Last Tuesday, on a pitch-perfect Rhode Island late-summer afternoon, a motley flotilla left the ramp at Independence Park in Bristol. After a brief debate over whether we would follow the harbor route clockwise or counter, we set off upwind (clockwise) reasoning that we would have less of a battle later, when our arms would be tired.
We were hardly pioneers: Bristol Harbor is not exactly uncharted territory, and every paddler in the group was a seasoned local. But we were looking at the harbor in a new way, as the latest addition in a series of maps created by the Rhode Island Blueways Alliance and accessible at www.exploreri.com.
With 400 miles of coastline and 1500 miles of rivers, Rhode Island is ripe for this kind of tourism and recreation. The water is there and people are going to take advantage of it; what Blueways does is provide an accessible, downloadable and printable resource of information that makes exploring these routes convenient, fun, and safe.
The Bristol Harbor’s Blueways map page is representative of the helpful information the resource was created to provide. For example: “Warning: As you head south of Walley Street Beach past Blithewold….the winds often pick up….(and) can make for challenging paddling conditions.” Or this one: “It is best to go to Hog and Back in the morning, before the southwesterly winds pick up in the afternoon.” Local boaters know that, but it’s the kind of information that’s considerate to share with others.
Typical information provided on a Blueways map includes points of interest, experience level, distance, expected time to complete, access points, and general tide, weather, and wind information.
Tony Morettini, fellow paddler and member of Bristol’s Conservation Commission, which undertook the project of getting three Bristol-based Blueways on the site this spring, finishing in the last month or so, points out that the Bristol Harbor and Mount Hope Bay routes are different from the riverine routes that characterize many of the inland-Rhode Island Blueways. For one thing, you don’t need to follow them to the letter.
“It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of creativity to look at the map and see that even though the route doesn’t dip all the way into Walker’s Cove, it’s a great place to explore,” said Mr. Morettini.
The addition of the three Bristol routes (besides Bristol Harbor, there are maps for Bristol Narrows and Mount Hope Bay, and the Colt State Park area) brings the number of Blueways in the East Bay to five (including the Warren Loop and the Warren-Bristol Loop) and the total number of mapped Rhode Island Blueways to more than 30.
Mapping was a group effort that began with the Conservation Commission, including Ray Payson, Owen Trainor, Lindsay Green, Alison Ring, Raul Abreu, Tony Morettini and Cliff Woods. Mr. Morettini noted that Alison Ring, Lindsay Green, Mike Byrnes of Explore Bristol and Town Administrator Tony Teixera were especially instrumental in the planning and development of this project. Mr. Woods joined Town Planner and Conservation Commission staff Ed Tanner and Diane Williamson, Director of Community Development, to bid bon voyage to the inaugural paddlers.
The Bristol Harbor Tour, if completed (in the late afternoon chop the map warns of) would be an impressive upper-body workout. As it was, our intrepid group chose to exercise our creativity and demonstrate the flexibility of the route by bisecting it in such a way as to eliminate about 75% of the southern portion, checking in briefly with the west side of the anchorage before paddling gently back to the boat ramp at Independence Park, our arms slack from the effort. Maybe next time we will heed the warnings about those afternoon southwesterlies.
Rhode Island Blueways (and Greenways) can be found at www.exploreri.org.