Tides and currents around Plum Island, Newburyport MA

14 06 2009

OK – this is big. Very big. If you have any doubt at all – please go to a professional or take a kayak tour with Plum Island Kayak. (No, we’re not affiliated – we’re just fans.) This is not “professional” advice. Don’t sue us. And this is still in progress…we’re learning too. Useful comments welcome.

Always check the  tide table — you can generally poke around the web get pretty good information for this no matter what region you’re in. On my phone, I sometimes use this  simple tide table and hey – maybe “there’s an app for that” on my iPhone that I’m missing out on.

Some really really obvious stuff — but since people have asked me these questions — I might add that a) the tide is at different times in different areas, so you have to check for the area you’re in. b) the tide is different every day and there are other impacting factors (weather, moon, time in relation to the tide, etc.). And if you need to ask these questions — you REALLY need to start out on guided tours or lakes. OK, that’s enough of that.

The currents around Plum Island are not to be messed with. They are really strong in some areas. There are also crazy rip tides, ie, random swells coming from sides you don’t expect…so you gotta be on your game and paying attention.

Plum Island Tides – what we know so far:

Anyway — when the tide comes IN to high tide, it rushes from the ocean up the Merrimack. It also rushes in under the Plum Island turnpike bridge to the little rivers on Plum Island…at Lot 1 in the Parker River Wildlife Refuge, it’s still rushing “in” at high tide (same sort of direction as the Merrimack — ie going south behind Plum Island) but shortly after Lot 1, around where you head left out to the Sound (don’t go toward the “bird box” that Patrick thinks looks like an upright piano), it seems to slightly shift. We assume because it’s also rushing “in” from the Southern/Sandy Point/Sound side of the island. This seems to vary based on the time you’re there related to the high or low tide, but we admittedly don’t really have enough experience with it to tell.

Once you get out toward the Sound, the tide isn’t too strong, in our experience. We went the other day a few hours before high tide, and didn’t encounter a strong current. It was there, but not insurmountable. Heading toward Sandy Point before high tide (in theory, against the incoming tide) wasn’t tough at all…though the way back felt slightly better. Hard to tell with the wind, too!  On our way back north through the Plum Island River toward Lot 1, starting from where it meets the Sound at about the height of high tide, it also didn’t seem too strong. It certainly wasn’t “carrying us” like we’d hoped it might, but we weren’t fighting it either.

Apparently, a tide atlas might help us better understand this whole deal — but I’ve yet to find that online!

Even in the Merrimack, the currents can be pretty strong – so plan your trip to be riding the current in the direction you want to go. Ride it, don’t fight it. If the tide is going out toward sea…so are you.

Right in the beginning of the river — not by the narrow mouth by the jetty (which is REALLY hairy – be forewarned), but in that larger area — we’ve been there in totally mellow lake-like calm times and we’ve experienced swells, rips, crazy boat wake and very choppy seas. We’ve only “gone with the tide” and probably wouldn’t try fighting it. Be careful. There are also many speed boaters around here. They are generally pretty good and in control — but do your part to be visible, predictable and smart. And don’t drink while boating like many of their passengers appear to…at least until after you’re out of your kayak. 😉




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