Active Outdoors: What a way to wind down!
While the warmer months of 2013 presented some interesting weather challenges (ample rain and heat) for Active Outdoors adventures, it has been an absolutely marvelous year for kayaking. My sweetheart Marilyn and I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!
Our kayaking adventures probably aren’t quite over yet, but they are definitely winding down as weather and water cool. This time of year we typically focus on biking and hiking. But we’ve just come off the water from a paddling adventure that, if it’s the last of the season, will have us dreaming of kayaking all winter and eager to paddle in the spring.
If you start in Kittery and follow the Maine coast “downeast,” you eventually pull up on the shores of Eastport and Lubec, the easternmost towns in the United States; any farther and you are in Canada. The night before our paddling adventure, we stayed in the Weston House (visitmaine.com/organization/1076), a perfectly charming B&B in Eastport. We had to tiptoe out too early to try the breakfast.
Through friends of friends, we had been invited to be “guinea pigs” on a program run by the Washington County Community College Outdoor Recreation Program. This two-year course trains students interested in pursuing a career in outdoor recreation (guides, park rangers, outdoor educators, etc.). Under the watchful eye of two very experienced instructors, the second-year students were leading the adventure, helping to teach the first-year students.
We joined them as “clients” at the mid-point of a four-day, three-night adventure. Their job was to keep us safe and comfortable as we paddled to an island, camped overnight, and then paddled to another takeout. Marilyn and I brought our own kayaks, clothes and camping gear; they took care of all food, cooking and route planning. Sadly, they don’t usually guide the general public, but there are other guided options to paddle these same waters (see below).
We launched from Reversing Falls Park in the town of Pembroke, an undiscovered bit of heaven overlooking a natural wonder – a waterfall that changes direction as the tide changes. It’s only passable in a kayak for 15 or 20 minutes at slack high tide, so we had to be in our boats and ready to go at 7:45 the first morning.
The 27-foot tides here (near the Bay of Fundy) and the currents they generate are a force to be reckoned with; this is not a place to paddle on your own – at least not the first time. But it’s also one of the most beautiful places to paddle I’ve ever seen on the Maine coast – most of the shoreline and almost all of the islands are undeveloped. Rocky cliffs plunge into flowing waters. There was little recreational boat traffic and commercial boats seem not as common as they are farther south. Numerous eagles soared overhead as we paddled; great blue herons, loons, gulls, cormorants, eider ducks and guillemots were everywhere, gray and harbor seals followed us companionably or frolicked in the water nearby. We didn’t see any whales or porpoises, but they are in the area.
The first day, we paddled about 10 nautical miles from Reversing Falls to Treat Island, which is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. They are opening a primitive campsite and we were among the first to legally camp there. The island is midway between the towns of Eastport and Lubec, which are a little over two miles apart across the water, but you have to drive almost 40 miles to get from one to the other.
It’s also just as close to Campobello Island in Canada. By water, the journey has its challenges. The Heritage Trust Treat Island website (mcht.org/preserves/treat-island.shtml) says: “Despite close proximity, access from both Lubec and Eastport is made challenging by very strong currents in this part of Passamaquoddy Bay.” It’s true. Every inch of our journey – especially the longer open-water crossings – were carefully timed to the tides and currents.
We camped overnight in a little meadow among the alders, with the lights of Lubec seeming very close and a million miles away at the same time. Three deer bounded away as we looked for the right spot. As the “guests” enjoyed a spectacular sunset, the kids built a roaring driftwood fire in a trench in the sand lined with beach stones, where they steamed lobsters, potatoes and corn-on-the-cob in piles of seaweed covered with a tarp. Pure ambrosia after a day on the water.
The next morning, we were up in the dark, ate a quick breakfast and were in the kayaks shortly after sunrise to ride the incoming tide along the shore of the island, carefully avoiding turning the corner and being pulled into “Old Sow” (oldsowwhirlpool.com/), by all accounts one of the five largest tidal whirlpools in the world and the largest in the western hemisphere. It was very foggy and we had to wait at one point for the fog to clear before crossing a stretch of open water. If we’d had to wait too long, we’d have been stuck there until the tide turned again. As it was, the tide turned with a half mile to go and we had to paddle into a current that would have been too strong to paddle against in another hour. As I said, this is no place to explore on your own.
In all it was one of our best sea kayaking adventures ever, and we are making plans to go back next year and explore more in the labyrinth of currents and islands around Cobscook Bay. What a great way to cap off a great season of paddling!
Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Go on the Maine Tourism website (visitmaine.com) and click on Downeast and Acadia – it’ll give you an overview of the area.
You really need a guide on the water in this area. Scott Fraser, the instructor in charge of the WCCC program, highly recommends Steve and Tess Ftorek’s Cobscook Hikes and Paddles (cobscookhikesandpaddles.com).
Postscript: Biking, too
After our paddle, we stayed on for a few days of biking and hiking around Lubec, Campobello Island and Machias. We spent two nights at the Peacock House (peacockhouse.com) in Lubec, a perfectly marvelous, friendly and impeccably decorated B&B (where, thankfully, we didn’t miss the breakfast). Then we moved to The Talbot House Inn (thetalbothouseinn.com) in East Machias, a wonderful old Victorian restored as a B&B. The biking and hiking in both areas was just wonderful. Stay tuned for more details in a future column, or drop me an email if you have questions.
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)