Touring the Cape by kayak is one of the most profoundly pleasurable and peaceful ways to travel the bays, rivers, and ocean that surround us. Or so I imagine. Alas, I don’t have a kayak of my very own – leaving me to suffer through bouts of envy as I watch the lucky ones paddle around me. But, I was fortunate enough to be invited to kayak out to Sampson’s Island this morning to soak in some sun and, if only momentarily, feel like one of the lucky ones. Sampson’s Island is a wild barrier beach in Barnstable County that is a quick 15-20 minute kayak ride away from the Cotuit Town Landing or Loop Beach on Ocean View Avenue. The island has tidal flats, salt marshes, and miles of perfect sandy beaches. And also, to my mind, the warmest ocean water on the Cape. It’s also a popular nesting area and hangout spot for many of our charming shorebirds.
Years ago, thanks to the woodsy man that was my boyfriend at the time, I spent my summer weekends white water kayaking in Ontario. It was fun and exhilarating, but it was also terrifying. Swift rapids, large waves, and gigantic, jagged boulders all stood between me and making it down the river safely. Each time I kayaked on these big (and not so big) Canadian rivers, my only question to my boyfriend was, “Will I die if I do this?” And if he said no, then I’d do it. He always said no and, though I did manage to survive, I also spent a substantial amount of the relationship swallowing mouthfuls of river water while traveling upside down in a little fiber glass boat, my torso fully submerged under water, trying not to scrape my face on one of the many riverbed rocks or, more importantly, die. Ah, what we do for love.
But kayaking on the Cape is a totally different animal than the white water kayaking of my past. Rather than ratcheting up your adrenaline, sea kayaking soothes and calms. And it’s easy to learn. Your grandmother could do it. In fact, Mary Ellen Hayden, my guide and companion on this morning’s kayak trip, is a grandmother four times over. True, she is a youthful and spry grandmother, but a grandmother nonetheless.
So, I met Mary Ellen on a beach in Cotuit (near the town landing) and we scrambled onto her banana-yellow, two-seater plastic kayak. It was a gentle trip across Cotuit Sound and onto gorgeous Sampson’s Island. I had a swim (the first of the season!) in the warm(ish) waters and then we went for a leisurely walk around the island, after which we returned to the kayak, and paddled home. But, right before we arrived at our destination, we pulled up on another beach looking for quahogs. Mary Ellen instructed me to find the shellfish with my feet by doing a kind of twist dance, which allows the ball of the foot to probe deeper into the sand. She told me, “When you feel like you’ve hit a flat rock, that’s probably a quahog.” And so it was. She and I, doing the twist in the low-tide ocean waters of Cotuit, had a pretty great time. And we were extremely successful in our hunting and gathering – getting about 20 quahogs each. Mine are currently residing in my freezer, where I will keep them until I have the time to make stuffed quahogs.
It is crucial that everyone who plans to quahog or clam on the Cape gets a license from their respective town halls. They usually cost around $20 for a small family. And also check to make sure where the red tide areas are because nothing can ruin a good time more than contaminated shellfish.
And for those unlucky stiffs like me who don’t have a kayak of their own, there are tons of places to rent them. I’d love to hear from anyone about great places to kayak on the Cape or good places to rent kayaks.