Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Window of Opportunity – Sears Island Maine

Yes, it really was this gray and dark midday.  Far in the distance the slot between Isleboro and mainland appears
Basics: Launch 1PM finish 2:30PM Low 12:30. 5.5 miles. Launch from the causeway. Lots of parking, portapottie. No ramp. Steep climb or long twisting portage required.
Launch, either down beside the fence, or through the barriers to the distant info sign (by road) and along trail.
Monday, Bangor set a new high, 57 degrees. The couple inches of rain that fell kept most people from enjoying the warmth though. But on Tuesday, though it was cooler, it was still about 40 degrees, and we planned to take advantage of it. The snowmelt and rain meant that the path to the Penobscot was a slippery clay mess, and the river was a fast moving amalgamation of muddy water and deadwood.

However, the marine forecast was not ideal; winds 10-15 knots with gusts to 20 from the south west and seas of 5 to 6 feet. Under more benign temperatures, we’ve paddled under those conditions, but we had no intent of taking on that challenge in December. So we made our plans accordingly. Our thought: Sears Island. Sears Island is one of the largest unoccupied island on the main coast. (Though since it is connected by a causeway, whether it is technically still an island is subject to debate.) Maine has looked to use Sears Island as a marine terminal for decades. For just as long, others have protested against it. Currently plans call for a marine terminal to be put in, and part of the island preserved as open space. But for now, it’s like a great undeveloped lot, 940 acres beloved by bird watchers and dog walkers.

Most people walk along the one road which leads to a stone pier. If you time the tides correctly, you can walk all the way around Sears Island. The south side is rough cobble beach and near high, you may need either to wade, or to bushwhack a bit.
These ledges on the east side are one spot where you'd get wet at high tide
Since Sears Island has beach all the way around it, there are frequent bail points. We used to think of it as an ideal location for (strong) beginning sea kayakers. We were corrected on that impression by a pair of friends who noted that they’d seen horrible wild water and breaking waves on the south west side. A look at the chart shows how that could happen.
East Arrow marks sand dollar beach (search at low tide in the summer) West arrow is jetty (hopefully)
To the south west shallow water (blue) extends out a half mile or more. Along that same side, there is a stretch which is not protected by Isleboro (that slot is pictured in the first photo.) So, especially in the summer, when winds tend to come from the south, paddlers could easily be surprised by wild chop in that area. And, sure enough, a few trips later we found ourselves in confused water along that shore, whose many rocks certainly adds stress to the experience.

Our plan was to use the island as a wind break, paddling along the east side to sand dollar beach and back. And we also made plans in case the “calm” side was too active, we brought jeans and hiking shoes, so we could substitute a hike for the paddle.
Fortunately, when we got there, it was very calm, as we’d hoped. The wind was below 10 knots. We donned drysuits and PFDs, outfitted our boats with rescue gear and toted them down the hill. It’s slightly easier to carry kayaks down the east side, there is a narrow trail, the cars park beyond the guard rail, and there’s a chain link fence to clutch as you climb down.

Being on the water was incredible, even if the sky, water and beach were a uniform gray. Once we made it to sand dollar beach, we felt comfortable going further, to the rocky strewn south shore.
Almost exactly half way 'round
Though the wind was from the southwest, the angle was such that the seas were small, 1 to 2 feet. All along the west shore patches of seaweed extend out, and as the light was improving and colors other than gray appearing, a few times I ducked into the seaweed to take advantage of how it damped out waves.
Jetty where the road leads.  Behind it hints of a meadow and hardwood forest
We saw a number of birds, a variety of gulls, eiders, pintails and mergansers. Across from the jetty is the active marine terminal of Mack Point.
I can't wait until boats this size are on Sear's Island! -)
Soon we were back at the causeway, ready for our final challenge, carting boats up and over the guardrail.
Mark approaches the causeway. 
One more boat to carry up, one more memory of a wonderful paddle!

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