, Newburyport, MA


June 6, 2014

Paddling the lower Merrimack

Trip from Amesbury to Newburyport bursts with sights and sounds

Rising from the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee rivers in Franklin, N.H., the Merrimack River flows over 100 miles before draining to the Atlantic. The final reach, from Amesbury to Newburyport, is one of New England’s most storied and picturesque waterways, and one I recently paddled alone with my kayak. I enjoyed 3 miles of swift currents, bright sun and all the bustle one should expect on a sunny, late afternoon in June.

Launching from the Amesbury public ramp off Merrimac Street, I dropped onto high water and an outgoing tide. I paddled past towering sailboats and yachts docked at Larry’s Marina, and my 20-inch-wide kayak felt tiny and a bit out of place. Runabouts zipped past my bow, to and from boats moored offshore, while a large motorboat clumsily docked at a nearby slip.

Paddling past the busy docks and the mouth of the Powow, I made my way alongside Amesbury’s Point Shore neighborhood. Skirting the shoreline to avoid the busy channel on my starboard side, I traveled past beautiful antique homes, private docks littered with resting cormorants and gulls, and wakes crashing onto shore from the boats that hurried by. Cool, salty air blew in from the ocean ahead, while warm, damp air pulled in low behind me with outgoing water. It’s the telltale sign of a shifting tide — when winds of different feel move in from opposing directions.

Hammering, banging and clanking sounded out from open windows at Lowell’s Boat Shop. Gulls squawked overhead and off from shore. They hopped and bounced, peered and twisted their heads with quick jerks as I passed by. Some of the year’s brightest sun shone down, shimmering and reflecting on waves, wakes and boat glass.

Warm water lapped the sides of my boat and splashed gently onto my hands with each dip of my blades. Carving into a current and an equally strong headwind, I adjusted my course and paddled out into the channel and away from rocky outcroppings.

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