Dansm's Sea Kayaking Page

Marblehead and Salem
DATE June 18, 2004 TIME 1045 to 1600 TRIP LENGTH 15 nmiles
WEATHER Overcast. Temp 60-65F. Winds light and variable. Seas calm with slight easterly swell. Water temp 60F. TIDES 5:47 L
12:06 H
17:48 L
LAUNCH SITE Devereaux Beach Ramp, Marblehead.
MA114 east to Ocean St in Marblehead. At the beach (about 1/2 mile), turn left into lot for boat ramp. Fee collected in summer, aggressively ticketed.
LANDING SITES -Browns Island
small, undeveloped island (also known as Crowninshield) in Dolliber Cove owned by Trustees of Reservations.
ROUTE Launch from boat ramp at the head of Marblehead Harbor, paddle out east shore and around Marblehead Neck, round Tinkers Island and Marblehead Rock, cross over to Dolliber Cove for lunch on Browns Island. Continue around the Marblehead shore to the head of Salem Harbor, rounding Jeggle Island and returning along the west shore to Winter Island. Cross over and return along the western shore of Marblehead Harbor.

I had seen Salem Harbor from the end of Derby Wharf, that infinitely long hub of 19th-century commerce now housing a tour boat and the sloop Friendship of Salem. However, all kayakers know that any harbor is best viewed from the water, so I set out to explore Marblehead and Salem by boat. After the previous few days, stiflingly hot and brutally sunny, this day was a respite: mid-60s and overcast. The ocean was remarkably flat after the previous 36 hours of calm winds. Even better, the water temperature had finally approached 60 degrees, so I decided to forego my wetsuit in the calm conditions. During the week, the crowds usually stay away, so I looked forward to a relaxing paddle in some new territory.

First, though, came some familiar ground. I launched from the large ramp opposite Devereaux Beach on the causeway to Marblehead Neck. This site also has a beach and a fairly large fee parking area. Marblehead Harbor is literally crammed full of sailboats, with numerous yacht clubs dotting the shore and a water taxi dodging through the mess. At the tip of the neck sits Marblehead Light, flanked by a small park that is almost always brimming with visitors: fishermen watching their lines, walkers resting their legs, out-of-staters enjoying the view, none of whom can figure out why anyone would build a lighthouse like Marblehead Light, which more resembles a structure built to hold water than an aid to navigation.

Sitting just off the rocky shore under the light, there is a beautiful view of the numerous islands of Salem Sound and the shoreline from Beverly to Cape Ann, including Bakers Island Light and the abandoned light tower in Manchester-by-the-Sea. To the east is Marblehead Rock, a house-sized boulder marking the turn south toward Boston. On this gray day, the horizon was obscured by haze and the clouds looked like they might envelop the tops of the lighthouses. As I rounded the neck to the east, I could barely make out the Boston skyline 14 miles away, behind the dark shadow of Swampscott and Nahant. I followed the shoreline south, passing numerous flagpoles memorializing President Reagan by flying at half-staff. After enjoying the view from Flying Point, I rounded Tinkers Island and headed past the herring gulls and cormorants inhabiting Marblehead Rock.

Crowninshield Island (marked Browns Island on the chart and topo map) is a small island in protected Dolliber Cove. The Trustees of Reservations allows visitors to land and picnic here, and I found a wonderful view of Marblehead Harbor and Salem Sound from the field on the south end of the island. Unfortunately the island is difficult to reach at low tide because the cove dries out, but kayakers who can time their trip to arrive on the top half of the tide will enjoy the stop. As I ate it began to rain, and I worried that I might spend the rest of my day in a poncho, but it stopped as quickly as it started and didn't return until the drive home.

After lunch, I continued west into Salem Harbor, following the steep, rocky shore past the numerous houses and sailboats. The cliff reaches its highest point at Waterside Cemetery, where the exchange of houses for attractive trees is welcome. I continued toward the Forest River until I reached Jeggle Island, then crossed to the west and returned to Derby Wharf and its small, boxy light. Now overshadowed by the colossal power plant next door, this small wharf was once the headquarters of Salem's thriving shipping industry, now recounted in exhibits available the nearby historical park. I continued past the power plant, including a massive dock for full-sized ocean-going tankers and freighters carrying oil and coal to fuel the generators. Upon reaching the boat launch and lighthouse at Winter Island I crossed back to Marblehead and followed the western shore of the harbor back to the beach. While primarily an urban paddle, the rocky shores, islands, and lighthouses of this trip make it quite worthwhile -- especially if you are looking for a calm, relaxing day on the water!

Daniel Smith
June 18, 2004

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2004 Daniel E. Smith. Last updated 6/7/04