The fact of the matter is that I just can’t quite get enough of Newport, RI. Every year I make the trek down to that special town on the end of Aquidneck Island looking for an adventure and every year it delivers in spades. The mansions and beaches, sailboats and mopeds, surfing and shopping, and the Newport Blues all make the trip worthwhile. The rocky coastline is especially captivating with its quiet coves, numerous rock gardens, and breaking waves as far as the eye can see. Every year I go to Newport and every year I wonder why I didn’t bother to bring my kayak along for the ride; until this year!
School is officially out for summer (thank God that I survived)! CoRay and I decided to celebrate the occasion by taking the much anticipated trip to Newport with our kayaks. I’ve done a fair bit of scouting along Ocean Drive and we settled on the quiet King Park on Wellington Ave just east of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club as out launch site. The park is situated along the southern shore of Newport Harbor. Parking along the street is free and it’s a quick and easy carry down to the water. This launch is amazing and it may just be one of the biggest secretes that Newport has to offer to kayakers!
Our plan was to peruse the Newport Harbor (CoRay has an affinity for taking pictures of large boats) and then make the trek out to Rose Island to visit the lighthouse. We started our adventure by heading Northeast into the mooring field toward the storied Newport Wharfs. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could have done a much better job in selecting my gear for this trip. The quiet waters near King Park quickly turned into a confused soup of 2-3ft reflecting waves as we entered the Harbor proper. I had decided to bring along my Impex Mystic sea kayak (14ft long) and haphazardly pulled my low-angle Werner Camano paddle out of the quiver assuming that the conditions would remain light. The conditions in the harbor (and those to follow during the crossing) were much better suited for my P&H Capella (16ft long) and my high-angle Werner Ikelos paddle!
CoRay and I had a great time paddling through these choppy waters on the way to the wharfs but we both agree that this is not a place for beginners to play! Newport Harbor is a busy place and boats were moving all around us. The harbor is obviously filled to the brim with sailboats (it’s the sailing capitol of the world) including a number of exotic racing sailboats from far away ports of call. It also has its share of exorbitant pleasure craft which provided CoRay with plenty of photographic opportunities. I was most surprised about the hustle and bustle going on at the commercial wharf. Fishing boats were flying in and out of the channel as they jockeyed for a spot to offload the days catch. The fact that Newport is also an active fishing community never really crosses our mind as it’s unfortunately overshadowed by the glitz and glam of the sailboats and mega yachts. Sightseeing aside, both of us had our heads on a swivel to avoid getting in the way of one of these much-larger-than-us craft!
We decided to take our first break at the northern-most tip of Goat Island. This thin body of land acts as a natural breakwater and shields Newport Harbor from the onslaught of waves and wind that enter through Narraganset Bay’s eastern passage to the Southwest. CoRay and I took advantage of the calm waters in the lee to assess our upcoming crossing to Rose Island. Point-to-point, the crossing is only a little more than half a mile. What we saw made it seem like a lot further! The wind was howling out of the Southwest at 12-15kts and the windward side of the island was being inundated with 2-4ft ocean waves rolling in through the east passage. The problem wasn’t so much the conditions; it was the fact that our trajectory would take us straight through the center of a regatta. Sailboats have a hard time seeing kayaks, especially when they are engaged in a race! We decided to take the opportunity to do a little surfing in the waves near Goat Island and hope that the sailboats would be wrapping up soon. It wasn’t long before the sailboat turned toward the channel and cleared the way for our crossing to Rose Island!
I think that it’s safe to say that we both had very different experiences on the crossing to Rose Island. CoRay had brought along his Capella 160RM and a high-angle Werner Shuna paddle. He had plenty of boat under him and the power necessary to glide over most of the waves. I, on the other hand, was clearly under-sized and under-powered in terms of gear. As much as I love my Impex Mystic and Werner Camano, they definitely have their limitations! The crossing turned into more of a roller-coaster ride for me as my Mystic rode up and over most of the waves (and through the occasional whitecap). It was a great test of my skills and I enjoyed every minute of what turned into basically a solo crossing for both of us. The issue was that there was no way that I was ever going to keep up with CoRay in those conditions and it would have been a better situation had I sized my gear up to stay with him. Live and learn!
It took us about 20 minutes to reach the pebble beach near the docks on the south side of Rose Island. Setting foot on the island was a home-coming of sorts for me. One of my first vacations with my finance, Erin, was a three-day stay as the lighthouse keepers on Rose Island. She knew how much I love lighthouses and discovered an awesome program through the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation where you can rent out the keepers quarters and serve as the official lighthouse keeper! We had a great weekend on the island making memories as we kept the log book, watched the sailboats pass by, and greeted the many visitors who came to the island during the day. As CoRay and I approached the lighthouse we were greeted by a friendly face; Chris from the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation. Technically, we had arrived after hours (be sure to check the foundation website for visiting hours and be respectful of the grounds and rooms that are occupied by overnight guests) but Chris was kind enough to give us a private tour of the island and catch us up on the history of the area. All-in-all we spent about a half hour on the island before biding Chris adieu and making the trek back to our boats.
The return trip from Rose Island to Goat Island was nothing short of a rocket ship ride. It was nice having the conditions off of our starboard quarter for a change. It only took about 5-6 minutes to surf our way back to the hide-away lee on the northern tip of Goat Island! I think that both of us wished that it had taken longer! From there, we hugged the leeward side of Goat Island for all that it was worth before crossing Newport’s main channel on a beeline for the Ira Lewis Lighthouse. The water quickly calmed as we approached the takeout; another great trip together in the books. After, we packed up our gear we decided to take some time to do reconnaissance on Ocean Drive and the southern shore of Newport. Rhode Island is on our paddling radar and we can’t wait to come back for more!
***This trip may not suitable for beginners or unguided paddlers without open water experience. Newport Harbor and the crossing to Rose Island may present challenging conditions and prove treacherous to small craft.***
Launch: King Park, Newport, RI
Landing: King Park, Newport, RI
Highlights: Sailboat in Newport Harbor, Rose Island Lighthouse
Good Eats: Lucia Italian Restaurant, 186B-190B Thames St, Newport, RI 02840
Kayak Dave Rating: