- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2006

ESSEX, Mass. — It wasn’t long before Eric Sideri’s fears faded and he was gliding, almost effortlessly, by sea kayak through the Essex River Basin, about 30 miles north of Boston.

Passing weathered houseboats, shellfishermen digging for clams and the wind-swept sand dunes of island beaches, Mr. Sideri, a first-time sea kayaker, took in the views peacefully — forgetting his minutes-earlier worries of tipping over or losing steam during the half-day tour of the area.

“I was apprehensive at first,” said the 68-year-old from North Andover.

“I thought, three hours of doing the same thing, man, that’ll be tough. But it went right by.”

Mr. Sideri and his wife, Angela, 67, were among a small group of sea kayakers who paddled their way late last summer through a three-mile stretch of the basin, which includes the pristine Crane Wildlife Refuge. This year’s season begins in May.

“We’d been out on a motorboat here before,” Mrs. Sideri said, “but this was up-close and personal. It was great being right on the water.”

Sea kayakers can glide through the tidal marsh, with views of hundreds of types of birds, including snowy egrets, terns and great blue herons.

Crane Beach is just a few strokes away and provides a relaxing spot for picnicking or taking a swim.

There’s also hiking on the trails of Choate Island, the set for the 1996 film “The Crucible,” about the Salem witchcraft trials in Colonial Massachusetts.

A three-hour tour by Essex River Basin Adventures, the main outfitter in the area, costs $49 a person. The company also offers sunset tours and trips by moonlight.

“It’s a very fun way to see the area,” said Stephen Baglioni, an ERBA guide. “It’s not too tough a paddle, so really, anyone can come out and have a good time.”

Helen MacMellon, 52, of Amherst, said her husband and teenage daughter prefer staying on dry land, so she needed kayaking buddies. Signing up for a trip was a good way to meet more people who enjoy the sport.

The Crane Wildlife Refuge, once part of the vast early-20th-century summer estate of Chicago industrialist Richard Crane Jr., encompasses more than 680 acres of islands, salt marsh, sand dunes and winding tidal creeks in Essex and Ipswich.

It was given to the Trustees of Reservations in 1974 by Mine Crane in memory of her husband, Cornelius Crane. Both are buried at the summit of Choate Island.

“The history of the area is as interesting as the wildlife,” Mr. Baglioni said. “There’s really something for everyone here.”

Surrounding the refuge is Great Marsh, the largest contiguous salt marsh in New England, covering more than 25,000 acres from Hampton Harbor, N.H., to Gloucester, Mass.

Some kayak tours stop at Choate Island, which also goes by the name Hog Island because of its agricultural past. At its summit are sweeping views of the area, including the coasts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

The spruce forest on Choate Island, planted in the early 20th century, attracts golden crown kinglets and sharp-shinned hawks. Gulls and sandpipers feed along the shores.

• • •

Essex River Basin Adventures: Visit www.erba.com or call 978/768-3722, and www.thetrustees.org. Kayaking guided tours begin mid- to late May. Half-day sea kayaking tours, custom private and corporate tours and paddle-walk combinations range in price from $25 to $70.

The ERBA retail store, where you can buy used and new kayaks, is open weekends beginning April 8, on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. The Essex River Basin is in Essex, about 30 miles north of Boston, off route Route 133 on Western Avenue.

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