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    4 ways to get on the water in New England

    Cat Cho of Sydney paddled around the Ram Island Lighthouse, built in 1883, on a Maine Kayak excursion.
    Pamela Wright for The Boston Globe
    Cat Cho of Sydney paddled around the Ram Island Lighthouse, built in 1883, on a Maine Kayak excursion.

    We paddled the eastern shores of Maine’s Rutherford Island, passing Shipley Point before carefully skirting the Thread of Life, a string of ledges where pirates once plundered. By noon, we had reached the northeast side of Thrumcap Island, a secluded chunk of granite, at the mouth of John’s Bay. The island, worn smooth by the wind and pounding saltwater, was dotted with sweet-smelling Rosa rugosa bushes, rocky outcroppings, and pocket beaches. With sweeping ocean views, it was a slice of coastal paradise. We rested on the sun-warmed ledges overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and outlying islands, listening to the sounds of seabirds, swirling wind, and crashing waves.

    There is something special about boating — whether it’s under sail, power, or muscle. Lucky for New Englanders, with hundreds of lakes and rivers and miles of coastline, we have plenty of opportunities. Here are four of our favorite water-based adventures.

    Kayaking the Maine coast

    “Kayaks are the safest vessels on the water,” Gary Schaumburg, Maine Kayak guide reassured us, as we readied to embark on our four-day excursion in the harbors of midcoast Maine. After some basic paddling instructions, we left the shores of Pemaquid Neck, paddling across John’s Bay to Rutherford Island. We explored the watery wilderness, watching ospreys fly overhead and harbor seals bob in the water. That evening, we spent a well-earned, restful night at the Unique Yankee of Maine Inn in Christmas Cove.


    It was Schaumburg’s job to keep us safe, navigating the tides, wind, weather, and boat traffic. “Stay in a clot so boats can see us,” he cautioned. “And don’t dawdle when we cross the channel.” It was our job to paddle, and take in the gorgeous coastal scenery. Each day, we ventured into new areas; we stopped for lunch on Thrumcap Island, floated in protected lagoons and coves, and explored Linekin Bay, where we watched a pair of dolphins surface a few yards from our kayaks. One day we kayaked across Fisherman’s Passage to Ram Island, home to the 1883 Ram Island Lighthouse, and later spent the evening at the Ocean Point Inn, overlooking the waters we had just paddled.

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    On our final day, we followed the Damariscotta River to South Bristol, paddling under a swing bridge (one of only two left in Maine) into The Gut, a well-protected, working harbor, where life still revolves around the tides and the sea. The briny smell of fish and low tide filled the air as we paddled slowly among moored fishing vessels and lobster boats. We dawdled; we were in no hurry for this sea adventure to end.

    Powerboating on Lake Winnipesaukee

    There is something joyously liberating about a wind-in-your-hair powerboat ride on a big lake, and there is no better place for it than Lake Winnipesaukee. Framed by low mountain ranges, the glacial lake is the largest in New Hampshire (third largest in New England), and a mecca for boaters.

    Pamela Wright for The Boston Globe
    A boater cruised by Weirs Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee.

    We rented a new 19-foot deck boat from Meredith Marina, and, after a brief orientation and safety check, and with a map of the lake in hand, we were ready to go. “I don’t get to say this often, but the lake is yours!” Matthew O’Neil, owner of the marina, told us, with a sweep of his hand and a gentle push off. It was midweek on a hot day in July, and there were few other boaters on the lake (though weekends, we’re told, can be crazy busy). We chugged through the no wake zone, and then hit the throttle, heading for The Broads, the wide-open center of the lake. We slowed as we passed Governor’s Island, gawking at the impressive summer homes. When we reached The Broads, we cut the engine and jumped in for a swim.

    It’s more than 175 miles around the lake, which has 278 miles or so of shoreline and some 253 islands, with coves, beaches, and peninsulas to explore. If we headed across the lake it would take more than an hour to reach the towns of Wolfeboro or Alton Bay.  Instead, we chose to stay on the west side. We cruised past Weirs Beach, a great place to stop (there is free docking at major towns around the lake) with a sandy beach, boardwalk, shops, and restaurants. We followed the channel into picturesque Paugus Bay, lined with cottages, and the occasional restaurant and ice cream shop, and later docked in Center Harbor for lunch, before zooming out to Braun Bay for a late-afternoon swim.


    “I love the boating life!” our friend Kelly Glass said, as we returned to the marina. “Who knew it could be so easy and fun?”

    Sailing a schooner on Cape Ann

    “There’s something special about the movement and feel of a wooden boat,” Captain Harold Burnham said as we sailed out of Gloucester Harbor on Ardelle, his replica 58-foot Pinky Schooner. A gentle, consistent breeze filled the canvas sails as we left the working harbor and sailed into the mouth of Massachusetts Bay.

    The scenery was fine and the soft sway of the boat calming, but it’s the vessel and its history that makes this short, two-hour trip extraordinary. The Ardelle, modeled after a fishing vessel that sailed out of Cape Ann from the early 18th through 20th centuries, was built entirely by Burnham and a cast of friends and volunteers using 90 percent recycled materials, including locally-harvested wood. 

    Burnham comes from a long line of shipbuilders, but when the recession hit in 2008, he found himself out of work. “What was I going to do with all the material I’d collected?” he said. He built Ardelle and kept this region’s maritime tradition alive, at least for another generation.

    We sat back and relaxed, the wind and waves inducing a pleasant trance. Sunlight filtered through the sails and lighted the towering wooden masts as we floated back into the harbor. “Pretty heavenly,” a fellow passenger sighed.

    Canoeing inn-to-inn in Vermont


    “We went from totally stressed out to blissed out,” Marcia Glassman-Jaffe of Beverly says of her inn-to-inn canoeing trip.

    BattenKill canoe
    Canoeists in Vermont have views of rolling farmlands and antique barns.

    It’s a common reaction to five days spent paddling Vermont’s most pristine rivers, and evenings spent in luxurious leisure. This river-based adventure shows the Green Mountain State at its finest: a tapestry of rolling hills, valleys and verdant mountains, amid rapids, gorges, and waterfalls.

    The adventure began with a quiet paddle down the Winooski River, as it flowed through mountains and deep, rocky gorges. The next day, views of Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump dominated the horizon, as the Lamoille River gently challenged us with its ripples and holes.

    By midweek, we headed deep into the Northeast Kingdom and the group had a choice: Do we paddle the lazy Missisquoi River or the upper Connecticut? We took the Connecticut and spent the day paddling a stretch that few see; the quick-moving river was flanked by dense forests and large, cultivated farmlands.

    The next day we put in at the Clyde River; the slow-moving tributary of Lake Memphremagog and a popular place for bird-watching. It was just the relaxing pace we needed before tackling the lively, boulder-strewn White River on our last day. By now, our paddling skills and confidence had improved, and we were ready — to go with the flow.

    Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright