I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but after two nonstop days of paddling from sun up to sun set two weekends ago in the Castine area, I had had my fill of my skinny boat — at least for a day or two. Friday and Saturday were the most perfect you could imagine, and I saw places I’ve never seen before.
I had volunteered to accompany a friend on an mission to scout out an adventurous, but relatively protected, circumferencial paddling route that would begin and end in Castine.
The concept was to offer paddling clients a two-day bed-and-breakfast tour, retracing an American Indian route in the Castine-Bagaduce-Eggemoggin Reach area. For Maine Guide and Castine Kayak Adventures owner Karen Francoeur, the possibility was intriguing.
She guides in the Castine area and is looking to offer more challenging trips for experienced paddlers. Would I like to go along, she asked recently, to scout out such a trip? We discussed the potential route, checked the calendar and set Friday, May 12, as the date. Scott Anchors, who guides for Francoeur, and his friend Kathy McGloin, would join us for the second half of the exploration on Saturday because they had to work Friday at their real jobs at the University of Maine.
We had to begin our trip on the high tide at 7 a.m. Friday, crossing Castine Harbor to Smith Cove with the intent of finding a portage into Bells Marsh. At the head of the cove we found an abandoned woods road that worked, but we didn’t want to trespass on private property. Farther up the cove we found a cooperative homeowner who gave us permission to cross her property to reach a paved road that skirted the marsh we needed to reach.
With time and tide running out, we wrestled the two loaded kayaks to the marsh, dropping the boats every so often to rest. The narrow creek was just wide enough for a kayak and the water just deep enough an hour and a half after high tide for us to make it out.
Several blue herons left their breakfast exploration as we glided along. We joined them in a snack as we drifted toward Horseshoe Cove. A short while later we saw the first of four osprey nests of the day. One adult circled the area as the other patiently watched us from a branch in a nearby tree, content to let us ogle from a reasonable distance.
A little farther along, skittish eider ducks watched us, not as content to let us approach. As we pulled up to a gravel beach near Charles Howard Point, eight or 10 yellow legs and a mallard pair greeted us, then beat a hasty exit.
The morning’s weather was perfect; little or no wind, no clouds and warm temperatures. If you didn’t put your hand in the water to remind yourself that it was still early in the paddling season, you’d have thought it was summer.
After a short rest and stretch on the beach, we decided it was time for a cup of coffee. We headed for South Brooksville. Nearing Condon Point, we passed another osprey nest and a pair of osprey that whistled at us. From there it was a quick run up Buck Harbor, where a friendly native allowed us to leave our boats on shore. Francoeur took the opportunity at the Buck’s Harbor Market to discuss business, while I took the opportunity to sit on the front porch and watch the traffic. It was relaxing to say the least.
Back at the landing we exchanged pleasantries with a Stonington lobsterman who was doing some diving to check on mooring chains. He offered his wishes that kayaks had some means of carrying radar reflectors for foggy days since they are so hard to see, and we commiserated with him, saying we wished kayakers wouldn’t be off shore in a fog.
Back on the water around 11:30 a.m. we rounded Harbor Island and decided out next stop would be for lunch. We’d been up since 5 a.m. We passed another osprey nest and found a long sand-gravel beach perfect for landing, lunch and exploration.
Since we’d made pretty good time and the weather was cooperating, we decided to cross Eggemoggin Reach after lunch, and check out Pumpkin Island lighthouse. It’s as pretty as a picture (I hope they come out) and there is a stretch of sand on the eastern side that reminded me of the color of the beaches I saw once in the Bahamas. The only difference was that this sand was under very, very cold water at low tide. (You can’t have everything.)
Our destination lay on the opposite side of the reach, so we took a bearing on a hilltop and set our course. Tidal currents in this area made for a confused chop on the return trip, but the mile passed quickly and we pulled up on shore near Oakland House and Shore Oaks Seaside Inn, our intended destination. We would later meet Anchors and McGloin and have a chance to scout out the next portage into Walker Pond that dumps into a brook, then the Bagaduce River that takes you back to Castine.
The Eggemoggin-Walker connection didn’t happen on this trip. There’s some private property to cross. But we scouted the route and settled for a paddle on the reach to watch the red-orange sun settle below the horizon. I’d been on the water for sunrise and sunset and it was time for supper.
We crammed our gear in every nook and cranny of Anchors’ Pathfinder and headed for the Cafe Outback in South Brooksville. Drinks and a late supper were made more pleasant by steel-band music provided by the Blue Flames. The drive back to Castine seemed endless.
A few hours later another gorgeous sunrise beckoned and we headed back around the Bagaduce in two vehicles so we could leave one at West Brooksville.
Part two of our great adventure began around the time of high tide. We started at the dam on the outlet of Walker Pond. It’s a meandering brook that takes you through a wetland. Reeds line the banks, and there isn’t enough room to swing your paddle. One beaver dam and two choked sections of channel made for some interesting travel.
But it is teeming with birds. Osprey circled over head, ducks and cormorants were everywhere, songbirds serenaded us and schools of fish scooted from in front of my kayak leaving the surface boiling in their wake. After nearly a mile of this we broke into open water and dusted ourselves off. As we drifted northward an eagle took flight. We watched it circle and spotted another in a tree nearby.
Minutes later as we drifted up Snow’s Cove, we were rewarded by the antics of osprey diving for fish, dozens of poised cormorants, ducks and what may have been our two eagle friends.
It took us about two and a half hours of leisurely paddling to reach Bagaduce Falls and the water level was perfect for passage. We stopped for lunch and watched the current increase dramatically in the next half hour. The outgoing tide helped carry us northwest to Youngs Islands. The perfect weather we had at the outset of our trip had departed, leaving in its wake some scattered raindrops.
There are a few places on the Bagaduce, one of them at Grindles Eddy, where the currents can be a bit tricky, but it is best not to fight them, Francoeur advised. In this same area we spotted a colony of harbor seals. These playful critters circled us continually, popping up here and there to get a better look at us as we rode the outgoing tide.
Francoeur and I pulled out at the boat launch in West Brooksville where we’d left a car, while Anchors and McGloin headed down river to Castine for cocktails at Dennett’s Wharf. The car ride to Brooksville and back to Castine seemed endless, but it gave me plenty of time to reflect on two great days of paddling.
This just in
Dave Hubley, president of the Allagash Alliance, called me Monday morning to tell me that he had watched and videotaped a white wolf near the Allagash Wilderness Waterway last weekend.
He and Tim Caverly, the former chief AWW administrator, were driving south from the waterway on the Telos Road when they saw what looked like a wolf run into the woods ahead of them. They had pulled over and gone to look for tracks when the animal reappeared near the road no more than 75 feet away.
Hubley said he grabbed his video camera and shot footage. As he did so, a warden and another passer-by also witnessed the healthy 100-pound animal. Hubley said he hopped into his truck and followed it down the road and had another opportunity to get more footage, in all about 5 minutes worth. The animal turned a few times to look back at him, Hubley said.
Game Warden Jim Davis told Hubley that, indeed, the animal was a wolf. Caverly found the animal’s tracks and measured the stride at 36 inches, Hubley said.
He said Bill Green was interested in Hubley’s story and likely would be using some of the footage on his “Green Outdoors” program
Jeff Strout’s column is published on Thursdays. He can be reached at 990-8202 or my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.