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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A Kenduskeag Like No Other: This Year’s Race Will Present New Challenges

Navigating between the rocks on the Marsh Stream, April 2012.

Some of us have literally spent weeks worrying about low water.  No sense worrying any more or complaining about it any longer because it sure looks like that’s what we’re going to get.   The hoped for rain simply isn’t going to come in time for the race. The river is not just low; it’s dramatically and historically low.  It’s lower than it was on race day two years ago, which itself was the lowest anyone could remember — and it’s lower than that by a lot.

Want numbers?  The stream gauge at Six Mile Falls reports a depth of  3.8 feet and a flow of a 144 cubic feet per second.   This time of year, the flow generally averages 1,000 cfs.  Two years ago, the low year, when the Bangor Daily News headline following the race read “What a Slog,” the gauge read  4.4 feet and 300 cfs.

This year’s Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race is sure to be unlike any other.  And that is one reason to participate.  Accept the low water.  Embrace it even.  The best strategy may be to stop thinking of it as a canoe race and think of it as one of those adventure races that have become all the rage.

Read about Tough Mudder, for example, and a low-water Kenduskeag suddenly seems a little more do-able.   There will be more shallows than usual, no doubt — and some of it is likely to be REALLY shallow.  More rocks to navigate around.  Some of them you might have to haul your boat over.  But it still won’t be the Tough Mudder.  No one will have to run 12 miles (half of it up a mountain).   There will be no fire rings to leap through. No belly-crawling, wall-climbing, ice-water dunking,  monkey-bar traversing. or mud-slogging.  Well, maybe some mud-slogging.

I’ve stayed up a few nights scouring the web for the secrets of paddling in shallow water.  I’ve looked at kayaking, canoeing, rowing, and yachting sites.  I even checked out some sites for pilots of large boats.  Sorry to say, but there aren’t any secrets.  Shallow water is shallow water — and, as is explained below, when you are trying to maintain the speed of your canoe or kayak in these areas, the shallow water literally sucks.

The technical term for this is shallow water drag.  As one site states, referring to the work of David Burch, when your boat enters water that is 12 inches deep while paddling at a speed of 3 knots, the resistance increases 90%.  That’s nine zero, ninety.  Basically it doubles.  Another source, also referring to Burch, states that hull speed is reduced by 50% when paddling a kayak or canoe in water that is 2 feet deep.

The loss of speed is due, at least in part, to the increased resistance of the bow wave.  In shallow areas, the water can’t move away from the boat as easily and therefore piles up at the bow.  For the paddler, this creates the unwelcome sensation that you are paddling uphill.

As if things aren’t bad enough already,  shallows can cause your boat to actually sink lower in the water, thus creating even more drag.  This is due to the Venturi effect, (told you I had been up late reading) which holds that differences in the speed that water moves creates differences in pressure.  In shallow water, the water that passes under your hull has fewer places to go and thus must move at a higher speed, which in turn creates an area of relatively lower pressure, which results in your boat sinking deeper.  The faster you go, the more your stern will sink or squat down into the water.  Isn’t that just great!

Still another factor, one that you can actually do something about, is called bank suction.  I’m not making this up.  According to the article at Don Fleming Yacht Services, “Bank suction starts when a vessel strays too close to a bank, restricting the water flow on its bank side.  The water-flow velocity increases, causing the water between the vessel and the bank to squeeze out of the area faster than it can flow back in. This causes the water level to drop between the vessel and the bank, and consequently the vessel is pulled sideways into the low-water area.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t just affect large vessels.  Watch for this, especially when rounding a bend in shallows.  I’ve felt the stern of my kayak being pulled toward the bank just as is described above.

A few suggestions for this year’s Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race:
(1) Seek deeper water, even if you have to paddle out of your way to find it.
(2) Back off your pace a bit as you approach a portage or a shallow area that you plan to haul over.  The time you will lose by doing this is generally less than what you would lose by arriving already out of breath at the portage.
(3) Don’t expend too much energy in shallow areas.  The laws of physics will prevent your boat from gaining much speed there, no matter how hard you paddle.
(4) When approaching shallow areas that are followed by deep water, you may want to try increasing your speed enough to “pop” your hull ahead of your own bow wave.   Experienced racers talk about this, but I’ve never yet seen it done.
(5) Attach a rope to your bow that can be used to pull your boat through areas that are too shallow to paddle through.
(6) Don’t try to pass another boat by going through the shallows on the the outside of a turn.  See the description of bank suck above.– only imagine it being amplified by the effect of the other boat.
(7) Flip flops won’t make it.  Wear something sturdy on your feet and consider something that will protect your legs as well. Shin guards (no joke) would probably work pretty well for reducing the rock-inflicted bruising you might get when walking or running through shallows.
(8) Leave your watch at home.  No records will be set this year.  Not the kind you want to set, anyway.

If you can’t paddle, run.  If you can’t run, walk.  Don’t stop until you get to the tent with the food in it.  That appears to be a winning strategy for this year’s race. The 2012 Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race:  it will be an adventure.

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Seasonal Paddling — Part II

The following is part two of a two (or three) part guest blog by Leslie Gregory of Swanville, Maine.   Paddling with Leslie, I am frequently reminded that when seeking adventure or beauty, it is not always necessary to look far from home.
October 26   I brought River Runner back from the lake to venture down for autumn’s waning afternoons.  I launched from the dam and noticed the river wasn’t as low as last spring.  But as I rounded the bend and came upon an 8 ft beaver dam, I was stunned at how severe a drop had been created; the water was low and sluggish; easy to spot small trickles I hoped would keep me buoyant.

All week I couldn’t wait to get out of school and hurry home to take advantage of the warm and sunny afternoons.  Daylight savings was yet to come, and I wanted to weave the golden reflections into my thoughts, offer optimism and ponder beauty.  I knew I was a  ridiculous sight, biking across the street, wearing my life preserver and spray skirt, but the bike ride let me maximize the daylight when minutes counted.

Below, the river widened and deepened a bit with familiar long lengths of skyway, and I’d feel my boat drift sideways around the turns to enter into another stretch.  I noticed slender pickets of sticks planted in the edge of the river banks, tagged with neon orange.  Signs of trapping.  The beaver dams and lodges are up above; here where the river widens out there are muskrat and otters as well.

    I love getting out to the pond to feel the magic of the afternoon light.  The new moon lingers in the western sky. There’s a turtle basking on a rock in the pickerel weeds.  There’s peace in the valley until a dog up on the hill senses my presence and starts barking.  Reluctantly I paddle home, breathing in the deepening purple shadows, grateful I can enjoy such tranquil moments.

Nov 6   Today we started from where the lake empties into the river with the determination to paddle all the way down until we got to the ocean. It’s been unseasonably warm and I was in a t shirt all afternoon.  The river meanders for miles, drops into subsequent ponds and then meets a series of dams, aka portages.  We worked our way over shallow rapids, climbed over stone walls and found ourselves in a golden sunbathed afternoon, the light low and intense. We had to give up because the water got so low, but spring will find me exploring this part of the river.  We walked along a gorge between two falls.  Maybe this is where the class 2 & 3 whitewater is.  I can’t wait to find out!

Nov 15  Took the canoe out of the river today.  I’d been planning it for weeks: rather than drive across the street w/ a trailer, I was going to shuttle to Smart Road, leave my car and trailer, bike home, run across the street and paddle down.  It was going to have to be a school day, so I kept conniving til I finally picked the day, hurried home and changed up, but still it was 3:30 before I launched.

    Canoeing is different than kayaking.  Handling a T paddle can be mastered but it is a different motion and much slower.  To keep a canoe tracking properly is a challenge when you’re solo.  Suffice it to say, I took out in the dark.  But on the way!  The afternoon light spilled golden on the river grass, the calm waters reflecting skyfuls of trees, long highway of woods and sparkle. . .   I kept scaring out a bunch of ducks, they’d fly downriver 200 yards only to sound their alarm again as I approached.Some otters swam in front of me, having survived the traps that had been laid out for them.   There are plenty of beaver dams and lodges on this river.  There is a dam up near the lake that is quite steep and 6- 8 feet out of the water when it’s low water.  I think trapping a few beaver is probably okay.  But it pains me to see traps set within 6 feet of the beaver lodges.  It makes me root for the beavers.

The day’s light gave way to darkened smudges of purple streaks, the water took on a lustrous white in the rising moonlight.  In a kayak I could have paddled the 6 miles in less than an hour but it took me all of two hours in the canoe, with hard paddling.  I snuck up on the take out in the dark, savoring the waning light and deepening shadows.

Nov 22  Today I was given the gift of time and found myself on the river by 1:30.  A forecast for rain and snow always makes me anxious of how many times I have left to paddle.  I mostly say I’ll paddle through the 2nd snowstorm of the season, thus promising myself the thrill of paddling along snow lined banks, the trees lined with white filligree.  But today it was all of 40 degrees, and the sunlight was dazzling.  I heard hissing and cracking which I discovered was the movement from my boat pushing thin sheets of ice further into the muddy banks.  I made a game of it, rounding corners to push the ice out further and then herding the big sheets to the side.  The ice is a reminder that the water is freezing.  A capsize here might only land me in a few feet of water, but extracting myself from the mud and grasslands would be arduous and dangerous.  No worries, the river is smooth as glass with 6 foot grasses towering over me and standing tall in reflection, and there is no reason to capsize..  The most dangerous part of the endeavor is getting in the boat with the mud all around and trying to rinse my feet off . As I push off the mud ridden bank with my paddle, my boat rocks a bit, but I ride the rolling motions and launch, smiling that I am on an adventure less than a half mile from home.  My thoughts on the river are clear and unfettered, taking in only the pristine and simple beauty of the long grasses, the satin  gloss of water, the crack of the ice gathering in the shadow of the timothy and cattails.  The pond is lined with silver sumac, having been the first to parade and then shed their scarlet  leaves 6 weeks ago  Where the water is most shallow, ice has formed, and I find myself riding and crashing across a sheet of thin glass to get on the pond.  A breeze stirs gently, pushing from the north.  The silhouettes of geese point south.  The air is brisk, still unseasonably warm, but just a day and 30 degrees away from impending winter.  Soon the ice will block my passage onto the pond.  Today is a gift.  I know how to savor these moments, and when the geese return in the spring, I’ll be down here to welcome them.

Nov 25  Thanksgiving was a frenetic blur of housecleaning, cooking, hugging and ping pong.  We had 6-7 inches dumped in the river valley, and Bax took the snowmobile across  the field for a spin.  I tried skiing but the snow was wet and heavy, and I couldn’t help but think how lovely the river would be with its  muddy banks snow capped and close.  We finally relaxed on Friday and slid down the snowy bank into the river.  What a launch!  The contrast of the tall grasses and the snow was lovely.  We paddled fast around the bends, our kayaks drifting sideways as we rounded the corners.  The ice was forming in thick bands along the edges, and we had to carve our turns wider.  There was the temptation of riding up on the ice and coming down on it ice-breaker style, trying to maintain balance on the round rocker of the kayaks.

As we approached the pond, the ice closed in on top of the sallow grasses.  The pond appeared to be a solid glass surface, frozen solid.  I tasted reluctance, not wanting to let the seasons change.  We had to turn back and head up river.  The warmth of the sun gave little comfort as I contemplated our afternoon sojourn cut short.   I cheered up immensely when my paddling partner said, “Well, we can always do it again.”  Yes indeed. As we passed the put in, the river got narrower, shallower, and eventually impassable, so we turned and headed back down, languishing in the afternoon light.  When we got to the ice dam before the pond, the wind picked up.  Suddenly we could see that the pond was not frozen some 40 yards out.  There were some fissures in the ice, so we probed them, lining our boats up, riding up on the ice and pushing huge sheets apart with our hands, pushing ourselves out into the ice and moving it until we finally made it to the chill waters of the pond.  I breathed in the waning afternoon light and spotted a sliver of moon in the western sky.  Suddenly we were crossing the pond and heading a few stretches more downriver.

The days of paddling in 2011 are numbered, but we made it last a little longer!

Dec 05   Turns out the ice melted and the river rose.  It’s two weeks later and I’m back to early sunsets on the pond.  I’d write more but Goose River is calling me.

Posted in Belfast, Maine rivers, paddling | Comments Off on Seasonal Paddling — Part II

The Walruses Have Landed — Walrus Kayaks Come to Maine

The Walrus Jaeger in Belfast Harbor at sunset.

One of the best things about owning a small kayak shop (besides scouting out new sections of the Maine coast as potential tour destinations) is having the opportunity to paddle new models of kayaks.

I’ve had that opportunity recently, as we’ve “taken in” a few Walrus Kayaks built by a small company of the same name in Winooski, Vermont.  This is something to like about the kayak industry — that even though you have the relative giants like Current Designs and Old Town, you have plenty of small companies that you might not have heard of building quality. innovative boats.  More than 50 kayak manufacturers are listed in the Canoe & Kayak Annual Boat Book. My guess is that there are at least 50 more small companies that are not listed, Walrus Kayaks being one of them.

It must have taken a bit of chutzpah to start a kayak company in the midst of a bad economy, and — at a time when many other builders are moving their manufacturing operations to China — to insist on building them in small town USA.  It must have taken a bit more chutzpah to choose uncompromising designs and high end materials as central to your business model, but that’s just what Walrus Kayaks did.

Mark, the Chief Operating Officer of Walrus Kayaks is the guy who most often answers the phone and responds to emails.  He arrived after a snowstorm several weeks ago with a truck loaded with 5 kayaks and a black lab as co-pilot.  We donned dry suits and then drove down to Belfast Harbor to test paddle the boats.  Temperatures were only in the 20’s, but we mostly forget about that as we took turns trying the Griffin and the Jaeger, the first two Walrus models to have gone into production.  (Walrus is now in the process of adding two more models).

Mark returned to Vermont with just two kayaks on his truck.  Happy ending.  The other three stayed with us.  We’ve been enjoying testing them out in different conditions and locations.

One who doesn’t understand kayaking might find it odd that someone who already has more than 25 kayaks at his disposal could get so excited about a new kayak.  But every kayak has its own personality.  And, ideally, a kayak is something you “wear” more than just sit it.  The Jaeger and Griffin are two exceptionally designed kayaks that have quickly become favorites.

The Jaeger especially has found favor with me.  At 17’4” in length and 22” in beam, the Jaeger fits the mold of a fully capable, full size touring and expedition kayak.  While not the very fastest kayak in our fleet (it’s not a specialty racing boat), the Jaeger is plenty fast enough for fitness paddling and long distance touring and, as a fast kayak, has the distinction of also being a great rough water boat.  The v hull of the Jaeger gives it a lively, playful feel on the water, yet it feels very secure even turned sideways to oncoming seas.

Overall, I’m increasingly feeling that if I was limited to only one boat, the Jaeger would be it — and that’s a pretty high compliment to pay any kayak.

Add to that the excellent and comfortable cockpit and meticulous build quality, and you have one great boat.

The Griffin, as the name suggests, is a bird of a different feather — though built with the same attention to quality as the Jaeger.  Efficiency, playfulness, a light weight (as little as 31 pounds), easy acceleration, and compact size are some of its best attributes.  Most designers add width when they build a shorter kayak, but with its beam of under 22 inches, the Griffin is a sleek little kayak truly designed with the needs of the smaller paddler in mind.  At the same time, the Griffin is just big enough that a medium size paddler (up to 6 feet and 180 lbs.) can fit in it comfortably.  For this size paddler, the Griffin is a great boat for playing in waves and surf and for day trips.

We’ve begun adding  information about Walrus Kayaks to our website and will continue to do so.  You can read also read more about Walrus Kayaks at www.walruskayaks.com

Posted in kayaking, kayaks, sea kayaking | Comments Off on The Walruses Have Landed — Walrus Kayaks Come to Maine