Sunday, November 22, 2015

the sound of the tide turning

I'd been hoping to do a late-Fall kayak, probably my last of the year.  Things fell together on Saturday 11/21 and so I put Ruby on the top of the car and headed for the put-in at the Rowley town landing.

I hadn't been there for a few years.  This is far up the Rowley River and it's a fun place to go if the tide is right and the people are gone.  This Saturday the temperature never got above 50 (especially at the shore), and though it was mostly sunny, there were still a lot of clouds in the November sky and the sun never beamed down.  An hour or two before low tide, the end of the ramp was coated in mud, and there was no one else at the Rowley marina.

I put on a lot of clothes and my spray skirt, got into the kayak without an accident, and started plugging down the river under the railroad bridge.  Soon I was striking up a steady pace and the tide was sweeping me out to sea, though we had miles to go.  The weather guys got the wind right that time: 10 to 15 knots from the North (i.e. chilly, even in the depths of the salt marsh), but then dying to 5 and clocking around to the Northeast as the day wore along.  This meant it was against me as I paddled down the river.

I got out into Plum Island Sound about a half hour before the tide was due to turn.  The visibility was fantastic and I could see the houses at the North end of Plum Island way to the North, Grape Island right across the Sound from me, and beyond that the Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island.  There were a few osprey towers in the Refuge, sticking up here and there,  The houses of Ipswich's Great Neck neighborhood were a burst of civilization to the South, but behind that I could see the trees of Castle Hill and out into the ocean.  Beyond that to the South the dunes of Cape Ann's northern shore looked close enough that I could kayak over there without much trouble.  Like seeing the Rockies from eastern Colorado.

I'd poked out into the inner channel of the lower part of the Sound, and the tide was very busily pushing me out to sea, along with the diminishing Northeast wind.  I was floating down quickly, usually able to peer down into the water and see the low-tide bottom, sand and mud and widely scattered bits of lobster shell, rocks, and kelp.

I was able to listen, and I realized that I was hearing a steady low roar that was the surf pounding on Plum Island's ocean coast, a mile or less to the East and over the marshes and the dunes.  I could also faintly hear a high roar, which was the tires of the intermittent cars crossing over the causeway to Great Neck.

And then I heard the tide change.  Ripples were streaming down-tide with me, and down wind.  Suddenly, one tinkled and then another when they had been silent before.  One broke over itself a bit and then another.  What was happening was that the tide was turning and suddenly it was not compatible with the wind.  I looked at my watch and it was 1:05, the exact time that the chart had told me the tide would turn.

The wind still had me and Ruby, but was washing us into a bend of middle ground.  I laughed and counted my luck, and then after a while got the paddle going again and headed back up to the mouth of the Rowley River, by now far away but open to the incoming tide.

I could see little jets of brine spit out by the low-tide clams.  Flights of swifts flashed across the sun, and some landed to my left.  I realized that they were floating on a pond a foot or so startlingly above me, a pond that had been left by the outgoing tide, landlocked in the sand bar.  Hundreds of them were there, waiting for the turned tide to wash over the bar and flood their pond, and maybe bring in a snack.

Made it back into the river and had my sandwich, now floating back towards town with the wind and the tide at my back.

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