The sun was brilliant, the sky perfectly blue; the tide was in, and Indian Summer had returned on Tuesday when Dot Kelly set out in her kayak at Noroton Harbor. It was time to surrender to the call of nature.
Rarely does a week go by that Kelly cannot be found in her kayak somewhere along Darien’s 16.5 miles of coastline. Even in the dead of winter.
Tuesday beckoned her to head north into the coves and inlets that lead to Goodwives River; and on this occasion, Kelly had invited a visitor along to share in what she describes as "a glorious pleasure."
Nature did not disappoint.
In the utter quiet—there was no water traffic other than a lobster boat returning from the Sound to its mooring in Noroton Harbor and a lone scull oarsman—Kelly recognized the high call of an unseen osprey. A female mallard duck took flight some yards ahead, and five cormorants stood in a row at the edge of a dock shaking their wings as if to maintain their balance. Actually, Kelly said, cormorants lack oil in their down and so must dry their feathers by flapping their wings.
Paddling steadily but effortlessly, Kelly steered into a favorite cove. Along a muddy bank, she pointed to hundreds of holes looking as if they had been drilled by a hand tool. These, she said, were the temporary residences of fiddler crabs.
"Each day is different with the weather, wind, tide, and the world going by (but no cars)," Kelly said. "A comfortable kayaking pace is about the same as walking, so you can get places, but not too far without transporting the kayak."
Traveling at about three miles per hour, Kelly’s destination was the picturesque stone arch bridge at Gorham’s Pond. Once Darien’s commercial center, attracting ships from afar, the setting is sublime.
Kelly pointed out the fish ladder recently reconstructed beneath the bridge by the Town of Darien to enable otherwise stranded fish wishing to spawn upstream to surmount the breakwater dam. At peak high tide it’s possible to glide under the bridge for explorations on Gorham’s Pond.
"I’m just a recreational kayaker who finds peace, fitness, natural beauty and adventure in kayaking," she said.
Kelly’s cell rang. She took the call. It was not momentous. The phone rang again a few minutes later. Kelly did not take the call.
Instead, she was extolling the virtues of kayaking, a form of recreation that rewards a modest physical effort with peace and joy. Gliding along at water level allows exploration of shallow inlets and leaves no carbon footprint. (Not to mention how the paddling chisels biceps and flattens abs.)
"I love going across the Holly Pond dam within two hours of high tide and admiring the nooks and crannies and especially the protected land areas that border Nearwater Lane and Brushy Ridge," she wrote in an email later in the day. "The best part about a kayak is that it floats in only a couple inches of water so the tidal marshes are explorable!"
Kelly, who has directed stewardship for the Darien Land Trust and served in many other volunteer positions in town, recommends other excursions from Pear Tree Point Beach (or just a bit further paddle from Weed):
- Go around Long Neck Point and view the houses, Hay Island, Delafield Island, Contentment Island and all their nooks and crannies. (2-4 hours)
- Paddle around Long Neck Point and then around Fish Island and back. (2 hours)
"If you’re new to kayaking it’s a great sport because you can paddle and talk, if you get tired you can stop paddling and float, if you get motivated you can paddle your heart out!"
Longer expeditions beckon on beautiful days when time is available:
- Paddle from Pear Tree Point, around Long Neck Point, to Five Mile River for lunch at Rowayton Market, and back. The round trip is great exercise and tasty fun. (2.5-5 hours)
- Feeling adventurous? Paddle the 12 miles from Weed Beach to Tod’s Point in Greenwich. (4-6 hours)
- From Down Under, a kayak outfitter on Five Mile River operated by Darien’s Kim Beaumont, there are a number of great paddles to take exploring the Five Mile River and even going to Sheffield Island.
Returning to shore, Kelly pointed to the wooden racks holding more than 300 privately-owned kayaks at the Darien Boat Club.
She has an idea.
Kelly would like to see similar racks holding kayaks for use by all beachgoers to Weed Beach. She believes that many Darienites would go kayaking if they didn’t have to schlep their own kayaks around.
"Town kayak racks at Weed Beach would be an inexpensive, self-funding, grand benefit for the town that can be implemented now in this time of lean budgets," said Kelly.
Kelly’s enthusiasm for kayaking is infectious. She recalled how she has introduced her mother and numerous friends to the sport, and offers these tips for beginners:
- Take a kayaking lesson to learn the basics and how to kayak safely
- Know the rules of the water
- Take along the appropriate safety equipment
And for kayakers of all levels, Kelly recommends Down Under Downunder Kayaking in Rowayton, and Michelle Sorensen Kayak Adventures. Follow the links for more information on Kayak rental, sale classes and excursions.