, Newburyport, MA

April 4, 2014

Crashing into spring

A kayaking adventure on the Annisquam River

Outdoorsing the North Shore
Justin Chase

---- — The first of April blew in this year with warm air, bright sun and unusually high tides. Taking the opportunity to get back out on the water, I loaded up my kayak and headed to Gloucester’s Annisquam River.

At nearly five miles long, the Annisquam is one of New England’s longest tidal rivers and divides eastern Gloucester and Rockport with mainland Cape Ann to their west. It’s also a notoriously tricky stretch of water with alternating currents and wind and waves frequently moving in all directions.

I enjoyed a refreshing afternoon, paddling a classic New England waterway, while feeling spring’s arrival and getting a little wetter than expected.

Launching from Corliss Landing at the end of Apple Street shortly after high tide, I set out atop welcoming calm water. Fresh, salty air moved in gently from the east while soft waves lapped the sides of my boat. Gulls squawked overhead, circling and spiraling down close to better inspect for food.

Paddling north toward Annisquam Harbor, the sun shone warmly on my back and danced and sparkled along waves ahead of me — a welcomed sight after a long, dark winter. High water brought in with the afternoon’s tide nearly submerged the buoys and channel markers past which I traveled. The swollen river was filled to capacity, and signs of such were all around.

Waves and current strengthened as I made my way north to the harbor. Slack tide had passed, and the mouth stirred with energy as it prepared to pull water back out to sea. What was a gentle east breeze had quickly turned to a steady and strong north headwind, sending waves crashing over my bow and onto my lap.

Swells rolled in, lifting me up and slapping my boat down into their troughs. Sea ducks bobbed in and out of view until running clumsily across the water and taking flight. I turned my bow directly into the swells to prevent being overturned and pushed ahead with cold water splashing my face and numbing my hands. My speed slowed to a near stop as I paddled hard into the waves. It was suddenly more than I dared take on.

Seeking safer conditions, I quickly turned atop a swell, reversed direction and paddled back into the river from the harbor. Waves lifted me up, pushed me along and then broke beside me as I sank into troughs. I used my paddle blades for balance instead of power as I rode the water that I had previously fought.

After arriving closer to shore, I took a moment to relax my arms, drift freely and relish the rush of the moment. My deck glistened wet in the afternoon sun, and my cold, red fingers warmed quickly to its rays. With surf crashing behind me in the distance, I paddled back down the river, on calming water and alongside homes and piers. As quickly as it all started, the wind had slowed and the water began to rest.

Paddling south and back to the landing, I reflected on my trip out through the mouth of the river and into Annisquam Harbor. Conditions were stronger than I had expected and it caught me off-guard a bit, but still, I couldn’t help smiling. Spring had crashed in, and I was there to feel it.


Justin Chase is an avid naturalist who lives in Amesbury and grew up in Newburyport. He is the author of the blog Outdoors, By Cracky! Visit his website at, or contact him via email at