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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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."