Friday, January 27, 2012

Favorite Day Paddles in Maine

Favorite day paddles in Maine? So hard to choose, Maine’s coastline and islands number in the thousands . There are 250 miles of coastline as the crow flies; over 3,000 as the paddler meanders into every cove and along each peninsula. Maine’s State Planning Office claims 4,613 islands. Still, on one of many recent long car rides, we amused ourselves by trying to select five favorite Maine paddles.

Mark’s choices:
1. Stonington. An easy choice, dozens of islands to paddle by or land on, easy access and parking at Old Quarry Ocean Adventures. There’s generally pretty tame water, especially in the morning. Whether you opt for a long paddle, or a short one, there are plenty of places to see, and there are even options for paddling in the fog. These factors combine to make this a favorite location.
2. Porcupine Islands and Ironbound, off Bar Harbor: Amazing scenery, incredible wildlife, beautiful water with wonderful swells, awesome cliffs. Not many landing points, but there are two, Rum Key and the Hop. This paddle is edged out of the number one spot because parking is limited. This isn’t a location you can just decide to go to, you need to pick a quiet day and get there early. I don’t know if there’s any easy way to park a trailer full of kayaks there. And, as if it isn’t difficult enough already, a new huge hotel is going in. Not only is the parking difficult, but this is a place that requires good judgment. To start with, there’s a lot of boat traffic in the area, all manner of tour boats and cruise ship tenders. Some of the crossings are through major channels, you need to be prepared to cross quickly and efficiently. It’s not a good place to be in the fog. And out alongside the cliffs, or when tempted by keyholes and caves, you need to be able to assess how those swells are going to affect you, and figure out how close you should be. Not a great place for beginners to be on their own. Fortunately there are many kayak tour companies in the area.
3. Muscle Ridge from Birch Point State Park: (no blog post for this) Mark loves open water. This is a two mile crossing to start, with distinct currents. Each time we’ve been there, the weather has been questionable and the wind stronger than expected. These challenges inspire Mark. Many seals, not overcrowded (this was a September launch), easy access. Lighthouses, landing points, and multiple islands.
4. Naskeag Point: This is a beautiful little launch and one of the few which has better access on a Sunday than during the week. The point is made of salmon colored granite pebbles, and from the moment I arrive there and spy Harbor island posted just off shore, I feel ready to paddle and explore. There are a couple of islands nearby owned by the Bureau of Public Lands and additional islands scattered about the area. There are also busy channels nearby, which require concentrated effort to cross. It is a favored area for sailboats, which have right of way. The Naskeag area has a fair number of seals scattered about.
5. Bartlett Island,off MDI. We’ve had some wonderful paddles around this island. Parking is tough, and you should be careful of currents in the narrows. It is a great place to spot seals and harbor porpoise.

My Choices:
1. Stonington
2. Porcupines and Ironbound, off Bar Harbor
3. Lubec or Cobscook Bay. This place has huge tides so if you enjoy looking at the wildlife revealed by low tides, this is the place to go. I’ve found flounder, sea cucumbers, all sorts of sea stars and shellfish. When we paddled from Lubec to Eastport, we went through several schools of herring. It’s a beautiful area. But not a great place if you’re not accustomed to tides. The many narrows have incredible currents running through them. As a whole I feel better referring people to Cobscook Bay and advising them to stay away from the reversing falls area. But I enjoyed the Lubec to Eastport paddle more. 

4. Portland. Come on, there’s a Fort on an island just a half mile off shore! What a great place to bring beginning paddlers! Just a little further out is Peaks Island; with restaurants and ice cream stands. Yes the harbor is hugely busy, and no doubt on the weekends, or a hot summer day the launch is jammed, but time it right and it’s a great place.
5. Little Cranberry or Baker Island, off North East Harbor on Mount Desert Island. I love this area, ticking off islands as we paddle out, exploring along the shores, looking back at the rounded mountains of Acadia, enjoying active water. The crossings are often over a half mile, and usually quite busy. But there are lots of interesting sights. On Baker there is a lighthouse, fairy houses, a graveyard and the Dance floor. On Little Cranberry there's a museum, restaurant, library, and a couple of stores.

Finally, two honorable mentions:
Castine. Castine has an amazing amount going for it; history, quiet coves, tricky currents, multiple islands, seals, interesting boats, even a shipwreck. Again, parking is a challenge and the currents and tides can create problems. Still, it’s a great area.
Rockport to Camden: Camden Harbor is a fun place to explore, but access is tricky. Rockport has a great little launch site, where for a small fee, you get a peaceful beach, a great changing area and a hose for rinsing off when you’re done. The paddle goes along the shore, not generally our preference, though there are two lighthouses, one at the start and the other at the end. What makes it fascinating are the boats in the harbors. On windjammer days Rockport will be filled with huge yachts, and Camden with an incredible array of vessels. Because the paddle is along the shore, it’s not hard to stay out of the way. Camden harbor is busy, but not impossible.

Once we had our lists, it became apparent what we’d used for criteria:
a) Someplace to legally land. I want to sit on an island and eat my lunch.
b) Day trip with easy access. Though most of our ocean paddles are between 7-14 miles, places get extra credit if there are options for interesting shorter trips.
c) It should feel like ocean, the tide should rise and fall, currents should reverse and the water should hop up and down.
d) It shouldn’t be a soaking experience, few breaking waves, no raging currents.
e) As I paddle out, a seal should pop up and wave his flipper at me, and at some point a porpoise should leap over my bow. Or at least there should a seal who pokes his head up in the distance and a bunch of different birds hanging out on the water.
f) The area should have enough coves/islands/inlets to justify using charts and compasses.

If you feel I’ve missed any great paddles please let me know! (Include links if practical) The only thing better than an old favorite is discovering a new one!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kayak Kaleidoscope

Visions of kayaks dancing in your head? Replicate the dream with Kayak Kaleidoscope.

A screen shot from the program is shown above, the actual program, written in Scratch, creates a new picture every few seconds. This is the link to Kayak Kaleidoscope, which requires a flash enabled device to run (sorry iPhone and iPad users)

Scratch was developed by the Lifetime Kindergarten Group at MIT and is designed to teach programming skills. Programs are written by snapping together blocks of code; just like Legos.

There are close to one million registered Scratch users. Scratch is a low floor program; meaning it's very easy to put together a project. Projects as simple as a drawing can be shared with children around the world. Scratch is also a high ceiling project; there are some amazing programs there, such as this gallery of interactive art. And they are always looking for more kayak related projects.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Let's Go Curling Now!

     So now it’s winter; it’s cold out, the river keeps freezing over.  Not many opportunities for kayaking.  But, we thought, maybe there’s another sport we could try, one suggested by BaffinpaddlerBelfast Curling , Maine's only curling club,had scheduled a “Learn to Curl!” event for January 15.

     Mostly what I know about curling is that it is an Olympic sport that involves brooms.  Also, the Simpsons and Skinners got a gold medal in the sport. 

     In preparation for “Learn to Curl!” I checked out Wikipedia  and learned a few more bits of trivia. 
1.  Curling wasn’t invented in Canada, but Scotland.
2.  Very special non-water absorbing granite is used to make the stones.  Only two quarries produce stones for curling, an active quarry in Wales, and a closed quarry on Ailsa Craig, an island off Scotland. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Late to the New Year’s Day Paddle Party

    New Year’s Day we were able to get out paddling!  I’d like to say this is a time honored tradition, but in reality we’ve just lucked out with two warm still January 1st’s in a row.

   This year we headed down to Bucksport, neatly avoiding the issue of tide rips just north of the paper mill by launching at low tide.  We paddled along the backside of Verona Island a bit before looping the harbor.

   Below are some of my favorite shots of the day (and some related trivia):
    Foam on the water, steam in the sky.  The paper mill is barely visible in this shot, though it's steam rises over the hotel.  I always enjoy asking folks to name the paper mill in Bucksport.  Initially built in 1928 as the Seaboard Paper Company, it’s had five owners since, listed in this Maine Ahead article.  

   Mooring Gears.  I’m not sure what company provided these gears, but they are huge and I love them.

   Looking across to the old Prospect-Bucksport ferry landing.  Before there was the Waldo Hancock Bridge, a ferry brought five cars at a time across.  There’s a film of the old ferry in action at the Maine Memory Network.  (Page opens to a photo, the film clip is lower)  Unfortunately I can’t quite read all the signs on the clip.  

   A different angle on Fort Knox.  In 1887,  Sergeant Leopold Hegyi  became sole guardian of Fort Knox.  His duties included walking the grounds each day to assess the condition of the fort.  That assignment ended in July of 1900 with his passing, but his dedication to the fort continues to keep the hopes of ghost hunters alive.  

   Heading back under the double bridge span to Verona Island.  The old Waldo-Hancock bridge (in green and rust) has been re-purposed as a peregrine falcon and osprey nesting site.

   It was wonderful to be on the water on New Year’s Day.  The lighting is always very dramatic.  And I remember thinking how much better my back felt as the trip went on.  But, alas, that was apparently an illusion, because when I went to get up on Tuesday, I discovered I couldn’t walk without staggering.   So I've spent the week on various home remedies, and things are much better now, and hopefully will be for the rest of the winter...