After what might be my only regatta of the 2020 summer, I found myself craving a new physical challenge. I wanted to be on the water, so I decided to do my longest standup paddleboard adventure yet.
The obvious choice was to head up Narragansett Bay, past my previous northern-most paddle-point of the Jamestown Bridge. But with a southerly forecast and the morning’s flood tide, that would mean paddling downwind and down-current first—never the right option. Instead I decided to paddle south for an hour (or as long as I could stand it), even though that took me out toward open ocean. Then I’d turn around and enjoy the reward of an easier and quicker second leg.
Instead, I paddled all the way around Beavertail State Park! While the distance is only a little longer than I’d planned, achieving that partial “circumnavigation” was so much more mentally satisfying.
Geography, fueling, and float plans
For those of you not familiar with Narragansett Bay, Beavertail light marks the southernmost point of Conanicut Island. It sticks out into the ocean, so there is always swell breaking against the rocks. Not a spot I’d want to be on a paddleboard, solo, most days. But Sunday morning dawned just as forecast: a light southerly, and flat water thanks to two days of offshore breeze and an incoming flood.
I fueled up a water bottle with my usual regatta-mix of HEED/Sustained Energy, stuck a nocciola Hammer gel in my pocket (as a halfway treat), and wheeled my board down to the dock at the end of our street. Paddling out of the harbor felt routine, but instead of heading out around Dutch Island, I turned south toward open water. Upwind and up-current, my speed was uninspiring. But there was almost no boat traffic, and West Passage was (as expected) pleasantly wave-free.
I was still planning to paddle upwind for an hour, and then (after enjoying my gel treat) speed back toward home, ably assisted by wind and current. Instead, when I reached a super-secret fishing spot that marked my farthest-south paddling destination to date, I started thinking: what if I rounded Beavertail instead, and paddled home via Mackerel Cove? That would be a lot more satisfying than just an out-and-back.
The right morning
I kept my options open, waiting to see what the waves looked like outside. But as soon as it came into view, I set my sights on the Beavertail gong. Sailors like to round marks, and having a visible goal kept me motivated—even as my speed dropped from uninspiring to a dismal 2.8 mph. Fighting even a light southerly, plus a knot of flood, I wasn’t going to set any speed records.
The Beavertail gong is much farther offshore than mere inches of paddleboard draft requires, so once I reached the end of the point I turned east—the closest I’ve ever been, or hope to be, to those incredible rocks. People fishing along the shoreline probably thought they were having a lot more fun than I was, but I was already grinning at my achievement—even though I was still a little less than halfway through my adventure.
As soon as I was far enough east to safely take a break, I set my paddle down on the board and knelt down for a rest (and that delicious Hammer gel). Drifting downwind and down-current, my speed was only a little less than I’d been making upwind (with a lot less effort), so I took the time to snap a few photos and enjoy the moment.
The rest of the paddle was long but easy, with plenty of rock-gawking to keep me smiling. It was still early, so even the more crowded side of Conanicut Island was fairly quiet. I passed a few folks fishing, and some large yachts who’d anchored overnight in Mackerel Cove.
After a quick swim at the beach and a very short portage across the causeway, I returned to the Dutch Harbor dock to complete the loop: 7.82 miles in 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 30 seconds of almost non-stop paddling. A 3.5 mph average might not sound very impressive, but I definitely felt like I earned my post-paddle Recoverite—and a lazy Sunday afternoon of reading.
Mental challenges matter
Paddling down West Passage and back again would’ve been a very similar physical challenge, but adding in the navigational achievement of a partial circumnavigation made it mentally satisfying as well. This summer, with our usual goalposts no longer visible, it’s important to create new challenges. I’m very proud of achieving a new personal best: my longest SUP yet. But I’m even happier to be able to say, “I’ve paddled around Beavertail!”