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A Sunday Walk in the Park

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A walk all around Cupsogue Beach County Park to be more precise. A dozen of us turned up in Westhampton Beach last Sunday morning for a real interesting & educational off-water event. Let me first give a big thanks to Troy here for putting this seal walk together for us. Was a great chance to see a great (& growing) number of the visiting seals who make Long Island their home every November thru April.

Cupsogue (59)

It was a cloudy & chilly start around 10am as we listened to Dr.Kopelman, the rep from CRESLI give us a background presentation about the characteristics & origins of the different types of pinnipeds (seals) we would soon be viewing. There were interesting little factoids like how bears (of all things) are closely related to seals, having diverged from a common ancestor like 20 MILLION years ago.

Most important takeaway from the whole outing was reinforcing what many of us sea kayakers already know with regards to our interactions with these clawed & sharp-toothed aquatic predators. Which is basically don’t interact with them at all. Don’t feed them & most importantly don’t approach them too closely, especially if they are hauled out & resting. While they can actually sleep in the water (vertically with nose sticking above surface) they really need their 6-8hrs a day of haul out time ashore at low tide. Getting too close can stress them out, and eventually cause them to leave their preferred basking sites if disturbed too often. Some of the group (of the 114) we saw on Sunday have been documented as coming back every year since way back in ’06.

And this group sure was taking their Sunday sleeping-in seriously. The steady, land-based pics I was able to get were WAY better than from any of  my kayaking seal trips & as you can see, not much movement going on at all among all these beached blubberballs.

BTW, it’s not necessary to arrange a guided tour as we did. Anyone is welcome & can go on their own anytime to see the seals @Cupsogue. Only folks going in large groups need to make arrangements in advance.

After we had had our fill of seal watching (I mean c’mon, even I can only take so many pictures !) & since those early clouds had started clearing away to begin to reveal a glorious, blue-skied, sunny day, the group decided to trek westward on the off-road vehicle trail over towards the inlet.Cupsogue walk

Was a nice walk. Was interesting too as we could see exactly where five of us had recently paddled just a few weeks ago on that frozen President’s Day trip. Totally different vantage point from shore & also the low tide changed the whole look of the place. I had no idea the large sea ice formation we had paddled around then was actually right on top of the seals’ annual haul-out sandbar spot .

-We continued hiking all the way to the inlet jetty, watched as some of the last outgoing tide met the incoming waves & we then headed south all way to the ocean before turning and walking the shoreline back to our cars.


Was like 2-1/2 miles total. & practically nobody/nothing around except some seagulls & two lone surfers in the water (& folks think we’re crazy!!) Back at the parking lot some of us said our goodbyes while the rest decided to stay together & grab some lunch in the neighborhood.

In closing, let me just say though this was one of the few weekends so far that I haven’t had a paddle in hand, the incredible wildlife viewing was well worth the trade off. I highly recommend driving the extra miles out to Cupsogue as opposed to Jones Beach if you are really interested in seeing some seals. At Field 10 you’ll just see them in the water, maybe heads popping up & around in the channel but unless you are a winter paddler stealthily patrolling the marshes you just won’t see them beached in ‘all their glory’ like we did here the other day.

Cupsogue (32)

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-Well, not that the last season ever “ended”, but just here to say that our official ‘opening day’ of 2016 was an incredibly calm (& warm !) mid-January one. Three of us met over at the Jones Beach kayak launch @Short Beach; & after a little pre-launch discussion decided to do our trip in the opposite direction than was initially planned. This last-minute change gave us a variety of new scenery than the usual, got us to see the seals sooner, and made timing perfect for us to take out at Field 10 for a civilized sit-down picnic table break (instead of eating granola bars & soup in our boats way, way back in the marsh islands.)

So thanks here to backup trip leader Troy for the great suggestion, and even more so for bringing along some clearly detailed NOAA charts printed out on some awesome waterproof copy paper. Never knew it was even a thing. (Made my grainy google map printouts in ziplock bags look sad by comparison !) This reverse course also would’ve provided us with the best protection for the paddle home, had any of those 15 mph S. wind gusts forecast for early afternoon ever materialized.

another day, another boat

(“another day, another boat”)

As for the rest of the trip, seals were a little standoffish yesterday with a whole herd of them scattering off from their sunbathing activities & into the water about 200 yards away. We could just barely make out their presence in the distance before they bailed out on us (well beyond the 150’ safe viewing distance recommended to not stress them out)

Although the seals were cautious yet curious, the super-calm conditions did let me be comfortable enough to take my non-waterproof digicam out from the dry bag for a better zoom in on these little (250lb) mermaids.






Besides the seals, & the sunny and serene waters, we were also treated with favorable currents throughout. Four of the five bridge crossings we made were with a nice positive flow helping us along, making for a very enjoyable outing. Even going against the little bit of incoming at the last Wantagh bridge was more fun than burdensome slog.

middle Wantagh bridge -plenty of clearance & helpful current !

-plenty of clearance here & a helpful current !

And after our takeout for snacks at Fld.10 (& those warm, year-round bathroom facilities),  the tide had changed & was once again in our favor for a smooth, easy paddle back to our cars.

Following Lynne out past the Meadowbrook on our last leg back was a lone seal, just checking to be sure these day tripping intruders were really leaving his seasonally claimed turf!

The wind never built up, & water at the floating dock that we used for a sand-free takeout actually seemed calmer than our launch, if that was even possible. Was a real good day on the water. And a good day out is better than the best day in a pool!

So, don’t let your drysuit get dry-rot. Get some 303 spray on those gasket seals & come out & see some harbor seals !

More combined pictures here from Lynne B. & myself .    -Alan

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A Winter Waterfall

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A winter waterfall that was tucked way, way in the back of Conscience Bay was the highlight of a short notice paddle we did last Monday out of Setauket. Just three of us were able to make it & luckily Lynne was one of those who said yes despite the forecast of heavy winds (as she was only one who knew about the ‘secret’  waterfall).



As for the rest of our 8-1/2mile trip, air temps were definitely feeling seasonal for late December, especially that northbound into-the-wind leg, coming back across Conscience.

Definitely made a note-to-self to some keep regular winter gloves on board for the next outing. I find the pogies are great while you’re on the move; what was not so great was them still attached to the paddle while we were standing around in the cold & wind taking our snack break & walking over the narrow strip peninsula to see the whitecaps & waves on the Sound breaking ashore. Luckily Debbie had an extra disposable heat pack with some life left in it to get my hands back circulating again

But aside from that, it was really, really nice for the other 80% of the trip. Bright sun always helps, though towards the trip’s end it was really only providing a psychological warmth.


With the far-off PJ ferry being the only boat ‘traffic’ in sight we definitely had the whole day & place to ourselves. Still amazes me on an island of over 3 million people how often we paddlers are the only ones around out on the water.

It really is so nice paddling around in this off season without all the powerboat yahoos out there. Even the VHF radio was dead silent all day, in stark contrast with some of the inane radio chatter you have to put up with ‘in-season’.

So, a big thank you to our club Trip Coordinator Debbie for putting this nice last minute year-ender together for us. (& congrats to her on joining the point-n-shoot photo team.)


Submission from Alan Mayors

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