Barn Island Boat Launch & Wildlife Refuge to
Stonington, CT, and Watch Hill, RI.
This trip is appropriate for all levels of kayakers; however, novice
paddlers should not attempt the open ocean crossing if wind is
Directions to launch site:
Barn Island is a public boat launch with a paved ramp. It is in the
Wequetequock section of Stonington, about 20 minutes west of
Westerly, RI, and about 10 minutes east of Mystic, CT. Take exit
91 off Route 95. Turn south and head towards Stonington
Borough on North Main Street. Turn left (north) on Route 1. In
less than 2 miles you will come to a traffic light with a Barn Island
Boat Launch sign on the right. Turn right onto Green Haven Road.
IMMEDIATELY turn right onto Palmer Neck Road. The boat
launch is at the end of this road. It becomes a hard packed dirt
road within the sanctuary. There is ample free parking at the boat
ramp and along the dirt road leading to it.
Trip in brief:
It is a good idea to bring a compass and a marine chart with you on
this trip (water-proof chart #60, Fishers Island Sound). The chart
is a reproduction of portions of N.O.A.A. Charts 13214, 13212
This trip has long been a favorite spring paddle for RICKA sea
kayakers because it is relatively short (about 7 miles), scenic, and
mildly challenging. But, beware: in the summer, the area becomes a
freeway for power boats.
The paddle route is roughly triangular. The first leg of the triangle
(2.0 miles) begins at the boat launch and follows the coastline west
to Stonington Point. The second leg (2.0 miles) is an open ocean
crossing, heading southeast to Napatree Point off Watch Hill, RI.
The third leg (3.0 miles) follows the coastline back to Barn Island:
paddle north through Watch Hill Cove, turn west across the mouth
of the Pawcatuck River and continue past the peninsulas of the
Launch your kayak into a cove that is surrounded by marshes.
Take a moment to look at the mud banks and you will probably
spot a Great Egret stalking its dinner. South of the cove, a boat
channel runs east and west between the Pawcatuck River and
Stonington Point. Stay between the mainland and the channel as
you head northwest (right) towards Stonington Village.
To your left is a low lying island, Sandy Point. Once part of
Napatree it is now a deserted island, much enjoyed by terns and
sunbathers in the summer. It is privately owned, so don't land here
in season. (Except by the light of the moon.)
On your right, the mainland is deeply cut by Wequetequock
("Wick-et-tee-quock") Cove. You could spend a leisurely day just
exploring this sheltered area.
After passing Wequetequock Cove and Elihu Island, you enter the
narrow gap between the northern end of Sandy Point and Edwards
Point. The boat channel runs through here. Remain inland of it as
you turn southwest towards the tip of Stonington Point.
Stonington Point is a rocky bulwark. Behind it nestles the village of
Stonington Borough. Breakwaters with lights protect the harbor
from the sea, and ships from disaster on the rocks. Coastal
kayakers, however, must protect themselves, by watching for
submerged rocks as they round the point.
On the far side of the point, a crescent of sand makes a tempting
landing spot. But do not land here when a lifeguard is on duty, as it
is a private beach.
If you still want to land, continue north about a mile, and put in on
the public land next to the railroad tracks. On the way, you will
pass moored fishing boats. Stonington is the home of the last
commercial fishing fleet in Connecticut. Do land at the private
beach when it is not in use by sunbathers.
Stonington Borough is well worth a visit. Once a whaling, fishing
and shipbuilding center, it is now a charming old town of sea
captains' homes, secret walled gardens, small shops and
restaurants. Visit the Stonington lighthouse museum, just opposite
the beach, almost hidden between newer buildings. It is in the
National Registry of Historic Places, partly because of its unique
design. It was built in 1840 entirely from granite, and resembles a
Norman castle. In 1889 it was taken out of service and replaced
by the present day breakwater lights.
Behind the lighthouse, a wide green lawn slopes down to the sea.
Stand on the lawn facing east. You can see where you have been
and where you are going. Napatree Point should be visible on the
horizon to the southeast. It is a long peninsula with a high western
terminus. Look for two bumps that appear to be buildings (but are
not) towards the end of the point.
The next leg toward Napatree is an open stretch, where conditions
can change rapidly. Unless you know your partners' strengths as
well as your own, do not cross over open water when the seas are
large or when increasing winds are predicted. Inexperienced (and
experienced) paddlers can get in trouble here.
A shoal extends out from the dissolving coast of Napatree. You
will have to drag your kayak to shore if the tide is low. A Spanish
American fort sits on the hill at the end of the point. The ruins are
interesting to explore in the early spring, before the poison ivy is in
full flourish. However, you may not wish to land beneath the fort,
as the bottom is littered with rocks and fragments of old brick. The
farther you paddle east, towards the mainland, the softer the
landing. Unless you are an experienced paddler, avoid the
western-most end of the point. More experienced folks can go
around the western point into the ocean, but the currents are
Napatree Point is about two miles long and only yards wide, with a
ridge of sand dunes down its spine. The open ocean pounds the
south shore. The protected north shore is a nesting ground for
endangered Piping Plovers and Least Terns. In the fall, Monarch
butterflies take a break from their migration south, and gather like
clusters of vibrant orange flowers to feed on weeds amongst the
rose hips. Watch for red-beaked American Oyster Catchers
feeding around the rocks.
Before the hurricane of 1938, Napatree was a thriving summer
community. Today there are only ghosts. No signs of human
habitation remain on Napatree, except for a few posts that once
supported piers. The inhabitants were given no warning of the
approaching storm, because meteorologists did not believe that
hurricanes could strike so far north. Almost all the people lost their
lives. A couple of lucky youngsters floated to the mainland on the
remnants of their attic floor. Now Napatree Point is a conservation
area. Its wave-washed coastline is as changeable as the sea and
cannot support development.
Continue paddling east towards Watch Hill Cove. In the
summertime, a kayaker must paddle around a crowd of
powerboats and over mooring lines. Off-season, the area is quiet.
Watch Hill, which is a village of Westerly, RI, is a popular resort
town. In its hey-day it was the playground of the rich and famous.
It lost some of its glamour with the coming of the great hurricane
and the jet age.
Of the seven great hotels that once graced Watch Hill, only one
survived the hurricane. Ocean House, the massive yellow structure
on the high ground above the harbor, is still open and still elegant in
its old age. Watch Hill has places to stop and eat: the Olympia Tea
Room, or an ice cream store with a walk up window.
As you leave the Watch Hill area turn left (west), and pass the
mouth of the Pawcatuck River. You must cross a major boat
channel coming out of the river. Caution: this is a very busy
channel! Stay together as a group - you will make less of a target.
You are in the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area now.
Remember to stay close to the shore because the channel parallels