The best way to see the beauty of Shelter Island is by kayak
Exploring Shelter Island from the bay allows you to notice aspects of its natural beauty that you would miss at a faster pace. (Credit: Tara Smith)
Warm sunshine graced Coecles Harbor last Thursday and calm waters made for a relaxed kayaking trip with Kayak Shelter Island owner Adam Mills. Seeing the island from a kayak can be compared to how you would see it while walking or riding a bike instead of driving a vehicle. At a slow pace, you notice aspects of its natural beauty that you would miss at a faster pace.
Ask Mills, who spent 25 years working in the city before moving to Shelter Island and buying the business from former owner Jay Damuck. He worked for Damuck during the summer of 2020, and after Labor Day that year, he bought the company. The former operator is frequently on hand, offering advice to boost the company’s success, Mills said.
Shelter Island was nothing new to him. He summered on the island as a young man and was a lifeguard at Crescent Beach in the 1990s, staying with his grandparents, who had emigrated from Estonia to the United States. He now lives in their home.
He once considered a career teaching music, but decided early on it wasn’t for him and found himself in New York City working for a beer distributor where, for 25 years, he handled with customers, filling their orders and often convincing them to try different brands they hadn’t considered and making sure the right stock was on the delivery trucks.
When his company merged with another and he was finally offered a night job in a South Bronx warehouse at half his salary, he decided to live on the waters of Shelter Island.
Last Thursday, two kayakers new to the sport joined him at the Burns Road ramp. He had them put on life jackets and taught them how to use a paddle. Instructions completed, he and a staff member – Shelter Island Buck right fielder Billy Sullivan – helped the newbies into their boats at the edge of the ramp where Billy launched them.
Meeting the two kayakers on the water later, they seemed to be totally enjoying the experience and wondered if they had time to visit the city-owned Taylor Island. Those familiar with the area know they can paddle to Taylor’s Island and, if they wish, bring a picnic and come ashore. They can also observe the beauty of the Mashomack Reserve, which belongs to The Nature Conservancy. Those going out alone are told that with the exception of Taylor’s Island, they shouldn’t land around Coecles Harbor where private homes dot the landscape. But, of course, in an emergency, a kayaker should, if possible, park on any property and Mills or a staff member will respond to assist.
Most of those who rent kayaks choose the self-guided tours rather than joining a group, Mills said.
A day like Thursday was perfect. Other boats were non-existent, the winds were calm and being on the water is arguably the most peaceful way to experience the best of Shelter Island. Islanders are used to seeing man-made platforms with osprey nests. But from the water, you can observe osprey nests created by birds in the trees surrounding the water. As the kayakers paddled close enough to observe a nest more closely, a territorial osprey looked down, signaling not to approach any further.
Mills said there were frequent sightings of turtles, although none were spotted in the past week. He has seen small jellyfish before, predicting they will increase in number and size as the water warms after what has been a cool, cloudy and at times rainy spring. That day the air was pleasantly warm and the water was not cold.
Picking a seasonal business wasn’t going to be hugely lucrative, he knew. But gave Mills enough income, while obviously filling his soul.
You can book a self-guided or group session at Kayak Shelter Island by calling Mills at 631-749-1990. To learn more about special tours, visit the website at kayaksi.com/kayak-tours.