At 6:45 a.m., dressed in a bathing suit, T-Shirt and cap, he walked down the beach pulling his kayak on a trailer to the water’s edge just south of Hay Beach Point.
It was windier than he would have preferred, more like a late September morning than the middle of August. But as someone told him once, “Make the tide your friend,” and his friend was telling him that now was the time to disembark for a circumnavigation of Shelter Island.
Hay Beach was still in shadows but bright light was striking houses across Greenport Harbor. The water was a deeper blue than the lightening sky with a half moon directly overhead fading with the morning.
He checked a bag holding two bottles of water, two apples and his cellphone. In just minutes he was off, paddling his bright yellow kayak north toward the point, the blades catching the sun each time they rose rhythmically from the water.
This was Jeff van der Eeems, 51, third solo circumnavigation of Shelter Island on Friday, August 15. He’d slept well, which was unlike his first go round, when worries about tides, boat traffic and his own stamina gave him a restless night.
A Canadian who lives in London, he and his wife Beth spend six weeks here every summer in the their Hay Beach house with their two children Willem, 17, and Alida, 16. Beth and Alida are sailors and Willem is into speed, his mother said, and is angling for a motorboat, so Mr. van der Eeems is a solitary kayaker, which suits him fine.
His annual round trip didn’t begin as a test of strength or endurance, but was an act of discovery. “I love this Island,” he said, recounting the 30 summers he and Beth have spent here. “I started kayaking to see different parts of it, and then I thought I’d see all of it.”
And why not see it all in one five or six hour uninterrupted trip?
The first half of his journey last Friday was “a doddle,” Mr. van der Eeems said, which translated from English slang into American usage would be “no sweat.”
But he was worried about the wind, which had kicked up to about 13 mph with stronger gusts. When he turned past Mashomack Point and entered into the South Ferry channel the wind was hitting him straight in the face.
“Then I knew this was going to be the roughest of the three,” Mr. van der Eeems said about his previous paddles around the Island. Lots of other adventurers will be given the chance to circumnavigate Shelter Island coming up on Sunday, September 14, when an event dubbed the “Great Peconic Race” launches from Wades Beach featuring all sorts of crafts powered by oar or paddle. There’s prize money of up to $4,000 in trophies and sponsored gifts and all proceeds will go to the “Rogue Wave Foundation,” which helps East End teens. (See next week’s Reporter for a full story on the Great Peconic Race and how to get involved.)
Mr. van der Eeems said he was disappointed he’d miss the September race because he’ll be back in London.
But cutting past Shell Beach last Friday, there was nothing on his mind except keeping the blades of his paddle dipping and rising. “I was so tired,” he said, but knew he was only half way home. On top of his mounting fatigue was the knowledge that he hadn’t been a good enough friend to the tide, which had now turned against him.
“I should have left earlier or later, but picked the worst time,” he said.
Past Camp Quinipet, Mr. van der Eeems was “paddling away but felt I was standing still.”
But he pressed on past Crescent Beach and crossing Dering Harbor he knew he could do it.
About six hours after stepping into the water and folding himself into the kayak, he made the last few strokes to the beach where he had started. Then he’d been alone in a nearly silent morning. Now there were Jet Skis with their high-pitched whines cutting by, along with a couple of large boats powering past and a large yacht under full sail.
The afternoon had changed to thin clouds in a milky sky as Mr. van der Eeems pulled his kayak onto dry land. “Done!” he said, raising one fist.
He looked back at the water and then turned to the bluffs rising above the beach. “There’s something about this Island,” he said, with a wide smile. “It gets into your blood.”