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Avoiding storms and sea monsters on an impromptu paddle to Fishers Island

As six of us launched kayaks off River Road in Mystic the other day, Curt Andersen prepared to record the route, distance and speed on his smartphone, which he also used to check the tide and weather. 

Suddenly: “Uh-oh…”

“What’s up?”

“There’s a high kraken alert today,” he warned with a straight face.

Norse legend be damned, we decided to risk being gobbled by a mythical, squid-like monster, and began paddling on the Mystic River below the Interstate-95 highway bridges.

After a short detour to admire Mystic Seaport Museum’s fleet, we continued toward Ram Island, taking the long way east of Masons Island to stay in the lee of a south breeze.

Propelled by an ebbing tide, we squirted beneath the Masons Island Road overpass, glided past Andrews and Dodges islands, and cut in close to the seawall at Enders Island. Our plan had been to stop for a snack on a nearby sandy islet just off Ram and then head back, covering about eight miles — but conditions were too glorious to lose momentum.

“I feel Fishers beckoning,” I said, gazing at the island in New York waters some three miles across the sound. “You can’t resist paddling there on a day like this.”

Though skies were overcast, with rain forecast later in the afternoon, the seas were flat and temperature hovered in the mid-60s — uncommonly mild for Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11.

Bob Tenyck, paddling next to me, asked, “How many times have you gone over to Fishers on a calm day and had things blow up on the way back?”

“Oh, four or five,” I conceded, deliberately lowballing the number. Anybody who has ventured out into the sound knows that conditions can change in a heartbeat, as our group discovered last June when we became enveloped in a fog bank on a return paddle from Fishers Island’s Hay Harbor to Noank. On other occasions, we’ve been battered by sudden squalls, powerful wind gusts and rogue waves — but so far, at least, avoided the kraken.

Will Kenyon and Bill Wright were on a tight schedule and decided to head back upriver, leaving Curt, Bob, Declan Nowak and me to continue paddling into the open waters of Fishers Island Sound.

I glanced at my deck compass: Due south would take us to the island’s closest point of land, Brooks Point.

“Is that where we’ve seen the seals?” Bob asked, referring to our winter paddling excursions to view a colony of harbor seals that migrate from the Gulf of Maine and points north.

“No, that’s farther east,” I said, motioning toward Hungry Point. It was a little too early in the season for them to swim here en masse, but maybe we’d get lucky and spot one or two, I added.

Sure enough, a few minutes later when our quartet approached a cluster of rocks called Middle Clump less than half a mile off Fishers Island, we could see a dark, shiny creature sprawled on the rocks.

“Looks like a big banana,” Curt observed, commenting on how seals often lie on their bellies while curling their heads and tails skyward.

We kept our distance — federal law prohibits humans from getting closer than 50 yards to any marine mammal — and proceeded toward the island. Declan and Curt scouted a suitable beach for landing, Bob and I then followed, and soon the four of us were out of our boats, perched on rocks, as happy as seals.

The smooth, pale blue water looked more like the Caribbean than Fishers Island sound, and Curt couldn’t resist texting a picture to Will and Bill of our kayaks spread out along the beach.

As tempting as it might have been to linger, we could see dark clouds on the horizon. After a quick bite to eat, we clambered back in our kayaks, snapped spray skirts in place, and began paddling back to Connecticut.

The wind had picked up, and waves were building around reefs and shoals, so our pace on the return was less leisurely. But soon we neared Ram Island, then Masons Island, and finally entered the protected waters of the Mystic River, completing what turned out to be a 14-plus-mile voyage.

Raindrops began falling as we carried our boats to a parking lot off River Road — perfect timing. We had abided by the dictum, carpe diem — seize the day — while managing to avoid storms and the dreaded kraken that Alfred Lord Tennyson poeticized in 1830:

Below the thunders of the upper deep,

Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,

His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep

The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee

About his shadowy sides; above him swell

Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;

And far away into the sickly light,

From many a wondrous grot and secret cell

Unnumbered and enormous polypi

Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.

There hath he lain for ages, and will lie

Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,

Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;

Then once by man and angels to be seen,

In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

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