By Cameron Gardella
Anyone who has been to Fort Hill in Eastham and looked out over the Nauset estuary just has to be struck by its beauty and diversity. There’s always something new to see whether it’s seasonal changes, wildlife, or shifting dunes. The view is always spectacular.
It’s no less spectacular for on-the-water activities. The prominent channel from Town Cove in Orleans towards the ocean cut is well marked and accessible by most boats. But, you’ll need a small boat with a shallow draft to get around many other parts of the estuary.
My wife and I had been modest boaters when we first purchased a house in Orleans in 1989. We learned quickly that the open canoe we brought from northwest Connecticut was not the best type of boat for the Cape. They are good in favorable winds and the shallows, but with the rapid changes of Cape Cod wind and tide conditions, they become a less safe or versatile option.
Our salvation was the sea kayak; the absolutely perfect craft for exploring the Nauset estuary (and just about any coastal waters). They are long and sleek for easy paddling, stable, dry, easy to maintain a course of direction and great for the low-tide shallows. Although not built for surf, they do well in swells and choppy waters. They also have the capacity to carry light beach cargo (including lunch!). It’s hard to believe all these features are available in one boat design.
We ultimately found and purchased two Kayaks (in boxes) that have served us well for over 15 years; kits from Chesapeake Light Craft. They each required perhaps 50 hours to build but have been exceptionally durable and comfortable in these Cape Cod waters.
Another great feature of a kayak is their light weight. That makes them easy to transport to different launch sites around the estuary. The Mill Pond/Robert’s Cove or the Snow Shore landings in Orleans are easy launch locations for exploring the south end of the estuary. The Town Landing in Town Cove in Orleans is the best for exploring the Cove itself and access to the outer waters. The north part of the estuary is most accessible from the Hemenway landing or the Town landing at Salt Pond.
As with any outdoors endeavors, it pays to plan for the environmental conditions. The kayak’s rudder offsets both wind and tidal currents to stay the course. Nevertheless, paddling against wind and tide is fatiguing, so we tend to plan a course based on those conditions. We’ve often launched at Town Cove, paddled out of the cove with the tide and arranged a pick up at Snow Shore Landing just to make it easy.
Tides can also be an issue in the outer estuary, particularly around Hemenway landing and eastward. Passages open at mid and high tide may become muddy flats at low tide. A portage now and then is not necessarily a bad thing but a portage in mud is.
All the landings provide kayak access to the back of the barrier ocean beach.
Avoiding the increased current around the cut in Nauset Beach, it’s easy to beach on the harbor side. A picnic lunch and a walk or swim is a great respite before returning home.
Our kayaks have provided many hours of enjoyment on these waters as we explored inlets and marshes. We’re always spotting herons, egrets, osprey, seals and a wide variety of shore birds. Hopefully we will have another fifteen years of exploring ahead of us. And hopefully many of you will enjoy these precious waters too.
-Cam, while not a year-round resident, is an active member of the Mill Pond Preservation Association as both a Director and leader of the annual clean-up of Mill Pond and Robert’s Cove beaches.