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My Turn: On the Merrimack, inebriation is a real danger

Re “River must be approached with caution” (Monitor editorial, July 9):

Despite the high water, a group of family and friends took our annual Fourth of July holiday paddling trip down the Merrimack River (delayed until July 6 due to river conditions). The group ranged in age from 3 to 70-plus. Everyone had a suitable personal flotation device (most wore them), and we had a throw bag and a first-aid kit. As always, we had a great time, paddling, swimming and picnicking. As always, we witnessed some risky behavior on and in the river, almost all of it combined with alcohol.

We arrived at the county boat launch in Boscawen about 10 a.m. We’d been there about 10 minutes, waiting for the rest of our party, when three trucks with canoes raced into the parking lot. The first driver out of his vehicle had an open beer in hand, and his first action was to rip open a 30-pack and give all his companions a beer. Clearly excited for a day on the river, they each had another beer or two, dutifully wedged their PFDs under their canoe seats, filled their coolers with a large amount of beer, loaded coolers into canoes and, each with a fresh beer jammed between their legs, headed out on the river.

Some version of this scene has unfolded pretty much every year we’ve done this trip.

When we shuttled vehicles to the takeout ramp, I overheard a group of friends in the parking lot getting inflatable beach-toy-style rafts ready to launch. Someone was explaining to a new member of the group who professed that he “wasn’t much of swimmer” that he didn’t need to wear his PFD; they always securely tie them to their rafts so they’ll be handy if “something happens.” They also had a sizable quantity of alcohol in their floats.

Arriving at our designated take-out point at the end of the trip, we were greeted by a noticeably intoxicated woman standing waist-deep in the water (with drink in hand) who was going to “help us” land our boats. After nearly dumping a kayaker and getting thoroughly in the way, she managed to wade over and join a companion, also drinking, sitting on the public boat ramp.

I am by no means a teetotaler and certainly appreciate good beer, but every time I’m on the river in summer I come away with a deep concern for the number of very intoxicated and thoroughly unprepared folks on, in and around the water. That concern in no way lessens as I watch them lurch up the takeout ramp toward their vehicles. Inebriation is not conducive to effective paddling or swimming.

For the sake of yourself, those recreating with you and those who might have to try to save your sorry butt, be responsible on the river!

(Andrew Robertson lives in Deerfield.)

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