Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Around Crabtree Neck

When it comes to planning a route, circumnavigations often feel like the most natural goal; just go out there and paddle around something. Or paddle off in one direction and return from the other. If you spend a lot of time staring at charts, potential circumnavigations start to pop-out at you in less obvious places . “I wonder if I could do that,” you think. “Can I get through there?”

Crabtree Neck is one such place.  At the head of Frenchman Bay, the neck is essentially an island. True- at its northwest corner, this island is separated from the mainland by a shallow creek that narrows down to as little as twenty feet wide as it passes beneath the Route One bridge- maybe less at low tide. The half-mile long creek -indicated on my topo map as a tidal flat- is called "Carrying Place," and if we didn't time our arrival right, it would live up to its name.

Coming from the open ocean, the tide pushes water into the four-mile wide slot of Frenchman Bay, then further narrows-down into several bays and estuaries, including the two that flank Crabtree Neck: Skillings River and Sullivan Harbor / Taunton Bay. The “/” between Sullivan Harbor and Taunton Bay is Sullivan Falls, where Falls Point constricts the flow into a gap only a couple of hundred yards wide, resulting in accelerating currents, sometimes up to ten knots. So predictably, that’s where we’ve paddled, opting for adrenaline over exploration.

This time, with the temps in the high twenties, it seemed a better day for scenery. We launched at the falls on an outgoing tide and paddled off toward Hancock Point. The mountains on Mount Desert Island dominate much of the view here. We paddled toward them, out through Sullivan Harbor where they rose behind Bean Island. That view must have been partly responsible for the establishment of the summer community on Hancock Point in the late 1800s- that and the railroad that ran to McNeil Point, where steamers would then take passengers to Bar Harbor. We admired a few of these old summer cottages as we rounded Hancock Point and headed up the Skillings River. The tide had already turned, so we would have a push upstream.

 We paddled on calm water, but the wind shifted around to the south and started picking-up. Nate pointed-out that in the last summer alone, three people in small boats had capsized and died in this area- two in kayaks, one in a skiff. It was easy to imagine how the conditions here could change quickly, with plenty of fetch to the south and currents passing in and out of the river and MDI Narrows to the west. We now had the current and the wind behind us.

In November, 1944, a German submarine surfaced just off Hancock Point and made it to within 300 yards from shore where two Nazi spies landed in a rubber dinghy. The spies made it to New York and were eventually caught, while a few days later the submarine sank the Canadian steamship SS Cornwallis near Mt. Desert Rock. We probably stopped for lunch at the same beach, known on the National Register of Historic Places as “Nazi Spy Landing Site”.

The river constricts from a mile and a half to about 400 yards off Pecks Point and the current increases. Nate and I weren’t too far apart, but he caught the mid-channel current and quickly moved ahead; it took a few minutes to catch-up. We took some twists and turns, following the eastern arm of the river north, where it passed beneath an old railroad trestle and narrowed into Carrying Place Inlet. The current pulled us toward a bridge where Route One passed overhead. We scraped a few rocks, plowed through some ice sheets, and then we were through, spat by the current into Taunton Bay.

We were now paddling against the current, which picked-up just north of the Route One bridge. We rode some eddies along the edge, and charged upstream, gaining one point after another until we were back at the launch. 

Now came the job of warming numb fingers and toes. I like paddling whenever I can, but it felt good to get the boat loaded-up and sit in the car with the heater blowing warm air. I'm missing that trip to Florida this year. Paddling in drysuits for 9 to 10 months of the year, and lighter cold water gear in the summer, we almost forget what it's like to kayak in shorts and t-shirt. On the other hand, we haven't been worrying much about animals that can eat us. There's always ups and downs, I guess.


PenobscotPaddles said...

This sounds like a great adventure; I love paddles that involve timing the tides. Also interesting information about the German spies! We'll have to try it when the weather warms.....

Michael Daugherty said...

Somehow I thought you might like this one. It really is a fun route- nice variety, and yes- German Spies!
Thanks for reading.