Join Nicholas J. Matthew at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum on Thursday, September 29 as he personally recounts his 170-mile circumnavigation of Cape Cod in a home-made wooden kayak. Click here for details.
Nicholas J. Matthew launched that morning from Truro intent on paddling all the way to Chatham. But, then the storm hit. Massive waves with 20 mile-per-our winds. He lost his radio overboard. His home-built kayak suffered potentially disastrous damage.
Wary of landing in the crashing surf, but more afraid of being blown out to sea, it was a moment of true reckoning.
And if all this wasn’t daunting enough, Matthew was now feeling the full effects of what was salmonella symptoms he suspected was from chicken he ate the day before.
Somehow, in all this chaos, the 32-year-old kayaker made it to shore at Coast Guard Beach in Eastham. Days into what would be an unprecedented nine-day, 170-mile circumvention of Cape Cod, he seriously considered abandoning his venture.
A call by smart phone to his girlfriend, who was tracking his sojourn on GPS, plus the kindness of several National Seashore park rangers, spurred his confidence, if not his immediate strength.
A night camped on the beach renewed his resolve and off he went in still roiling seas along the Atlantic to Nantucket Sound and then all the way back to the Cape Cod Canal, where he had inaugurated his unlikely adventure. He had lost seven pounds in one week.
He had made it. Not just physically, but spiritually. It would become more than an indelible memory to Matthew. It became an incandescent light directing him toward the future.
What an unlikely adventure.
Matthew, a former science teacher and now a graduate MBA student, had always loved adventure since his days at a summer camp in Maine where he navigated the perilous Allagash River rapids and later hiked the Appalachian Mountains as an outdoor instructor.
But, circumnavigating Cape Cod?
When he sought advice from seasoned seamen, they discouraged him. Too physically rigorous paddling 20 miles a day for more than a week in uncertain waters. There was a reason it had never been accomplished.
Equally daunting was the regimen that would precede the actual sea venture. Matthew was not content to purchase his kayak. No, he was going to build from scratch his first wooden kayak.
“I was having Thanksgiving dinner with my uncle Peter, and I was talking about how I wanted the liberty to do something by myself,” said Matthew.
“Why don’t you build one?” his uncle asked. “You’ve helped me build some canoes, so you can easily build a kayak.”
“That’s how I really got started,” he says, “by having someone help me overcome my self-doubt. And once I got started, my uncle pretty much stepped back and I did it by myself.”
Matthew purchased “Tursiops” design on Wooden Boat.com for $45.
So, nearly three years before he actually launched in Sandwich, Matthew began constructing his wooden kayak in the basement of his house in Brighton. “I would take a couple of hours a week and weekends around my work and studies to build it,” he recalled. I never had even a dedicated week to work on it. A real shipbuilder might take six months. I took more than four times that.”
He named it The Maxey Moxie.
Why did Matthew pursue such an unlikely venture?
“There was no one reason,” he said. “I wanted to do something big, something cathartic and creative, not something I would buy. I also wanted to be self-sufficient. For me, at the end of the building process, the kayak became part of my identity.”
Matthew recounts now – a month after his circumnavigation – how the true experience was in the process itself, the continual learning experience.
“Maybe one reason it took so long to construct the Maxey Moxie was because I never really wanted the process itself to end,” he said.
“Then, I had to actually prepare for the trip. All the training. Kayaking weekends around Boston Harbor. Planning and preparing all the gear – from radios to solar panels to waterproof charger packs for my smart phone.”
In advance of the trip, Matthew mentioned to a colleague from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy that he could not afford a wet suit. Days later, one arrived in the mail from his friend.
Having built something as enduring as the Moxie has given Matthew a broader perspective about life. “If I haven’t built something each day, I feel I haven’t taken advantage of that day. It may be building a relationship or building my career. It’s quite spiritual.”
“It’s getting better every day, honing your knowledge and keeping it within you. It’s where my strength comes from. I did not have this until I had built my boat.”