April 07, 2020

Winter Water> Diehard kayakers keep paddling

While some people prefer to ride the slopes or the back trails on snowmobiles, others prefer to ride the streams in a kayak.

Shaun Donovan, owner of Loon Bay Kayaks in Bar Harbor, said many people think he’s a little peculiar for wanting to enjoy the holiday card-like scenery in a kayak. However, he said he thinks a person is colder when skiing. At least in the kayak, he says, one is constantly moving, so they’re warm.

“It’s too cold to sit in a chairlift,” Donovan said. “It’s all how you look at it.”

Donovan said he began as a winter canoer during the late 1970s, and after deciding to spend the winter in Maine, he wanted to continue to paddle.

He said this time of year he’s usually in Florida operating the Florida branch of his kayaking business.

“I usually get 30 miles a week in paddling,” Donovan said. “Winter has reduced this very little, and I’m still able to get my paddling in.”

He said its an easier way to sneak down a stream to go hunting, enjoy looking at animals, and take pictures of nature.

Donovan’s favorite spot to kayak is on Moosehorn Stream, off Route 46 between Bucksport and Dedham.

He said one of the reasons he enjoys kayaking there is because it’s quiet and he’s able to see a variety of animals.

While some enjoy the nature and peace and quiet, some can’t give up being on the water.

The owners of Duck Trap Kayaking in Lincolnville, Daniel and Lorrain Henry, began winter kayaking several years ago because they didn’t want to give up the sport in the colder months.

“We like it too much,” Henry said. “The beaches are clearer this time of year, with less people.”

The couple enjoys kayaking in Camden Bay and in the Lincolnville Beach area, Henry said.

They continue to kayak in January, although it has recently turned much colder.

Preparing for the trip is the key to a good time, Henry said.

Donovan said there is a lot of preparation that needs to be done before going on even the smallest of adventures.

He said he packs the following items in a waterproof bag: a towel for the inside of the kayak to absorb moisture in the craft, a space blanket, an extra change of clothes, a cellular phone, a handheld VHF radio, and matches. In addition to wearing proper gear, he also wears bright orange during hunting season to alert hunters he is there.

Donovan said he enjoys paddling in a calm stream and in coves; however, it’s important, especially for less-experienced kayakers, to go where there is easy emergency access.

“Prepare for the worst,” Donovan said. “There’s strength in numbers and it’s important to have a plan. Tell someone when you’re going and coming back.”

This is so that people will have an idea when to expect you and worry if your unusually late, Donovan said.

Henry agrees that one should always be prepared for the worst. In preparing for the worst, “You have to be careful to wear the proper gear.”

He said that, if possible, using double kayaks is a good way to introduce less-experienced people to the sport.

Henry said one should wear a drysuit, fleece, and go with people who know what they’re doing. He also carries flares on expeditions to signal for help, if necessary.

“We have some of the coldest water in the Northeast,” Henry said.

Donovan said the weather determines if he wears a wetsuit or a drysuit.

If the temperature is between 30 and 50 degrees, he wears a wetsuit; if the temperature is below 30 degrees, he wears a drysuit.

A drysuit is designed to keep your body completely dry along with the layers of clothing underneath, which provide warmth. A wetsuit allows one to get wet, letting the moisture in the suit act as an insulator along with the suit.

Donovan said he uses a whitewater kayak if the wind speed is less than two knots, a sea kayak if the water is rougher.

“In some places these are average conditions,” Donovan said. “What seems farfetched and extreme to some is just like any other day to others.”

Two of Donovan’s friends, Cory Beckwith and Travis Smart, both of Bangor, have taken up the sport.

“I thought [Donovan] was crazy [when suggesting the idea last fall],” Beckwith said. “It’s broadened my horizons.”

Beckwith brought Smart, his roommate, along for the adventure when he began learning how to kayak last summer and when winter kayaking.

“I had never heard of it [winter kayaking] before,” Smart said. “But I like outdoors and it was different.”

Both found the sport an enjoyable way to spend time with nature.

For some, the sport is addicting.

“If I don’t kayak, I get grumpy,” said Scott Anchors, assistant to the president at the University of Maine in Orono. “It’s an extension of summer kayaking.”

Anchors, also a registered guide, said many people who are winter kayakers also kayak in the summer and fall to adjust to the cold. Getting into a kayak in the middle of January, without participating in the sport in the fall, isn’t wise to do, he said.

A risk that many inexperienced and unprepared people face is the risk of hypothermia, he said.

“Only people with a high level of skill should go,” Anchors said.

Anchors said he enjoys whitewater and sea kayaking in the middle of winter and one of his favorite places to go is Blue Hill Falls, about 15 miles southwest of Ellsworth on Blue Hill Bay.

“People look at us like we’re crazy because they think we’re freezing to death,” Anchors said. “It’s an adrenalin rush to know your out [on the water] when it’s 20 degrees outside.”

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