Finding outdoor activities that allow you to get moving and stay socially distant can be a challenge, even on Cape Cod, but the Monomoy Yacht Club has the answer: kayaking.
Contrary to many local yacht clubs, which focus primarily on sailing, and in a few cases, boating, the MYC boasts an enthusiastic and sizable kayaking contingency, and is thrilled that only weather has necessitated kayaking cancellations this season.
On a recent Friday morning, 19 members gathered at the boat ramp on Quanset Pond, excited for a roughly 3.5-mile sojourn to the newly-opened-to-the-public Sipson Island in Pleasant Bay.
The group couldn’t have picked a more perfect morning for their trip, with cerulean skies and just enough of a breeze on the water to keep one comfortable while paddling, though not enough to make cutting through the gentle waves problematic.
To sightseers along the shore the collection of colorful kayaks must have looked like some kind of celebratory parade. MYC members, meanwhile, delighted in taking in the scenery, marveling at the clarity of the water, the beauty of the day, and how wonderful it was to get outside.
“I love the open air. I love the camaraderie. I love the fresh air and the water,” said Sue Simpson of Chatham. “Being part of this is just fun. It’s very freeing and it gets you out of the house.”
Rich Simpson shared her sentiments.
“Getting out on the water is just so relaxing,” he said. “Whether you’re swimming, sitting on the water, fishing or shellfishing, it’s just our happy place.”
Thankfully, kayaking is a sport that can suit all levels, from children to elders, and everyone in between. Adrenaline junkies will appreciate the speed and thrill of whitewater kayaking, traditionally done with a narrower vessel that includes a skirt around the cockpit to help prevent too much water getting inside. For those who enjoy a more leisurely paddle, the Cape affords a wealth of places to put in, and the scenery doesn’t disappoint, be it open water, in the tributaries of a local marsh, or on a freshwater pond.
The MYC group continues to expand as the popularity of the sport grows.
“This is a very active group of people on the water,” said Bill Kyle, coordinator of the kayaking club expeditions. “This is the sixth year of kayaking. It’s a very fast-growing, popular activity in the club. Everybody has a kayak, pretty much. I think it’s one of the appeals of joining the club.”
According to myriad resources, including Wikipedia, Blazin’ Paddles (blazinpaddles.com), and Smoky Mountain Rafting, kayaking was first invented roughly 5,000 years ago (yes, you read that right) by the Inuit and Aleut People of Arctic North America. The rudimentary boats, often made from wood, animal skins, and bones, were used for traveling swiftly across the water.
Fast forward a few thousand years and you’ve got the modern kayak, which design-wise can range from sturdy, and pricey, competitive kayaks to vessels that run the gamut between flatter-bottomed ocean kayaks on which one sits, and “traditional” heavy-duty models with one or two seats. While you can even get them at area discount shops, for safety reasons it’s best to err on the side of quality and seek out a shop specializing in known brands.
But before hitting the water there are some important things to know. First and foremost, be sure this is the sport for you. Before purchasing a kayak, consider borrowing one from a friend or renting one from one of the many rental options in the area, such as Herring River Kayak. Better yet, sign up for a tour conducted by a seasoned kayaker who can explain all the basics while showing you some impressive sights.
Unless you’ll always be paddling with a partner, most folks choose a single-seater kayak, which features a cockpit and often, a hatch for stowing gear. A good paddle, one that’s suited to your height, is key, and kayakers must also have and wear, especially on the open ocean or shoreline, a US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) that fits properly. A bilge pump, used for pumping out any water that splashed into the cockpit, is also helpful, as is a spray skirt for kayaking in rougher waters or colder weather.
Proper clothing is also important. Many kayakers prefer wearing a swimsuit beneath shorts and a T-shirt, or a long-sleeve shirt or rash guard top (often made from material similar to swimwear). A sun-shielding hat and polarized sunglasses help with glare, and wet weather gear is helpful for kayaking during the more unpredictable spring and fall months when spot showers can make a kayaking trip less than ideal. For the intrepid folks who venture out when the temperature drops, particularly those who prefer winter kayaking, a wetsuit is highly recommended.
Basics to consider are sunscreen and lip balm with sun protection, lightweight but sturdy water bottle, snacks for energy and even a lunch for those long paddles, a first-aid kit, a signaling whistle in case you need help, a headlamp in case you’re out past dusk, and dry bags for items you don’t want getting soaked.
It’s also crucial that you know your waterways, which is why a local tour can be immensely helpful. All ocean waters, be it shoreline, marsh or inland waterway (think Muddy Creek) have current due to tides. Some can be gentle and non-problematic, while other areas can have currents strong enough to flip a kayak. Lessons can help hone your skills.
For the folks that are part of the MYC kayaking crew, the passion for the sport is boundless, and even during the pandemic they have found ways to safely venture out onto the water. Masks are required during launch when social distancing is difficult, and upon return. Once on the water, it’s easy to stay at least six feet apart since paddling doesn’t allow for getting much closer.
So far this season, MYC kayakers have explored Bass River, Nauset Harbor/Town Cove, Oyster Pond/Stage Harbor, Meetinghouse Pond, and Sipson Island. Upcoming is a Muddy Creek paddle, as well as a Strong Island trip, both weather permitting.
“We have somewhere between six and eight trips a year,” said Kyle. “As has been in the press, kayaking and biking are really huge right now. Supposedly the stores can’t even keep up with the demand.”
But it’s not just getting on the water that makes kayaking with the MYC such fun, as Kyle explained.
“There’s a lot of interest in getting outdoors these days, and this is pretty safe,” Kyle said. “We’re pretty spread out. This is a beautiful way to be outdoors. I don’t see how it could be any better than this. This is the good life on Cape Cod.”