Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kennebec River, Augusta ME: Wildlife and Current

Beach beside the launch.  That tiny white dot by the bridge piling; a sturgeon jumping or an osprey diving?
  If you're in Augusta, even if you're without boats, you should stop by the boat launch under the Memorial Bridge.  There's a small park there, trees for shade, a playground, picnic tables and benches looking over the river.  And a great variety of wildlife;  we saw osprey, eagles blue heron, herring gulls, mink, and ducklings.  But we were there primarily to look for sturgeon.  Large 3-4 foot long sturgeon, which for unknown reasons jump straight up out of the river, primarily in late June and July.  And, while you can just sit on the shore and look for sturgeon, if you have a boat available, it's also fun to play on the Kennebec River.

     Augusta has about a five foot tidal range, we were there about an hour before low, with a swift moving down river current, and a moderate south wind acting against it.  Noting the eddylines, we choose to ride the current down to buoy 82, cross there and wend our way back using old boom islands to assist us.

  Just above buoy 82 are some great stone buildings, the old Kennebec Arsenal, built between 1828 and 1838.  These structures were annexed by the nearby Maine State Hospital in 1905, and abandoned in 2004.   Note the wonderful broad ship landing, and the elegant copper structures capping the ventilation shafts.  It's a beautiful property, awaiting redevelopment.   

Picking my way back upstream behind boom islands, the launch is just beyond the bridge
    Having made it back to the launch in a reasonable time and with a reasonable effort, we headed north, past Old Fort Western.   Fort Western was built in 1754, and is New England's oldest  remaining  wooden Fort.  A bateau associated with the fort was docked at the landing.

    We made it up to the railroad bridge before reaching a point of no further progress, then crossed the Kennebec and rode down to the buoy again.

Gliding by the Old Augusta Post Office and Courthouse, the mink was hiding along this shore

  Along the way we probably saw ten or twelve sturgeon jump, including a few really big ones.  We didn't get any pictures, but Linwood Riggs, a patient photographer, has captured several jumping sturgeon.  Our wildlife photography was limited to some gangly ducks hoping for a handout.

  It was a delightful evening, temps in the 70's, low humidity, incredible architecture, amazing animals and just a great time to play on the water.

Summary:  Launch:  Augusta Boat Launch, off Howard Lane.  Concrete ramp, kayak condos, several parking spaces shared with a picnic and playground area, porta-potties.  The Augusta Tide Chart is here, it's far enough up river to have a very different tide from most places.  The loop with the extra section was 2.5 miles.

Links:  Kennebec Arsenal
           Wikipedia Kennebec Arsenal:

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Moosehorn to Hot Hole Pond, a Nalu Test

 Having gone to the effort of dragging the Nalu's back up our hill, we figured we may as well take them out in their ideal test environment, a shallow stream with lots of obstacles. 

   The route we picked was a short one, on the Bucksport/Orland line.  Our trip would take us down Moosehorn Stream until it met up with Hole Hole Stream, then up Hole Hole Stream to tiny Hot Hole Pond.  The backdrop to our journey was Great Pond Mountain, whose land held by Great Pond Land Trust

  Moosehorn Streams builds up a little speed as it passes under the bridge by the launch, but for the most part it is relatively slow and shallow.  The bridge is fairly scenic, new cement over what looks to be old granite supports. 

Moosehorn Stream runs through a mature forest.  

At the confluence with Hot Hole Stream, there was a beaver dam, which the Nalu crossed easily.  At that point the two streams flow into Alamoosic Lake.

But rather than head into the lake, we turned upstream on Hot Hole Stream, heading out into a marshy landscape.

  It was June in Maine and we were paddling on clean water.  I expected hoards of black flies.  I don't know if it was the temperature ( mid 50's) the gray sky, or the gentle breeze, but few bugs were spotted.  Instead we enjoyed other marsh denizens; red winged black birds, swallows, and grackles.  A pair of geese and their goslings kept a careful eye on us, and a solitary deer wandered along the stream edge.  Unfortunately, none of those pictures came out well, so I will spare you the blurry renditions.
Circumnavigating Hot Hole Pond

    Hot Hole Pond is a smallish pond, it's a place where you can spend the entire day; fishing, hiking, paddling and more.  A group of six canoes had claimed the beach area, and seemed ready to spend a day there.
Picking a route downstream

   The Nalu's did very well on the journey.  Mostly the trip was done standing on the boards, though some tricky areas required kneeling, and I sat for awhile while circumnavigating the pond, just to rest my knees.
A short carry to finish

Summary:  Launch 9:30AM, finish 11:30AM.  Launch where Bald Mountain Rd cross Moosehorn Stream.  Side of the road parking, no facilities.  3.4 miles to and around Hot Hole Pond and back.   Map of the area and trust land

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nalu 12.5 from Ocean Kayak

  If you have access to water, and access to paddlers of all sizes, shapes and abilities, you may want to make space for the Nalu 12.5, a plastic hybrid paddleboard/sit-on-top kayak. 
The Nalu 12.5 is not a performance boat, but it is cleverly designed to be fun and easy to use.  The board weighs 49 pounds, and is an easy one person carry balancing well from either center handhold.  Aft bungees hold gear in place, and there's a compartment up front for drier storage.  Rather than a long fin, there are three keels to help the Nalu hold direction.  You can lay it flat on the grass and there is less to worry about as you launch.  And, if you've ever caught your SUP board fin on a hidden branch, you know another advantage to the keels.
     It's an easy boat to get on, and you can stand, sit, kneel or lie down to paddle.  If you're looking for a boat for a variety of skill levels at a lake, or a craft for exploring small streams, this is a great choice.
     Newer versions include a handhold in back, as well as in front, and pads to help older joints kneel.  But the versions we purchased were close-out models bought at the twice yearly Old Town Canoe and Kayak factory seconds sale; the second cheapest way to add new boats to your fleet.*
These boards come with an optional seat.  The seats can attach at four points (Two by the center handles, two by the bungees.) When all four points are used, the seat is held open.  We generally prefer to just use the two front straps, and travel with the seat folded over itself and flat.  Sometimes we don't even bother to open the seat,  we just sit on the back of the seat, or even use it as knee pad.  
One of the nice features is how well these boards stack on a roof.   Stacking is enhanced by a drain line at the rear of the bottom board which lines up with the center keel of the top boat .
  The boards do okay in moderate wind and chop, though they are a wet ride.
  The hatch is a strap-on plastic cover.
 Here Mark is testing the hatch by rocking water over it.
 The inside is still dry!  But, I would still recommend a dry bag for anything in there, and being wise about using the board on cold or rough water.

  And you can see that they do very well with a Greenland Paddleboard Paddle.   There are also hybrid paddles available.  The Old Town factory outlet has a model with a tee grip end which can be changed out for a paddle.  The model they had on hand could not compete with Marks' cedar GP for lightness or comfort though.  Another option is to use a paddleboard paddle and store a break apart two-bladed kayak paddle in the hatch.  We had no trouble getting a 240cm Warner break-apart in or out of the hatch.

  Our sons recently came by to pick up "their" boats** to use for a day trip with friends up a beaver stream to a small pond.  But, after testing the Nalu's, that's what they left with.  The Nalu's were easy to transport and when the group was traveling up the winding stream it was easy for them to stand up and check on the other paddlers.  These boats have the most flexibility for getting on and off, which was perfect for getting over beaver dams (and positioning to help other boats over the dams) as well as landing on a steep shore.  One used the Greenland paddle, the other a SUP paddle, though he switched to a Euro-paddle to cross the pond in a strong wind. 

So what are the flaws?  There are a few.  It is rated for up to 350 pounds.  We did have a fairly large guy (close to 300 pounds) test it, he enjoyed the boat and found is quite stable.  He also liked that he could easily get himself back on the board, a feat which is not possible with some recreational sit-inside kayaks.  But I think the rated 350 pounds capacity is optimistic.
    When anyone over average weight is seated, the back of the boat tends to drag.  One option is to pull the seat pad further forward, but then foot brace positions are limited.  Also, the seat angle is better for relaxing than power paddling.
    The foot wells, while they add stability by lowering the feet, limit movement on the paddleboard.  
    Shifting from standing to sitting, and more so from sitting to standing is not as straight forward as you might imagine.  Especially when shifting from sitting to standing, it's easier to go through a kneeling stage (and drag a leg off the side to do so.)

  We bought these boats to use on the Penobscot River.  The path to our boat launch is narrow with some steep drop-offs so carrying boats, even light ones, up and down regularly is more insane than buying additional boats.   Since we plan to paddleboard regularly on the Penobscot River, we'd like to store boards down there.  The Penobscot isn't a shallow stream, so the Nalu's keel isn't the advantage it could be other places, but I like to have the option to be able to sit, should the wind pick up while we're out. 

   After borrowing the Nalu's for the weekend, one son is thinking of getting one for his own use, which says a lot for their entertainment value.  (Remember his real kayak is still stored here.)

*  The best sale is the Old Town Employee-only Sale, held just before the public sale.  Old Town employees are held in high esteem in this area.

**  Some of the kayaks regularly featured in Penobscot Paddles are not technically our boats, but boats which were gifts to prior Penobscot Paddlers.  I'm sure they appreciate us continuing to exercise their equipment... 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Gray Day in Castine

It was an iffy day, and the splatters of rain on our car windshield didn't make it any more appealing.  But it had been a long hard winter.  We'd started with an ice storm in early November which left us without power for a week and downed trees which still fill our property.  It had then become a record setting winter for snow and cold.  And though we'd been out on our kayaks for a few short trips, they'd all been local.  We were looking forward to a day on the water.  So, arriving at the Castine dock to see this was disappointing.

With the dock blocked off, we headed to Wadsworth Cove to try a launch.  Wadsworth Cove is named for General Peleg Wadsworth (grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), who, during the Revolutionary War escaped from the British at Fort George by wading across the cove.

We thought we might start out easy by exploring Bog Brook Stream to the north of the beach.  No such luck, access to Bog Brook had be reduced from a twenty foot wide entrance to three feet, which meant being restricted to the highest part of the tide for access.

But even in that short trip we could see what a delightful and calm day it was.  So we headed back to the car for some extra clothes and a deck compass, then took off for Holbrook  Island.

You can see how still the water was as we passed by Trask Rock.  A popular local legend says in the attack on Fort George during the Penobscot Expedition, the piper hid by Trask Rock to signal where to charge the hill

The glory of calm days is you can spot every seal or porpoise that surfaces.  The frustration is they just don't stay up long enough to be captured on film.  The closest we came to a great wildlife shot, was capturing this flock of 50 or more cormorants heading into the harbor.

 Frustrated with wild life remaining untamed, we turned our cameras to other, more stationary subjects:

The colorful rocks of Holbrook Island
A golden aspe on Dyce's Head
The Harbor Buoy with Dyce's Head Lighthouse in the distance.

  All in all, a good start to touring season.
Summary:  High about 10AM.  Launch 9AM, stop on Holbrook, finish about 11, about 7 miles.
Launch Wadsworth Cove, Town Beach, no restriction on launching kayaks that I am aware of. Generally plenty of parking.  In (swimming) season there is port-a-pottie - not yet.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Big Foot Paddleboards

  The final post in the Florida series; this one about a local business.
Mark on a Big Foot Paddleboard
   We weren't the only ones attracted to the warm calm waters of Florida.  Pretty much everywhere we went we met others with or on paddleboards.  One person we met was Josh Hensley, designer of Big Foot Custom Fiberglass Paddleboards

  We were immediately attracted to the bright designs and comfortable seats on his boards.  The seats lift up, revealing a compartment for storing treasures.  The compartment has sealed bulkheads around it.

  The boats vary in width, Josh preferred a narrow width board, but he made wider boards for many of his clients.  Those were the ones we tested.

  The boards were comfortable and stable; it was easy to transition to standing on them.  Rather than having one long fin, (which could get caught and cause a face-plant) Big Foot Boards have a shallow keel.  This makes the board track better, and a bit tougher to turn.
Josh shows the keel
  I could see where these boards would be idea for someone who wanted the easy access a paddleboard provides, with some extra features for increased stability.
Designs on some child sized boards

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida

Weeki Wachee Springs starts at a big Florida State Park famous for mermaids.  Behind the state park, Paddling Adventure rents kayaks to folks to ride the spring waters down to Rodgers Park.  In 2012, we just that.  On the way down stream we met several canoes and kayaks headed upstream.  And that seemed like much more fun, working against the steady  1.5 knot current, then riding the cool waters back to the start.

  So this year we started at Rodgers Park, about 4 miles down from the beginning, and began paddling upstream.

  We started early, because the air was cooler and so we wouldn't have to dodge downstream kayaks.

  The paddle began pleasantly enough, we paddled by an array of canals providing water-access to various neighborhoods.  Along the main river, folks sat out enjoying leisurely Sunday morning coffees while overlooking the river.  If they were annoyed to see paddlers disturbing their breakfasts, they were gracious enough to keep it to themselves.

   But as we reached the edge of the development, where the wider stream capable of hosting motorboats faded into the more natural river we had to work harder.  The current was strong, and the stream narrow.  The edges, where the current should be less, were blocked from our use, either by low branches, or shallow water, which couldn't accommodate our 9 inch fins.

  By about two miles up, beating against the stream had lost its luster, so we turned around and flew back.
Headed downstream, the river is a 3-4 feet deep, not the few inches it appears in this photo
   I did feel that we might not have had the right boats for this adventure.  To keep up our gains against the current we did wind up needing to sit/kneel a good bit of the time.  We wound up doing about 4 miles in total, which is pretty standard for a paddleboard venture, but I knew with kayaks we'd have made it further.
   On the plus side, our boats were very light and we were able to store them inside our van.  Although they weren't ideal for this water, we were able to be on the Weeki Wachee before it was too hot, and before the river was filled with canoes and kayaks headed both directions; and I did feel like I'd put enough effort out to deserve a swift ride downstream.
Fishing boat with 2 dogs.  This was followed closely by 2 canoes, with 2 dogs each. 
Rodgers Park:
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Paddling Adventure :

Summary:  Launch: 8:45 AM from Rodgers Park, finish 10:30AM   4.2 miles.  Launch from Rodgers Park, fee to use, toilets, picnic area and swimming available.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chassahowitzka River, Florida

  Chassahowitzka River runs five miles to the sea.  Fed by several tributaries, in Google Earth it looks rather like a haunted tree., or an inflamed coronary system. 
  We  startied up by the big yellow pin, which marks Chassahowitzka River Camp, and spent most of our morning exploring the minor tributaries, including an especially narrow one known as the Crack.
"Chassahowitzka"  translates as "place of the hanging pumpkins" which is an interesting visual to imagine, but not a sight we happened upon.
  I'd called the camp the night before, and the answering machine informed me the store was open from 8AM-5PM.  We were there shortly after 8, and a bit behind several fishermen.
  We headed upstream first, to a collection of springs known as the seven sisters.  The water was not very deep around the springs.  I've read that several of the springs are connected by caves.  A rather grim little sign off to the side commemorates those who failed to navigate the caves safely.
   This picture isn't great, but it shows how close to the surface and tempting one of the caves is.
  After exploring those springs we headed downstream, keeping mostly to the right.
  This is a view as we headed by an island.
  A number of birds graced the area, there were several osprey, a few eagles, some wood storks and tri-colored heron.   This raccoon was the only mammal we spotted.  He looks like he might be bowing.
  The furthest downriver we went was the mouth of Potter Spring Creek.  On the Google Earth picture above, that's the tributary that nearly touches the top.  At the end a tiny creek disappeared into the woods.
  We followed the clear running water further and further, until at last we came to Potter spring, a small spring with just enough space to spin the boats, and plenty of mosquitoes.    This labeled map shows the location of the spring off to the side.
   Then it was back to the main channel, where more boats were headed out to explore.

    The Crack appears in many descriptions of the river;  again it's a narrow channel which leads to a spring.
 The Crack is so shallow and twisty that near the top we had to get out of our kayaks and tow them behind.  A the top of the Crack is a good sized swimming hole, but it already had a number of picnickers in attendance, so we moved on.
   Back at the main channel, it was apparent that all the other boaters were out.  Groups of kayaks streamed by, boats raced down the river, there was even an inflatable paddleboard.   My favorite was this paddler who seemed unaware that a predator was close behind.
  With everyone else on the river, it was time for us to head ashore.  The Chassahowitzka had been a fun river, a briny environment where crabs were frequently spotted.  The waters, especially in the tributaries, were often shallow, so I was glad we weren't on our paddleboards looking to find a path for the nine inch fins.  The many creeks give lots of places to investigate, I felt like a jungle explorer.

Chassahowitzka River Camp
A nicely labeled map of the river :
Chassahowitzka River Wikipedia

Summary:  Launch and rental from the Chassahowitzka River Camp at about 8:30, finish about 11:30.  Bathrooms are available at the store  Low was earlier in the morning.  We wound up paddling about 8 miles.