Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Paddling Winni

New Hampshire's freshwater paddling season is barely underway, but the time before and after the height of summer is the easiest time to paddle freely on lakes like Winnipesaukee, ringed as they are with private property.

The time before July 4 and after Labor Day is Local Summer, when the locals can enjoy the area with the least conflict with the paying guests whose outdoor habits can be annoying at best, and hazardous at worst.

It's the time for commando expeditions, camping cold and dark on shorefront not technically your own. Shhh. Don't tell anyone. It takes minimum impact methods to new heights.

Particularly in the early season, seemingly unoccupied islands and shorefront may host nesting birds, so the commando paddler must watch carefully.

I don't recommend night paddling during the height of summer. Summer homes are more likely to be occupied. And the drunks in absurd powerboats have enough trouble missing each other, let alone low, dark, silent craft propelled by lunatics and peabrains who actually like to exert themselves to get around.

I've paddled at night in peak season. Stick to the fringes, behind or under stationary objects that will intercept the misguided missile. Just remember that on more than one occasion a hurtling drunk has rammed 20-odd feet of powerboat completely out of the water onto an island he happened to overlook.

In daylight the situation is marginally better. Avoid exposure as much as possible. Get exposed crossings out of the way quickly. If you have a big flotilla, keep it together, but choose an efficient course and encourage people to hold to it, at the best maintainable speed.

It's a little different from wrangling traffic on a bicycle. Vessels can close in on each other from widely varying angles, without the channeling of the street and the familiar guidance of traffic signals and rules. Some idiot with the bow up may not ever see you asserting your rights down there, even in daylight.

I take advantage of the small vessel's ability to exploit small spaces. I play with the conditions, like surf around the end of Tuftonboro Neck on windy days, where I can duck into shelter to escape a passing speedboat or take a breather from the waves. Island hop. Work the shoreline. Save the big crossings for the quieter time of year.

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