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Connecticut River - Kayak Adventure and Experience

Adventure and Experience

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In His Nature

- A Story of Adventure and Experience on the Connecticut River

By Nancy LaMar-Rodgers

There is a slight chill in this particular Sunday afternoon. Although it is April, it is New England, and the weather often times has a mind of its own. Down by the Connecticut River in Essex the sky is already teasing us with its intention. I pull up alongside my guide who has convinced me that even as a novice I will have no problem handling my own kayak as we cruise the waterways of the mouth of the river. He is suited up in crossing guard yellow from neck to ankle. Gerry Polinsky, owner and operator of Sea Sherpa, is a true adventurer; a Hemingway figure without the need to hunt big game.

Photo by Ron Gautreau

Polinsky is busy saddling up the kayaks as the late afternoon sky begins to taunt a bit more ominously as the dark gray of the clouds crawl sinisterly toward our launch spot. A curious local strolling through town on this Sunday afternoon questions Polinsky about the kayaks as I begin to don the warm, waterproof clothing that is sure to make my adventure that much more pleasurable.

The woman is curious as to why we would be heading out under such conditions, and Polinsky assures her that the weather is perfect and that the North and South Coves of the Connecticut River on this April afternoon are a sight to behold especially from the non-intrusive seat of the kayak. Once I am suited up with my safety vest secured, Polinsky gives me my lesson in basic kayaking.

I stare down the open waterway and up at the misty sky and listen as a few of the local birds make their presence known with soft squawks. Polinsky instructs me to straddle the kayak and drop down into the seat so that he can adjust my foot mounts. "Never step directly into a kayak, you will inevitably tip," he explains. Once inside and ready to go, we push off and head into the river. We choose the South Cove first; and as I become more comfortable with the paddles and the moves, Polinsky gives me a history lesson about the river and this particular area.

This guy has done his homework; and as we paddle, I am not only overwhelmed with the quiet beauty, but am fascinated by the history as Polinsky explains it softly, always respectful of his sur- roundings. As we hug the shoreline to circle the cove the clouds begin to recede, and there is a sliver of sunshine that slices its way free and spreads a slight golden ray that makes the water sparkle. Polinsky- points to the stately mansions that sit high above the river, with their wraparound porches that seam to keep a close eye on us as I sit back in kayak and imag- ine this town and its section of the river in the great days of its shipbuilding era. "It's sad." Polinsky offers. "I wonder how many people who live in the surrounding area even know what a treasure they have here. This is one of the most delicate ecological spots; and between the life underneath the water, the sur- face life, and those in the air, it is an amazing place."

As I steer my kayak toward the middle of the river and the small island that juts out, Polinsky warns me to stay back and give the osprey their space. I hadn't even seen the birds, but there they were, positioned off the ground on a makeshift wooden platform that served as their nesting area. "If we're lucky, we will get to see one of the bald eagles," he adds. Having never seen one up close I am excited as we continue our. journey toward the North Cove. Gerry Polinsky has been an adventurer most of his life. Having grown up on the Waterford/New London line, Polinsky remembers being an adventurer even as a small boy, discovering the waterways, marshes, and woodlands that surrounded his childhood home[...]

[...]Polinsky explains that as he is getting older he realizes how the kayaking came at a particularly perfect time in his life. "Kayaking is uniquely suited for people in their forties and well into their seventies because you arc not carrying the weight on your back, you are in it, maneuvering it so that it glides over the water. It is also a very repetitive, physical endeavor, so it lends itself to introspection.

You can spend a great deal of time in nature while you arc doing it as well as a great deal of time in your head, so for me it was a very easy transition." We veer the kayaks toward the North Cove. A powerboat makes its way across the river headed for the boatyard. I feel myself stiffen wondering if the driver notices the two quiet vessels silently slicing through the same waterway. With precision perception of his student my guide picks up on my apprehension. "Don't worry, he sees us/' Polinsky assures me. As the wake of the boat moves toward us, Polinsky decides it is the perfect time to show me a roll. "Watch me,"he says, with the enthusiasm of a toddler having just mastered something new. Polinsky rolls the kayak into a 360 spin with the grace of a ballerina. He emerges victorious, shaking the water from his head and beard. "The trick, he says/'is not to think too much about it. If you let muscle memory guide you, then your intellect won't get in the way. The mind doesn't like the idea of being upside down underwater; and if you let yourself panic, you are going to be pushing yourself out of the vessel and swimming, maybe even losing your kayak. If you allow the body to move with the water and the kayak, it will naturally bring you right back up to the surface." Being a novice, I opt out of trying out the theory.

As we round the curve to the North Cove the sky is a patchwork quilt of grays, blues, and coral with stitches of distant rain streaks interspersed. There is not a sound in this part of the river as Polinsky points out the different birds...their habits, as well as the grasses and marsh reeds that sprout up in uniform fashion. "Some of these are not naturally found in these parts. They were brought in to suck up much of the marsh for construction along the river." I am beginning to understand that Polinsky has taken the time to educate himself on every environment in which he places his kayak. As a client out for what was to be a relaxing paddle, I was in awe not only of the landscape from my position in the boat, but also the experience Polinsky provided by enlightening me about my surroundings without ever disturbing my commune with the natural world. Polinsky is experienced, no doubt. He is ACA Certified Level 4, as well as an Open Water Instructor, NOLS trained. He has been doing Winter Outdoor Educator Expeditioning since 1981. But what docs this all mean to someone who wants to try kayaking or someone who has been doing it for years? Both the novice and the expert will get an experience, not just a lesson in kayaking. Both the beginner and the professional will not only learn something they didn't know about kayaking, but more importantly they may learn something they didn't know about themselves.

For more information about Sea Sherpa Kayak check out the website at: seasherpakayak.com

written by Nancy LaMar-Rodgers;

Photos by Gerry Polinsky, Carl Tjerandsen and Ron Gautreau;

published: Ink magazine | July 2010