Best of 2014 — A Year on the Water

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Best of Summer 2013 — Our Annual Slideshow

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Tahe Reval Midi Now Available for Test Paddle at Water Walker

Tahe Reval Midi PE

Our recent shipment of boats from Kayak Distribution includes the Reval Midi PE from Tahe Marine.  After reading about the Reval series, we were excited to see, sit in, and test paddle this  new-in-2012 design — and we have not been disappointed.

As an entrant into the mid-size performance polyethylene kayak category, the Reval Midi competes favorably with better known designs from VCP, P & H, and Wilderness Systems.  The Reval Midi is well-designed, well-built, and thoughtfully outfitted.  It fits a wide range of paddler sizes and is just plain fun to paddle.

We’ll be writing more about the Reval Midi as well as its slightly narrower, lower profile sibling — the Reval Mini LC PE —  soon!  In the meantime, let us know if you’d like to see or test paddle this boat.

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Tank as Tipping Point: A View from the Bay

The sparkling, ever-changing waters of Penobscot Bay are a big part of what drew me to the Midcoast. Lots of people can say the same.

My early experiences of the bay were from shore:  Holbrook Island, Fort Point, Sears Island, Moose Point, and the Belfast waterfront all provided unique outlooks on the bay. And then I started kayaking, and new worlds of possibility opened up.

The Muscle Ridge Islands, Sheep, and Monroe, Lime and Lasell, Mark Island and Robinson Rock, Islesboro, Flat, Seal, and Ram, Turtle Head, Sears Island, Butter, Great Spruce, Hardhead, and Eagle — these are just a few of the places that have become as familiar as good friends.  I feel extremely privileged to have spent the better part or the last fifteen summers paddling — and leading kayak trips — along miles and miles of shoreline and out to the no-two-alike islands of our world-renowned Penobscot Bay.

People do come from all over the world to visit our bay.  And, although they take lodging in our towns and spend money in our shops, make no mistake, it is the bay they come for.  They come for its beauty.  The come for its uniqueness.  They come for its quiet.

Water Walker Sea Kayak, LLC is just one among scores of businesses from Port Clyde to Stonington — kayak outfitters, sailing charters, tour boats, fishing charters, water taxis —  that get people out on the water — and help keep our hotels and restaurants full.

The way the bay supports our economy can be likened to a three-legged stool.  Recreation is one leg.  Fishing is another.   Both are  highly dependent on the continued health of the bay — the health of the web of organisms, from sea ducks to seals to starfish, that call the bay their home.

The third leg of the stool, the shipping industry, has thus far been able to coexist remarkably well with recreation and fishing.

At present, the three legs of the stool are in a marvelous but somewhat delicate state of balance.  Leaning on any leg at the expense of the others could tip the balance to the point that life as we know it will go crashing down.

This photo approximates the view of the proposed 137-foot propane tank as it would appear, when viewed from the the area near the mouth of the Little River in Belfast. The tank is to scale with the existing tanks but would be situated further back from the shoreline. The blue heron appears as it did in real life.

The proposed propane tank in Searsport, the related public safety concerns, the requisite harbor dredging, the introduction of supership traffic to the bay, and the increase of truck traffic to Route 1 — together these have potential to tip the balance toward industry by irreparably harming both fishing and tourism to the point that those industries all but disappear.

There is lots we don’t know about how the tank would affect Searsport and the Midcoast. There is lots we don’t know about how the tank and its attendant superships would affect other economic activities on the bay.  There is lots we don’t know about how much area property values might decrease.

We do know that ships would be significantly larger than anything that currently visits Searsport — and that each would arrive with its own moving security zone.  We know that the proposed tank would be significantly larger than the existing tanks at Mack Point.  We know that the tank would be visible, by land and by sea, from hundreds of vantage points for miles and miles away.

For tourists, the way a town presents itself visually makes the difference between whether they stop and visit or drive on by. Searsport can certainly do better than become known as “the town with a tank in it.”

We know that in an area where tourism and residential real estate make up a huge portion of the economy, perception IS reality — and that, if people perceive an area is undesirable because of visual pollution and hazardous materials, well, then, it is.

We know that when they reach Augusta, tourists choose between continuing north via Route 3, Belfast, Searsport, and Bucksport or staying on the interstate until they reach Bangor.

We know that for Penobscot Bay fishermen the line between thriving and not surviving is a fine line indeed.  We know that recreation on the bay has huge yet untapped potential.

We know that the proposed tank will create twelve jobs.  Twelve.  We know that some in Searsport are already trying to sell their houses — for fear of the tank.  We know that the tank issue has threatened to drive a wedge through that community — and that saying hello to DCP Midstream will result in saying goodbye to others.

We know that the pristine beauty of our bay is a treasure that will only become a more valuable and more sought after resource as time goes on.  We know we can say, “No,” this once — and there will be plenty of other, more appropriate and less risky opportunities for economic development in our future.

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Around Kineo — A Kayak Trip on Moosehead Lake

Over the next  few months, we plan to feature some of the places in Maine that we explored last summer in hopes this will  inspire our readers to “get out there” in 2013.

We’ll start with Mt. Kineo, located on a peninsula extending from the eastern shore of Moosehead Lake.  Mt. Kineo, as well as the 1,000 acre “island: it is situated on, is a Maine landmark long famous to calendars and postcards.  Native Americans used it as a gathering place. Thoreau journeyed there and wrote about it.  Hundreds of thousands of tourists have visited it, dating back to the 1800’s.

During the summer months,  you can take a boat trip out from Rockwood for $10.00, and then hike around the island and climb to the summit.

If you have a kayak — and get the right day, you can do as we did, and paddle out to the island yourself.  We launched from the public boat landing in Rockwood, made the one mile crossing to the island, and then, after debating whether to hike or paddle — not enough daylight left for both —  we paddled around it.  Our chosen route took us in a counter-clockwise direction.  It included a short portage over the causeway on the eastern side of island and breathtaking views of the 700 foot rhyolite cliffs that rise directly from the lake.  The distance around the island is about 7 miles.

A caution — the crossing can be choppy, and this part of the lake is especially susceptible to sudden changes in weather and wind.  Please do not attempt to paddle there unless you are experienced in making crossings, have settled weather, and have a plan for what to do if the weather undergoes unpredicted changes. Winds tend to intensify toward mid-afternoon, so morning is often the safest time for your crossings.

Mt. Kineo State Park

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Paddling the The Passy Gorge — Belfast’s Secret Heart

If the Passagassawakeag River is the main artery of Belfast, then the quarter mile stretch between Shepard Road and Route 137 is its secret heart.

Paddlers typically take out above this section, partly due to the dam, partly due to the challenging whitewater that lies below. Those on foot can look downstream from the Shepard Road bridge, from where you will see the first 100 yards. You can also look upstream from Route 137 for about 75 yards. That still leaves a couple hundred yards of secret river, shielded by the sightlines, property lines, trees, and steep terrain — that has been seen by few and traveled by even fewer.

Depending on the time of year and recent rainfall, this section of river appears a boulder-filled stream or a raging, wave-filled torrent. From what I have seen, you’re in for a good ride when water is spilling over the top of the dam. This normally occurs only in the spring or after an especially heavy rain.

When the river is running high, as it was a week ago, the water from the dam passes underneath the Shepard Road bridge and then races southeast down a rocky channel filled with waves. About a hundred yards in, the river splits around a low island. From there, the river swings to the southwest, narrows and quickens. It then enters a gorge that twists south and then southeast. Somewhere in that turn, with a cliff face defining the right bank, the narrowed, churning river simultaneously twines and plunges over a three foot drop. Below this drop is a frothy tumult of waves big as refrigerators.

From there, the river rushes onward toward the Route 137 bridge straightening out and tumbling over numerous rocks as it goes.

Fall whitewater is a special treat.  When we go weeks or months without paddling a river, we start breaking out maps and looking for rivers that still have water.  It’s great when you don’t have to go anywhere — and the rivers come back to you.

*Paddling this section requires Class III whitewater skills. The waves are large and currents are strong. Maneuvering and bracing skills are needed. Additionally, at this time of year, the water is cold. Please do not paddle this section unless you have proper equipment and experience and have proved yourself on the easier sections of local rivers.

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Kayaking Maine — Best of Summer 2012

The hottest summer on record has meant an increase in the number of  guests from states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia.

It also has meant a lot of great weather for  kayaking.  While summer is not officially over yet, the approach of Labor Day and the start of the school year means it’s time for our annual slideshow — a celebration of some of the summer’s best moments — so far.

There’s still time to get out and enjoy the lakes, rivers, bays, and islands.  We hope you soon have the chance to do just that.

(To view the slideshow is larger format, click the slideshow and then click the text link “Full Screen” in the upper left hand corner of your screen.)


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A Walk on Petit Manan Point

If you drive 26 miles east from Ellsworth to Steuben, and then 6 miles south from Route 1 on the Pigeon Hill Road, you reach near the end of a peninsula that protrudes as far south as the town of Bar Harbor and Schoodic Point.   The Petit Manan Refuge is one of the five refuges that together make up the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Petit Manan Point is named after nearby Petit Manan Island, which itself was named by Samuel de Champlain and means “island out to sea.”

The refuge consists of 2,195 acres, both on Petit Manan Point and on nearby islands.

Like the other four refuges in Maine, Petit Manan provides a seasonal home for endangered neotropical songbirds such as the American redstart, Sawinson’s thrush, and song sparrow.  The saltmarshes and mudflats provide habitat for black ducks great blue herons, American bitterns, sandpipers, and more.  According to the refuge brochure, “During fall migration the 80-acred Cranberry Flowage on Petit Manan is filled with over 4,000 . . . black ducks, green-winged teal, and mallards” who use it as a resting and feeding spot.

We often say that kayaking is the best way to see the coast, but walking is also good — and it sometimes gets you places unreachable by other means.  Petit Manan Point presents a strong case for the argument that being able to see the water is not always a prerequisite of coast.   For even where the trails take you over glacially scoured terrain and down into the deep shade of white cedar forests, the fingerprints of the ocean are unmistakable and everywhere.  In the cool, moist salt air.   In the peat bogs, the subarctic vegetation, and the tamarack.  In the thrushes, sparrows, and warblers.  In the wildflowers, and –yes — in the sound of distant surf.

Petit Manan Point offers two main options for hikes.  The shorter, easterly hike (Hollingsworth Trail) seems to be favorite of some.  The longer, westerly hike — (Birch Point Trail) has recently undergone upgrades that include new plank bridges in the boggy areas.

For our late day, late May hike, we chose the Hollingsworth trail, which, as we found, provides a tremendous variety of vegetation and landscapes in a 1.5 mile loop.  There is also opportunity to extend the hike by walking south along the beaches toward the southern tip of the peninsula.

Whether you go in May or August or October, there is likely to be lots to see — and a good chance to see something you haven’t seen before.

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Moving to the Sea

This time of year I trade  my downriver kayak for a sea kayak.  Rather than a wing paddle, a flat-bladed Euro paddle occupies a place in the backseat of my car.  Instead of monitoring stream flow data, I keep an eye on the tide charts.  The bays and islands, not the rivers, become the target of my afternoon and weekend plans.

River paddling is linear.  We drive upriver and then make the trip down, sometimes repeating the trip on the same day.  The days are still short.  Daylight is at a premium.  We look at our watches and paddle harder to make sure we can get to the take-out by sundown.  The river itself is a line, albeit a living and moving one.  In sections where rocks interrupt the river’s smooth surface, we seek to run the ideal lines, following the current, avoiding the rocks and holes.  As spring advances, we move from the first rivers to ice out to the ones that hold their level longer, due to upstream dams or large watersheds.  This migration, too, is a line, a sequenced progression repeated from one year to the next.

Ocean paddling is more about arcs and circles.  The days are longer and warmer and we shed the sense of urgency that kept us in continuous movement.  We linger in quiet coves or pause for a moment to bob in the  waves.  The number of put-ins and take-outs is almost infinite — as are the routes between them.  Getting from point A to point B is about possibilities.  The tide rises and falls.  The winds swing from north to south and back again.  We skirt shorelines and trace the gentle arcs of pocket beaches.  We circumnavigate islands for the sake of doing so.  Destination becomes less important.  There is no end to get to.  Just a vast sea to experience and appreciate.

It’s a very human thing to resist change and to mourn it.  The time to ride the rivers on the flood of snowmelt and spring runoff is always abbreviated.  The brief season of running rivers is one of thrill and urgency and a little bit of danger.  And then the rains slow and the rivers subside, and we make the transition back to the sea.  We go reluctantly at first, but then, after arriving, we are glad to feel waves rise underneath us, glad for the early light and the islands, glad for the seal pups and eider chicks, glad for the island blueberries and wild roses, whose own time is even now growing closer.

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Downriver with a Twist: An Initiation into Slalom Kayaking

Slalom, a race over a winding or zigzag course, isn’t just for skiers anymore. Canoers and kayakers get to slalom too. And they did — last Sunday in the annual slalom races at the Kenduskeag Stream Park in Bangor.

Below the Harlow Street Bridge in Bangor, the Kenduskeag Stream enters a picturesque steep-sided valley.  Between the bridge and and the Shopping Cart Drop,  the stream is narrow, the currents are strong; and there are two Class II-III drops — drops that have claimed more than a few boats during the 16-mile Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.  For the downriver racer, the goal is to keep your boat upright, keep your bow downstream, have the right line and cruise right through this area, spending as little time as possible in it, never looking back.

Last weekend’s slalom race brought a whole new perspective to this part of the river, as the slalom required us to go sideways to the current, turn our bows into the biggest waves, reverse direction and go back upstream, take the drops at an angle and eddy out below, and even negotiate some of it going backward.

A good slalom racer, as I was to find, needs endurance to paddle hard for 3 minutes, power to turn a boat and accelerate upriver against the current, and the chutzpah to pull off tricky maneuvers in moving water.  More than anything, slalom racing requires boat control and precise paddle strokes.  As with many sports, those who are good at it make it look easy.

It’s not easy, however.  Even for those with a lot of experience in other genres of paddling. On Saturday, the day before the competition, after getting some tips and little coaching from experienced slalom paddlers, I took my first run at the quarter mile slalom course. The first gate was straight across the river from the starting point and below a drop.   Because of the strong current, I wasn’t sure if I could get there without embarrassing myself, so I skipped it, telling myself I’d work on that one on my next run.  Gate number 2 looked easy enough, but slightly submerged rocks immediately upstream of the gate blocked my intended line.  I missed it.  Gate 3 had some really fast current going through it — I made it through cleanly.  That gate, however, was offset from Gate 4 which was only eight feet downstream.  The current swept me slightly sideways and I battered the pole with my helmet.  A 50 second penalty during a race.  Gates 5 and 6 were relatively easy and I passed through them cleanly, building up speed as I went.  Gate 7, an upstream gate, was far over on river right and above a drop.  I approached it too fast, swung far too far past it, and then had to work really hard to get back upstream.  Gate 8, another upstream gate, was below the drop.  Again, I  was moving too fast and settled for just making it through the drop. I skipped it.  I was not yet halfway through the course.  There were still another eleven more gates to go.  You get the idea.

With an afternoon of practice, I was able to at least attempt most of the gates.  By race time, the next morning, I was able to get through most of the gates most of the time, but I didn’t always get through cleanly, and it wasn’t always pretty.  Meanwhile, more experienced slalom racers in both kayaks and canoes carved their way through the gates with precision and style, never seeming to hurry, never seeming to lose control.

Slalom, then, is a mental challenge as well as a physical one.  From what I can see, slalom requires linking the gates and linking strokes.  In other words, you need to go through each gate already lined up for the next few gates.  If you don’t think about the next gate until after you’ve completed the previous one, it’s too late.  The current will carry you downstream and you will miss it.  Thinking several moves ahead and initiating moves early is key.

Slalom is a specialized sport with a relatively small following.  This is a shame.  One of the best parts of slalom is the camaraderie among the participants — some of whom travel throughout New England to participate in the slalom series.  The atmosphere among participants is friendly and very welcoming.   The difficulty level for these regional races, while challenging, is not overwhelming for intermediate paddlers.

Even if you never get serious about it and join the circuit, slalom is bound to make you a better paddler.  Many aspects of river and ocean paddling get easier once you’ve practiced getting through narrow gates. Slalom is also an Olympic sport, one I will take new interest in and pay more attention to, now that I have taken a crack at it myself.


New England Slalom Series (official website)
Maine Canoe & Kayak Racing Association
Canoe Slalom Technique Library

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