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.

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