Paddling The Monomoys - Cape Cod
Photography and Text By Philip Tulin © All rights reserved.
Just south of Chatham, Cape Cod, lie two small islands. Up until 1938, these islands were linked to the mainland and were home to many small summer "getaway" cottages. In 1978, these two islands separated into
North Monomoy and South Monomoy. Today, washed away by the winds and waves, the Monomoys are home only to
a myriad of wildlife - mainly deer, muskrats and shore birds. Over 30 species are resident birds, while sightings of a vast array of other birds has been noted. "Pristine" would be a proper term to describe these islands.
We decided to launch our kayaks from Stage Harbor early in the morning so that we could catch the tide going out. We paddled out under the drawbridge, through the harbor filled with hundreds of boats;
sailboats and motorboats to fishing boats and dinghies that were all “floating” in unison as the current
directed their bows into the wind. Along the shores, we could see the persistent clamdigger standing knee-deep in water, dredging the sands for that bucket of quahogs that would display themselves at supper that evening as “homemade clam chowder.” We maneuvered out through the narrow channel, past the green and red channel buoys and out past the lighthouse at Stage Harbor. It was a gorgeous day with light winds and sunny skies - a perfect day for kayaking. Around the grassy dunes and out into the distance, we could see Monomoy with the sun glistening on its white sandy shores about three miles away.
As the tides go out, countless small sandbars creep up to the surface of the clear blue-green water. Many different kinds of birds fight to secure these little islands for the short time they can be seen. The water sparkles in the sun; the day glorious! As we paddle closer to the shore, hundreds of horseshoe crabs can be seen scurrying about in the sand just a foot below the surface. The water is warm and clear. In a matter of minutes, this water will also be forced out at 3-5 knots into the ocean and the sands will become a part of the larger sandbar that caresses the island. We follow the darker hue of the water, where we know it's deeper, around to where the anglers are busy, hoping to catch their prized bluefish.
Mesmerized by the spectacular view, we paddle out along the long, sandy beaches and tall grassy dunes.
Squawking sea gulls are eager to grab our attention. We sit back and just take it all in. As we get closer to the tip of North Monomoy, the smaller of the two islands, we can see little black specks dotting the
water. They disappear just as soon as they appear. Very slowly, we approach these "black dots" and they grow larger and larger the closer we get. One pops his head up right next to our kayaks and we realize that it's a huge, gray harbor seal. They look at us, dip their heads down into the water, swim under the kayaks and re-emerge on the other side. Poking their heads up just to the surface, they check us out and then give us a loud "bark," only to dive under quickly, still playing their game. We can see their large, black silhouettes from many yards away gracefully swimming in the water. Slowly we paddle out toward the middle where over a hundred of these huge creatures, which can weigh in at 1500 pounds, bask in the sun on the shoals, soon to become small, sandy islands popping up all around as the tide flows out. They lie there with their heads and tails reaching for the skies, constantly flapping their flippers as they sound like they’re singing their own music. We sit quietly among them, not moving a muscle, not saying a word, feeling totally a part of nature. We watch them playing among themselves and with us, spying on us and then dunking under and then all periodically give us a loud "bark" to show their prowess. It's quite a sight to behold - hundreds of these gray seals lying in the sun and taking an occasional swim in the cold waters off of Monomoy.
It's time to paddle over to the white, sandy, totally unspoiled beach of North Monomoy for lunch and a lackadaisical hour savoring the beautiful surroundings. As we sit there, enjoying our lunch, a sea gull
guards her nest only a few yards away. Little black and white terns scatter themselves throughout the grasses searching for some food.
Across the way lies Nauset Beach, a magnificent beach that runs for many miles along the shores of many Cape Cod towns. Periodically it is ripped apart by the seas, its coastline ever changing. About one mile away in the distance is South Monomoy. At its southernmost point, about 10 miles away, is Point Rip which
boasts the largest rips on the east coast where the Atlantic Ocean meets Nantucket Sound. It’s a beautiful day and the winds have picked up a bit, but we decide to paddle over to finally the place that we’ve heard and read so much about it, but have yet to set foot on. We plan to beach the kayaks about a mile down and then walk a ways, hoping to see some of the old ruins, perhaps the old powder hole or the lighthouse. We certainly do not want to be anywhere near the farthest tip as many small boats have been sucked under and spit out in the ferocious waters. As we approach, we notice that there aren’t any boats there; they’re all across the channel at Nauset. It’s hard to understand why since this island is so beautiful and unblemished. The waves have picked up a bit, so we do a surf landing. As we get out of our kayaks, there are signs everywhere. “National Wildlife Refuge; No Boats; No Pedestrians!” Of everything that we’ve read about South Monomoy, I never knew it was off limits to everyone! A bit disappointed, we brave the waves and swift currents and cross the channel to Nauset. We ferry across since we know the tide is approaching almost 2.5 knots.
As the tides begin to turn, it's time to begin our trip back home. We wait for the most opportune moment, since we don’t want to get caught outside Stage Harbor when the tide is approaching 3 knots. The winds have kicked up to about 15-20 knots and the seas are rough, but the shallow waters make it fun to ride the waves and break through the surf. The seals have disappeared, as have all the sandbars along the way. With the wind blowing, and the waves breaking over our bows, it's been another magical day….seeing the seals so playful and noisy up close to our kayaks and experiencing Monomoy and all its treasures at its best! No matter how many times we paddle the 10 miles to Monomoy and back, it is never the same trip and always worth the effort!