Monday, May 31, 2010

Mouth of Merrimack River

Sugi  is my boating buddy. We started exploring the water bodies in New England around the same time. We go out in the water together, often with our families.We had already explored the length and breadth of the Merrimack river north of the Lowell dam and several of lakes in the region, including Winnipesaukee.

Sugi had an inflatable speed boat, that complemented my canoe and  fishing boat. Between us we had the gear for a range of aquatic activities from quiet exploration to hydroplaning.We used to often moor our boats on one of the isolated sandy banks of the Merrimack river , watching the kids explore the soft sand, our beach chairs lodged in the sandy banks.

“ Do you think we should go out to the Ocean” , Sugi asked me one day.

Our experience with water bodies had been pleasant so far. So without much ado we decided to make out maiden ocean trip in the next weekend.  We had a week to decide on the location of our venture.

We opened up Google maps to identify the potential areas that were partially sheltered. After exploring a few options we agreed on what we felt at that time was a safe bet – Mouth of Merrimack River.

We had spent considerable time on the river in the last few years . Though we had not explored the section south of the Lowell dam, the river looked same in width and depth almost right up to Newburyport. The river expanded considerably after Newburyport, narrowing down to a few hundred feet before joining the Atlantic. The wide expanse of the river, just before it met the Atlantic, looked almost like a big lake in the map - and we were very comfortable exploring lakes ! 

“Why, we can hang around in this area and if the sea looks rough, we will just say here” , I suggested.

“What if we are thrown out to the ocean by a big swell or something?” , asked Sugi jokingly.

“ We will just crank up the throttle and keep on going  until we reach Europe”, I replied with a wink.  
We launched our boat from a ramp near the Salisbury beach , which is near the mouth of the river. The launch gave us access right to the board area of the river. We were a bit surprised to notice that there were no small boats except ours. As we were exploring the wide area, we were stopped by the Water Patrol. 

We were used to the drill, especially having frequented the lake Winnipesaukee several times.We had the registration papers, decals and registration numbers marked on the boat.The patrol officer checked the papers and gave us a funny look before turning his boat and heading back .  Sugi and I spent some time taking about the funny look. “He must not have seen Asian guys on a boat maybe ...” , was our conclusion. 

We were wrong. Later after that eventful day, we found out that the Mouth of the Merrimack was in fact one of the most dangerous inlets, capsizing several boats every year .  A combination of increase in the flow of water due to the river narrowing down, the tides,  and the mixing of the river and ocean water give rise to standing waves as high as twenty  foot high.  This is why that area was actively patrolled by the state water patrol.

I guess the officer in the patrol boat must be wondering “ Hmmm .. what are these guys doing in this dangerous section  of the river  ... in a dingy ..?” , and that is when the funny face would have materialized.

Sugi and I , after hovering around in the wide area for some time, gradually inched towards the mouth of the river in our twelve feet inflatable boat.  Good thing about inflatable boats is that they cannot sink. Even if they capsize, they float.

We slowly followed a big boat ahead of us.  We were trying to ride the waves by carefully accelerating and decelerating the boat, synchronizing it with the oncoming waves.  Suddenly  the waves died down and  we realized that we were at the mouth , looking at the vast expanse of the ocean.

“Were are there !” I exclaimed.

Sugi throttled up the boat , and just as the boat started hydroplaning at 20 miles an hour, a huge standing wave materialized from nowhere. The wave would be at least twelve feet high. Our boat went up through the top and was airborne - the propeller spinning in the air. The boat was also turning in the air at the same time.  After an eternal few seconds, the boat landed back in the water , but we had turned 180 degrees and were facing the way we had come from.

Without exchanging any words, we kept going after that accidental U turn and stopped only after we were back in the river, deep inside, back in the wide part of the river.

“Man we should not have gone there in a dingy ! ”, Sugi laughed,  finally breaking the silence as we hauled our boat into the trailer.

A couple of weeks later , I got an excited call from Sugi. “Just come over to my place” he said.

There, standing on his driveway was a twenty two feel long rigid inflatable boat.  The boat had a central console and two huge powerful motors.  This was like the boats used by the Coastguards for rescue missions.

 “Want to go back to the mouth of Merrimack?”, he asked with a wink.

We went there the next weekend. This time we were not stopped by the water patrol.


TN Nagpal said...

Keep up the good work...

Varsha said...

Interesting. I burst out laughing at your description of the sudden huge wave..mean of me, but was just imagining the two of you perched up high on the wave..
Very well written.

banved said...

Nice Cartoon!Perched on top of a wave 100's of feet over the continental shelf...that will give the adrenals a pretty good workout!

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