Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bar Harbor Surf

On Saturday morning I car-topped the kayak over to Mount Desert Island. A storm had just come through, and big seas were predicted, so Nate and I met at Seawall, which is exposed to the south, and had a look. The seas were indeed big. Massive waves broke over the ledges and pretty much everywhere. We were hoping to do some surfing. I tried to imagine myself out there: hmm, okay catch that HUGE wave and- oh, slammed down hard only to be grabbed by a wave coming from another direction and then... rocks. I looked at Nate. He said “Let’s check-out Bar Harbor.” Phew.

We launched from the bar at high tide. There was plenty of swell, but not good surfing waves; maybe it would improve as the tide dropped. We headed out to the Porcupine Islands. The seas felt big, but the wind had dropped to almost nothing, and the swells came in with plenty of space between them. Near the shore though, occasional rollers exploded, sending white spumes high into the clifftop trees, and rebounding waves that collided with incoming swells. Patches of foam drifted over the water surface where we hung-out, just watching.

Rum Cay, which is often a good spot to have a break and catch some surf, was utter chaos. Waves wrapped around the small island and collided thunderously at the leeward end. Between the cay and the ledge, the waves came through steep and confused. I paddled clear of it and watched as Nate tried to skirt along the edge to where the waves started to break. He climbed the face of one tall wave coming through until I thought he would be capsized backward, then he pushed over to the other side. I felt for my towbelt, trying to imagine a rescue in this mayhem, but he reappeared now and then, always upright. Of course, if you capsized, the waves would just push you out the end, into calmer water. Then I realized the current was pushing me from that calmer water back into the breaking waves. Nate made it through a couple of times and, looking a bit beat-up, said “okay, that’s enough.”

We took our time on the way back, meandering first around the north side of Burnt Porcupine Island, where the conditions felt more akin to normal and we could make some manageable turns among the rocks without fear of being pulverized by a wave out of nowhere. But we were soon drawn back out to the drama of the big seas and the cliffs, even if all we could do was sit and watch from a distance. It was an awesome thing to be near.

When we returned to the bar, the tide had dropped and beautiful, slow-moving waves rolled-in. We started catching them, and they were perfect: not too steep, rolling in gradually, losing steam before hitting the bar. It seemed they could hold that “always just about to break” moment forever, giving us plenty of nice, long rides- plenty of time to work on turns. Sometimes a set of big ones would arrive and give us a tumble. I looked down at my bow getting buried in the trough and suddenly I was underwater, feeling the wave pass by overhead as I set-up for a roll. I came up and saw Nate doing the same, looking around until he saw me. I don’t know why, but we were both laughing. For an hour or two, it was magic.

Nate had parental duties to return to. It might have been hard to leave, but the waves cooperated, dwindling as the tide dropped, exposing the sandbar so a woman in a long red coat could walk her golden retriever out to the island.


Paddle2See said...

I enjoyed your post a lot. My wife (PenobscotPaddler) and I often paddle the Porcupines - but not in those conditions! Looks like fun though.

Speedbumps said...

Thanks. As we were paddling, it did occur to me that it would be nice paddling there on a calmer day- it's been awhile. I tried to comment on your wife's blog, but I guess I'm technologically-challenged. I love those foggy photos of the bridge- and congratulations on paddling 1000 miles!