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Kayaking in a place that's perfect for it
Publication Shelter Island Reporter
Date September 06, 2006
Section(s) Top Stories
Brief Photo:29628,left,;

By Cara Loriz

Sea kayaking has been hailed as one of the fastest growing sports in North America. But it has yet to become a craze on Shelter Island, according to kayak tour guide Jay Damuck of Shelter Island Kayaks. "It's

By Cara Loriz

Sea kayaking has been hailed as one of the fastest growing sports in North America. But it has yet to become a craze on Shelter Island, according to kayak tour guide Jay Damuck of Shelter Island Kayaks. "It's taking a little longer to reach the East End," he said during a recent interview.

But those who do glide the waters of the Peconics and Shelter Island with paddle in hand see some of the most "incredibly beautiful" kayak country anywhere, according to Mr. Damuck.

And while it is not yet a craze, kayaking here is making its mark. The Island has a water trail -- the Coecles Harbor Marine Water Trail established by the town, the Nature Conservancy and Shelter Island Kayak Tours in 2001. Like a hiking trail, it has a map at its trail head, the Burns Road landing, and is marked by small numbered floats bearing the Nature Conservancy oak leaf.

A map guides paddlers along the shore to sights including osprey nests and diamond back terrapins. The water path winds through

Congdon and Foxen creeks, around Taylor's Island, into Mashomack's Fan Creek and back again.

In his book "Exploring East End Waters: A Natural History and Paddling Guide," Mike Bottini described the trail: "Not unlike terrestrial nature trails, the goals of the water trail are to educate, foster an appreciation for the natural world and encourage good stewardship. I believe this is the first interpretive water trail on the East End."

Island kayaking in the media

References to Shelter Island as kayak country abound in print and especially on the Internet. Mr. Bottini's 2005 book spurred a lot of interest all across the East End, Mr. Damuck said. The Coecles Harbor water trail is also referenced in on-line trail guides and on national and regional paddling Web sites.

Newsday's summer guide, "Explore Long Island," recommends the Coecles water trail for catching a glimpse of Mashomack's water birds. Female celebrities paddled competitively in Coecles Harbor on August 10 in one of many events in the day-long Hamptons Princess Race, a fund-raising team competition to benefit abused children.

Brian Mundy is also making the wider world aware of kayaking here. His Web site, "Shelter Island Paddler Club," gives a snazzy display of Island photos and descriptions of the many town landings for kayak launching. Mr. Mundy, who wrote for the Reporter in the late 1990s, is the son of Jerry and Dorothy Mundy. He moved to Westchester County but returns to the Island to paddle and visit family when he can.

He created and still maintains what he calls "an informational Web site." Although it is identified as the "Paddler Club," its only a club in name, he said. "I didn't want to compete with Jay," who introduced Mr. Mundy to kayaking, so his site is free of any implication of being a kayak business. He has a link to Mr. Damuck's Web site, www.kayaksi.com, on the Paddler site.

Mr. Mundy posted a journal describing a circumnavigation of the Island, paddled on July 21, 2004. This travelogue gives readers a unique perspective on the Island. (See sidebar next page.)

"A lot of people who live here their whole lives don't get a chance to really see parts of the Island from the water," Mr. Mundy said.

Each time Mr. Mundy returns for a quick visit he tries to "go out and do a little piece of the Island" by kayak. He is also an avid kayak fisherman, enjoying being pulled through the water a bit by a big striper or bluefish.

Mr. Mundy also recommends Fresh Pond for kayaking. "There's a snapping turtle in Fresh Pond that's as big as a dinosaur ... It's got to be 80 years old." He knows because he hooked it briefly once while fishing for blue gills.

Even though he no longer lives on the Island, Mr. Mundy will continue to maintain the Shelter Island Paddler Web site -- "it will definitely stay up."

Paddling Island waters

Mr. Damuck led an unexpectedly large group of beginning kayakers out on the water trail Tuesday, August 22. "I had reservations for four paddlers on Monday," but by Tuesday morning he had eight novices to go on tour and a couple wanting to rent kayaks and paddle on their own. "This was an unusual day," he said at the end of the trip.

Bob Barca and Jane Timmer met Mr. Damuck at the Burns Road landing; they had rented kayaks once before. "I just like the peacefulness of it. We are busy people, we travel a lot. This gives us a chance to just be," Ms. Timmer said of kayaking.

"There's very few people who can't pick it up," Mr. Damuck said. He led the entire fifth and sixth grade classes of the Shelter Island School on a day-long excursion of Coecles Harbor last June. He explained that he takes tours out on Coecles Harbor because "it's the safest and most scenic" of the Island's waterways. "A lot of people over-estimate their ability" and may run into trouble in the strong currents at South Ferry or the deep water along Crescent Beach, Mr. Damuck said. The inlets and coves in Coecles are not tide dependent, either, although there's nothing quite like paddling up to the beach at Foxen Creek at low tide to greet an army of fiddler crabs eye-to-eye.

Boat traffic is low in Coecles and the operators there "are educated and experienced," Mr. Damuck said. Such is not the case around Claudio's in Greenport, he warned.

While Coecles may be superior, the Island offers abundant options for paddlers. The town's many landings provide access like no where else on Long Island, Mr. Damuck said, "something we really can't take for granted."

"You can always find a place out of the wind to paddle," he said -- if the surf is up in Coecles, try West Neck Creek, he suggested.

Mashomack Preserve takes advantage of its access to Bass Creek and other protected waters within the preserve by offering five or six kayak trips a year, Cindy Belt, education and outreach coordinator, said. The preserve started offering kayak outings in the 1990s when "people used to think you had to do eskimo rolls," Ms. Belt said. Now they know how easy it is and the trips "usually fill up quickly" she added.

Kayaks can maneuver in very shallow water, as little as four inches, Mr. Damuck said. A paddler can skirt the shore along Mashomack Preserve, where landing is prohibited, without beaching the boat. Taylor's Island is on the marine trail and Mr. Damuck hopes that the town's efforts to restore the island and its historic home will encourage paddlers to land there. Kayakers can stretch their legs and check out the architectural features outside the old house -- the building is open to the public only on special occasions, while it is under restoration.

Moving across the water entirely on your own power can be exhilarating. It's "more exciting to not have a motor running," Mr. Damuck commented. On the group tour, the youngest paddler was able to glide within a few yards of a turtle sunbathing on a rock before it swam away.

Because kayaking in protected waters requires little skill, enthusiasts can drop in and paddle with minimal preparation or training. Mr. Damuck is seeing more clients interested in renting kayaks to paddle on their own rather than taking a guided tour. East Enders are "telling me they see more kayaks on car roofs" -- it's "becoming more mainstream. When I was younger," Mr. Damuck said, sea kayaking was "more of a crackpot thing."

No longer. With 10 adults and children on Coecles Harbor in his kayaks, Mr. Damuck commented, "This is the best part of the business -- being out on the water with people."

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