Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Castine - Best Laid Plans

Basics: Parked at the town dock. Parking is available early in the morning, but only for three hours. Longer parking is available on some side streets and in a lot, for which directions are given at the site. Flush toilets. High 10:15 AM, launch 9, finish 11:45 9.75 miles.
It was the second Monday in a row we’d planned to paddle in Castine. Last Monday predictions of high winds and rain scared us off, this Monday was basically the same forecast. High winds, gray skies, some showers, but not consistent rain. Since last Monday the forecast was more ominous than reality we decided to risk a visit. We arrived before nine; Castine was tearing up several streets and also welcoming the Maine Maritime Class of 2014, many of whom were practicing marching through the town. Surprisingly parking was available.
Because winds were from the north, we decided to forgo our favorite area, out by Holbrook Island and instead paddle up the Bagaduce River. The Bagaduce has some narrow sections. Water does not compress, at narrow points it speeds up. We did not expect those would be a challenge, given the tide cycle, and they weren’t. But if you’re planning a trip along the Bagaduce, (which some claim means “tricky currents” in the native tongue) you should be wary of the narrows and current.
The wind on the river was less than 10 mph so we made good time paddling between the boats in the harbor, delighted by the gulls and cormorants which claimed mooring balls.

Assorted guillemots also swam about. It was surprising to see them so close to shore and far from cliffs.
In town the houses were jammed together, many shore houses are converted from former fishing shacks. By Hatch Cove we saw our first seal swimming along the surface, daring us to pull out the camera.
Just north of Hatch Cove is a fine estate on the land where Baron Castin, for whom the town is named, once lived. The huge white house stretches on, and looks like it could easily have accommodated Baron Castin and his four native wives, though they lived in a simple wood and daub house.

We went up past the Negro Islands, Lower Negro is owned by the conservation trust of Brooksville, Castine and Penobscot. It is a MITA island allowing access. Upper Negro is privately owned and allows no access. The Negro’s are thought to have derived their name because they were used as way stations on the underground railroad. Fishing ships sailing from Castine delivered cod to the plantations in the south and frequently picked up stowaways headed north. From Castine the slaves would travel to Brewer and on north to Quebec. Lower Negro has seen no inhabitation in over 100 years. Upper Negro has at least two small cottages on it, whose residents often decorate the beaches with stone designs.
The Brooksville side tended toward more wild landscape. The Castine side had many huge estates, plainly this is where the resident who wanted land settled. Overall our journey was quite pretty, the gray skies meant the sea water was green, still quite clear.

Grindle’s Eddy is filled with moored boats. The water in the narrows beyond Grindle’s Eddy was moving swiftly, but looked to be under three knots, so we continued, riding the currents and watching as eddies bubbled up around us.
We paddled around the lobster shaped Young’s Island.

The rocks by the island were filled with cormorants, also terns, laughing gulls, herring gulls and ring bill gulls.

Then it was time to make our way back. We were always conscious of the time passing, not wanting to exceed our allotted three hours. It was a pleasant trip, but the real joy of the Bagaduce is in the current, especially at the narrows. We should have parked elsewhere so we could have spent more time in North Bay, perhaps visiting Battle Island, another MITA island, while we let the downstream current build for a wonderful cruise downstream.
No report on Castine is complete without a link to Castine Kayak, which offers many kayaking adventures always timed perfectly.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stillwater River

Basics: Stillwater River launching from the campus power plant parking lot. Parking plentiful when college is not in session. Portapottie.

Two kayaks run into a bar, or more accurately a ledge. Sounds like a tidal joke. But it’s also a description of paddling in the low water on Stillwater. Running into a ledge again and again. For a clear still river, it probably put a year’s wear on the boats.
We launched from the emergency boat ramp by the power plant. The ramp is new, installed sometime after 2006, and is closed by a locked gate. The gate bears a sign stating not to block the ramp. (It does not forbid it’s use by hand-carried boats.)
We headed upstream first, admiring the little red flowers.

Up by the dam was a flock of geese. Not a small flock, a huge flock, well over one hundred geese, far more than I’d want on my river.
Mostly we stayed away from the geese, these few were on our side.
The dam looked almost dry, but there was a sheen of water flowing over it.

I hear that water levels are near drought conditions due to the warm, dry weather we’ve been enjoying this summer. The low water levels made it much easier to explore this close to the dam. However there is a warning posted.

We poked between the islands where I spotted what looked like a house built of planks underwater.

I tried a few times to get a picture of it, with no luck. But it did appear that the islands were built up a waste lumber, the trim and bark slices from sawmills located upstream. In 1886 George Varney gives the following description of sawmills in Old Town “On these different powers are four large mills for long lumber, three for shingles and short lumber, and a grist-mill. The size of these mills will be apprehended better by an enumeration of saws. In 1870 two blocks of mills here formerly owned by Samuel Veazie, contained 14 single saws, 5 tang, 3 shingle, 2 clapboard and 4 lath mills. These usually run about seven months in the year, manufacturing in that time, 25,000,000 feet of long lumber, 4,500,000 shingles, 1,000,000 clapboards, 13,500,000 laths, pickets, etc. There are also three steam saw-mills. The smaller manufactures consist of two barrel factories, a batteaux, a brush-wood, a sample case, a saw-filing machine, and an oar factory, together with the handicraft work usually found in our villages.”
The unexpected sound of a jackhammer appeared through the woods, and a short ways on we saw men working on the dam and the temporary spillway they’d created.

Here’s a joke that’s always funny, when you are riding in an air conditioned car with an outside thermometer you can note the temperature, “Gee, it’s 89 degrees.” Then add, “Funny, it doesn’t feel like it.”
Another joke which is always funny is to gather apples from the stream then throw the apple and yell “fish” or “seal.” So when I heard the splash beside me I turned to see the apple. Instead I saw a six inch long fish making a second leap, convinced I was a large dolphin in pursuit and its very life dependent was on escaping over the ledge.
Continuing along the Orono town side we passed a number of turtles. Eventually, we paddled over one foot round white ball solidly on the bottom. Perhaps one time it was a fine addition to a post greeting a road.
Under the bridge and by an island labeled as a wildlife refuge. I can’t find any references to the refuge online, perhaps it is a refuge defined by the hydroelectric company.

The island warned of the upcoming dam, but a passing canoe assured us we would have no troubles with the current should we round the island. That is probably different when the water is high. Shortly beyond that are the buoys warning of the falls.

So it was time to turn around and head back to the start. On the way back we elected the passage through the island.

And all through the journey, unexpectedly we’d hit ledge, the ledge is dark, the same color as the river bottom, so it’s not quite as unobservant as it might sound. Still, I guess its a warning to be more alert than us.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Searsport to Steeles Ledge

Basics: 7.75 miles. Launch 9:40. Back 12:40. Low 7:02 high 12:22. Large lot, nearly empty. Two portapotties.

Route 1 in Searsport is a narrow road, bounded by multiple stores and the Penobscot Marine Museum. Cars and pedestrians crossing traffic cause traffic slowdowns and tie ups. But at least while I’m waiting I have many wonderful old sea captains’ homes to admire. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s Searsport provided 10% of the worlds sea captains.
But shortly off Route 1, down Steamboat Avenue is an entirely different neighborhood, one made up of cottages and summer homes from the 1920’s and 30’s. Accented with a long beach, large fishing pier and Poppy’s Weiner Wagon, the Searsport boat launch is a throwback to a simple seaside vacation.
Our goal for the day was to paddle down to what our chart labeled as “Steets Ledge (Abandoned Lighthouse.)” But don’t get your hopes up; unlike the abandoned forts of Portland Harbor, this was merely a granite pile, more of a day marker.
Two issues would delay our progress though. First, I was unwisely allowed to carry the camera, which meant constant stops while I attempted to capture a shot. And second the bottom was visible, meaning there were not only starfish and sea urchins to spot, but a pair of evenly matched crabs fighting stomach to stomach to observe. Then there were the huge boulders far out from shore. Were they 5 feet below the surface; which would make them ideal as rest spots when swimming, or further? Hard to tell in clear water.
Just a slight breeze from the south. We’d been down a few weeks earlier for a quiet evening paddle and were surprised to see pretty big waves built up from the southwest winds. It made the paddle far more adventurous, but also cut it shorter, as paddling in the dark under choppy conditions wasn’t something we wanted to do.
We paddled by a fine private granite pier attached to a magnificent grey shingled mansion, which stretched across the cliff in an abundance of rooms with perfectly positioned windows.

Shortly after that was Searsport Shores Campground. To one side trailers lined up side by side, the campers sitting outside on chairs admiring their fine view, on the other side tents were scattered beneath a lovely forest canopy, though there as well the campers were out admiring the view. Searsport Shores is memorable to us as one of the locations we stayed in on our bike trip through Maine right after college graduation.
Several more traditional and modern versions of cottages filled the shore line, though I mostly watched the underwater scenery roll by; boulders bracketed by quahog, razor and soft shelled clam shells, with the occasional scuttling creature. The next landmark on shore was Moose Point, a state park with a wonderful oceanside trail.

About then the wind died down completely and the sea was like a lake of mercury reflecting the sky. More photos were needed!

We paddled past a huge new house, inexplicably designed to look like a soulless motel with two stories and two wings of identical standard sized windows gathered in groups of three. Next, out to Steet ledge, crowned by a happy seagull. We paused by the ledge to enjoy a snack, and admire the distant views of Belfast. Mark had forgotten his water, so he opened my hatch to get the spare water. Unfortunately the spare water was only half full. I’d guessed I wouldn’t need it. Belfast Harbor was busy, with sailboats moving out in a steady stream.
I tried to look up the history of the lighthouse on line and see if I could find a photo of it. After much fruitless research I figured out that the chart had an error on it, the monument was actually on “Steele’s Ledge” not “Steets Ledge.” A pier was built on Steele’s Ledge in 1828. The light is noted as being built in 1912, and they guessed that it was deactivated in 1980. I suspect it was never a lighthouse but an automated light on the granite base.
(UPDATE I visited the Belfast Historical Society and saw a picture of the light in 1912. It looked much the same. Their records shore an initial monument was built in 1828 and eventually washed out in a storm, as was a subsequent structure. The most recent monument was built in 1888 abd topped off after that date with the cylinder.)
After a quick drink we looked back to the peak, which was now crowned with a cormorant.

There was a ladder to north side, so in theory we too could have climbed the granite pile, and challenged the cormorant for top view. But even sitting in our boats we were surrounded by dozens of small flies. Small flies which probably thrived in the “slice” covered environment of the monument. So, no thanks.

It was back to shore, near the ledge, and a couple of the charming older seaside cottages that I can dream are affordable.

Another campground filled with lucky RVs claiming oceanfront, then two collections of sweet rental cabins. We stopped again in the shade of Moose Point, for what was supposed to be a quick reapplication of sunscreen and some moisture laden vegetables.

I was going to resist chips, due to the water issue. But their temptation was too great, and before we left, most of the good food was gone. I gave the camera back to Mark, which should have increased our speed, but I kept coming across clear plastic; zip lock or bread bags. I hate to let those drift on until some poor animal confuses them with a jellyfish, and they are never visible at a distance. So every time I’d paddle past spy it only at the last minute when it was too late to grab, then need to stop, back up and search for the garbage, usually floating just below the surface. It wasn’t like there was tons of garbage, but I did collect 4 bags/wrappers, a plastic bottle and a broken plastic pail in the two mile distance. Our usual garbage tally on Penobscot Bay; 0-2 items.
Nevertheless, we eventually made it back to Searsport.

On this Friday noon the parking area was busier, but hardly full. I suspect it’s only completely full for the lobster boat races, which are held in July.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Stockton Springs to Sears Island ME – Bunch o'birds

Basics: Launch Stockton Springs: Easily parking for twenty SUVs with trailers, another thirty cars. Portapottie, inside flush toilet with a nice view of the harbor, picnic tables, grills, playground. Launch about 8:45AM, finish about noon. 8 miles. High 12:08. More about the harbor.
The boat launch at Stockton Springs is charming and delightful. The town has put a lot of work into the facilities; upgrading the dock, adding moorings, putting in benches, tables and a playground, adding the wonderful bathroom. It’s usually a very quiet launch site. The launch leads to a protected area, the town to the north, Cape Jellison along the east and Sears Island to the west. It’s not ideal for all weather, but it is usually less challenging than other locations.
We often launch here to catch low tide, the bottom here is sandy offering a home to sand dollars and other creatures. If we land at the erratic on Sears Island which in line with the green can we can often find sand dollar husks, but only at the lowest tides.

Today low tide came too early, we launched mid tide. And with a wind from the north we knew we’d make quick time along Cape Jellison.
We cruised out by the pilings, custom made to display cormorants,

and along the wonderful beach down to the tiny island at the end, often a nesting site for osprey and or eagles. In addition to Gulls and Cormorants, birds we spotted on our way south were terns, loons and a few guillemots in the muted gray feathering of the young. Then it was across to Sears Island. Sears Island is the largest unpopulated island off the Maine coast. I love it as a paddling and hiking destination, but the state wants to preserve its right to put a dock facility in. Enjoy the freedom of Sears Island while you can.
You can hike around Sears Island when the tide is low, as it comes in there are a couple of spots, one here by the iron outcropping, another not far from the causeway to the west which fill up and become impassible.

We paddled north along Sears Island, taking time to check out the nests on the loading dock. Next it was over to the GAC facility, and the cormorants there.

In the background you can see the causeway to Sears Island, always a popular locations for birders, hikers, and dog walkers.
On the way across the cove we passed through a gathering of laughing gulls, mature and immature. Lively birds, their antics in flight would entertain us all along the north shore.

We heard eiders in the distance and could see a small raft of eiders heading to the center. Closer to shore a common merganser and her brood of over a dozen swam along. Then there was this bird; a yellow legs? A upland sandpiper? (We can't claim to be experts, or even good, at bird identification.)

In the northeast corner a couple lobster boats were drawn up on shore. They seemed to have been recently painted, but mostly were fading into landscape.
We went under the West Cape Rd Bridge into a back bay.

(taken from in the back bay, looking back to open water)
It’s always a little bit foolish to do things like that; the current which takes you under the bridge may prevent you from coming out, or the water may rise too high to allow safe exit.

But near high, we didn’t have much trouble and we found a pretty little area with lots of crows, but no shore birds.
Then it was back to the launch, in time to see groups arriving to enjoy the lunch facilities.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bar Harbor to the Hop (Maine)

Low 10:30AM, launch 9AM, back 11:40AM, 8 miles. Launched from the Bar for which Bar Harbor is named, off Bridge Street. The Bar is dry at lower tides, but will become completely submerged as the tide rises. No parking on Bridge Street, parking along West Street (more likely early in the day.) No facilities, we like the restrooms on Thompson Island. Our trip: Bar Harbor to the Hop, past Bar Island, Sheep Porcupine, Burnt Porcupine, Rum Key, and Long Porcupine.
Happy are those who take a kayak tour out of Bar Harbor. In just a short distance they can be paddling by impressive rock formations and landing on quiet beaches. Those able to cross the busy channel will find even more dramatic cliffs and striking views.
But, for those not on tour, be warned that it’s a lot easy to find a parking space at 8:40 than it is later on. (We took this trip on a Monday, so our observations don’t reflect busier weekend conditions) Though, with the cycle of the lowering tide, we could have left our car on the bar and come back to it. This is always a busy area, when we launched there was a smallish group loading into tandems, before we launched we were joined by a larger group which arrived by bus. On such a glorious day, in this incredible summer, there was no reason not to be on the water.

We paddled around the back of Bar Island, but on the cliff sides of the Porcupines. We met another group which may have launched from town, heading around Sheep Porcupine. They had children in some of the doubles and I wondered if they would try the channel crossing to Burnt Porcupine, or if they would stick to quieter waters. Sheep to Burnt is a long crossing, and often a busy one. It shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. A Green Can marks the channel.

Sometimes we’re able to poke into keyholes and other inlets on Burnt Porcupine, but not today. There was an odd surging, a combination from the low tide and slight swells which made entering unwise.
Guillemots love the cliffs of the Porcupines, they nest in the cracks. We saw one fly to its home on Long Porcupine, just a tiny dark spot, no chicks were visible.

More visible was the iconic Seagull on a Rock (SoaR), always an evocative picture.

We were alone for much of the paddle, but not at the Hop where an motorized inflatable arrived just as we did. We both got out with cameras to take pictures of the area. They followed a path to the top of the Hop, but we stick mainly to tombola and sea life there.

We headed back along the opposite sides of the outer islands (to land at the Bar at low tide, it’s best to keep to the north side of Bar Island). A guide with two sports passed us heading out to the Hop, a smallish group or kayaks was on Rum Key, two groups of kayaks were on different beaches on Burnt Porcupine. Many of the kayakers were spread along the shoreline looking for treasures in the low tide. In that way they were not unlike the many seagulls we see, who feast at low tide. Off Burnt Porcupine a Diver Ed’s big Starfish Enterprise sat while the audience reviewed treasures of the deep. A pair of old Wilderness Systems Sealutions were visible on Bar Island, and a second set quite a ways behind. Since Sealutions haven’t been manufactured in years we wondered about their source.
Arriving back the Bar was jammed with walkers, a trailer load of boats was pulling away, another set getting ready to launch, a pair of rented Old Towns clattered off the roof of a SUV and were ready to launch. In a short while all those kayaks would be off shore as well, enjoying the beauty of the islands against the dramatic backdrop of the Acadia Mountains. No parking spaces remained on the street.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Not our Best Idea: Hampden to Bangor Maine

Trip basics: Evening: High 6:53, Launch 7, finish 8:30 From Hamlin Marina to Bangor. 6 miles. Lots of Parking, Flush Toilets and Dana's Grill on site.

Probably not our best idea; paddling out on a stormy evening into a mix of rowdy concert attendees.
We’d paddled up by the Celtic Women concert last week, and planned to do the same for the Lynyrd Skynyrd/Charlie Daniels concert. Not to steal a free listen. More just to have a destination, a reason to be out at night. But where the Celtic Women concert was attended by 3,000, 10,000 were expected for this concert.
It was a gray evening. We’d watched the weather on two stations before coming out. The first weatherman had mentioned it was not raining yet for the concert, then their on-the-spot reporter talked of possible rain and thunderstorms. But the weatherman never talked about the evening weather, instead he went on to mention several times how nice the weather would be for the Saturday Arts Festival. The second station was more helpful, that weatherman pointed to rain moving north of Bangor and a storm over Augusta which might break up or get worse as it headed this way, he didn’t know. But he didn’t think there would be any lightening.
I took my Vaag, my life jacket with marine radio for weather updates. I’d lost my rain hat earlier in the year, and forgot my regular hat. Fortunately I have an emergency hat in my gear. I had my regular flashlight and a headlamp. Mark also packed a head lamp and regular flashlight.
Hamlin Marine was as full of boat trailers as we’ve ever seen it, and multiple motor boats were lined up to launch. Coolers of beer were being carried on board, and one boat sported a huge Rebel flag.
“Stick close to shore,” Mark reminded me, unnecessarily. I already had that in mind. Plus ours was just a run up and down, by the time the concert was out and the partying boats headed home, we planned to be long gone.
The humidity was thick, thick as fog on the water, another reason to stay close to shore. But the sky looked relatively clear.
The trip was uneventful, no eagles or beavers to be seen, a steady stream of boats heading north.
We met a paddler headed south. He was in a fiberglass boat and had a short quick stroke like racers use. He wished us well at the concert.
We were up under the bridge at 7:25, and started to hear music just past the asphalt cement tanks. The boats were mostly harbored in Concert Cove, that area just south of the pier where the music flows clearly on to the river. There were a few pairs of boats, but mostly the boats sat alone. And there was one other paddled boat, a canoe parked alongside an aluminum skiff. There were perhaps 20 boats on the water, anchored boats were far outnumbered by the audience in Brewer lined up along the sidewalk and grassy banks.
A friendly woman confirmed it was the Charlie Daniel Band we were hearing. I never recognized a song, but they were pretty loud, much easier to hear than Celtic Woman. In fact the woman said when the band started up she saw groundhogs popping out of the ground in reaction to the bass vibrations.

We paddled through the cove and along the harbor, then began our trip home. Many of the boats seemed more focused on their own private parties than the music. Their conversations continued on through the songs, and were nearly as loud. They could just have easily put the band on a CD. I suspect for many, like us, it was more an excuse to be out than a real interest in the band. Or maybe they were just waiting for Lynyrd Skynyrd and the chance to yell “Freebird!”
We didn’t linger, heading back into the wind, a much pleasanter paddle than the trip up. As we went by Hollywood Slots we saw a couple standing out on the roof.
No beavers on the way down, but a bat which circled about the boat no doubt confused by its radar signals. With the twilight we’d turned our lights on, rear facing lights on the back of the boat. We figured we were leaving well ahead of the other boats, but a few boats passed us, like us just wandering by. Other boats were still heading up to Bangor, as we landed one boat was coming in, another being launched.