Lake Champlain-New York City-Boston
May/June 2005

By Reinhard Zollitsch


Six years ago to the day, on May 23, 1999, Nancy and I made the long trek
from Maine to the southern tip of Lake Champlain, the traditional Finch and Chubb Inn, to be exact, at the Lock #12 Marina in the small town of Whitehall, NY. I had asked her whether she would be interested in “getting away from it
all for a couple of days” to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. But she caught on fast, asking whether that outing would by any chance involve my
solo sea canoe - and yes, it did.

The following day that year, soon after sunrise, I was off on my 1000 miler up north to the Richelieu River and the St. Lawrence and on to Quebec City and beyond, around the Gaspé peninsula into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and back
to New Brunswick, Canada (see MAIB May 1 - June 15, 2000). The following years took me along New Brunswick’s shores, around Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia as well as along the shores of the Bay of Fundy from St.
John back to Machias, Maine.

I had already done the stretch from Boston to Portland and the Maine Island
Trail from Portland to Machias in previous years (1996/97), and I suddenly
noticed that the New England states and the Canadian Maritimes form an
island, so to speak, not a clear one that jumps out at you on the map, but
you can boat around that big chunk of land, even with a sail or power boat.

I realized that I was about 500 miles short of completing the loop. All I had to
do was close the gap between Boston, MA and Whitehall, NY. Since this was
not an area I would have chosen to paddle, and since I resent being pressured
to do something which is not of my own choosing, I hesitated, procrastinated, made excuses and postponed that trip, and did a trip on the Baltic Sea along German shores from Denmark to Poland instead, which I had always wanted
to do since I was a little boy growing up along those north European waters.

But then I read the Howard Blackburn story (see info), the indomitable dory fisherman from Gloucester, Massachusetts who later in life (1902/03) decided
to sail a boat up the Hudson, through the barge canal system into the Great
Lakes to Chicago and from there down the Illinois River into the Mississippi,
the Gulf of Mexico and back on the Atlantic. He got hooked on crossing the Atlantic in ever smaller boats and circumnavigating big chunks of land that do
not look like islands at first sight. He wanted to prove that a large chunk of the U.S. is an island. His trip in turn recently inspired Nat Stone to row more or less the same route in 1999/2000 and write it up in On the Water (see info).

I suddenly felt motivated again by the good company and decided to complete
my circumnavigation. At the top of the Hudson, however, my loop turned right instead of left, forever right, describing an almost 4000-mile-long clockwise circle around my new-found world in New England and the Maritimes. I too would end up at the same place I started. But since I had broken up my trip over a number
of years, I now also had the choice of direction for my last stint. I had gone clockwise from Lake Champlain all the way to Machias, Maine.

But since I had done the stretch from Boston to Machias in a counterclockwise direction, due to the prevailing winds and the tidal flow, I decided to do my 2005 trip also in a counterclockwise direction and hope that ìthe force would be with meî again, i.e. the flow of the Hudson, and the prevailing SW wind for the rest of the stretch. Hitching a ride on the ebb tide, whenever possible, would also be nicer than bucking flood tides.

Gap Map
Click map to enlarge
in a new window


So there we were in Whitehall again, on May 23, 2005, enjoying a great anniversary/send-off dinner, thinking sweet thoughts while at the same time
going through the checklist for three weeks. I was again going solo and totally unassisted, except for the put-in in Whitehall and eventual pick-up on Revere Beach in Boston. I had all my own camping gear, charts and info, and food and supplies for three weeks in watertight bags, as well as 5 gallons of water.

I abhor stopping at stores along the way to pick up a soda here or a munchy
bar there, going to a motel for a shower and a soft level bed, or visiting friends along the way to chat. I had absorbed enough history and information of this
area ahead of time that I had enough to think about, to look for and to do, so I would not be lonely or bored. I also packed a bunch of fun readers in case I needed to take my mind off and relax. I was ready, as always, and very thankful
to Nancy for letting me go and making these trips possible for me.
Thanks, Nancy, you are the greatest!

And here I go again (Whitehall, NY, 2005)
Ready to go in Whitehall, NY


New York State has an elaborate barge canal system, which was instrumental in the westward move of early settlers, the Erie Canal being the best known. The Champlain Canal was built between 1817-1823, around the same time as the Erie Canal, and ultimately connects New York City with Montreal and Quebec on the St. Lawrence (Canada). From Lake Champlain, barges, but now mostly pleasure crafts, can take the Richelieu River and the Chambly Canal (with 9 locks) north into the St. Lawrence, or go south through the Champlain Canal (with 12 locks) to Troy, into the tidal Hudson River and down to New York City.

Lock #12, start of the Champlain Canal
Lock #12, start of the Champlain Canal

The canals are a fascinating story in themselves, run today by the very efficient and helpful NY Barge Canal System (see info; also check Peter Lourie: River of Mountains). Their website gives you all the info you need: hours of operation,
fees and permits, VHF channels, etc. I especially liked that they were free of charge for hand-powered vessels, and yet I was always treated like a ìreal
vesselî with a lot of courtesy, as well as curiosity about my trip.

I had many an interesting chat with the various lock keepers. They pass on the word to the next lock, estimate your speed, and if possible have the lock ready
for you. You go up or down, between 10-20 feet each time, with 2-14 miles in between locks. There is no lock #10, by the way. It was never built, because it turned out it was not needed, but the original numbering was never changed. I found the whole thing a bit strange.

The first three locks, by the way, lift you up to the height of land at Glen's Falls and the Feeder Canal; all the other locks then drop you down to almost sea
level at Troy. The first 25 miles of the more or less straight dug canal have the character of a small wooded river. At Fort Edward, after lock # 7, the canal joins the upper Hudson River and becomes more irregular.

While the Hudson River does its thing, including falling over ledge drops and power dams, boats are channeled into small side arms to the next lock system. Those spots would not be too kind towards speeding, drowsy, inattentive, intoxicated motorboat captains, who all too often, I am told, are guilty of all the above and pay for it dearly.


Just below lock #1 at Mechanicville the Erie Canal branches off (river right). Suddenly the traffic increases, but even more so after the last set of locks, the Federal Locks at Troy. There the character of the river changes abruptly. The
two big cities, Troy and Albany, have miles of quays and industry, which bring oceangoing boats and barges almost 160 miles upriver. It becomes a working river with significant commercial traffic, which small boaters should stay out of
at all times.

What boaters will notice immediately is that the river itself takes on a new character. From Troy on, the Hudson is different from all other rivers that flow to the sea. The Hudson does not flow at all, i.e. there is no real drop to the sea, unlike the Rhine, a frequent comparison with the Hudson.

Troy is practically already on sea level. Since the last ice age, this stretch of the old Hudson, which extended far out into the Atlantic, was flooded, and what we have these days is one long tidal arm, a fjord if you want, or better, a ìdrowned riverî. It ìflowsî both ways, as the Native American name Muhheakunnuk implies, with the ebb tide being slightly stronger (in places 5 knots max.), having the
added river and rainwater to carry to the sea.

If you do not pay attention to the cycle of the tide, you may see your tent washed off a beach by the incoming tide or find yourself stranded in a field of mud when the waters recede. The Hudson from Troy to The Battery is an ocean arm, a tidal estuary, and should be treated as such, i.e. you have to think ocean and tides, not river, when you go down it (mean range of tides for the two places: 4.7 and 4.5 feet).

When Henry Hudson arrived here late in September of 1609 in his frantic search for a seaway to China (his search north of Russia that same year failed, like all
his previous attempts along American shores), he thought he had finally found
the by then legendary "Northwest Passage". I feel sailors had talked about it for
so long that its existence was almost a fact: it just had to be found.

I could see and feel what Hudson must have thought when he entered this
great river: here is a deep and often wide tidal arm cutting through mountain ranges, maybe even an entire continent. In those days the American continent was considered a very narrow affair, maybe a bit wider than Florida. So it was very possible this was it. This had to be it, since he could not afford another failure. There was only one thing missing in his equation, which I would have pointed out to him, had I been his assistant: where is the westing? This river was truly a Great River, a North River, as it was known for a long time after Hudson, but no Northwest Passage or new seaway to the orient.

After sailing straight north for about 150 miles, an awfully long way in those days and those awkward sailboats, he finally had to concede it was only another river. And as I was thinking this, around the modern town of Albany, where Hudson had moored his 84í ship the Half Moon, there she was. The sides were still scraped
up from the Russian ice (or was it from this yearís ice melt on the Hudson?). It was the Half Moon all right; it said so on the stern.

Henry Hudson's HALF MOON (1609)
Henry Hudson's HALF MOON (1609)

I was so excited to see the boat, a replica, of course. And was I ever glad that
the first high tide on the river was at 6:00 a.m. This meant I would be able to
make my planned 25 miles per day early each day before the wind springs up
and with the help of the ebbing tide. I lucked out completely. I needed that, because the weather the first week of my trip was everything but vacation weather. Night temperatures were in the low forties, daytime temps in the low fifties. There was heavy rain most every night and showers and drizzle during
the day - real Gore-Tex, polypropylene and polar fleece weather. It felt more
like Nova Scotia than New York. All I was missing were the ubiquitous fog and ocean swells crashing on shore and the outlying rocks. I'll take it.


My fifth night out found me on Esopus Island, between Kingston and Poughkeepsie, as the tide was running out again. The lead gander of a group
of Canada geese objected at first, but eventually accepted me in my granite
gray tent above the high tide line, while he and his flock continued to pull out
on the lower tidal part of that minimal pebble beach.


That afternoon I had passed by Rhine Cliff, and I thought to myself how unlike
the German Rhine this looked. There were no castles, no churches, no
vineyards, no mystical Lorelei creature sitting on top of the cliff tirelessly
combing her golden hair, not even a ledge for skippers to founder on, but
worst of all, there were no little Weinstuben, there was no smell of Bratwurst, Kraut and German fries, and no oompah music - just kidding.

The only castle I saw came a bit later, Bannerman Castle, on tiny Pollepel Island, a tad south of Newburgh/Beacon, or just before the riverís break through the Hudson Highlands mountain range at Storm King Mountain. What a sight! I had
to overnight there, I thought when I planned my trip in the cold of a Maine winter, and I did. Between 1901 and 1918 Frank Bannerman, who made his money hawking military surplus from the 1898 Spanish-American war, built the castle of his dreams for a warehouse, without real architectural plans.

It is already unsafe to enter and is collapsing and looks much older than it really is. It portrays a false sense of history. It is clearly a product of a nostalgia attack.
It is totally out of place, if you ask me or any European; itís a fake, but great for tourism and pictures. I am guilty too. (I took at least 10 slides!)

No, the Hudson is not "The American Rhine". Why should it be? It has its own unique and wonderful character.

Bannerman Castle
Bannerman Castle


Aside from Bannerman castle, Denning Point peninsula looked ideal to take in
the larger geological view of this area, and believe me, this is a spectacular
spot in every sense. The river is almost stopped up behind the ridge of the Hudson Highlands, a mountain range filling the entire horizon.

On river right is the big chunk of Storm King Mountain, and on river left, a string of almost equally impressive peaks. It must be one of the most photographed areas
around. I was so glad to see it maintained in its natural beauty as a large
state park and not carved up by developers.

Hudson Highlands with Stormking Mtn.
Hudson Highlands with Stormking Mtn.

A bit further down, the entire bottleneck makes two tight 90-degree turns at Worlds End (I love descriptive names like that!), overlooked by the impressive buildings of the U.S. Military Academy West Point. It felt good paddling with a strong ebb tide. This corner could stop you dead in your tracks with an
opposing tide.


I was glad to be able to pitch my tent on Denning Point. Thanks to the Hudson River Greenway as well as the Hudson River Watertrail Association, two all-volunteer non-profit organizations (see info), it is now an approved campsite for river travelers. The HRWA has been instrumental in establishing a water trail like our Maine Island Trail, down the entire tidal segment of the Hudson River.

Since 1992 they have been tirelessly negotiating launching and landing sites for small boaters and have put out a very informative and useful Hudson River Trail Guide. Each year they celebrate their accomplishment and at the same time promote their idea of public use of the big river with an annual paddle trip down the entire tidal stretch of the Hudson. This yearís trip was planned for July 8-17, which was a bit too late in the season for me and also too slow, but I am sure the participants will have fun, get their word out about the mighty Hudson as well as get a good workout.


I was in a great mood bounding through Worlds End, also since the sun had
finally come out. But then I lucked out yet again. Just below West Point I noticed
a big old wooden sloop. I knew right away that had to be Pete Seeger's CLEARWATER, the symbol of the clean-up effort of the Hudson River started in the late sixties. When I clicked my pictures for this article, heads popped up over the side, and I was soon involved in a very animated talk with the very enthused crew of five young college kids. They were delighted to hear that their word had gotten out and that I knew all about the boat, Pete, and their commitment. In return, they were impressed to hear about my big venture and that I too had sailed on a small two-masted schooner, across the Atlantic as watch captain.

Pete Seeger's Clearwater
Pete Seeger's Clearwater

The Hudson River surely has come a long way. People used to say you smell
the river before you see it. Not any more, although there is still lots to be done,
as I found out from the Riverkeeper patrolling the Hudson in a Maine lobster
boat. I liked that. Now you see lots of Canada geese with their gangly goslings in tow, ducks, cormorants, a few ospreys and occasionally even a bald eagle. On shore I heard cardinals, Baltimore orioles and mockingbirds as well as a variety
of warblers. It was everything but a ìsilent springî along this major north-south flyway.


I have always liked bridges and trains. I grew up in a small town on the Kiel
Canal, in Germany, with several different types of bridges and lots of trains. I
see bridges as the engineering marvels of their respective times, and the Hudson can certainly write its own chapter in a history book for engineering students.
And as the river widens, one can see how engineers solved the problem of
height, width and span with ever-new designs and materials. Suspension
bridges are my favorites, since they so gracefully and seemingly effortlessly
span the river.

Bridges across the Hudson River
Bridges across the Hudson River

But what is more important is that they connect people and towns, allow commerce and travel. I was fascinated and taken back to my youth, hearing train whistles at all times of the day and night. There were long 50-car freight trains chugging along the west bank of the river and sleek, clean and fast 5-9 car passenger AMTRAK trains on the east bank, New York City bound. Between bridges or where the river widens, ferries supplied the link. Even those have changed drastically, and now tear across the surface of the water at an amazing speed. Those catamaran ferries, I noticed, throw a wicked pressure wake. Small boaters beware!


After going under the Bear Mountain bridge near Peekskill, the river suddenly widens significantly. Three-mile-wide and at least twice as long Haverstraw Bay looked more like Penobscot Bay to me than a river. Only the islands were
missing, but instead, there is a very beautiful peninsula jutting into it, looking straight south to the mighty Tappan Zee Bridge. Again, thanks to the HRWA,
there is a legal camping site for small boaters on the very tip of Tellers Point, marked by a HRWA pole marker. Thanks, I needed that!

It was my seventh night out, and it was Memorial Day. The boat traffic had increased hundredfold. There were some sailboats, but mostly big and fast powerboats, all the way up to ocean racing cats. Since I had too much gear, I decided to chance camping along the minimal beach, rather than carry my gear up the bank to the official tenting areas. It was marginal at high tide, especially with all the boat traffic and the westerly wind suddenly whipping up at 20-25
knots. I had to fortify my tent with a breakwater of the biggest driftwood logs I could find, and it worked, but barely. I knew I had the option of moving to higher ground at any time. I was ready and enjoyed watching people enjoying the
mighty river.


Teller Point was a perfect jump-off point to my next stop, the mouth of the
Harlem River, which is also known by its Dutch name Spuyten Duyvil , or spitting devil (it spits out a strong ebb tide into the mighty Hudson). This was my 200-mile marker, my eighth overnight, and I had everything planned in advance to pull out at the Columbia University rowing club.

I had e-mailed two friends of mine, the former head coach and Olympic gold medalist, as well as the major donor of the boathouse, way in advance, asking them to ask permission for me to pitch my minimal tent in the most out-of-the-way place on their grounds. This spot was important not only because it is hard to find a campground in downtown New York, but also because I had to set myself up very carefully for next dayís run through the infamous Hell Gate, where the Harlem and East River gush into Long Island Sound, a very tricky spot.

Everything looked great except for the extensive mud flats engulfing half of the rowing docks. Nobody was there except for some Canada geese messing up the docks, and eventually a grounds person and a security guard. I showed them my letters, still no problem. I was even given the combination to the washroom.
I read some and studied the tides of the Harlem for tomorrowís run. While the Hudson and the East River flood north, the Harlem floods south. The flows of the Harlem and the East River meet at Hell Gate and then together press through
the narrow gut into Long Island Sound. I would have to be down there about
5:00 a.m., which meant leaving about two hours earlier, at about 3:00 a.m. in
the dark. Could I do it?

And while I was half way through my Dinty Moore beef stew, the present head coach showed up. It turned out he had not seen the e-mails, i.e. he had failed to retrieve them, and he got all flustered and felt it was not up to him to give me permission to camp here. ìIf anything happens to you, I might lose my job,î he kept saying. At first I thought he was putting me on. Would I, who had gone solo on the ocean for almost 4000 miles without even the slightest mishap, slip on the goose droppings on the boat dock, break a leg and sue Columbia University for all it is worth? "You are kidding, aren't you?" I offered, but no, he wasn't.

After a half-hearted attempt to contact a superior by phone, he decided he could not bear the responsibility on his own shoulders and literally threw me out. I could not believe being ousted by a phys. ed. coach, me being a Prof. Dr. from a sister university, with credentials from a former coach and Olympic gold medalist, and a major donor, whose name was on the boathouse in big letters. My ego as well as my planning skills were severely bruised.

"I have to leave in 10 minutes," he said bluntly, "and I want to see you pack up now." I knew then that I had met the "Spuyten Duyvil" in person. Arguing with small, inflexible and scared people, I knew from years of experience, was useless, but I sternly objected to his "NOW" demand. I was in the middle of my meal, the high point of each day for me, and still had my fruit dessert coming. I would pack up when I was done eating, I countered. He could check on me later. Under those circumstances I didn't even want to stay any more - but they would hear from me later, I promised. He just walked off, not knowing what to say to my partial refusal to leave now.

And while I was gulping down my stew, the huge letter "C" signifying the mighty academic institution of Columbia University on the ledge face on the opposite shore suddenly shrank and looked more like graffiti defacing a beautiful, natural ledge outcropping. I was thinking a lot of thoughts and came up with lots of clever and cutting phrases, which I did not say then and cannot say now either. Maybe I can get away with it if I put it into the proper language of academe, I mused. Anyway, I would at least vent my frustration by calling the little "Spuyten Duyvil"
a ìformica urinans minorî - not to his face though. (You figure it out; ëformicaí meaning ëantí.)

That was my ultimate vengeance. I suddenly smiled again, enjoyed my fruit dessert, packed up and was glad to get out of that mud hole where I was not welcome.


This was easier said than done. The tide was ebbing hard, and I could hardly make headway. After 2 miles, just before the next rowing club, I found a postal stamp sized beach with more or less level ground behind it. This had to do, and
it did, without my being ousted again, till my alarm went off at 3:00 a.m. I slept fitfully. The din of the city never subsided.

Trains, busses and cars were running all night. What do you expect in the city
that never sleeps? I had everything pre-packed and had memorized the next
eight miles to Hell Gate, plus the next two into Long Island Sound. It was a dark night, illuminated only by streetlights and buildings and a sliver of a waning moon racing through dark storm clouds. It was an extremely dramatic setting, and me, lonely little Reinhard in his tiny sea canoe flushing down the Harlem with the flood tide.

Once the span of a swing bridge on my side was blocked by construction barges, and I had to hustle to get into the other lane. Otherwise I tried to be very visible, just right of center, so nobody could think I was sneaking up on anybody or anything. These are touchy days in the city, and I had not cleared my passage with the Coast Guard or the police.

Two hours later the river swung right, then left, widened, and I saw two huge suspension bridges on my left, while I was practically running into the tiny island
at the entrance to Hell Gate. This must be Mill Rock, I thought, and verified my position by turning on my flashlight for the first time. I was right on target - great!

Now, what is the tide doing? Perfect! It was still flooding, maybe more than anticipated, because I got here faster. I sized up the boils, headed straight
across to the other shore, to Hallets Point, in order to avoid the rocks in front of Wards Island and the major current that would be slamming into this shore.
So I scooted into the eddy behind Hallets Point and flushed swiftly past the big power plant on the right hand shore, under the two huge bridges into the first bight around Rikers Island and eventually the Bronx-Whitestone and Throgsneck suspension bridges. I was in Long Island Sound for sure now. I felt elated, and
it was only 7:00 a.m. Time for breakfast.


I felt I had reached another major point on my trip. Long Island Sound, or rather the shores along Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, always sounded and felt much more familiar to me. This was New England, and I had seen various points here and there, but had never paddled any stretch other than last yearís outrigger race between Milford and New Haven, CT. It was going to be a cinch, compared to last yearís big task of rounding the southern tip of Nova Scotia into the Bay of Fundy, I thought confidently.

And I was right. It seemed tame compared to my usual Atlantic paddling. I found nice overnight spots on Twin Island, in Zieglers Cove, at Stratford Point, the mouth of the Housatonic River, on one of the Thimble Islands, the mouth of the Connecticut River next to the former Katherine Hepburn estate, on Ram Island and the Harbor of Refuge at Point Judith, RI. The coastline seemed endless.
With the daily haze there was nothing on my right to look at, except for two small groups of islands, the Norwalk Islands and The Thimbles. And they were so built up, it was pitiable. Even the smallest rock had a house on it, bulging over the granite like a fat Rhode Island Red hen squatting on her clutch of eggs. On shore, an endless string of summer homes replaced the scenery usually found along an oceanfront. In places it got so bad that there were houses built in front of the old beach houses, but now half on the actual beach and half on stilts in the water.
I was absolutely aghast, horrified, speechless. Donít those townships have a building code? Needless to say, I was not happy - no, I was in a foul mood,
which I rarely am.

Now and then nature conservancies had secured beach parcels, or states had established recreational parks or wildlife preserves, where I even found such Floridian birds as white egrets and herons and even swans. But I was getting distinctly tired of seeing nothing but beach houses and listening to the beach noises. And this was only early June. I found myself farther and farther off shore.
At the mouth of the Housatonic River, though, I enjoyed a vintage W.W.II air show from the Igor Sikorsky airfield just a bit down the beach from me. My site near the breakwaters of the Connecticut River also gave me a great view of all the boats coming and going on a sunny Sunday. Near Mystic River I landed on an island in the thick of fog, a perfect cover for me till my departure the next morning,
because I knew I should not have landed there.

More fog the next day and more distinct tidal rips around the points. Napatree Point got real dicy with the sudden 20 knot southerly running against a strong
ebb tide. That day from Mystic River to the Harbor of Refuge at Point Judith turned into another long 7 hour 30 min. day, but I was glad I was in port and in Rhode Island. I had been looking forward to crossing Narragansett Bay for a
long time.


My usual morning routine of up at 5:00 a.m. and off by 6:30 a.m. had worked
fine so far, and the flood tide took me nicely the first two hours to my first two crossings to Newport Neck. The shore was rugged again, the open ocean was rolling in - this was more like it! Instead of the strings of beach houses, there were only a few but enormous summer homes of the very rich and famous, from the early 1900s it seemed. They were the castles of affluence, and always on the most dramatic and surely also most expensive real estate in the New England area. They looked magnificent, like African elephants, but I would not want one
for a pet, that is, take care of a summer home like those.

My last big jump was across to Sakonnet Point, which has a handful of little islands and ledges off its tip. That point could get very interesting in the fog and
in any southerly wind and seas. I lucked out. I had perfect visibility and only a
10-knot southerly. By the way, this was only the second day out of sixteen so
far that I saw a sunrise. All other mornings were overcast, rainy or foggy.
After rounding the point, I holed up in a tiny cove 3 miles east that had beckoned to me when I first looked at the charts. And it too checked out all right.
This day I got in at 1:40 p.m., after a very comfortable 6 hour 40 min. paddle.
I felt good and very accomplished after today's exposed run of 23.5 miles from
Pt. Judith.


The scenery had changed yesterday, and I felt much better. But early morning
fog greeted me again the next morning, but eventually burned off when I rounded Gooseberry Neck and entered Buzzards Bay. After 7 hours I pulled out at a lovely beach on the NE side of West Island. I now had to think about the Cape Cod Canal, since I did not want to paddle all the way around Cape Cod itself.

But getting there the next morning in thick fog, a strong southwest wind whipping up lots of whitecaps and foam streamers, was not easy. I had to hit the 2-mile-long needle point of Stony Point Dike, the entrance to the canal, after a final 2.3 mile crossing in the fog. I had to pay attention and compensate for a lot of factors, not to mention the physical paddle itself. I felt great when I hit the point, head on in very turbulent water, in the midst of a group of sport fishing boats. I felt greatly relieved, because I had a date at the canal entrance at todayís 1307 hours high tide.

After Hell Gate, the Cape Cod Canal was the second stretch that needed careful preparation. I had read that it has no locks and therefore has a strong tidal
flow of up to 5.2 knots swinging with the tidal differences between Cape Cod Bay and Buzzards Bay. For that reason, only motorized vessels are allowed to pass through. So I had contacted the Chief Engineer weeks before my trip about getting special permission to paddle through the canal with a favorable tide.
It is only 7 miles, under two hours for me. I did not foresee any problem. I had
paddled around the GaspÈ and Nova Scotia and on the Bay of Fundy.
"Sorry, no exceptions", was the answer, as expected.

It did not even occur to me to try to sneak through. Their office is overlooking
the entrance, and I even had a radar reflector on my stern deck. Nat Stone tried to row through in 2000, and was unceremoniously towed back out, as you can read in his book On the Water. I had to negotiate a plan B ahead of time. How about being towed through by a patrol boat or any other motorboat or sailor, if necessary with me being in the towboat? I got a surprising OK, but even that special permission was changed when I arrived there. Instead I was told to get
to a little beach on the right of the canal entrance from whence I would be car shuttled with a boat trailer to the breakwater on the other side.

Cape Cod Canal shuffle
Cape Cod Canal shuffle

I could not argue with that. I was impressed that they were willing to accommodate me at all. I knew they were trying hard to understand my special 4000-mile boating quest of rounding the New England States and the Maritimes, but did not want to set a precedent. I accepted thankfully - THANKS GUYS! - and promised to mention them gratefully in my write-up, like now.

I had hardly finished my VHF call, and washed down a granola bar with plenty of stale water, when three uniformed guys arrived, and we four heaved the boat, loaded as it was, onto the trailer, tied it down, and off we went to the breakwater at the other end of the canal at Sandwich Beach.


With a sudden blustery 25 knot westerly, I angled my way north like a crab till I came to a spectacular, steep, yellow cliff shore (Peaked Cliff), too steep to allow houses to be built on. I pitched my little tent just beyond the break-off line, the slide, and looked like a big erratic left there by the last ice age. I even put my
boat behind my tent as a rock catcher, but nothing significant came tumbling
down - but the cliff was never silent either.

Peaked Cliff overnight
Peaked Cliff overnight

Having made it through the canal in good time, and hearing that Nancy had booked a room in Revere for Sunday night, planning to meet me on Monday, I suddenly wondered whether I could make it back to Revere Beach, north of Boston, in two days instead of three. I could join her in the hotel - what a lovely thought! Two long 28-mile days would do it, and it was decided.

I loved skipping Plymouth Harbor completely the next day and instead crossing the extensive bay from Rocky Point to the lighthouse on Gurnet Point. I decided
to wait to revisit this area till 2020, when Plimoth Plantation will celebrate its 400-year anniversary of the Pilgrimsí arrival (16 years after the French arrival on St. Croix Island in Maine, by the way).

It was Saturday, and it got hot, and the beaches from here on in to Boston were crowded with humanity. The sand spit neck of Duxbury Beach was taken over by pick-ups and mini vans, all backed towards the ocean with open tailgates, like a tailgate party before a football game. There were lots of lounge chairs, coolers and grills. Only one of the hundred cars had a boat on a roof rack. The adults seemed to be here to eat, lounge and socialize. The few kids very cautiously tested the water. Nobody was swimming.

Then came a fenced in wildlife reserve area with lots of warning signs. I hope
the plovers and dowitchers can read and decide to nest here, not up or down
the beach. Next came the public swimming beach with screeeeeeaming little
girls, and maybe also little boys who have picked up that despicable trait, and after that the ubiquitous beach front houses, stacked so tightly that one could hand a dessert plate from one porch to the next.


I was in a daze, and after seven and a half long hours in the boat finally pulled
out at the end of another cliff shore (Fourth Cliff), at the end of a long sand spit island with an old W.W.II watch tower on it. No house, no fence, no sign, just a
few people walking the beach - Iíll take it, and I had a wonderful afternoon and evening. However, at 10:00 pm. I was rudely awakened by aggressive dog barking and a voice sternly asking repeatedly: "Do you know where you are?" while flashing a super bright flashlight at my tent.

I was in lala-land, and it took me a while to grasp the situation. Was he lost, or what was up, I first wondered. ìThis is Fourth Cliffî, I answered, but that was not what he wanted to hear. "This is a military installation and you have to leave - now!" This cannot be, I thought. My official NOAA charts do not mention it,
neither does the road map or my Coast Pilot. There was no fence I had leaped over this afternoon, nor were there any ìkeep offî or ìno trespassingî signs I had ignored. It looked like a public beach with a wooden walkway up the cliff to the higher ground. In my groggy, sleepy state, I briefly pictured people in uniforms swarming about the old W.W.II watchtower scanning the horizon for German submarines. I felt like saying that someone better tell the commanding officer
that the war was over. We won! But the snarling dog brought me back to reality. Just to make sure, I grabbed my bear spray and flashlight and stepped out of
my tent to meet my adversary.

In a very sharp, accusatory tone I was told I had set up camp on a military installation, which turned out to be a recreational facility for Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. It took me quite some time to pry this info from the guardian of this beach. So I mused, retired colonels and the like can recreate for free at taxpayersí expense at this installation, while I could not even pitch my little tent below high tide mark for one night, and be gone by sunrise? I pointed out,
not having a fence or signs designating this beach as a restricted area, nor
having this place listed on the official national charts and maps as a military installation, normally meant he and his superiors did not have a leg to stand
on in a court of law.

He and his big black dog did not like that thought at all. Growl! "There is no camping on this beach! I have my orders, and I am here to see them carried out, or I'll call the police!" That was clear enough, especially after 10:00 p.m., but I
had enough sense and courage to refuse to pack up and get back on the ocean at 10:15 p.m. This would be an accident waiting to happen, and the Coast Guard would not like to see that at all. What is your name and rank, by the way? I am a university professor doctor from Maine.

I was miffed, as you can see. Only the third time of the entire trip of nearly 4000 miles (or 160 overnights) had I been evicted, and each time by an institution; first by the Canadian National Park at Forillon in Quebec (who threatened to truck me out of the park and dump me at the entrance like a beached whale. Instead, I got back on the water, which got me into serious trouble around Gaspé Point); then
at Columbia University at the mouth of the Harlem River in New York City; and now in Massachusetts by the military, on the last night of my trip. Well, the guard finally allowed my boat to stay on the beach, but my tent and I had to move.

I needed sleep badly and did not feel like wasting my time arguing my case with him or the police. So I accepted his offer, but on my terms. I packed up all my gear except for my tent, pad and sleeping bag and stowed everything back in my boat and hoped it would not be vandalized overnight. I shouldered my shelter
bag and trundled along the beach, about 100 yards, just off the military
property - big whoop. At the steps, he suddenly offered me to pitch my tent up
on the cliff on his military campground with outhouse and washroom. I agreed tiredly, while inwardly shaking my head about anybodyís conviction that rules
are rules and that there are no exceptions. A totally alien thought in my life,
but I was too tired to push my point any further.


At 6:00 a.m. I was back in the saddle again, without breakfast, because everything was packed. I made it past Scituate to Cohassett where my spirits finally picked up again, seeing a group of Maine-like ledge islands and rocks, gulls, terns, ducks and cormorants. But I lost it again soon thereafter when I hit ëcondo landí at the base of Nantasket Beach.

It also got hot (in the 90s), hazy and humid. It felt more like the Everglades in June. With Nantasket Beach I had distinctly entered the playground of a big city, and it was Sunday. I stayed off shore as far as necessary to have my peace, till I rounded Point Allerton and started my Boston Harbor traverse. I hopped across
to Georges Island, meeting several fast catamaran ferries full of weekend tourists eager to see Fort Warren. From there I fetched Gallops Island and had lunch at a black and white stone marker across from Deer Island, while watching the busy traffic through this narrow main thoroughfare into the inner harbor or out to sea.

Two big freighters steamed in, a dredger and a few barges went out, while sport fishing boats, sailors and even ocean racing powerboats were crisscrossing the channel or speeding aimlessly around. This was going to be interesting for me crossing over. It was only a mile, but I knew my wiggle stick with orange flag and my radar reflector were no guarantee for a safe passage.

I timed my crossing well, dug in hard and made it before the speedsters came back. Paddling up to Revere Beach was long, tiring and a bit of a letdown. This was not going to be like my glorious arrivals in Quebec, Matapedia, North Cape, Halifax or Digby. I was glad I had closed the gap of my almost 4000-mile circumnavigation, but I was also glad this trip was coming to an end; I was
glad I was done.

ETA (estimated time of arrival) was 2:00 p.m. today, June 12, 2005. Nancy had left Orono this morning to meet me at the same place where she had put me in in 1997 for my trip back to Portland, Maine. But everything had changed at our take-out point. There were now a huge granite breakwater and expensive condos right behind it, the private, no-trespassing kind. But she happened to meet one of the managers there, who had a hard time believing that any wife would let her husband and father of four kids paddle 500 miles or 20 days on the ocean, all by himself, and expect him to arrive on time.

It was 1:50 p.m. as they spoke, and as I rounded the last corner and came into view. "There he is!", Nancy pointed out with a gleeful smile. I could not have hit it much closer. I had gone another 7 hours 41 min. today. I was hot and spent and very eager to see Nancy and share this trip with her. I was still on autopilot packing up my gear, but then thoroughly enjoyed the amenities of a hotel room in town and a real dinner.

Revere Beach
Arrival in Revere Beach/Boston

Thanks again for all your kind support, true understanding, and trust in my abilities and judgment. I am one lucky dude to have you, Nancy.


And as far as next year is concerned, I have no idea what I could do or would do as an encore. I know for sure, I wonít be heading south again. Iíve had my fill of beach houses, crowded beaches and cordoned off nature preserves. The shores of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts may be great for day tripping for you sea kayakers out there, if you find a legal put-in and take-out spot, but they are not made for overnight canoe camping trips. Tamsin Venn in her recently reedited guide book Sea Kayaking along the New England Coast agrees.

The Norwalk Islands and the Thimbles are about the only worthwhile trip destinations, aside from big Narragansett Bay of course. I for my part prefer more real scenery with lots of islands, rocks, bays and bights, in northern climes, and with people who have less of a fortress mentality than people in more crowded areas. But I have to admit, the Hudson River was a wonderful surprise.

The 200-mile stretch which I visited was worth the long car shuttle, since it has scenery and history and since various groups are making a real effort to accommodate small boaters with legal put-in as well as overnight spots. I was delighted to see that our Maine Island Trail idea, with its active volunteer stewardship program, has found some real dedicated friends.

There is always still lots to be done, but I already saw a great and very significant beginning. Keep up the good work, HRWA, Greenway, Clearwater, The Riverkeeper, and the many other local and state environmental groups and agencies. You are doing a great job. It really shows. I dip my cap.


Charts: NOAA and small craft charts by MAPTECH (Champlain Canal, Hudson River, East River, Western Long Island Sound, Watch Hill to New Haven, Cape Cod Canal, Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay, Boston Harbor)
NOAA: U.S. Coast Pilot 2 (Atlantic Coast: Cape Cod, MA to Sandy Hook, NJ)
Hudson River Watertrail Association: The Hudson River Water Trail Guide, 6th edition, 2003. See also:
Tamsin Venn: Sea Kayaking along the New England Coast. AMC Books, Boston, MA, 2nd edition, 2004.
NY Barge Canal System:
Cape Cod Canal:

Fun reads on Hudson River and voyaging:
Peter Lourie: River of Mountains (canoeing the Hudson from top to bottom). Syracuse Univ. Press, 1995.
Joseph E. Garland: Lone Voyager (the Howard Blackburn Story). Touchstone, NY,1963.
Nathaniel Stone: On the Water (rowing Blackburnís ìinside loopî). Broadway Books, NY, 2002.
Tristan Jones: The Incredible Voyage (sailing from the lowest to the highest body of water, Dead Sea to Lake Titicaca). Sheridan House, NY, 1996.
William A. Stowe: All Together (his successful quest for Olympic rowing gold in 1964). iUniverse, Inc., NY, 2005.

Verlen Kruger 172 SEA WIND Kevlar sea canoe with rudder and spray skirt (
Carbon fiber marathon canoe racing paddles by Zaveral (
VHF radio telephone with weather stations
Iridium Satellite phone (used for brief outgoing calls only)
West Marine lensatic radar reflector on stern deck
Bicycle wiggle stick (with orange flag) on stern deck
Regular camping gear and canned food; two 2.5 gal. water tanks, refilled twice
Costs other than put-in and take-out car shuttles: None

© Reinhard Zollitsch