Monday, September 29, 2014

Porcupine Islands in late September


80 degree(F) days in late September!   Who can resist being outside?   Not me!

  Sunday we were up early and off to Bar Harbor to launch from the bar.  At 8:30 there were some walkers, and a few cars out testing the make-shift road exposed by the tide.
  It was a still day, perfect for exploring - and the photos say it is definitely fall.

  Just one cruise ship in the harbor, but my eyes kept being drawn to it.  Cruise ships dominate the waters off Bar Harbor in the fall.  A few lobster boats were out working, as were various tour boats.

  All alone at the Hop, except for this armada of loons.

  Not many urchin casts on the beach, usually in fall there are several.  This is a picture of the only one I saw.  Instead, there was a fair amount of trash, enough to fill a grocery bag, with an extra bottle or two to spare.

  Not many other kayaks out; two tour groups by the first two porcupine islands (Bar and Sheep) and this paddleboarder way out by Long Porcupine.

   I felt very lucky to have been able to take advantage of the warmth; that so few others were at the Porcupines with us I can ascribe only to the multitudinous choices of outdoor activities in Maine.

Summary Information: Launch Bar at the end of Bridge Street in Bar Harbor. No parking at launch: parking is available on West Street and side streets. No facilities: the information booth on Thompson Island is one options as are public toilets at the town dock.
High about 2:30 PM  Launch 8:45AM Finish 12:30PM.  8.8 miles one stop.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ironbound Island from South Gouldsboro

   South Gouldsboro is not a good launch to use during the summer.  There aren't many parking spaces, and being located beside a lobster facility, its a good bet those spaces go early.  But on a Sunday, in September, it was OK.

  The launch at Bunker's Cove is across from Stave Island.    And pretty much immediately we discovered where the cormorants had been hiding all summer.

   In the distance is the Veendam, off Bar Harbor, on the other side of Frenchmen's Bay.  A second cruise ship, Granduer of the Sea is behind an island right now.

    Our journey took us by Yellow, Jordan and Ironbound Island.  These are all privately owned islands without public access.  The buildings on the islands indicate they are owned by  people who love them and have the funds to enjoy them.

   Check out this little studio:
   When I first saw it, I thought it had a sagging roof and was ready to collapse.  But no; it has a tiny wing.  Adorable!

    It wasn't the buildings, or the ships which brought us to this site, it was exploring the keyhole sea caves of Ironbound.  These are found on the south east side of Ironbound, carved into the high cliffs.  They are best explored on still days.  The marine forecast called for waves a foot or less, but unfortunately that's not what we found.  So we only popped into a few, which were at angles that minimized waves.

     Inside a keyhole looking up, such an amazing sight!
  Same keyhole, but further back.

   On the southwest of Ironbound, we were surprised by a passel of seals bobbing in the water.  It was great fun to watch them watching us, but unfortunately the pictures are terrible, so I'll spare you those.

   We didn't see other kayaks on the water, but the Margaret Todd was out.

   Three or four lobster boats were also on the water.  Remember "no lobstering Sunday"  is a tradition, not a law.

Summary:  Launch:  South Gouldsboro, maybe 10 spaces, no facilities.  Launch 9AM, High 9:35AM, finish 12:30PM, 9.8 miles.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Circumnavigating Mount Kineo


   About 15 years ago, I looked at a map and thought "Huh, Mount Kineo (one of Maine's geographic wonders) is less than a thumbs width (about 3/4 mile) from a launch site.  We could do that."
A map at the launch area
   And so we packed up a Naturebound canoe, a Wilderness Systems Cape Horn kayak, two small kids, a bunch of paddles and life jackets and headed for Rockwood, a tiny town on the western shore of Moosehead Lake.  When we got there the wind was blowing and large white-capped waves were funneling through the squeeze point in the big lake.  It didn't take but a glance to see that there was no way this particular set of paddlers and boats was going to make it to Kineo.
  Instead of attempting the crossing, we paddled into Barrows Cove and explored there.

  Then a few weeks ago, while paddling on Mathew's Cove in Moosehead Lake, I saw Mt. Kineo in the distance and thought, "This would have been the perfect day to do that paddle."  It was a still day, and, unlike years ago, even if the wind picked up we had seaworthy kayaks and spray skirts.  But the day was more than half over, and there was work to get to at home.  

   This Friday was another calm day, so we packed up our Current Designs Sirocco and Wilderness Systems Zephyr, spray skirts, life jackets, paddles and assorted gear and headed once again to Rockwood.

   At the launch we discovered a dozen or so hikers hoping to catch the Kineo shuttle, a pontoon boat which makes the crossing about hourly in season. 

  But we didn't have to wait, we could take right off for Kineo.
One the way there!


   Mount Kineo has hosted a huge resort hotel between 1848 through 1938.  Presently, it's home to some lovely, grand cottages, a golf course (with a restaurant open to all), and a fairly large structure which was merely the employee housing for the old hotel.
The employee housing is the palest building
   We paddled into shallow waters of Frog Pond(actually a bay), admiring the views.
Mark paddles by a shallow area in Frog Pond.
  At the back of that bay is the narrow causeway which connects Kineo with land.  Kineo is not an island, but a penninsula.
Boats beside the causeway
  On the North Bay side of Kineo the mount is revealed in full splendor.  The top is about 760 feet (45 sea kayak lengths) from lake level.  The sheer cliff must be at least 700 feet straight up and portions are concave.

It's hard to capture how grand it was:
The cliff alone against the sky:


A concave section with Mark for scale.
Can you even see my tiny yellow boat in this photo?
We did not know it at the time, but that small bay below the cliff is nearly 250 feet deep.

  Mt. Kineo is composed of rhyolite, a form of flint.  Flint from the mountain is found throughout New England and beyond, showing its value as a trade item to Native Americans.   A few pictures of the rock face close up:
A cedar clings to the cliff

Rocks at the base
  We stopped for lunch at Hardscrabble Point, a backcountry camp site with picnic tables, fire ring, pit toilet and space for several tents.  These sites are first-come, first-served and shortly after we left, we passed a dozen canoes headed there for the night.
At the campsite
   The rest of the paddle was upwind in choppy water, enlivened by views of hikers on the shoreline trail or heading up the hill. 

   Now you might think finally getting to Kineo,  sans two children would be a "Cats in the Cradle"  event. 
  But it wasn't, because that misadventure was not the end of paddling with our kids.  First one child then the other grew into individual kayaks.  Our trips shifted from short paddles on lakes and streams to short paddles on the sea, to visiting Ironbound and Isle au Haut.  Along the way we explored lighthouses and forts, sea caves and islands.  We've paddled with whales, dolphins, seals, alligators, manatees, and much more.  There were also non-kayak adventures: biking, hiking, museums, attractions, family, friends, school, scouts etc.  The years have gone by in a flash, but they were traded for some wonderful memories and two incredible adults with their own lives and interests.  
   Instead of being melancholy, we were thankful we'd had the opportunity to see another Maine marvel and looking ahead to our next adventure.

More information:  Hiking Mount Kineo
                             Backcountry Camping: Maine Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry
                             Mount Kineo Golf Course, Shuttle and Restaurant

Summary:  Launch:  Paved, about thirty spaces, half trailer length.  Pit Toilets.  Distance, 7.8 miles, about 3 hours with 3 stops.  Moosehead Lake is a part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
Greenville (another community on Moosehead Lake) Police on ATV patrol

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

200 Years Ago - War Sails Up the Penobscot: The Battle of Hampden.

   Saturday morning, September 3, 1814 was an anxious one for the 550 men stationed by Hampden Academy.  They were there to defend the USS Adams, a damaged vessel which was currently down near where Souadabscook flows into the Penobscot.  That the 228 men who crewed the Adams had set up cannons along the wharf and on the high bluff overlooking the river and loaned their muskets to the volunteers was scant comfort.  The task of the local forces was to guard the solitary road against land attack.

   The Penobscot Bay Region had fallen to British control in the Revolutionary War.  In August of 1779 the Bangor region had seen the tail end of the failure of the Penobscot Expedition, when a few American ships had tried, unsuccessfully, to escape by making their way up the river. The region had remained under partial British control/blockade through the end of the Revolutionary War.

    In this new war, the War of 1812, one of Britain's goals was to shift the borders of the U.S., from the current St. Croix River to the Penobscot.  In addition to giving the British access to the timber in the area it would even the southern line of British territory, so it was easier to move between Halifax Nova Scotia and Quebec City.

    It had been raining through the night while militia gathered from the surrounding towns to serve under the command of General Blake of Brewer.  Even as they arrived to defend the road, They were aware that the British had recently claimed Castine and Belfast, and many felt resistance was futile. 

   Meanwhile, three miles south at Bald Hill Cove, the 750 British soldiers who'd disembarked the night before began  the march north. On the river the Britsh squadron set sail, continuing in their practice of firing shots to warn of the size of the advancing squadron. 

  It was between 7and 8 AM when the British Troops arrived at Pitcher Brook (now Reeds Brook) at the base of the hill where the militia was positioned.  At the time, a narrow bridge crossed the stream, but Pitcher Brook is a small stream, and it's likely the British could have marched through it easily.

  As the British came up on Pitcher Brook, the militia, led by Lt. Lewis, opened fire.  Two British soldiers were killed, but the rest marched on.
Pitcher Brook passes under the road by the guard rail.  Usually, the sharp dip creates more of a slow down than the stream flow.  There is a building roof at wire height which is about where the militia set up.

  The militia on the hill made a rapid assessment of the approaching troops; the gleaming bayonets and uniforms appearing through the fog and mist.  No doubt they could hear the blasts coming from the Penobscot River as well.  Either in fear or rational judgement, the line broke.  Men shed their arms and fled swiftly, in some cases swimming across the Souadabscook rather than waiting to cross the narrow bridge there. 

  North of the brief battle, by the pier, Capt Morris had seen the British squadron headed north.  He began firing upon them, until signaled from his men on the ridge that the militia had fled.  Realizing the hopelessness of his condition,, Captain Morris gave the command to spike the cannons remaining and sink the U.S.S. Adams.  Captain Morris and his crew quickly departed the area and hiked a trail from Bangor to Canaan on the Kennebec River where they found transportation south.
Some Battle sites on Google Earth

   Many men were captured and held on the British prison ships overnight.  However, the town as a whole survived.  Windows were smashed, gardens ruined, livestock shoot and a bond demanded.  No doubt 1815 became the long, hard winter the residents had feared.   British maintained rule over the region until April 1815.

A few lighter tales from the Battle:

The Kinsley house, now owned by the Hampden Historical Society, was sought by Captain Barrie to use as his headquarters.  He sent officers to her house to "request" it's use.  As they approached the house,  Mrs. Kinsley gathered the tools she had at hand, the slop buckets and chambers pots from the upstairs and, with the assistance of her maids, threw them out the window upon the officer.  One officer was later heard to remark, that if the militia had been under Mrs. Kinsley's command, Hampden would be celebrating a victory.

The children of Hampden were gathered and led away to a house on Cold Brook for protection.  However the housing there was decidedly inferior.  Girls were bedded in the kitchen, boys in the hayloft, and meals consisted of nothing but cold potatoes.  The next day the children were brought back to their parents, feeling their treatment at the hands of the British could be no worse.

  Those are cute stories, but it must have been a very trying time.  The records of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia records this quote from the British Captain, Richard Barrie in response to a request for common safeguards of humanity, "I have none for you.  My business is to burn, sink and destroy.  Your town is taken by storm and by the rules of war, we ought both to lay your village in ashes and put its inhabitants to the sword.  But I will spare your lives, though I don't mean to spare your homes."
(Maine was at the time still a part of Massachusetts.)

Hampden has never been very proud of the brief battle.  In a direct quote from Historical Sketches of Hampden:  "For years Hampden's militia bore the majority of the blame, since several officers and three militia companies raised in Hampden were present at the battle.  A look at the records, however, will show that the militia companies of Bangor, Brewer, Dixmont, Eddington, and Orrington ran as quickly, as fast and as far as Hampden's."

And interestingly, this was not the end for the USS Adams:
On the Penobscot, by the mouth of the Souadabscook.  The pier is about where the wharf would have been.

Pretty much dead low looking south, the ship probably would have been somewhere in this area, depending on if hull work was still being done. 
               The U.S.S. Adams remained on the bed of the Penobscot River for fifty-six years; its copper sheathing quickly salvaged, but the rest undamaged.  It’s hard to imagine that forty-six years of ice freezing and thawing and high spring run-offs didn’t destroy the ship completely, but in 1870 she was raised.  Her thick oak hull was relatively undamaged and sent to Boston for repairs.  She would spend another 40 years as a Navy sailing trainer ship, sailing all over the world before being retired in 1920.  



Perhaps it is not surprising that Hampden has not chosen to officially celebrate the bicentennial of the battle - though it seems like the perfect occasion for a cross-country race (heading north).  

Sources:  A Call to Arms Celebrations Re-enactment of Battle at Hampden August 22,23,24 1980
Historical Sketches, Hampden Maine 1767-1976 Hampden Historical Society 1976.
Battle of HampdenUSS Adams 1799 Wikipedia
Sprague's Journal of Maine History 1914
Historic Shipwrecks of Penobscot Bay, Harry Gratwick History Press 2014
Maine Gravestones and Flags; Honoring our Heroes.  Emeric W. Spooner, 2010

Monday, September 1, 2014

200 Years Ago: War Sails up the River: USS Adams

      The U.S.S. Adams was a small frigate built in the Brooklyn NY in 1798.  Some sources reference it as the first ship built by the US Navy. It began its duties in the West Indies, protecting American shipping from French privateers.  After that, she served in the Mediterranean and along the US coast.
       Captain Charles Morris was given command of the U.S.S. Adams in 1813, and he was not impressed.  He felt it “insufficient for sea service” and was able to convince a naval board of his opinion.  The frigate spent several months being converted to a twenty-eight gun corvette, a process which included cutting the vessel in half and adding fifteen feet in length.  In January 1814, Captain Morris took command at the Washington Navy Yard.  His first challenge was to move the U.S.S. Adams through a British Blockade of Chesapeake Bay.   He then sailed to the south, where he captured three to five small merchantman brigs, before taking a break in Savannah in either April or May.  From there, the U.S.S. Adams next sailed to Ireland;  where additional ships were captured.  On the passage home, he was spotted and outran a total of three British frigates.
     Unfortunately, on August 17th, while passing off the Western Ear of Isle au Haut, the USS Adams struck Flat ledge.  They continued on their journey, but the presence of leaks indicated repairs were required.  So the U.S.S. Adams sailed up to Hampden, arriving on August 19th. 
      They did not arrive unnoticed - HMS Rifleman had spotted them.  The Adams had unfortunate timing with its accident as a few days later, August 26, a British squadron of battleships headed for Machias from Halifax, Nova Scotia. But hearing that the U.S.S. Adams was undergoing repairs, plans were quickly changed.
      Instead of attacking Machias, the squadron added five additional British battleships to the force and sailed into Castine and Belfast's Harbors on September 1.  Both communities quickly surrendered to the superior force.  The British now bracketed Penobscot Bay to the north and south.  The U.S.S. Adams hadn't escaped, it had crawled into a deep trap.
Locations on Google Earth
     Almost immediately after capturing Castine,  a battleship, two sloops of war, a transport and various tenders  set sail  under the command of Captain Robert Barrie.  They were not silent as they headed up river, but randomly fired their guns, giving warning to those on shore of the strength of the force.   The battleship stopped at Frankfort Marsh.  By late Friday the remaining ships arrived at Bald Hill Cove where approximately 750 disembarked to camp.     

Low tide at Bald Hill Cove, but even then troops could land at the corner.

Five hundred militia, and thirty regular troops arrived in Hampden to defend the U.S.S. Adams.  The crew of the U.S.S. Adams moved nine guns to a high hill to assist with the defense.  Guns were placed on the wharf and  on the hill overlooking the river.  The militia set up their defense about a half mile south across from Hampden Academy and overlooking Pitcher Brook.  (Now Reeds Brook)  There they waited overnight, in the rain for the invasion.

Next post:  The battle!  (see next post for the ignominious conclusion)

On the Penobscot, by the mouth of the Souadabscook.  The pier is about where the wharf would have been
 


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ambajejus - Beautiful and Fascinating


   We were sitting in a motel room in Millinocket after a failed expedition to spot moose.  I flipped back and forth between some pages in my Delorme map book looking for a place to paddle.  Did we want to go up by Baxter State Park?  Head along the Golden Road ?  Drive along the East Branch of the Penobscot River?  Stick close to Millinocket?   My eyes scanned the map and noticed a scenic attraction symbol by a lake and the text "Ambajejus Boom House." (Note:  This was in my 2011 DeLorme, which I keep in the car; it was not in my 2004 version which I keep at home.)
I did a quick Google search:

"The Ambajejus Boom House River Driving Museum is housed in a 1906 vintage 1 ½ story building at the edge of Ambajejus Lake.  It was used to house river drivers who worked on the rivers and lakes bringing logs from the forests to the paper mill and has been restored to its original state.  It is comprised of a kitchen, parlor, dining area and bunkrooms and contains a vast collection of tools, equipment, photographs and hands-on displays representing the way life was during the years it was occupied by “Booming Out” crews.  Henry David Thoreau wrote of this spot at the mouth of the West Branch of the Penobscot River in his 1857 Trip Up River to Climb Katahdin.
The Boom House can be visited by way of boat or float plane.  The fee for this journey back in time is a moderate donation toward the upkeep of the museum."  
   (from Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce website)

   Now, I don't often go to lumbering museums, but a museum that I needed to boat to - how exclusive!  Looking at the map, the museum was about 3 miles from the launch across a large lake attached to an even larger lake.  Ambajesus (which may mean "eddy"  in Abenaki) is a part of the "Pemadumcook Chain of Lakes", which itself is a part of the West Penobscot River.   The Pemandumcook Chain of Lakes includes Ambajejus, Elbow, North Twin, Pemadumcook, and South Twin. Each is a large lake; altogether they are the fifth largest lake in Maine.  Generally I don't find large lakes fun to kayak.  Still, a museum on an island, in the north woods of Maine....

   The next morning what was supposed to be a quick scout for moose somehow became multiple hikes, multiple drives and still no moose.
Sandy Stream Pond, gorgeous, but no moose
   Near lunchtime we were sitting by Upper Togue Pond. (Delorme page 51), tired of hiking and discouraged by how much time we'd spent on a fruitless quest.  Upper Togue Pond is a small multi-lobed pond.  We watched some loons take off in flight and debated, kayaking here and just poking into the many coves.   It was tempting, but on Ambajejus we'd have a goal....

   So we drove back to the lake on Delorme page 43, to the launch in Spencer Cover.  Spencer Cove was lovely, spotted with islands, mountains ahead, mountains to the north, bounded by well-maintained houses.
   Our first surprise came as we rounded into Ambajesus Lake, and we saw what looked like a large sandstone formation.

   But we soon realized it was sawdust, left from a mill that was there 80 years ago.  Several times we'd driven by Saw Pile Rd.  Somehow I never imagined it was a huge saw pile by a lake.  
   Since its formation, it has been carved by the wind and made into homes for cliff swallows.

   A new sight for me, but as a child Mark once lived next door to a saw mill. He tells of fun times sledding down sawdust piles and building "forts" dug into the soft, fragrant material.

   My next surprise was a loon snorkeling.  It swam along at the surface with only his head below water.  I guess that's a more efficient way to look for fish, and is probably very common, but I hadn't seen it before.

   Soon it was time to cross to the Boom House - and here it is:

   And this is the sign on it.

   It's probably a pretty neat place, the rings placed on the nearby rocks are certainly huge.

  So you might think that not seeing a moose, and not having the museum be open I would have been totally depressed.   I was sad that this quixotic museum might have run into a problem beyond what voluntary contributions could cover.  But I was not upset that I'd spent the time paddling on Ambajesus.  After all, I'd seen two magical sights: the snorkeling loon and the saw pile.  The lake was lovely, the day perfect for paddling.  And when I'm looking for moose I have the nagging suspicion that I'm doing it wrong.  While I'm gazing out at Compass Pond, (where I've seen moose twice before) the moose are wandering through Pickerel Cove at Millinocket Lake; when I'm up by Sandy Stream Pond the moose have meandered over to Abol Pond; when I'm up in Millinocket moose are probably dancing on the sidewalks in Bangor.
Just a few minutes late to see this moose
 When the museum isn't open, it's not like it's branch has opened in downtown Millinocket.  The museum is still there.  Besides, with views like this throughout the paddle, how can you complain? 

More about the boom house.
Ambejejus Boom House pictures at Maine Memory Net
An interview with Chuck Harris, who restored the Boomhouse
Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce information on the Boomhouse
Digitized Article:  Making Paper in the North Woods
Penobscot River Corridor Camp sites

Summary:  About a seven mile trip, lots of parking, paved ramp, no facilities.