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By Ron Scopelliti
Can a satisfying kayak adventure start at a shopping mall and end in the shadow of a glass-walled office building? That’s what I set out to discover after stumbling across the Providence Kayak Company.
Located in the basin of Waterplace Park, just across the street from Providence Place Mall, the Providence Kayak Company rents out kayaks for paddles through downtown Providence. Though I have my own kayak, the hassle of finding a place to park and launch in the city made the rental option an attractive alternative.
Their boats are “sit-on-top” kayaks that are both stable and easy to board. Making it even easier is a floating rig that stabilizes the boats while the attendants help you in and out. The seats are comfortable, as are the life jackets that are provided at no extra cost, and required to be worn.
Rates struck me as reasonable, starting at $20 for 45 minutes for a solo kayak. I’d suggest, however, spending $10 more, which doubles your time to an hour-and-a-half. There are also tandem kayaks available at slightly higher rates.
Setting out with two friends in solo kayaks, we started our excursion heading west on the Woonasquatucket, under Providence Place. Continuing under Rte. 95, and towards the Dean Street Bridge construction area, the thing that stood out was the wide variety of tires visible below the surface of the river. Car tires, truck tires, mounted and unmounted… At one point, we thought we may have passed over an entire car, but I think it was just a deceptive shape in the silt.
We decided to turn around before Dean Street, to make sure we’d have time to explore downtown. Not surprisingly, this turned out to be the more scenic leg of the trip. Paddling a course around the Waterfire braziers took us under the pedestrian and traffic bridges. What I feared would be a monotonous view of retaining walls along the river proved to be more than I’d imagined. Once you clear Waterplace Park and reach the point where the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers converge to form the Providence River, the view from river-level literally gives you a new perspective on the city’s architecture.
Looking toward the East Side, I could see the appeal this particular bit of geography must have had to Roger Williams and his fellow settlers. I could visualize the original settlement of Providence – the long, thin plots of land that started at the river and continued up what we now call College Hill, giving each settler both river access and land to plant crops. Looking to the west revealed stunning low-angle views of iconic Providence buildings including the Industrial Trust Tower, the Turk’s Head Building, and the Amica Building.
The river widens out significantly around Custom House Street, and it offered a refreshing breeze and a tiny bit of chop to keep things lively as we finished up around Wickenden Street. Heading back toward the dock gave us the interesting option to travel underneath Memorial Boulevard. It was a unique experience to paddle a kayak while surrounded by man-made structures and utterly cut off from the sky. There was enough light to travel safely, though the sun was a welcome site when we emerged from the other end. Returning to the basin around 3:30, the water level was low enough that we had to carefully choose a route to get to the dock without running aground on the sandy bottom.
While it might not be the sort of journey that stirs the hearts of whitewater thrill-seekers, if you’d like a unique kayaking experience and a chance to see downtown Providence from a new perspective, Providence Kayak Company is definitely worth checking out. For detailed info about rentals, visit www.providence kayak.com.