Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bagaduce Falls - Flood Tide

From its mile-wide mouth at Castine, the Bagaduce winds inland, twisting and narrowing for eight miles until it squeezes beneath a bridge into a gap only fifty feet across, before meandering another three and a half miles inland. Often called a river, it is in fact an estuary, constantly exchanging its waters with the ocean, back and forth with the tide. It never empties at low tide. The incoming tide rushes upstream, finally overpowering whatever outgoing current remains, and and as it squeezes into the narrowing banks, develops quite a current, which is most obvious at the bridge between Brooksville and Penobscot. At its swiftest, the current piles up and drops several feet as it passes beneath the bridge, shooting out the upstream side where it develops a hundred-yard wave train, with bouncy, frothing eddylines flanking the upstream “V”.

Estimating the time of the tide change and peak current is a bit tricky. Basing our calculations on a 5:30 am low tide in Castine, we met at the bridge a little after nine on Monday morning. We expected the flood to have begun, but the current still rushed beneath the bridge, heading toward the sea. We were only a little off.

Waiting for the current to build: Peter, Nate, Barbara, Ed

The five of us gathered beneath the bridge and waited as the water went slack, and not long after ten, the current shifted inland and the flood tide began. Within fifteen minutes there was enough current to play in. Within a half-hour the waves were getting big enough to surf. So, the timing will always be subject to variables, probably tide height in particular, but that’s how it worked this time: slack tide at 4.5 hours after low in Castine.

It’s good to start at slack tide and experience the flow as it builds. That fluttery feeling in my stomach gave way to focusing on paddling, getting in and out of the current, getting a feel for it, finally getting on a wave that will hold you there and trying some turns.

Often, we’re trying to get onto the first wave. One way to do this is to paddle upstream, crossing the eddyline with your bow pointed as directly into the current as possible. You try to edge gently toward the strong flow in the middle, but if you edge or turn too much, the current grabs your bow. You might fight it for a moment, muscling out of it with a stern pry, but if you hang onto that for too long, you’ll flip towards the current. If all goes well, you float back onto that wave with your bow still pointing upstream and you take a few strong paddlestrokes to keep from getting swept over and voila; you’re surfing the wave!

I’m usually a bit surprised to find myself there, a calm spot with water rushing past all around. Now what? Edge a turn left, edge a turn right. Hold your paddle up in the air to flaunt it. Put the palm of your hand on the surface and feel the water rushing below. At some point, you discover you’re no longer on the wave, bouncing backwards over the wave train, bracing from one side to the other, looking for a way out so you can do it again.

We were all doing well, but after awhile, it felt like there was something missing. Oh yes, the feel of saltwater in my head. Somehow, after I’ve finally capsized, I feel even more comfortable out there. As the waves grew taller, the capsizing became easier, and each time I went over, I waited below the surface, getting my paddle aligned until I felt dark, solid water overhead, and rolled back up... and braced as the next wave sucked me up and over. When it all goes well, that’s part of the fun.

Fun, and exhausting. As the waves and the current grew, the eddyline turned wide and sloppy. Those big waves in the middle turned elusive with this barrier of whitewater guarding them. And if you did get on them, the water moved fast enough that it was hard to stay there. Hard work. I finally took a break, hating to miss anything, but it’s tiring and I needed a sandwich or two.

I got back out there as the current subsided, and we played on dwindling waves as they disappeared, about three hours after they’d started. We took a little paddle upstream and came back, just in time for the current beneath the bridge to go slack and change direction, nine hours after low tide in Castine. By the time we had our boats loaded on cars, the ebb was already running fast. There would be some waves on the downstream side of the bridge soon. Maybe next time.

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