Seriously - those islands you want to go to? The crossings to them that look so accessible from the shore are the kinds of places that newbies very often get into trouble. But it is much less trouble if you have solid paddling skills to handle surprise conditions, and practiced rescue skills to handle it if the first set fails.
Go out and enjoy yourself - which means taking some time to learn stuff so that you aren't explaining to friends why you were in a local newspaper story. You just have to be willing to get wet, which is about clothing and being willing to spend a bit more money since you are not in Florida.
Pull-Up Strap Handle Kit
Bent Shaft Canoe Paddles
PFD's (Life Jackets)
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