Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Good Places to Eat Lunch

A few days ago we went down to Popham Beach for some surf. It was a warm, moderate day with messy, confused seas, and strong winds shearing off the wave tops. Cold enough water to feel bracing when it slaps you in the face, but warmer than it will be for the next 8 months.  

It took a few attempts and some harsh beat-downs before we finally found the right spot and got into a groove that rewarded us with long rides. We felt drained and good during the long drive home in the dark, drinking coffee, re-living a few choice moments.

I go back and forth between touring and looking for excitement- usually a little of both. Lately we’ve gone on mostly calm excursions with friends, exploring Stinson Neck and Jericho Bay.

We’ve found new places to eat lunch and for Rebecca to paint, usually- it seems – returning home just after sunset, getting the most out of these fall days. We’ve been lucky to have abundant warm-ish days, and though plenty of people have put their boats away for the season, the water is warmer now than it will be in the spring when they put their boats in the water again.

When a friend visited last week, we took some drives to favorite spots: Mount Desert, Schoodic Point, The Bold Coast.

We hiked and gazed-out over big, impressive views.

There is something satisfying about looking out over vistas and understanding what you’re looking at because you’ve been in so many of these places, but I mostly find my eyes gravitating to the places I haven’t yet paddled, and there’s something satisfying about that too, knowing there’s no end to it.

But mostly we just paddle around, looking for good places to eat lunch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Andrews Island

We had one last big weekend of classes through Pinniped: a calm day in Frenchman Bay, searching for features among rocks and ledges, a day at Sullivan Falls with a fifteen-foot tide range, and an incident management class out around Bass Harbor and Great Gott Island. On that last day, we carried over the sandbar between the Gotts where a chilly north wind stung the face and I found myself imagining that warm cup of gas station coffee I’d drink for the ride home. I felt a little relieved that it was the end of my teaching season. 

Almost on cue, those last days of October brought strong winds- warm, tropical air with fifty, sixty – knot gusts. Good days to stack firewood and go to the library to catch-up on the Internet. But with winter coming, one can develop a mildly desperate sense of purpose; make the most of every warm day. Chris wondered about a Sunday trip in Muscle Ridge, maybe look for a rock or two. Sounded good. 

Chris and Nate are both preparing for a Level 5 Instructor assessment. I did the Instructor Development Workshop for this in the spring with them, but hadn’t planned on assessing this year. As I see them preparing, I feel both a sense of regret that I’m not doing it (nothing like knowing you’ll be on the spot to get your skills sharpened) and relief that I can just go out and have fun. 


Sunday morning we met Chris, Justin and Erin at Ash Point, just south of Owls Head, and headed out. We’d seen forecasts that suggested strong winds and lumpy seas. But at the sandbar stretching from Ash Point out to Ash Island, the sea was fairly calm. We paddled into a ten-knot headwind as we crossed the channel out to Otter Island, past Dix, and took a break on Birch, before donning our helmets and heading out to Andrews Island. 

Andrews is privately-owned, with most of the cottages concentrated around the cove on the more sheltered northwest side. But the southeast shore of the island- from the northern tip, stretching over a mile to Nash Point at the southern end- is all undeveloped, probably because most of that shoreline is steep and rocky. In the middle of that stretch, the rocks turn particularly steep, with vertical pinkish granite cliffs that drop straight down into the sea, and it’s all exposed to open ocean. 

It’s a dramatic place to paddle, even on a calm day. 

But on Sunday we had some moderate swells rolling-in- a bit big to be working-out tricky maneuvers among the rocks, but perfect if you wanted to find spots to let those waves roll beneath you and explode on the vertical rocks. As people like to say, there was a lot of energy hitting the shore. 

Erin is fairly new to sea kayaking, but thanks to Chris she’s been getting a lot of good instruction and gradual exposure to lively conditions. She was the one beside me on the “Killer K” section of the Shubecanadie who expressed my assessment of the steep haystacks (“holy shit”). 

After a little encouragement, she nosed her bow in close to a steep slab of granite, and held-on as a bigger wave slammed into the cliff. The sound alone was daunting- an explosion of surf on hard, hard granite. Her bow lifted high and then dropped down as the wave rebounded. Erin looked back at us with a huge smile.

Landing for lunch was a challenge in itself, but afforded us a gorgeous place for a picnic atop a flat slab of pink granite, with views along Andrews’ shore toward the familiar trio of wind turbines on Vinalhaven. Out to sea, Matinicus was a low smudge on the horizon. 

It was the first day of Daylight Saving, and the end of the day seemed to come quickly. We paddled back to the launch with the wind at our back.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New Neighborhood

As the season at Old Quarry wound-down, we pondered our next move. Returning to Georgia was not much of an option. When we left in June, the owner of the business was ill and it seemed a long shot that Sea, Surf & SUP would begin to thrive enough to provide ample work. The owner died over the summer and the business has since gone into yet another phase, with another name. So we weighed our options.

We'd worked really hard all summer- barely a day for a break, and, while the pace was sometimes a bit stressful, we loved it. We loved being active, kayaking all the time, in good shape, in close touch with the natural world.  I loved the tan lines from my sandals and the constant sore-muscled feeling of being a bit worked. And money in the bank. When we returned from the symposium in Nova Scotia, it felt obvious that summer was over and it seemed prudent to get south while the getting was good. We might find some kayak work in a warmer place and just keep at it. Or lay low for a bit in the Everglades.

We weighed this dream of warmer climes and more frequent paddling with our love for the Maine Coast, even in the colder months. Several people had very generously offered us winter living accommodations. We couldn't quite make up our minds. Rebecca needed a good spot to paint- a large enough space with good light. The ability to get out and kayak frequently would be a bonus. It seemed we would probably go south for the winter.

But then one day I was giving a lesson and my student told me she had a house that needed sitting for the winter... and it was on the water.  It would give us long months to focus on painting and writing. So here we are, still on Deer Isle. The house is in Sunshine, looking out over Mud Cove toward Eggemoggin Reach and Brooklin. We've been here about a week and a half now. (The first time I wrote that it had been a week, but we don't have internet here).

Last weekend I led a camping trip for College of the Atlantic, and with winds from the northwest gusting into the 30s, we looked for a more sheltered area. We settled on Naskeag Point and camped about two miles from our new winter home. It had been awhile since I'd paddled around here. For the past couple of years I haven't had a lot of personal paddling time to explore semi-local Maine waters. I've usually either been teaching & guiding or researching the guidebook, which took me away from Maine for awhile. So it's been with particular joy that I've found myself revisiting familiar islands, some of which have changed hands since my last visit.

Which isn't to say we don't have second thoughts. I woke up in my tent Sunday morning and it was pretty cold- just under freezing. Okay, it could be worse- it will be much worse, but you find yourself thinking "is this really necessary?" My outlook improved with a little coffee and oatmeal.

So we're getting into a routine here. Most days we stay put for the morning and get work done. At some point after lunch we head out for a paddle, getting better-acquainted with the neighborhood, gaining an understanding of what we're looking at from the living room window. Between us and Plumb Point are a couple of islets and ledges. One is barren of trees, with only a few distinctive boulders that catch the light just so. It already looks like a painting, and I find myself looking toward it compulsively, as if waiting for subtle changes to re-arrange it somehow.

A little farther out there's Bear Island, ringed with pocket beaches and a trail running its perimeter. There's Conary and White Islands, and across the Reach we visited the Babson and Torrey Islands. Little Babson has become a MCHT preserve since my last visit. And the Torreys now have posted signs welcoming responsible use.

At the mouth of Greenlaw Cove, Campbell Island is in the hands of the Chewonki Foundation and still on the Maine Island Trail, despite it's being for sale. As we paddled along its shore I remembered my first visit there, looking for the campsite as it grew dark after a long day of paddling.

Toward the end of Stinson Neck we visited some of the smaller islands, savoring them, taking comfort in their nearness to our winter home. Of course, we don't take that nearness for granted, realizing that at any time the weather might turn cold enough that we won't want to paddle. But for now we're reveling in the abundance of both time and less familiar shoreline to explore.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Shubie

We gathered near the shore, floating in our kayaks, waiting: nine of us- coaches who'd got together after the symposium to share a shuttle and a ride on the Shubecanadie's famous tidal bore. We'd met in a dark parking lot at five am and drove for four hours, a caravan of car-topped kayaks winding along a quiet Nova Scotia highway. We didn't even know who were in all the other cars until we pulled-off for a coffee and stood in line, a group of tired, but charged-up ruffians in stinky clothes. Finally, the caravan snaked along a smaller network of roads and arrived at the put-in in Maitland, near the head of the Minas Basin. Just after the full moon, or the Supermoon as everyone was calling it, the tidal range was anticipated to be around 54 feet- the largest in eighteen years.

Some had paddled the Shubie before- Rebecca had ridden the chocolate-brown waves the previous year- but for some of us it was hard to imagine the tidal bore- a wave that would, according to prediction, come surging toward us and rapidly fill the basin of the tidal river. "There it is," someone shouted, and it took me a moment to see how the distant water surface had turned bumpy.

We weren't really sure where to position ourselves. A group of Zodiac tour boats also waited nearby and a guided group, led by symposium organizers Committed 2 The Core coaches occupied a stretch in the middle of the river. We didn't want to get in their way, so we held position near the edge, not really comprehending what would happen when the bore reached us. But then the wave came. It seemed to descend almost in slow motion at first, lifting the guided group and propelling them down the middle of the river. Some of us managed to surf the wave as it caught us, but others were piled-up along the edge, pushed higher along the bank by the tide like so much driftwood, unable to maneuver in the shallows, subject to the whims of the current.

I managed to avoid the knot of boats, but still wound-up stranded in shallow water, watching a couple of boats surf away ahead of me. There were a few capsizes in this stretch, and after I got loose, I watched as a standing wave ahead of me rapidly increased in size, roaring as I bounced through it. We all finally gathered on the opposite side of the river and caught our breath. Rebecca's boat had a crack in it- presumably from the weight of the other boats that had ridden over her in the pile-up. I quickly patched the gash and inflated a flotation bag in the front hatch. The water level rose very quickly.

But the tidal bore is just the first of many features. For the rest, we paced ourselves, letting the water fill-in, developing stretches of standing waves that we drifted down into and surfed. I only took pictures in the quieter moments between features, but it's a gorgeous area: tall red cliffs, eroded like the sandstone I usually associate with the southwest US deserts. A rainstorm came and went.

One stretch, known as "The Killer K" (K=Kilometer) produced massive haystacks of red standing waves. Balanced on the crest of a tall mound of ochre, foamy mayhem, I had a moment to think about all the things that might happen next before I was propelled down a steep wave face. I really just had one thought, and I heard it come out of someone else's mouth: "holy shit!" I'm glad someone else said it.

We took some long rides, some through stretches where you could feel the enormous volume of water surging overwhelmingly around you. At times I couldn't tell if I were flying forward over the waves or if they were rushing backwards beneath me: usually a bit of both.

We took short time-outs in the eddies to make sure everyone was accounted for, and kept moving with the amplified current up the river. The sun came out.

We went around the last corner, a reddish bluff protruding into the river, and gathered in the eddy. On one hand I felt like I wanted more- it had been just a few hours of focused paddling. On the other hand, I felt exhausted. The others seemed a bit spent as well; we drifted around the last turns with a dream-like slowness,  paddling up a tributary creek, savoring those last moments on the water before we had to pack our cars and go our separate ways.

Here's another Shubie video from the Committed 2 The Core crew.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium

After we closed the gallery last winter, with an uncertain future and no real commitments, I applied for and was accepted as an assistant coach for Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium. As it turned out, the timing was perfect to end our busy season here at Old Quarry. We continued to work 70-80-hour weeks until we packed up the car last week and drove up to Canada to catch Bay Ferries Limited St. John to Digby Ferry-- which we boarded with about 8 minutes to spare after we provided entertainment for customs officials for well over an hour ("why do you need three kayaks for two people?").

But the ferry was well worth catching. The crossing-- under three hours-- cut-off the better part of a day's drive around the top of the bay. Not only that, but we started running into paddlers en-route to the symposium who were charged-up and excited- a contagious enthusiasm that made it feel we were part of a pilgrimage of paddlers headed for the southern tip of Nova Scotia.

We camped that first night near Yarmouth, arriving in Argyle early enough on Friday for a paddle. And we ran into our friend Andrea Knepper from Chicago, who joined us for some playtime down at Cape Sable Island.

The symposium brings coaches from around the world to teach in the varied environments near Yarmouth, where the tides rush in and out of the Bay of Fundy and the open ocean rolls-in from the south. There's sandy beaches down at Cape Sable Island, sheltered, island-studded harbors off of Argyle and the glacial till islands of the Tuskets, where the tidal flow squeezes through. In addition to plenty of classes for beginners, the symposium offers opportunities for paddlers to improve their skills in tide races, rocks and ledges, safety and leadership. For me, it was an opportunity to learn from other coaches.

I assisted in several classes, each with different coaches in diverse locales. The steep rocks at Cape Forchu was a good spot for Incident Management & Tricky Landings, led by Jeff Laxier.

The dynamics of assisting also varies greatly - some classes have more coaches than others. Being less experienced than most, I tended to wait for a cue from the lead coach before stepping-in, but the high coach to student ratio makes it easy to paddle aside for a moment with a student to offer individual feedback, which is often the most valuable form of help.

 Multiple coaches also makes it easier to get-in a little of our own playtime.

 We assembled at Ye Olde Argyler Lodge each morning for announcements and class rosters. My classes were always going off to more challenging venues, so we assembled caravans of vehicles car-topping kayaks that snaked down the highways, sometimes about an hour away. At the end of the day we returned for dinner and evening presentations. Gordon Brown led us us in a Greenlandic game that tested our coordination, then, around the campfire, he told us the story of how he'd discovered sea kayaking.

Another evening, James Manke gave a presentation on his trip to the Greenland Kayak Championship. Chris Lockyer & Peter Bojanic told stories about a Newfoundland trip. I was really too tired to do much socializing in the evenings, but in a way, much of the reason we're there is to meet other paddlers.

With coaches visiting from the UK and Germany, as well as all across North America, the symposium has a way of making the global paddling community feel a bit cozier. Despite different languages and accents, we recognize that the ocean - and our chosen mode of discovering it- beckons us like nothing else. The nearly full moon rose over the campfire, reflecting in the calm waters of Lobster Bay. A guitar went from hand to hand and we sang a few songs. (Thanks to Barbara Bellows for these shots- she's Rebecca's Mom, making the trek from Newfoundland to attend the symposium for the second year).

On the charts around Yarmouth there are a number of locations labeled "The Sluice." At one of them, I assisted Santiago Berrueta in an Intro to Currents class, which felt particularly successful, since most of the students had little or no experience in tidal currents, and by the end of the class they'd all learned the basics of boat handling in current. We also had plenty of rescue practice, but the venue is perhaps a bit less intimidating than Sullivan Falls, so it was really perfect for beginners.

Ryan Rushton led a class in Tide Race Play & Safety that took us out into the Tusket Islands in search of a tide race that previous classes had found lacking in lumpiness. But the perigean full moon and strong southwest winds against the ebb did their magic, and we found a proper tide race that challenged everyone.

I'm lacking in photos of people in conditions since I felt preoccupied with my roles of coach and safety boater- and Rebecca had the camera. At the end of each day we all shared our stories about where we'd gone and what we'd learned. With 30+ coaches and 70+ students there's enough variables that the symposium is really a conglomeration of hundreds of stories: trips taken, lessons learned, people met. We return with skills to improve, new friends on Facebook and some new approaches to coaching. But maybe the most significant thing is to connect with all of these people, many of whom, like us, probably go back to their communities where they're seen as a bit oddball because of their obsession.

Of course, we still had the trip home, including a post-symposium run on the Shubenacadie River, a story that will wait until next time. The next Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium will take place in September, 2017; I hope to see you there.

Thanks to the organizers of the event: Christopher Lockyer, Jarrod Gunn McQuillian, Trevor Killam, Trudy Killam, Kirk Dauphinee & Peter Bojanic.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Perfect Way to Start Sea Kayaking

I paddled away from the island, pointed out into Southeast Harbor, against the wind. It was the first time I had paddled alone in awhile and it felt good to really let go and move quickly through the water, concerned only for myself. A breeze mildly corrugated the surface, but the whole Inner Harbor-Southeast Harbor area was relatively calm... amazingly so, considering the bumpy conditions at the mouth of Webb Cove that had driven us in this direction. My clients had hoped to spend the first night of their multi-day trip out in the archipelago, but this was just their second day of sea kayaking, and the lure of quieter water beckoned. Fortunately, it was as placid as I had predicted.

My clients were a couple who wanted some instruction and guidance to get started sea kayaking. For our first day we'd scheduled a full-day Fundamentals class, followed by a Journeying focus on the second day. I would help them get to their first destination. After that they would continue their trip on their own.

It's good to have such a specific goal: try to get them paddling safely and efficiently enough to continue on their own. A full-day Fundamentals class is a good start. We cover strokes and maneuvers as well as safety and navigation, all in the context of a journey. We may cover some of the same material in a shorter class, but in a full day, students have the chance to really try out these skills and get coached on them.We finished the first day with rescues in the pond.

After their first day of paddling, the couple had the chance to go back to the campground and recuperate- get a meal in town and a good night's sleep before the next morning, when they packed their boats and we headed out- me just for the day, while they were packed for four nights. The focus of our second day was more on the big picture: navigation, seamanship, making choices along the way.

Our environment was a good teacher. Conditions picked-up quickly. Shortly after launching I was asked about the wave height. "Under a foot," I said, but by the time we made it to Indian Point I conceded that the waves had grown to a foot and a half, and were a solid two feet soon after that. This was more than my day-two paddlers wanted to be in, and since the forecast called for more of this the next day, we planned a route to more sheltered waters. In the meantime, they were able to experience enough bumpy water to start gaining their own perspective- to understand what they might or might not want to paddle in.

We ate lunch on a ledge and found our way in through the river-like passage of Hatch Cove. The wind faded to a distant hiss and we passed beneath the bridge, floating on the ebbing tide into the calm pocket of Inner Harbor. Ahead, our island lay waiting. We landed and had a look around. The couple sat on the edge of the tent platform, looking content. It would be their home for the next couple of nights.

A couple of mornings later I received a text from them. They'd loved staying on the island and exploring the more sheltered areas around it (the following day had turned even windier). But then the weather improved and they felt confident enough to head out into the archipelago for a couple more days. When they finally returned, they had a calm, satisfied air about them, and they were certain they would be doing more of this.