, Newburyport, MA


June 6, 2014

Paddling the lower Merrimack

Trip from Amesbury to Newburyport bursts with sights and sounds


Approaching the hulking Whittier Bridge, it appeared a mess of rust, faded paint, construction, and all sorts of boat and crane activity. Following a bright orange channel marker, I paddled under and past towering supports that have stood for years, holding up the massive bridge. That’s the thing about big bridges — like gigantic icebergs, the real show is underneath.

The current carried me swiftly and gently to Deer Island just downstream. Paddling near, I chose to pass under the historic Chain Bridge to the right. The south side of the island marks a narrow and busy pass, but offers rocky and craggy shores and a trip under the unique suspension bridge and its historic stone and block footings.

Riding a pretty strong rip, I zipped through the channel and flushed out to the leading end of Eagle Island a half-mile downriver. Entering a no-wake zone, boats had slowed and traveled respectfully past Salisbury’s conservation lands and delicate grassy shores. To my left lay shores of green grass, tall hardwoods and aged junipers. To my right jutted out a sea of boats, docks and marinas. The current picked up and pushed me quickly past it all. I used my blades only to steer as I slalomed through a maze of floating and numbered markers.

Nearing my landing, I leaned in to my right and cut with my blade to turn sharply toward Newburyport’s Cashman Park. With my boat perpendicular to shore, I paddled straight while the river pushed me sideways. As I approached, the water calmed in the shallows and offered a relaxed landing at the public ramp four miles downriver from where I started and where Jamie and the boys greeted me.

I’ve lived in this area all my life, and still I am amazed by its history and beauty.


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

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