should be secure in place and not flop around.
Also look for a worn hull with a canoe. Check for rot in any woodwork, such as gunwales and seats. Woodwork should be oiled or varnished, depending on the condition of the existing finish. If cane seats, make sure that the caning is in good shape.
With a rowing shell, the seat undercarriage should be smooth and not rattle around. Oarlocks should rotate around the pin easily, but should not tilt horizontally.
This is also the time to go over your drybags, paddles, pfd, roofrack, and other accessories to make sure that they are good to go.
None of this is hard work, and I actually enjoy the ritual of maintenance. It makes me more familiar with my gear and is a pleasant way to start the warm paddling season.
March 21, 2013
My wife’s ducks are announcing the first day of Spring by starting to lay eggs. The local waters are still icy cold, so keep wearing that drysuit, and make sure that it is in good working order. Here at the Small Boat Shop we’ve had a rush of drysuits in for repairs. One local sailing team brought in eight suits, and every latex seal has to be replaced. The suits had apparently not been stored correctly and the seals now all crumble apart in my fingers.
Drysuit maintenance is not difficult. It should be rinsed thoroughly with fresh water after use in salt water. Hang it up for storage in a cool, dark, dry place. DO NOT LEAVE IT IN A HOT ATTIC FOR THE SUMMER. When dirty, wash it in the machine on gentle cycle with a mild detergent and hang dry. At least once a season, preferably more often, rub 303 protectant onto both sides of the latex seals. With this care, the drysuit should give many years of service. That’s it.
Inspect the seals at the end of the season. If they seem brittle, or get “alligatory” when stretched, they should be replaced. The 303 protectant will greatly extend the life of the seals, although they will probably have to be replaced at least once in the 10-20 year life of the garment. We do a nice job at replacing seals here at the Small Boat Shop for the same price as Kokatat, and if we do the work, there is no time or expense spent shipping the suit across the country and back. Other repairs, such as the rare fabric tear, are best done at the factory.
Like any boat, even a canoe, there is no such thing as no-maintenance equipment. One big advantage of our small craft and accessories is the fact that care and maintenance is simple, easy, and generally takes very little time, leaving us more time to get on the water.
Feb 2, 2013
COLD WATER WORKSHOP
Our annual Cold Water Workshop was a success once again. This free event, which takes place on the last Saturday in January, is an off season boating safety program. The primary emphasis is on hypothermia, cold shock, cold water hazards, and how to treat and prevent them. Guest speakers include members of the Coast Guard Auxilliary, our chief guide and instructor, Chris Murphy, and Mark Chanski of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Chris did a humorous demonstration of dressing for accidental cold water immersion, and Mark presented a film about his experience at Cold Water Boot Camp. Mark had actually jumped into icy winter water for research and safety training, TWICE! One icy swim was to see how incredibly quickly a person loses the use of arms and legs when dressed only in street clothes. For the other swim, Mark swallowed a radio broadcasting thermometer, so that his internal temperature could be monitored.
The highlight of the day came next, as anybody who had attended the program was welcome to don one of our drysuits, go down to our dock where we had just broken a hole in the ice, and jump into the river. (Remember, this was January) We had seven brave souls swimming around, staying warm, having a jolly good time, and discovering for themselves just how well a drysuit works.
November 11, 2013
The floor of the Small Boat Shop is at the height of the 1938 hurricane, which was the highest on record. As a result, in spite of a waterfront location, we’ve never had a storm get water into the shop, until now. Hurricane Sandy managed to get an inch and a half of water in the store. No inventory was damaged, and our boats outside were securely tied down, but we did throw out a few area rugs. I doubled up the lines securing our dock, and checked that it was secured to a very high piling. Mopping up did take a while, but the only real problem for us was a fried telephone line that took days to get sorted out.
Some larger dry stored powerboats outside had floated off of their stands, and all sorts of debris had blown over here from East Norwalk. The floodwater itself had reached almost two blocks inland from Water Street. I’m almost sorry that I wasn’t here to take some fascinating photos.
September 5, 2012
Our sunset/moonrise paddle this pas t Saturday night was tremendous fun, and we've had enough requests to run the trip again at the next full moon, so check your calendar and save the evening.
Our nest Moonllight Paddle will be on saturday, September 29. Reserve your spot early, as we expect it to fill up quickly.
August 10, 2012
Visit to 1904 Island Life
I was on Deer Isle in Maine for a few days recently, and had an interesting overnight adventure with some friends, Steve and Sara. Steve’s family has collectively owned an island in PenobscotBay since 1904, and it is a wonderful Summer retreat. They were out there for the week and invited me for a visit when they learned that I would be in the area. I tried to call them about my arrival day, but cell phone reception out in the middle of the Bay is spotty at best.
On this trip, instead of a kayak, I had brought along my guideboat, and it was certainly up to the trip several miles offshore. Islands in this part of PenobscotBay are served by a mailboat that leaves from Sylvester’s Cove in Sunset, on Deer Isle, but the Cove doesn’t have a good public launch for trailered or cartop boats. One local person, however, directed me to a road that dead ended at a sloping, gravel public access to the water, perfect for wheeling a guideboat down.
One last check of the tide, a look at the chart, and I was launched by 9 with a change of clothing, tent, and sleeping bag. First leg was on a course of 190 magnetic for two and one half miles to the northern end of EagleIsland. The weather was warm and sunny, with just enough breeze to cool off a rower, and the Eagle Island Light was in clear view. The course was correct and the slight northern set of the current brought me to buoy 3A off the light about an hour later. Beyond the light was a wide gravel beach that was a perfect spot to stop, get out, and stretch my legs. Back on the water, the island soon came into view. There were several ledges between us, so seal watching was excellent. I pulled into the harbor at the north end of the island at about 11:30, having had fun weaving an exploring around several islands and ledges.
Steve, his two boys, and his father Robert, happened to be on the dock as I arrived. It was the right day to visit, as they were checking on the lobsters for that night’s dinner. Steve gave me the tour of the islands while the lobbies were brought up. Most of the structures were built in the early 1900’s, and the island’s lifestyle reflects this. There are three small houses and a caretaker’s cottage, But the family generally uses the “Big house”. It has many bedrooms and a living room. The kitchen and dining room, however, are a separate building across the field, so that a kitchen fire doesn’t burn down the house. There are a few solar panels to keep batteries charged for lights in the living room, and to keep a cell phone charged (Not that there is much reception out there!). All other lighting is kerosene lamps, candles, and flashlights. Refrigerator and stove run on propane. No running water, but rainwater is collected from rooftops and boiled for washing. Drinking water comes from an old fashioned well, complete with a round stone structure, wooden lid, roof, and bucket on a rope, and it was delicious. There are trails in the woods, open fields, and a scattering of small pocket beaches around the island. Apparently, the island used to support a small community. I was told that there are eleven cellar holes and foundations hidden in the woods, and the open fields were probably farm fields.
We spent the rest of the day hiking in the woods, cleaning some litter off of one of the pocket beaches around the island, boat and bird watching, and island projects. Before dinner, some of us went rowing over to another island for some foraging. Island life!
Shortly before the lobsters were on, a fog bank came marching up PenobscotBay. These are fascinating to watch as they crawl around and climb up over islands in the distance. The thick fog made it dark a bit earlier than we anticipated, and dinner and washup was by candlelight. My tent wasn’t necessary, as there were only a few family members here and empty bedrooms were abundant.
The weather report was for several days of sun, but it was Maine, so I shouldn’t have believed it. Major thunderboomers came through overnight. Next morning, the rainwater cisterns were full, and so was my boat at the dock.
The new weather report was for rain all day, heavy that afternoon, so a morning return in a drizzle seemed to be the best idea. Steve and Sara were planning on leaving the island the next day, so we packed up some of their things and made preparations to close up the buildings for a stretch. Recycleables were packed up, and burnables were destroyed in the fireplace. Steve and one son, Robert, decided to accompany me on the trip back in their kayaks, so I waited while they got gear together for the crossing.
We got a late morning launch. At the rest stop at EagleIsland, we checked with Robert, in case he was too tired to make it all the way. I had a tow line in case we needed it, but the challenge to Robert was to make I all the way to shore under his own power. On the final crossing, Steve and I worked out various piloting situations with Robert, triangulating our location with various landmarks and buoys, adjusting our course for the current, and identifying landmarks. Total time from the island was about three hours, including rest breaks, and several diversions for photographs, boatwatching, sealspotting, and snacks.
June 30, 2012
A QUICK OVERNIGHT
The hot coffee was delicious as I watched the fog swirl over the Connecticut River on a recent cool Monday morning. Behind me, the top of the tent and my canoe were still wet from the overnight rainfall. A lone osprey flew by, bringing breakfast back to the nest. I was warm and dry, with a belly full of hot oatmeal, and eagerly anticipating a pleasant paddle today. Aahhh, the joy of playing with little boats!
This past Sunday I had just spent the weekend at the Small Boat Shop telling customers how much fun it is to be on the water in our little boats. I did a good job selling the idea to myself, and had an urge to get out there. It helps to have a boat bag ready and accessible, with everything a paddler needs, so as not to waste time looking for essential gear. The same applies if one enjoys the occasional overnight camping trip. Tent, sleeping bag, stove, kitchen gear, and even dried foodstuffs, can all be left packed and ready.
I arrived home at about four, and in very little time had a solo canoe on the car, all gear stowed, and had put together a simple salad and cold cuts for dinner. I was off.
My favorite place for a close-to-home-but-still-far-enough-away campout is SeldenNeckState Park, which is an Island in the Connecticut River across from the town of Deep River. The island is wooded, about two miles long, and has four primitive campsites (fire ring, picnic table, outhouse, and bring your own water). The sites are beautiful, and far enough apart that staying in one feels like having the whole island to oneself. Normally, reservations are required, but some sites are usually empty on Sunday and Monday nights. The island used to have a small town and a granite quarry, and a little bushwacking will lead to cellar holes, stone walls, and even some old abandoned equipment.
One hour from home, I launched at the Deep River town landing. There are several good launch points on the Connecticut River for a stay at SeldenIsland, and I usually put in at Essex or East Haddam to make it a water journey to the island. This late in the day, Deep River was best as I could land quickly, set up camp, and then get back out on the river for some paddling time. I took the Spring Ledge campsite, which has a nice sandy beach for landing. In just a few minutes, the tent was up, sleeping bag and flashlight were ready, and I was back on the water to watch the sunset and full moon rise. Actually, thick clouds had moved in and I had to imagine the sunset and moonrise.
Back at camp after dark, dinner was just a cold salad that I finished just as the mosquitoes came out. Once in the tent, the sound of a gentle rainfall put me into a long deep sleep.
An early wake up revealed a chilly fog on the river, and a white egret on the beach looking for his breakfast. He hung around as I broke out the stove and started my day with a hot meal. A couple of scullers went zipping by as the river came to life for the day. I broke camp, packed up, and paddled across the river to Deep River Landing. The camping gear was all dropped into the car and I got back on the river for a good morning paddle.
First, north, up to the ferry landing on the Chester side of the river. The Chester-Hadlyme ferry is one of the oldest ferrys in the country, and is probably the most fun two minute boat ride around. Next, a paddle across the river and into Whalebone Creek. Geologically speaking, this is an interesting place. Way back when I was a youngster, continental drift caused Africa to collide with North America. They then split apart at this very place, and now the oldest fossils north of Whalebone Creek are all North American, while the oldest fossils to the south are African. The next wandering destination was Chester Creek, where I passed the Chester Yacht and Canoe Club. There were many yachts, but mine was the only canoe in sight. Continuing up the creek, I paddled under the Essex Steam Train tracks and got as close to downtown Chester as I could before turning back. Back out on the river, a breeze had sprung up out of the north that gave me a free ride back south to my car in time for lunch.
Quick, improvised little trips like this are one of the most enjoyable aspects of small boats.
May 19, 2012
Summer season is finally almost here. Our first rentals this year just went out, and our schedule is available, with guided trips, lesson days, special trips for Friends of theNorwalk Islands, foliage trips, and special groups. People are coming into the shop with that look of eager anticipation on their faces. Just about everything that was ordered or purchased over the Winter is now in customers’ hands, and we have room on the shelves for our own inventory.
A relatively new organization, Friends of the Norwalk Islands , asked us to do a few special trips with them, and we scheduled three good ones. We have a birdwatching trip for Saturday, June 2, a cookout on an island on August 11, and a sunset/full moon trip on the evening of September 1. “Friends” is a worthwhile organization, working toward preserving the wonderful charm, open space, and wildlife on the islands for future generations.
For people who would like to play hooky from work, we have full day Thursday trips and shorter trips on Wednesdays. Maybe take a sick day to recharge personal batteries and restore mental health.
My personal favorites are the foliage trips that we schedule for October. LakeLillinonah, a dammed-off section of the HousatonicRiver, is surrounded by wooded, gently rolling hills. Unlike many other lakes, the shores of Lake “Lilly” are woodsy enough that one does not feel like they are paddling through people’s backyards. I really love the Connecticut River. The whole area is scenic and historic, and both open water and intimate tributaries are available. Even just a day trip to the area feels like a vacation.
If you have a location in mind other than one of ours, such as the Mystic Seaport/Stonington/Fishers Island Sound area, call us and we can arrange a guided trip for a group of up to twelve BantamLake and LakeWaramaug come to mind also.
Remember that kayaks and canoes are not beach toys but real vessels that, to use safely, require the same level of skill as larger boats. Simply paddling around, without hands-on instruction, does not teach enough of the necessary skills for safety. It is amazing what we can teach to somebody who has paddled for years without lessons. Once the water is warm enough, we will have on-water lessons. Each lesson day is a six hour program, and we have two scheduled for each month.
If your boat needed a repair or service, hopefully you’ve brought it in to us by now. Some summers we are so busy that non-emergency repairs and installations have to be bunped back to Autumn.
Our trips require advance sign-ups so that we can arrange guides. Our Summer schedule and details can be seen on our website.
Now, lets get on the water.
April 20, 2012
Summer is coming and we should all be ready for it. We are running a kayaking course next month at an indoor pool on Saturday evenings. The dates are May 5, 12, and 19, from 4 P.M. to 8 P.M. This is a twelve hour course, four hours per session. The first hour of each session is classroom instruction, and each remaining three hours is in the pool. We pack a lot of good information in this course, from proper equipment and clothing, an efficient forward stroke, a variety of steering and control strokes, wet exits and assisted rescues, and boat design. If you have never taken a hands-on course, even if you have been paddling for years, you will be amazed at what you will learn in this course. A program like this is invaluable to anybody wanting to paddle in any open, exposed water like Long Island Sound.
The price for this course is $350, and we supply all of the equipment. This year, we are teaching the course at the swimming pool at SUNY in Purchase, NY, a convenient location for Fairfield and Westchester county residents.
We have been teaching this basic program for many years, and customers have driven from as far as Massachussetts and New Jersey to attend.
Call early to reserve a spot in the course.
April 26, 2012
I managed to get on the water the other day. Personal business brought me up to the Connecticut River area, fortunately with a boat on the car. When I got down to the river itself, however, the wind was blowing like stink out of the north, and it was not a day to be out there in a little boat. Fortunately, nearby was the tidal LieutenantRiver, so narrow and intimate that waves could not build on it and most of the wind was blocked by the surrounding trees. The sandy launch site on Rte 156 was empty (Tuesday) and the tide was almost high, so I would still have a little boost upstream and many side channels were open.
This is a pleasant little river, long enough for a few hours of protected tidal paddling, with the additional option of paddling downstream into the large marsh in Lyme at the mount of the Connecticut River. Several old roads dead end at this marsh and river, and were probably first used by farmers harvesting the abundant salt hay. Today, the road ends are popular with fishermen.
My route was north and under I-95. Once past the highway, the river took me behind the grounds of the GriswoldMuseum and the Bee and Thistle Inn. I understand that there are Summer concerts behind the Museum and concert night would make this a great evening paddling location. Once past this point, the river divides and opens up a little, and is very popular with the local Osprey population. I was able to count up to five at a time.
Lunch was on a sandbar at the head of tidal navigation, and the winds behind me made it a swift trip back to my car. I’ll get the schedule for concerts at the GriswoldMuseum, and add this place to my list of ‘music on the water’ evenings.
April 4, 2012
Our little boats provide a wide variety of ways in which to enjoy time on the water. Some of our customers have done some pretty grand, adventurous things. There’s the gentleman who quit his stockbroker job to paddle his kayak from New York City to Key West, the couple who paddle their folding kayaks in the Alaskan wilderness every Summer, the 85 year old man who rowed his shell from Albany to West Point in one long 31 hour stretch to visit his daughter, and two transatlantic rowers.
In many ways, however, the smaller excursions can also be quite special. I took my nephew paddling not too long ago. Like many teenagers, he spends a lot of time indoors, playing video games, and I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed to come with me that day. We went up to Simsbury, and launched onto the FarmingtonRiver. I was in a solo canoe, and Peter was captain of a small recreational kayak. I thought that he would be bored silly and want to go home in no time. He mastered the boat quickly (young people soak up skills like sponges), and pretty soon we were off, paddling upstream against a gentle current. He really got into the spirit of the trip. We looked for animal burrows in the riverbanks, which led to talking about The Wind in the Willows, and the Peterson’s Bird guide was getting constant use. We found a small, shallow stream that drained into the Farmington, and decided to explore it to the source. Many sections were too shallow to paddle in, and we slogged upstream pulling the boats, sometimes carrying them, often through ankle deep mud.
We had lunch sitting on a log over the stream and talked about his school, my work, life in general, and had some excellent bonding time. On the return paddle, we charted out the depths of the river, using the kayak paddle as our depth measuring stick. Back at the car, without prompting, Peter changed out of his muddy clothes and learned a few knots as he helped me tie the boats to the rack.
It was a simple little outing, but recently he told me it was one of his most fun days ever.
It was for me also.
March 21, 2012
Spring is approaching and we are restocking on all sorts of items for the coming season. For the nighttime paddler, we’ve brought back a favorite light, the waterproof HydroStar. Customers love it because it works as a flashlight, safety beacon, and emergency strobe light. It even has a red light setting so that one can use it to look at charts without affecting night vision. We also have clip-on personal marker lights in various colors. We are also restocked on some extremely LOUD whistles. Remember, a noise producing device is required equipment on all of the small boats that we sell.
For our sit-on-top kayak owners, the new Scupper Pup cart makes it easy to roll the boat any distance over a variety of terrains, without a need for the kayak to be strapped down to the cart. Two rods secure the boat in place by fitting up through the scupper holes. We have other boat carts for enclosed kayaks and canoes. I’m a firm believer in wheels, they have opened up several launch sites to me where I couldn’t park near the water. On more than one occasion, I’ve used wheels to portage my boat to save miles of paddling when time was short, or the wind was picking up.
Even tough, durable drybags don’t last forever. Check them and replace them before they start to leak. It is no fun to discover a leak with a lunch ruined by bilgewater or a cell phone toasted by a drop of saltwater.
Remember, flares have expiration dates, and they, like all safety equipment, should be inspected regularly and replaced when necessary.
Our Summer Tour schedule is posted on the website, so check your calendar. We have a few fun extras listed. There are three trips in conjunction with the Friends of the NorwalkIslands, Bird Watching on June 2, a cookout on August 11, and a Sunset/Moonrise trip on September 1. (visit www.friendsofthenorwalkislands.org) Fall Scenic Foliage trips will be on LakeLillinonah and the Connecticut River Estuary. If you would like to get up to six young people together at once for a group kayaking lesson, we can run a program on Wednesday afternoons. If you have a particular location in mind for a group kayaking trip, we can run a special trip for up to twelve adults almost anywhere in Connecticut. We recommend the Connecticut River, the Mystic area, and Stonington. If you are having a shore party and would like several sit-on-top kayaks available for guests, we can set up a rental with delivery/pickup.
March 18, 2012
One of the enjoyable things that I find with the small craft that we use here at the Small Boat Shop, is the sense of connection that they generate with the explorers of the past. Until the advent of the railroad, most travel, exploration, and commerce was conducted along water routes. People traveled and traded up and down rivers, along coasts, and across oceans, but rarely overland for any signifigent distance. Although larger vessels that could carry cargo were used for trade, the real task of exploring unknown territories was usually done in small boats. Columbus and those after him may have crossed the Atlantic in ships, but on reaching the coast, the harbors, rivers, and estuaries were all scouted and charted from the longboats and shallops that they carried along with them. These explorers were also did not hesitate to employ native watercraft that were often better suited to local conditions and purposes. It was dangerous to risk taking one’s oceangoing ship (and only ride home) into an uncharted bay or river, but much more sensible to available oneself of a few local canoes
Native Americans often used specific routes as they traveled by canoe, and these routes often involved portages to shorten the route, or avoid treacherous seas. A little homework, especially in the age of the internet, can unearth these routes and they are often very enjoyable paddles today. Last summer, in Deer Isle, Maine, we had fun tracing one of these portage routes right through downtown, and launched our kayaks onto a beautiful body of water that we had never been on before.
On a larger scale, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail was created by stringing together a series of Native American canoe routes, and the adventurous paddler can follow this trail from Inlet, New York, across the Adirondacks and northern New England, and finish at Fort Kent, Maine on the Canadian border. The Maine Island Trail is partly comprised of Native routes, and any major inland river is an explorer’s route.
I don’t kid myself into thinking that my kayak or canoe enables me to see the shore as it was first seen by the early explorers, but the vistas are often quite new to me, and there is often a sense of curiosity about what is around the next bend in the river or point of land. It is actually quite possible to pack a lunch on every Saturday morning, have an enjoyable paddle, be home for dinner, and not have to repeat the same body of water all summer. The simple portability of cartop boats makes it easy to find new places to launch and paddle. Any interesting body of water that we can carry a boat to is ours to wander.
March 11, 2012
People never know who or what they will meet when they come into the Small Boat Shop. We had a fun and fascinating time here this past Friday, March 9. As part of a cultural outreach program, fifteen people visited, most from UUmmannaq, an island off the west coast of Greenland. About half of the group were children and teenagers. Transportation in their isolated community is by dogsled and kayak, and these young people had never seen an automobile before Thursday. We gave them a chance to see and try American recreational kayaking, and the young people had their first contact with life jackets, gore-tex drysuits, and fiberglass boats. Back home, they still use watercraft made from animal skins, driftwood, and bone, their clothing is animal skin, and Mickey Mouse T-shirts are nowhere in sight. As all of our other visitors, the Greenlanders had a delightful time paddling around NorwalkHarbor, and we had a delightful time hosting them.
Our new friends are wonderfully polite and charming. Several of them had roles in the recent, award winning, independent film by Mike Magidson, Inuk. They are happy in their simple rural life, but seemed to have no problem being immersed in this modern alien world. The next items on their itinerary are Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, the Bronx Zoo, the Explorers Club, and a tour of New York City as part of Greenland Week in NYC.
This outreach program is the product of the Ann Andreasen, Galya Morrel, and the Polar Institute. Check out the website www.uummannaqmusic.com.
I wonder who the next interesting visitor will be?
March 1, 2012
We’re spoiled here at the Small Boat Shop. Our scenic NorwalkIslands reach from Westport to Darien, and are surrounded be enough shallow water to keep the larger vessels away. In our little portable boats, we can explore the places that can only be seen with binoculars from larger craft. A mix of public lands and private properties, the islands offer a number of opportunities to beach a sea kayak, picnic, birdwatch, fish, beachcomb, and even camp out overnight.
Cockenoe, Grassy, and SheaIslands are all public parks, with access for anybody and primitive camping available by permit. ChimonIsland and part of SheffieldIsland are part of the McKinney Wildlife Refuge, and while it is permitted to walk the perimeter of the islands, interior access is restricted to protect the nesting birds. Dense poison ivy, thornbushes, and deer ticks also do a good job protecting the wildlife. The west end of Sheffield is owned by the Norwalk Seaport Association, and landing there is permitted by paying a small fee. This fee opens up a wonderful picnic area, and best of all, the Sheffield Lighthouse is available to explore. Most of the rest of the islands are private properties with summer houses on them. TavernIsland has a large house that was once owned by the famous producer Billy Rose, and Lillian Hellman was a guest there when she wrote “Little Foxes”. One of our customers spent summers on another island, and used to commute to work on her Alden Ocean Rowing Shell. SpriteIsland is home to the Sprite Island Yacht Club, a fun, low-key organization. The interesting commercial fishing boats here are dredging for oysters that will appear on menus all over New England and New York City.
As in the rest of Long Island Sound, a trip to these islands involves crossing open water, and a seaworthy small craft, such as a sea kayak or open water rowing shell is suggested. Stay far clear of the picturesque oyster boats, as their maneuvers when dredging can be unpredictable. In season, trailered boats can launch at Veteran’s Park and cartop boats can launch at CalfPastureBeach. Out-of-towners pay a fee at each. Cartoppers can launch for free at CommunityBeach on Rowayton Ave (parking for only a few cars) or at a road in East Norwalk that dead ends at the water. The nearest state ramp is on the SaugatuckRiver in Westport, but it is a much longer trip from there to the best parts of the Islands. More information can be found at the aforementioned book “Kayaking in and around the NorwalkIslands”. Here at the Small Boat Shop, we stock waterproof charts of the NorwalkIslands, as well as charts and guidebooks for several other great kayaking/canoeing/rowing places in New England.
February 24, 2012
We have a fun new book here at the shop. LONG LIVE OPEN WATER by local rower Wayne Lysobey. It is a collection of essays and storys mostly about rowing and racing in his open water shell in Norwalk and New England. Sea kayakers will like it, as it is about manually propelled travel on open exposed water, as opposed to flatwater racing. Wayne stops by at the SBS regularly, and if you catch him in, he'll autograph the book for you. And of course we always stock David Parks' book, KAYAKING IN AND AROUND THE NORWALK ISLANDS. David will be doing a presentation at the East Norwalk Library on May 21. I'll remind you when it gets close.
February 23, 2012
We had a successful Cold Water Workshop this past weekend. This popular free event is run every year to teach the public about how to use their small craft safely in the off season, and provides the public with an opportunity to actually test a drysuit in icy water, and see how comfortable and warm one can actually be while paddling. Several people jumped into the water. Captain Rande Wilson gave his usual excellent presentation about lifejackets and equipment, and Mark Chanski from the DEP Boatin safety division regaled us with his story about Cold Water Boot Camp, in which he VOLUNTARILY plunged into the icy water of the Great Lakes in the name of safety. The Small Boat Shop discovered long ago that keeping customers alive is very good for repeat business.
This is actually one of my favorite times of the year to be on the water. The crowds are gone, and we get to see sights that are not there in the Summer. I was paddling my Wenonah Prism solo canoe on the Connecticut River last week. There's a little known unmarked access at the end of Ely Ferry Road in Lyme, and I paddled from there north into Hamburg Cove. In Summer, this cove is crowded with moorings and large boats, but this day I had it all to myself. Next to the Hamburg Cove Yacht Club is another unmarked public access where I pulled out for lunch. On the return trip, I spotted an immature bald eagle on a branch over the water, unperturbed by my passing. I don't think I've ever been in the Cove in the off season without seeing at least one eagle, sometimes as many as five. By this time, the breeze out of the south had picked up a bit and made for some pleasant exercise paddling into it back to my car. If you want to spot eagles in the wild, but don't want to be out in your own small boat, the Connecticut Audubon Society runs eagle watch trips, on a boat with a heated cabin, out of Essex, CT.