Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Break on Little Tybee Island

Last week I guided a group from The University of Vermont’s Outing Club on their spring break trip to Georgia. The phrase ‘spring break’ conjures all kinds of images, but I would guess that very few involve chilly rain, freezing temperatures, winds so strong you can’t paddle against them, or pooping into plastic bags. Georgia in the spring can be hit or miss. The previous week was much warmer – warm enough that I packed my summer sleeping bag. I even brought a spring-break-worthy Aloha shirt.

Of course, students in the outing club probably want to have a more rugged experience than those headed to the predictable spring break mayhem further south, which is a good thing, since our trip was no picnic. One might even say some parts began to feel like a bit of an ordeal, especially if one had visions of drunken beach volleyball, or whatever it is they do down at Daytona. But maybe it’s possible that we get a bit more out of some of these more trying experiences. 

We arrived at Skidaway State Park in Georgia late on Saturday night after two long days of driving (three days for me, since I’d started by driving from Maine to Burlington). Sunday was a day to buy food, check-in at Savannah Canoe & Kayak for some local knowledge from Matt & Ben, and then a couple of hours on the Skidaway River, where we worked on basic skills and got our first capsize out of the way. Fortunately, the group was well-equipped with drysuits and good attitudes.

We launched in the rain from Tybee Island on Monday and, not wanting to lug camping gear too far through the low-tide mud, hung-out on a massive sandbar for awhile as the tide rose. This sandbar is, as far as I can tell, the ‘triangle’ that has put Tybee on the map for so many paddlers. Some seem to refer to it as if its name came from some sort of Bermuda Triangle-type demonic influence on the sea state, but seen from above, this pile of sand at the mouth of Tybee Creek is, yes- triangular. For sure though, outgoing currents merge with ocean swells, and I can imagine the shifting sands create all kinds of waves when covered with water and the western wind isn’t knocking-down wave height. 
On Monday at low tide, waves hit the ocean side while the western lee side was calm- a nice spot for a walk.

After our break there, we continued south a short distance to Myrtle Island and found a campsite in a palm grove at the head of a beach littered with the skeletal remains of uprooted live oaks. We anticipated a high, post- full moon high tide that evening, so we tied-up the boats and I watched, a bit nervously, as the tide rose. At its height, the tallest waves sent a surge through the campsite, floating our tied-up kayaks. I waited for it to begin receding before I pitched my tent in the rain.

During the night though, the storm moved out to sea and we had this idyllic beach to ourselves. This was perhaps the most leisurely, spring break-like morning of the trip. We hadn’t decided if we would base camp there or go on to another site, so for the time being, we all just enjoyed the sun and the shelter from the western wind, which hissed through the treetops, but left us mostly untouched. 

Perhaps we were lulled into a sense of ease, so when we launched in the early afternoon for a short, five-mile paddle to Beach Hammock, we were less mentally prepared for what should have been a simple paddle, but turned very challenging when that northwest wind turned out to be right out of the west, right in our face. The first challenge was keeping the group close enough to the beach and not getting blown-out to sea. Less experienced paddlers seldom have a sense of how much easier it is to find even just a little windbreak close to shore, and they tend to not notice how much they’re getting pushed, so I was continually trying to get us pointed-in toward shore, and at times, we moved toward it glacially, almost 
--> unnoticeably .

As a rule of thumb, average paddlers probably paddle anywhere between 2-4 knots, probably on the low side of that if they don’t have much experience, and especially so as the group size increases. And, as a rule of thumb, every ten knots of wind in your face, slows you down one knot. If you add to that the psychological factor of realizing that you’re on a treadmill, making little forward progress, it becomes obvious why many of us decide to just take a day off when the winds pick-up. When we arrived in camp later on, I checked the nearest buoy, and the wind registered at 24 knots, gusting to 30. Probably the really prudent thing would have been to just return to the campsite we’d left, but we proceeded, intent on our destination, still hoping that the following day we would head-up the Bull River and circumnavigate Little Tybee Island. (Little Tybee is considerably larger than Tybee Island and encompasses several hammocks or islands, all connected at low tide by marsh and sandbars). 

Of course, the longer we took, the more the tide went-out, and by the time we neared Beach Hammock, we ended-up dragging kayaks through vast shallows where we couldn’t sink our blades deeply enough to propel ourselves forward. Add to that a long carry as the sun set to get our boats above the high tide line, and we were all ready for a quick dinner and sleep.

The wind howled through the night and the next day looked no better. We decided to head back to Myrtle Island, but not wanting to merely retrace our route, we decided to explore the marsh. It’s worth pointing-out that the charts are at best vague about the latest configuration of sand and marsh, and it can be difficult to know where you might get through. We had all day though, so we just followed twisting tidal creeks, trusting that we might either find a way out to open ocean or inland to Tybee Creek.

Long story short: we didn’t do either of those. We paddled about five miles into the marsh, until well after high tide, and then worried that we might run out of water and decided to head back out, which brought us almost back to Beach Hammock, where we’d started the day, after about ten nautical miles of paddling. We saw lots of dolphins up there though, and people seemed happy about that. 

They weren’t happy though, as we neared the mouth of this creek and the twisting channels leading through piled sandbanks appeared to dead-end, as if the water had all drained-out, leaving us landlocked. At that point, we’d put-off lunch, wanting to savor getting out to the open ocean, and we were all a bit drained. One of the student leaders got out of his kayak and took a look at what would have been maybe a quarter-mile carry over the dunes. But there was still current flowing out toward Wassaw Sound, so I followed it and soon arrived at open water. From there it was only about five more miles to the campsite on Myrtle Island, where we later arrived at a familiar campsite with plenty of daylight. 

They were a resilient group though, and by dinner seemed to have recharged, perhaps even buoyed by having come through another difficult day together. I told them we’d paddled fifteen nautical miles – an impressive day, especially for new paddlers – and this may have charged them-up even more, to realize that they were overcoming circumstances that would have been difficult for anyone.

As I understood the goals of this trip, they lay somewhere between kicking-back on a beach for spring break and having the sort of adventures that outing clubs seek. I think we did both. For the students, I think these were some long paddling days, and I felt a bit bad about it, feeling the need to explain that sea kayaking isn’t always so difficult. But I don’t think they just wanted to sit on the beach all day either. 

For me, the most ordeal-like aspect of it is being attuned to what the students are going through. Sure, I was tired, but I have to admit that there’s something I really love about long, difficult days, and you can’t really dig for that hidden inner strength if you don’t push things a bit sometimes. You know you’ll get through it, and you know that at the end of the day, that cup of tea in camp is going to be that much more satisfying.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Sou

Rebecca and I were playing pickleball in Stonington when we got a text from Nate. Did we want to go for a whitewater run on Wednesday with him and Chris? Of course we did. Never mind that I needed to pack to leave Thursday morning to go guide a trip in Georgia. These opportunities don't come every day; you say yes to them.

After a foggy drive, we met in Hampden at the take-out for a run on Souadabscook Stream. The parking area was a sheet of ice, so we parked along the roadside and shuttled up to the put-in in Nate's truck. Fortunately for us, Nate and Chris have an extra boat or two and were happy to outfit and coach us. Of course a lot of the gear - like everything we wore - is the same we would use for sea kayaking. And of course, a lot of the skills overlap as well, especially if you spend some time in tidal currents.

Despite the snowy banks and the sculptural ice formations atop rocks or hanging from flooded trees, the air temps crept up into the high forties, and we were plenty warm. This was my second time in a whitewater boat, and the second time on the Sou (rhymes with 'cow') but Rebecca's first such excursion.

Whitewater can offer a nice counterpoint to sea kayaking. It takes you inland to places we don't get to in sea kayaks, at times when boating on the ocean might be less practical. And although the emphasis seems to be more upon thrill-seeking than journeying, we enjoyed the less-bumpy stretches as well. You just drift downstream and enjoy the ride.

But then there's the bumps, and they're a lot of fun.

I'd like to think I'll be plunging into whitewater boating as I did sea kayaking, but it's not likely, at least anytime soon. I feel lucky when these opportunities come my way, and we would undoubtedly do it more if we invested in our own gear and began taking classes and getting coaching as we did for sea kayaking. But maybe it's knowing what it took to improve my sea kayaking skills that makes me hesitant to spread myself too thin. Maybe it's yet another reason to figure-out how to spend less time working and more time having fun.

As on last year's run down the same stream, I chose to not run Grand Falls at the end. Chris did though.

If you're a sea kayaker and you'd like to give whitewater a try, Nate will be teaming-up with Todd Wright in Vermont for a class meant just for you this June!

I've got a short article in the new issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine about paddling in some of my favorite neighborhoods. Chris (above) appeared in a profile as well. It isn't online yet, so if you don't already subscribe, you might just have to run out and buy it!

I also discovered that Paddling Magazine published a favorable review of AMC's Best Sea Kayaking in New England last summer:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Between Storms: A Few Winter Paddling Tips

A storm had come through the previous night, battering the windows with sleet, covering the ground with a layer of slushy snow, and another storm – a bigger one – was on its way. But for a few hours anyway, the air temperature would rise above freezing, and this happened to coincide with high tide: a perfect opportunity for a quick paddle. I got into my gear as quickly as I could and headed-out.

It has been awhile since I’ve written much about the measures I take before I feel adequately prepared to paddle on a day with both air and water temperatures in the mid-thirties, but it’s certainly worth mentioning every once in awhile that I don’t take the risks lightly, and I wouldn’t want to encourage anyone else to either. But it seems that some do. Two weeks ago, the Coast Guard rescued a man who had capsized his kayak off of Kittery. Somehow, when we read such accounts it is unsurprising that he wasn’t wearing a lifejacket and that his cold, wet clothing was cut from him before he could be treated for hypothermia and shock. Of course he was lucky just to survive.

It’s the sort of story that makes the news and gets the general public thinking that kayakers aren’t too clever. I won’t make any assumptions beyond the bare facts in the Coast Guard’s report, but any time I hear about a mishap like this I have this vague fear that among the paddler’s gear they’ll find a soggy copy of my guidebook (with the entire Introduction completely unread, of course). I have also been concerned that someone might have read my blog, said ‘that looks like fun’ and gone-off to try it themselves.

Part of the reason I shy away from writing about gear or how to acquire skills is that I feel strongly that this is something best learned first-hand, in person, rather than reading about it or from videos. Sure, I can tell you what gear I use, but I’d hate to give the impression that it’s all you need. And if you take a class or get coached by a knowledgeable instructor, you’ll learn about these things.

I think I worried more about the example I set in the earlier years of this blog, before Facebook became saturated with photographs or videos of paddlers taking what might appear to be baffling risks, often with no context at all to give the viewer some idea whether this were something they should try at home or not, or what the paddler did to be safe – or not. At least I try to put things in context. But I’ve also tended more toward trying to convey the experience, rather than the ‘how-to’ aspect of kayaking. And again, the Introduction to my guidebook covers quite a bit, and I’m not fond of repeating myself. Really, I recommend it.

But at the risk of repeating myself, here are a few points about the paddling I do in the winter in Maine. Really, these are all things to consider no matter the season, but in the winter, my attentiveness to risk management is greatly elevated, and I pay particular attention to the following concerns: timing my trip, relaxing my ambitions, choosing less consequential locations, and of course, before all of those considerations, I need the skills and gear.

1) I choose my days carefully. For this reason, I avoid putting some random Saturday on the calendar and inviting friends for a trip that we’ll take that day, regardless of the conditions. I constantly watch the weather, looking for windows of opportunity. Everyone has their own standards, but in the winter, I’m looking for minimal wind and air temperatures around freezing or above. Bonus if the sun is shining – it keeps you warmer. It helps that my winter schedule is fairly loose, but I think it’s a bad idea to get your heart set on a particular day and being tempted to stick with it, even when you know you shouldn’t.

2) My ambitions tend to be scaled-back quite a bit from what I do in warmer weather. Usually, I’m happy just to get out for a short paddle – maybe one or two hours. My hands and feet don’t have much chance to get cold. I tend to get chilled when I get out for a break, so it helps to just avoid breaks and keep paddling. You can certainly go for longer days, but you need to be vigilant about throwing-on extra layers, bringing warm drinks, etc. I don’t often drive very far to go paddling in the winter. (In fact, when it’s cold I pretty much only drive to the pool).

3) Most of my winter excursions tend to be in more sheltered areas that I’m very familiar with. Again, we’re fortunate to be in a good spot here on Greenlaw Cove, but when winds pick-up, it can be very sheltered here.

Beyond those are the more usual concerns about skills and gear, in that order, which apply to the rest of the year, but become more consequential as the air and water turn colder. These are simple facts; it’s fairly straightforward. If you tip over in 37-degree water (as it is here now) and you fail to roll and can’t get back into your boat quickly, things may go downhill for you very quickly, even if you’re wearing all that fancy gear we put so much faith into. And that’s assuming that the cold water hasn’t triggered a gasp reflex (it’s really better to avoid capsizing). You need to be absolutely confident in your rescue skills and in those of anyone with whom you paddle.

Much could be written about gear, but I’ll just list what I wore Wednesday as an example. The drysuit is the crucial element, and I adjust the layers underneath depending upon the weather. Underneath I wore wool socks, wool baselayer (top & bottom), thin synthetic pants and 2 more upper body layers (1 wool, 1 fleece). I wear various neoprene gloves, mittens and pogies, but yesterday I was fine with a pair of NRS Rogues. Since last winter I’ve been wearing thick, 6.5 mm diving boots made by Xcel, and my feet have always been warm. On my head I wore a neoprene beanie made by Hyperflex. These beanies have become a favorite piece of year-round kit, and I’ll write a bit more about some that I’ve tried in another post.

One of my big questions before I launch is how many layers I’ll need on top. Yesterday, with 3 layers plus the drysuit (and lifejacket) I was hot within five minutes. But the air temps stayed in the low to mid-thirties and the wind picked-up into the teens, and I was glad to have the extra layer. My gloves were a little damp and my fingertips may have been mildly numb by the time I returned. If I’d been concerned I could have added pogies, or switched to a heavier glove or mitt. Of course I also carried with me all my usual back-up gear, radio & cell phone, storm cag, etc.

But part of the reason I shy-away from getting too gear-focused is that it’s easy to start regarding your gear like a suit of armor that will protect you no matter what. People put on a helmet and seem to forget that it won’t prevent you from breaking an arm or getting your face impaled by a broken paddle shaft. And even in a drysuit, that water is freakin’ cold. Which leads me back to skill. Whether or not you get out on the ocean this time of year, it’s a good time to hone your skills in the warm water of a swimming pool.

Oh, and the whole paddling alone issue. I’m confident in my abilities in the situations I get myself into. But as a human I’m prone to error and I have come to the realization, mid-paddle, that I could be getting into a situation that I can’t get out of. That’s a bad feeling, and I really recommend that you avoid it. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but my skills are well above average and I practice frequently – a good combat roll in chaotic surf and tidal currents that I’ve been able to test many times, and I seldom swim. But everybody swims sometime, and failing to think about what will happen when you do could be fatal hubris. Cold air and water only decrease the odds of a happy outcome.

Again, there’s a section in my guidebook about solo paddling and group dynamics. If there’s some doubt in your mind about your abilities should anything go wrong, either don’t launch or change your plans. In addition, don’t subscribe to the ‘safety in numbers’ myth. That’s a whole other can of worms. If you’re relying on someone else, make sure they know it and they’re worthy of your trust. Two moderately-skilled paddlers vaguely relying on each other are less safe than a skilled paddler relying on no one but himself, but with a realistic sense of limits.

Rant over: back to ‘the experience of paddling’. Right. Well, it was a nice paddle, not much to say about it really. An hour and a half: along Shore Acres Preserve and around Campbell Island. Some ice floes, which are cool to paddle among. It makes you feel like Nanook or some Arctic explorer as you weave among the ice. A bit of wind in the face for the return stretch. It just felt good to get out. And then the real storm came.

But then again, you could just wait for the ocean to freeze, strap-on some snowshoes and walk over the ice at low tide.

It's worth pointing-out that some of these photos were taken from shore, on days when I wasn't even considering getting on the water (or the ice, as the case may be). And thanks to Rebecca for the shots she took of me from the porch, when she was recuperating. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Greenlaw Cove

I got out for a short paddle today in Greenlaw Cove, where we're living this winter. It was typical of the trips I've taken lately. I carried the boat down to the water and took a left. Then I closely followed the contour of shoreline for an hour or so, in and out of rocks, below overhanging trees and dripping icicles. For January first, the weather felt reasonably mild: sunny, high thirties, but some gusty winds out of the west that I was mostly able to avoid if I stayed close to shore. Over the past few days we'd had some high winds and a rainstorm that left snow pretty much everywhere besides Deer Isle. The mountains on Mount Desert Island were white on top.

It's a different kind of paddling than I do most of the year. I'm paddling to get out of the house, get a little fresh air and exercise, much the way I would go for a walk. As always, I have an eye on the weather for an exceptional stretch in which to get out for a full day somewhere, but most of the time our focus is on making the most of the winter and getting our work done, and I'm content with these little forays.

If Rebecca joins me, I'm more likely to bring along some hot chocolate and take a break somewhere like Campbell Island, but more often than not, I'm just paddling non-stop, usually trying to make the most of the short hours of daylight.

It was just about two years ago that we closed our art gallery in Stonington, moved out of the apartment above it where we'd lived for about twelve years, and went down to Georgia to do sea kayak work for that winter. Since then we've lived as cheaply as we can to make this lifestyle work, and part of that formula has been to avoid rent. Housing was provided in Georgia, and at Old Quarry we worked in exchange for the apartment our first summer, and for the space in which to park our trailer last summer. We're living in the third house we've sat, all in roughly the same part of Deer Isle. It's been satisfying to become accustomed to a new view and get to know each paddling neighborhood well.

Paddling-wise, maybe it's a bit of a holding pattern: trying to get out just enough to stay in some sort of shape, not letting the callouses totally go away, to keep the movement of the paddle somewhat fresh in our muscle memories. And some days, when I'm walking in the Tennis Preserve and I look out at Marshall Island, only a few miles away and think 'I want to go there,' it's a little frustrating, since we have the time do these things now, but not the weather or the daylight, and in the summers we're so busy with our kayak work that our own excursions get put on the back burner... in favor of making the money so we can have periods like the one we're in now. We're hoping next summer will be a little different, but it all really just comes down to having enough money. And part of that is dependent on our making the most of this time now. To be sure though, we're in a good place to watch these days come and go.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Super Moon at Sullivan

When you hear that the next full moon will be a “super moon,” – the closest that the moon will come to the earth in many years, you might think “okay, so what do I do with that information?”

Well, for one thing, there’s just something stunning and gorgeous when the moon looks a teeny bit bigger than usual and you see it coming-up. The evening before the full moon I had a ‘holy-cow’ moment when I looked up from the kitchen table and saw the moon rising over the cove. I grabbed a camera and went outside. For most people, that’s it – it’s something to see, especially when the moon rises and there’s some foreground to give you a sense of scale- in this case, the mud flats of Greenlaw Cove, with less water than usual. Certainly, it would have been cool to be out paddling, and I saw some nice photos on the Internet of people around the world doing just that.

Instead, we went-out for a mid-day paddle in Greenlaw Cove, where we’re living this winter, and forayed along the shore into nooks that would ordinarily be unreachable. Later-on when the moon rose, much of the cove was emptied-out, and it would have been a long walk (or a car-top elsewhere) to float our kayaks.

But, aside from the visual treat, the nearness of the moon and its amped-up gravitational pull also translates to an increased tidal range. The range over the past couple of days – meaning the difference between tide height at low tide and tide height at high tide, has been 15 to 16 feet. Spring tides in this area (the tides that occur twice a month, during the new and full moons) tend to average closer to 13 feet.
Higher tide range is evidenced several ways. There’s more water coming-in and going out. At high tide you could paddle in places that are seldom under water, and at low tide you could walk in places that are rarely dry. In addition, that plus-size water volume still needs to pass in and out during the same time period, which means stronger currents.
If you want to experience those stronger currents, go to a place where the moving water is already constricted by topography and depth, like Sullivan Falls. Even without spring tides, a nine-foot range there produces lively water with plenty of surf-able waves. So the morning after the super moon, we went to Sullivan Falls for the flood.

We launched close to mid-tide. The tide had already reached the usual high-water mark, but with three hours before high tide, one could only imagine how the features would all change. Nate immediately slipped down onto some nice waves and rode them a bit before dropping farther down to our more usual play spot. I followed and had my first capsize that I’d had for awhile; indeed, the current shot-through with unforgiving speed- it took only a minor misstep to get flipped around, with little chance for recovery. The water felt cold and fast, but I was only under for a few seconds before rolling-up and discovering myself still facing into the current, only a wave or two back, still surfing. Rebecca went through a similar baptism. And there were more to follow.

We played there for a bit, but the waves seemed to just get messier, so we progressed to another spot. We’ve paddled a lot at Sullivan Falls, including a few days with tides near this range, and we’ve learned that big water volume doesn’t necessarily produce the best conditions for surfing. That’s mostly what we’re doing there: trying to get on waves, facing the current, so we can essentially stay in the same spot, surfing on these standing waves.

But the great thing about Sullivan is how it’s always changing. Variables abound. As the current increases, so does the depth. Waves go away in one spot and evolve in another. Some waves are tall and steep, others are low and gentle. Some develop grabby holes in front of them, and others long, even troughs that allow you to ‘typewriter’ across the crest.

This time, our highlight probably came when we found a set of waves off a point where we’ve never been able to surf before. They were small, but powerful, clean waves and gave us some nice rides- enough time on them that we could focus on our technique and try to improve.

When that spot started to dwindle, we ferried back across the river and made our way up-current before ferrying back again, regaining the spot near the launch where we’d begun the morning- nearly unrecognizable beneath a few more feet of water. This time the attraction was a long, diagonal seam where the water came over a ledge and curled back upon itself. If you get sideways on this wave, and keep your weight strongly on the down-current edge, you can side-surf it, something we’d discovered there a few years ago, but rarely had the opportunity to repeat.

And soon enough that wave also began to disappear. Maybe that’s also part of Sullivan’s attraction, especially with such big currents and rapidly changing features – the ephemeral quality. You can’t step into the same river twice. When you catch a wave, there’s no guarantee it will be there the next time you go looking for it. The super moon’s lure of a huge tidal range draws us there, as much out of morbid curiosity as the desire merely to experience the place in one of its more extreme incarnations. But it’s really just a few hours of playing in the waves.

We didn’t stick around for the ebb. Three intense hours at Sullivan is taxing, and we had a pretty good idea of what to expect after the tide change. There would be some great waves to start with, but they would develop into massive, but very rough and trashy water with a particularly grabby and dangerous hole (that can usually be avoided). The paddling becomes more a matter of self-defense than merely trying to grab a wave. The morning had been good enough.

And if you're looking for ways to stay warm on the water for the coming months,  Wetsuit Wearhouse is having the biggest sale ever for Black Friday, with over 400 markdowns.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Yet Another Way to Paddle Frenchman Bay

Yesterday morning I had one of those “how long can I keep doing this?” moments as I rolled out of bed. I ached in all the usual places, but at the end of a long season of teaching and guiding sea kayakers, it felt like my age was catching up with me. I hate to admit that – to blame it on age. It immediately makes me think of some of my coaches, maybe ten years my senior, still hard at it, more so than I. They’re either just tougher than I am, in more pain than I am, or maybe they’ve adapted in some ways to sustain their ability to keep at it. Or maybe a little bit of all of the above.
         After rolling out of bed though, I spent ten to fifteen minutes on some stretches, and started feeling better. I’ve done those stretches nearly every morning for probably a decade, and they help. Maybe I need to do more. Maybe it’s time for an update of the yoga classes I took thirty years ago.

I’d spent the last couple of days with M, who’d come from Tel Aviv and wanted to work on a few things you can’t find easily along the Israeli coast, like rocks and ledges and tidal currents. We told him he’d come to the right place. And since Rebecca had errands in Ellsworth, we had the perfect opportunity to plan a shuttle – get dropped-off at one place and picked-up at another. Nate dropped us off in Bar Harbor and helped us get our gear together while his golden retriever ran on the beach. Nate looked out at the Porcupine Islands: damp spruce beneath a gray, overcast sky. The wind had dropped to almost nothing, and the air temps had risen into the fifties – warmer than they’d been lately. “Looks like you’ll have a good day,” he said.
            I might have suggested that Nate come along, but I knew he was looking forward to getting stuff done around the house and returning to his winter projects in the wood shop. Still, he had that wistful look that we get when we launch someone else and kind of wish we were going.

M and I headed-off into the Porcupines, and it was a good day out there, with just enough swell to create a few challenges. We got into the Keyhole and made our way among the tall chasms on Long Porcupine around high tide. We ate lunch on The Hop, the island barred to the west end of Long Porcupine, where you can sit atop high, meadowy ledges and take-in a view that encompasses much of the south end of Frenchman Bay. M asked me if I went there often and I looked around and nodded.
            “You’re lucky to have this in your backyard,” M said, and I agreed.

We went through the gap between Jordan and Ironbound – the “Halibut Hole” and followed the cliffs of Ironbound's eastern shore. The tide was still high, so we managed to paddle deeply into the caves. I’d started the day demonstrating places that M could get into, but by now he knew the drill. He’d start paddling-in while I waited, keeping an eye out for any jumbo waves. 

When introducing people to rocks, ledges and cliffs, one big concern is that, no matter how much I point-out the need to work on that 360-degree awareness, that hypersensitivity to everything around you, and in particular everything that can go wrong- where the waves are coming from and where they’ll take you, it takes some experience to develop this awareness. There’s always a bigger wave coming and you need to anticipate what that will do to the stretch of water you’re about to enter.

So after M paddled deep into the longest cave, I almost didn’t take a turn – after all, he wouldn’t be getting anything more from my demonstration, and while in the depths of the cave I wouldn’t be keeping an eye out for potential close-out waves. And I knew what to expect. But it would be crazy to not go in; the tide was perfect, waves weren’t too big, and when would I get there again?

I backed most of the way to the rear of the cave, from where the entrance appeared as a massive mouse hole in the cliff face. In the dim chamber, the outgoing waves dragged the rounded cobbles over each other, tumbling them like bowling balls in a giant’s popcorn popper, and then the wave would come, driving into the undercut, bored-out back of the cave and erupt in an explosion of mist that shot all around you. You could feel the booming in your chest, this release of energy contained by a vault of stone, like a bomb going off underground, just behind you.
        It put a smile on my face. I paddled out of the cave, and we headed onward, checking-out every stretch of shoreline, looking for whatever surprises it might offer. 

At the end of Ironbound it just seemed natural to continue southward, across a stretch of open water to the Egg Rock lighthouse. From there it wasn’t much more than a half-hour to the take-out at Grindstone Neck, where Rebecca waited for us as the sun set behind the mountains of Acadia.

We spent the next day at Sullivan Falls. Another day, another story, but probably a big part of why I woke-up feeling beat-up after a couple days of this. I know. Tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

The places on this route are covered in Trips #8 and #9 in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England. As illustrated here, there’s no end to the ways you can approach these routes and mix them up.

The take-out is not really a boat launch and not listed in the guidebook since there isn’t  much dedicated parking, but it can be a useful spot. Just drive down to the south end of Grindstone Neck in Winter Harbor. There’s a wide spot in the pavement to turn around or park, and an old stone bench that overlooks the shore, which is a mix of rocky slabs – probably not an easy landing in rough conditions. No facilities.