Friday, July 15, 2011

Beals Island Maine

Basics: Launch Beals Island, Alternative Jonesport. Moderate parking, tough ramp at low tide. Portapottie. Best paddle for mid to late summer, on a Sunday. Launch 9AM, finish 1:30PM low 1:30PM, 11.8 miles

6:30AM on a Sunday and I was up and ready to go. We were headed to Beals island, a site we visited first last winter while checking out their giant Trap Tree. The water off Beals looked so inviting, full of islands and ledges, surrounded by an archipelago that we knew we wanted to head back in the summer to paddle. But it also looked like a serious lobstering community, traps piled high in every yard. The ramp lots were small enough that we didn’t want to interfere with anyone who needed parking. So we planned a trip for Sunday, a day when traditionally little lobstering is done (though there are no rules about not lobstering on Sunday).
We used all of our guide books to help plan our adventure, but especially Kayaking the Maine Coast, by Dorcas Miller, which does a great job of describing island ownership. She also reminded us that fog was a significant risk in the area, something we knew from our past experience of attempting to visit Halifax Island off Roque Bluffs. That took two separate trips up, as the first was too foggy, and filled with boat noises to attempt a crossing.
But this day we were lucky: a bit over two hours after departure we arrived to clear skies and just enough wind to keep things cool. Just before 9AM and we were the only car in the lot, though some trucks were parked by a nearby wharf. It took a few minutes to orient ourselves, it turns out the launch wasn’t where we remembered it being, but a nearby spire in Jonesport helped us find our place (The spire is peeking up in the right above).
From there we were off, crossing the extremely narrow channel to Pig Island and soon we were in Eastern Bay.
Two boats in the Harbor, Pig Island behind
Eastern Bay is filled with seals. Every ledge seemed to have 20-30 seals on it and more could be heard barking on distant ledges. As a result we tended to stay between ledges, rather than sticking close to shore. Fortunately, there were very few boats out.
The blurry blobs at the bottom are seals
We piloted along, double checking against the chart. In a new area with so many ledges and islands this was a good review of navigation skills. We spent a fair amount of time debating which distant blobs of lands had which names. At one point we even had to paddle out to a can buoy to verify our actual position.
Heading for Black Island
On a dropping tide we were able to get between Black Island and Steele Harbor Island and headed out through Head Harbor to the open water. We did this knowing there would be big water and confused currents, an assumption which was reinforced by waves crashing against the sides of the opening.
Head Harbor, crashing surf by Man Island
Sure enough, outside the archipelago we found ourselves in big swells, not huge, but enough that we found ourselves paddling uphill alot. The challenge in getting out in water like this is that paddling into waves, up the front and down the back is easy. It’s going sideways or with a following sea which is more difficult. We’d been through a surf zone once this season, while off Cape Cod, so we felt confident we could paddle through surf, should it develop, and at least make it back the way we’d come. In the meantime, being out in these swells was exhilarating, but also quite humbling; an instant reminder of the difference between day trips in protected areas and any trip in exposed coastal conditions.
As we paddled up and down, a skiff buzzed along outside us, popping in and out of view. Meanwhile a lobster boat headed our way from out by Mistake Island. We watched the boat carefully, knowing we were probably not very visible to the lobsterman, assuming he was even looking and not distracted by some work on his boat. We did what we usually do in these situations, gathered close, moving slowly, but keeping our paddles in full motion (moving paddles are much more visible than stationary ones). As the boat continued on by Main Channel Way, and was still pointed straight for us, I was reminded of the hypothetical situation often given for the Maine Guide exam, where a client goes missing after a boat passes through. In these waters, where breaking waves were keeping us some distance offshore, that would be a disaster indeed. But fortunately, there weren’t six large tandems in our group, just the two of us, in nimble single person kayaks, so it was an easy process to move out of his way, further off shore. He waved as he went by, and we waved back before continuing southwest.
We lucked out too, in that Main Channel Way was quite calm. There were confused waters toward the outside, a result of waves echoing between the rocky shores, but no breaking water, and soon we were back on the calm inside waters.
Glass like conditions inside (note Mark's boat is backward)
We stopped on a sandy bar between Knight and Mistake Islands for lunch. When we headed back along the western edge of the bay, I was reminded of another important lesson. My skeg no longer worked and I had to return to shore to work a rock out of the skeg box. Mark always drags his boat backwards along the shore to prevent that from happening.
Looking out toward Moose Point, the dark swell lines look pretty insignificant
Two black backs fight over a crab
One will be the victor!
I loved these little houses on tiny islands.
And yes, seals really do lie on their sides (again it is a blurry shot because we are keeping our distance.)
There were many fish pens marked on our charts. On the way out we hadn’t seen any, but this pen was still active off the Spectacle Islands.
We made it back to the ramp at about dead low. From my landing spot, I had some mud to tromp through before getting to solid ground. Mark paddled further onward, but still had a tough time landing on the rocky surface.
There were a few more cars in the lot, but not many, so I think paddling on a Sunday was a good idea. During our trip we only saw one seal pup. But the next time I paddle here I’ll probably wait until even later in the summer, to be sure the seal pups are fully grown.


  1. Great post and paddle!

    You are making me miss paddling Maine everytime I visit. I'll have to think about getting up and out the door as early as you do. It's the best time to paddle sometimes - but you do have the fog out there. I hear you totally on a jammed skeg box. I learned that once the hard way too. It really bites when you have to paddle with a big cross wind and no skeg!

  2. My wife son and I have kayaked the very same places. 2 Oldtown Milleniums (17' yellow, 16' red) and my 17' Lt Chesapeake.

  3. That's great, I wish our boys were still interested in kayaks...