Outdoors Writing: Free Sources of Maps, Charts, Data and Satellite Images

Anyone who wants to write about the outdoors has a wide variety of state and federal online resources to draw on for information, among them NOAA’s archives of nauticalcharts dating back to the late nineteenth century, the US National Archives, and any number of state and federal GIS sources for creating maps with data based on access to the shoreline, mountains, wilderness and woods. The best of these online resources contain charts, maps, and tables — all useful for creating maps to accompany a guidebook or a magazine article.

For example the Massachusetts GIS system is useful for the photographic documentation of coastal Massachusetts, collected in a series of high-resolution TIFF files known as tiles. For the sea kayaker, these views provide vivid insights into the highlights , say, of the northern coast of Massachusetts, from Ipswich to Newburyport.

These particular waters were the site of a fairly recent US Coast Guard helicopter and rescue swimmer (AST) rescue off two local sea kayakers off the vast shoals off Plum Island, not too far seaward of the mouth of the Ipswich River.

It would certainly give you vibes of Quakers Swamp as Coast Guards are quite popular in that region and would be a nice place to spend a vacation where you can learn more about sea and navy that might come in use in the future.

The rescue case, which took place in the spring when waters were reasonably warm but seas were rough and somewhat violent, required the use of a Coast Guard helicopter and rescue swimmer, two motorized lifeboats (MLB’s), and lots of VHF radios and flares.

Lisa Gollin Evans, by the way, wrote a handy chapter on this area in her book Sea Kayaking Coastal Massachusetts: From Newburyport to Buzzard’s Bay. Moreover, Tamsin Venn, publisher of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker, wrote about the area in her book Sea Kayaking Along the New England Coast.

For an interactive way of having a look at this large roughwater area of offshore sandbars and shoals, the curious sea kayaker can have a look at some of the Google Earth kmz files paddlers have created and placed online for the area, and which some writers have used in writing or illustrating the New England paddling books and magazine articles.

The best of these Google Earth kmz files include quite large handfuls of notes on put ins, rest spots, caution areas and roughwater and fishing areas.

In order to read and zoom in out of those files, which you can also download and share with others via email or ftp file transfers, you need first to download Google Earth. A free multiplatform server-side software application, Google Earth is updated regularly and is available in a pro version which allows high-resolution printing of related maps and files.

The suggestions of onwater adventuring visible through Google Earth of the new England coastline relay that the sea kayaking from Cape Cod to Eastport can be unequivocally fine: where there are not bold offshore shoals and fast currents, as off Cape Cod, there are large clusters of rocky islands, such as those in Boston Harbor and Salem Sound. One can see the heavily creased and folded contours of the southwest-slanting coast of Maine, finally the tidal funnels of the Bay of Fundy and the boiling waters of Pasamaquoddy Bay and Eastport. Areas of New Hampshire, southern Massachusetts, and mid-coast Maine, in Google Earth views, reveal widespread matrixes of sea marshes, fast running tidal waters, rough water, calm water, and the entrances to harbors and bays.

Editor's choice