Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cobscook Bay/Lubec

Underwater scene on Pope's Island.

Scalloper (?) at Cobscook Bay

Basics: State Launch off South Edmunds Road, Edmunds TWP. Lots of parking, outhouse, paved ramp, dock. Launch 11:40 AM Finish 3:40PM, High 3:40PM. 9 miles.
State Launch/dock on Washington St, Lubec. Limited parking, there is a second lot though. No facilities. Launch 8AM, Finish 11AM, Low 10:30AM

Cobscook Bay looks like a tiered cookie display, two curved thin layers of water with a divided stem up the middle. Through that narrow stem runs enough water to give the area a 22 foot tidal range. With all that water flowing through, it is no surprise that at the biggest squeeze point, Reversing Falls in Pembroke, the current can reach over 10 knots.
A few years ago we paddled Cobscook Bay just after low tide, delighting in the variety of seaweed and sea life exposed by the massive tide. I spotted a sea cucumber and a young flounder caught in a tidal pool. This time though, I thought we might try high tide, allowing us to explore the edges of the bay.
My preference is to paddle narrow sections on an incoming tide, that way, if I do run into trouble I should be pushed back to my start. Reversing Falls is the worst of the squeeze points, but a look at the chart shows it is not the only narrow area. I think it is also important to launch from an all tide ramp, which means avoiding the ramp in south Whiting Bay which is surrounded by acres of mud at low. We used the ramp off S. Edmunds Rd.

It was hot when we launched, close to 90, but on the water cooling breezes, even if slight, from the ocean helped make it bearable.
We began by crossing Whiting Bay, heading for the reversing falls. Mid tide it would be flowing too fast for us to paddle against but we wanted to see it.
At a ledge below Raft Cove we crossed, letting the rushing water shove us back into the bay, just worrying about getting to the north side. Once through the current, we rode a convenient back eddy to the Reversing Falls, a town park in Pembroke. Beaching the boats we joined a young family staring at the rushing water and the incredible views out to the ocean.
The outlet of Reversing Falls as viewed from the back eddy.
Looking up toward Eastport.
Then we took off to explore Dennys Bay, paddling along Wilbur Neck. As we did, the breezes blowing in our face alternated between hot and cool, depending on the temperature of the water/land nearby. I guess in the photo below it was pretty hot, and we're moving pretty slowly.

One thing I learned is the chart may be optimistic when it shows green breaks in Wilbur Neck. Those breaks were not passable within an hour of high and I suspect not passable except at spring tides (full and new moon tides.)
Along the route we saw seals and sea birds, and not many boats.

Our goal was a small island just north of the neck. The island is a part of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. After a break in the shade of the island, and, being fairly hot, we basically traced a direct line due south to the launch. As we paddled behind Williams Island (also known as Hallowell), a Maine Coastal Heritage Trust property, we were surprised to find current going against us. Not a lot of current, but a knot or two, surprising since we were now near high tide.
The remainder of the trip was into a headwind, while the sun baked our right sides. It was over 90 degrees when we got off the water, and we were hot and sticky from when we’d dipped to try to cool off. We were badly dehydrated, even though we drank lots of water. The tide was just about high when we landed.
Cobscook Landing at High Tide
That evening we headed to Lubec, easternmost town in Maine. I planned to call ahead to the one motel I had a listing for and discovered that there is no cell service in that corner of Maine.
Fortunately Eastland Motel had openings, and the wireless internet we needed. It also had an enthusiastic proprietress who identified a half dozen trails we needed to hike and named several restaurants we needed to try. The room was large and had a refrigerator.
Downtown Lubec is where we headed for dinner, settling on Cohill’s Inn, which did not have an outside deck, but a wall of windows giving a beautiful view of the launch and a charming island less than a half mile off shore. A picture by the window labeled the island and identified the eagle's nest. Binoculars were placed conveniently nearby. But as the eagles had fledged, we used the binoculars to watch six or seven seals playing in the rushing waters of Lubec Narrows.
As we ate our delicious dinners, salmon salad for me, steak salad for Mark, we debated our next paddle. When we planned this trip we thought we would do two trips on Cobscook Bay; one at low tide so we could paddle around Falls Island, (or perhaps an hour and half later, depending on when the current would allow us through.) But right outside our window was water we’d never paddled in before. I hoped it would have only cool ocean breezes. Plus we could start earlier in the morning since we weren’t trying to be at the tidal falls at exactly low. Besides, the tides were just as low in Lubec.
We continued the debate while we went to West Quoddy Lighthouse (eastern-most point of the US!) where we saw no whales, no porpoises, no seals, but did get to enjoy a 62 degree evening, 30 degrees cooler than when we'd finished paddling just three hours earlier.

Next morning we found ourselves back in Lubec at the launch on Washington St, limited parking, no facilities. I don’t know where public restrooms are in Lubec.
We did have a chart though. On our trip a few years earlier we’d stayed in Eastport and had made a chart of a cove we might paddle. But we’d hiked instead. Fortunately the chart extended as far as Lubec.
Visual survey first, there didn’t appear to be much current in Johnson Bay.
The ramp had a lot of slippery seaweed growing on it, particularly near the bottom. But Mark had faith in his Escape, so he pulled right down. We’d prearranged all our gear to limit our time on the ramp.

Our first target was Pope Island, just a short distance off shore. The rocky shoreline of Pope Island was covered in mussels, urchins and starfish with scattered limpets and whelks. On the back side of Pope we saw the first of many sighting ranges used to help boats align themselves in the tricky currents. The sighting ranges are two bright triangles, set some distance apart used to tell if you’re moving in a straight line or being pushed to the left or right. Below the first range is clearly visible, the second is a small white dot in by the trees.

Then it was over to Dudley, where we spotted the two mature eagles.

Around the backside of Dudley I spotted a sign which I went ashore to read. The sign was blank, however there was a “Welcome” brick by a fire and a mailbox which contained a notebook inviting us to use the island gently, leaving no trace and limiting fires to the ring. Around the fire ring were several decorations.

Above is the view from Dudley over to Seward Neck. From Dudley we went along Treat, the two islands are joined through much of the tide cycle. Below shows the tombolo, as well as a set of range markers.

Several times I saw a commotion in the water, once close enough that I could see the small mackerel which were stirring up the water. It seemed like a great site for fishing. We made the crossing to Estes Head, Eastport and a particularly creepy old industrial building.

Eastport’s beach had a sandy bottom, covered in sand dollars.

We peeked around the corner at Eastport proper (easternmost city in Maine!) and saw the red masted schooner Sylvina Beal heading out on a whale watch. Having been on that trip , I can say with some confidence: “bring a warm winter coat.”
On the trip back we paddled on the west side of the islands, passing by Burial Island, Treat, Gull and Dudley. Burial was a stark, nearly soilless island. The appropriately named Gull, the type of island you can find in the dark. There were fish pens in the water, but not as many as our charts had indicated and some strange equipment, no doubt used in aquaculture on some rafts. (Note back half of range marker on Treat I. )

Back to Pope. I hope in this photo to capture the array of seaweed which thrives in the waters of Cobscook Bay, lime green, maroon, blue green, all different colors and shapes.

There is talk of harvesting seaweed from these waters. I am with those who would like to see studies done of the time for regrowth and other effects.
The current was now incoming at the narrows, so we felt safe paddling against it as far as the Franklin Bridge to Canada. It was neat to be paddling someplace and think – right side United States, Left side Canada.
The Bay was quieter than we’d thought, just a few boats out. The currents were always present, but weren’t too bad (we were very careful around any Narrows though). We enjoyed seeing the new route and paddling between the two cities. And someday, we’ll be back to explore more.

Cobscook Trail
Lubec to Eastport


  1. How lovely to discover a blogger in Maine! It will be wonderful to get a dose of outdoor adventures in the places I love when I'm missing them. So happy you found my blog!

  2. I'm looking forward to your posts and your incredible photos! : )