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Rough and tumble or smooth as glass, there's water for your paddle

Kayakers can be transported to Isles of Shoals, N.H., from the mainland and from there paddle into rough or smooth waters. Kayakers can be transported to Isles of Shoals, N.H., from the mainland and from there paddle into rough or smooth waters. (PLUM ISLAND KAYAK)
By Tom Haines
Globe Staff / April 12, 2009
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A sea kayak can carry you over ocean swells or beneath the brush overhanging a tightly twisting stretch of flat-water river. The point, no matter the setting, is to paddle the craft toward adventure, whether harrowing or hardly enough to raise a sweat. As spring flows into summer, the following is a broad palette of New England paddling destinations. Some are better for beginners, others intermediate and advanced. Each is followed by a local outfitter to help get you underway.

Boston Harbor Islands A world away, and not so far at all. Paddle across the Nantasket Roads, as the channel is called, toward the outer islands of Boston Harbor. Little Brewster Island is home to Boston Light, the oldest in the nation. Or stop at Calf Island, a good spot for a walk, and continue across Hypocrite Channel to The Graves, and another light. "You can't believe you're 6 miles from downtown Boston," said Mark Jacobson, of Charles River Canoe & Kayak. Charles River Canoe & Kayak, 2401 Commonwealth Ave., Newton, 617-965-5110, www.paddleboston.com.

Plum Island Sound Surf the shifting tides near the mouth of the Ipswich River, paddle the clam-rich shores near Middle Ground, or continue toward the Parker River and head deep into the Great Salt Marsh from the narrow end of Plum Island Sound. Depending on tides and time of day, the water can keep the fittest paddler working, or offer peaceful refuge from the breaking waves and weekend crowds on the ocean side of Plum Island. Plum Island Kayak, 38R Merrimack St., Unit 101B, Newburyport, 978-462-5510, www.plumislandkayak.com.

Isles of Shoals, N.H. The crossing from the mainland can be rough, but on a good day, a gentle rhythm keeps pace among the islands out at sea. "Jump to an island, and stop. Jump to an island, and stop," said Ken Taylor, of Plum Island Kayak, which charters a yacht to carry customers and kayaks out to the islands for a day. Conditions permitting, more adventurous paddlers can leave the relative calm of Smuttynose and Appledore islands to join the seals near Duck Island. "We paddle around and say, 'Wow!' " Taylor said. Plum Island Kayak, see Plum Island Sound.

Lake Umbagog, N.H. Rest the paddle on the deck and watch the wildlife at work and play in Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge: winter wrens and purple finches, great blue herons and black ducks, northern leopard frogs and salamanders, loons and eagles. Best to be off the lake by midafternoon. "Because Lake Umbagog is relatively shallow and you get these summer winds," said Bob Tagliaferri, of Northern Waters, a local outfitter. "The lake gets a wicked chop to it." Northern Waters, Route 16, Errol, N.H., 603-447-2177 (winter), 603-482-3817 (summer).

Acadia, Maine Put in at Seal Cove, on the southwestern edge of Mount Desert Island, in sun or fog and enjoy the relative solitude of Blue Hill Bay. "You don't have the motels and restaurants and cruise ships that you get on the other side of the island, over near Bar Harbor," said Robert Shaw, of Maine State Sea Kayak. In the bay you'll see sea lions, osprey, harbor seals, and with a bit of luck, porpoises will pass not too far from your paddle. Maine State Sea Kayak, 254 Maine St., Southwest Harbor, 877-481-9500, www.mainestateseakayak.com.

Machias Bay, Maine Just about as far Down East as can be, you can paddle past a ship sunk for two centuries, and cliffs carved for far longer. Mysterious petroglyphs crafted long ago near the modern-day home of the Passamaquoddy may not last for long, as water levels rise and winter ice takes a toll on the ancient etchings. "They're going to be lost, probably in the next 10 years, from erosion," said Jen Scribner, of Sunrise Canoe and Kayak. "They're definitely taking a beating in winter." Sunrise Canoe and Kayak, 68 Hoyttown Road, Machias, 877-980-2300, www.sunrisecanoeandkayak.com.

Lake Champlain, Vt. Paddle across Lake Champlain from the farmland of Vermont to a secluded beach near Split Rock Point, in New York's Adirondack Park. "The rocks are round and egg-shaped and you feel a million miles from anywhere," said Dovid Yagoda, of True North Kayak Tours. Cross in good conditions, as winds can stir waves with a threatening north fetch. But the destination is enough to make an expert think twice before talking. "I'm giving away a nice spot," Yagoda said. True North Kayak Tours, 802-860-1910, www.vermontkayak.com.

Mystic, Conn. The attractions are more urban than untouched in this historic harbor that opens onto Fishers Island Sound. "You can paddle right up and knock on the hull of the last wooden whaling ship in the world," said Jerry Wylie, of Connecticut Coastal Kayaking. You can paddle out and around Enders, Andrews, and Dodges islands, where pleasant spots can be found for picnicking. Heading back upriver, there is a drawbridge and a railroad swing bridge to watch turning overhead. "Those are fun to be under," Wylie said. Connecticut Coastal Kayaking, 18 Oak Tree Lane, Lyme, Conn., 860-391-3837, www.ctcoastalkayaking.com.

Barn Island, Conn., to Napatree Point, R.I. Put in and paddle from the Barn Island boat ramp, at the eastern edge of Connecticut. A detour through the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area can bring encounters with salt marsh wildlife. Or paddle straight out and around Napatree Point to the arc of beach jutting out from Watch Hill, Rhode Island. "You can surf the swells, and you may need a surf landing on the beach, depending on conditions," Wylie said. "It's never crowded." Connecticut Coastal Kayaking, above.

Upper Wood River, R.I. This shrouded river is the kayaking equivalent of a good book and cup of coffee: a gentle and relaxing way to spend a morning. "It's totally undeveloped. The river is maybe 10 to 30 feet wide, going through deep woods," said Marie Fonseca, of Kayak Today. Stop for a picnic and portage around a waterfall for a full four hours spent paddling past the forest of the Arcadia Management Area. "It's not dull in any way," Fonseca said. "It's so winding." Kayak Today, South County, R.I., 401-207-6511, www.kayaktodayri.com.

Tom Haines can be reached at thaines@globe.com.