Saturday, February 18, 2012

Placentia, Black Islands

With a forecast for an unusually calm day-  hardly any wind and temps up to forty, Nate and I launched in Bass Harbor and paddled straight out to Placentia Island. Not long ago I read “We Were an Island,” by Peter Blanchard-  the story of Art and Nan Kellam who lived alone on Placentia Island for 35 years. In 1949 Art left his job in the aerospace industry in California, and the couple bought the 522-acre island for $10,000- a little less than what they sold their home for. They made the two-mile trek to the island in a wooden dory, and built their home from the remains of a homestead that had been abandoned for nearly a hundred years.

We landed at a gravel spit and followed a trail uphill until we came to the remains of the Kellam’s home- just a foundation marked by a bronze plaque. The Kellams donated their island to the Nature Conservancy, who is letting it return to its natural state. They left the porch swing though, in the process of slowly rotting into the ground: a good spot to sit and ponder the Kellam’s time here.

As often happens, we progressed along Placentia's southeast shore without expectations and started having fun. I'd paddled past this shoreline before, but in the getting from Point A to Point B mode. I'm finding it harder to fully enjoy that "just getting there" approach. I like to move-in closer to shore. The experience of close contour paddling close-in is an entirely different experience from paddling even a hundred feet out. You experience a bit of the land as well as the sea (as Nate is doing in the photo above- there was much more water there just a moment earlier).

From a ways out, the shore often presents a unified band, but close-up, there's often plenty of depth to that band, and that's where it get's interesting. On Placentia, we found bluffs and beaches. Off the southwest tip, as the incoming tide built-up speed, we found an eddy that curled back on itself and the incoming swell. This whole group of islands is subject to strange, tough to predict currents as the tide moves in and out of Blue Hill Bay. After a break on Little Black, we proceeded up the east shore of Black Island where we found some nice slots in the pink granite shoreline (above and below).

With minimal swell, this was a fun spot. With a bit more, it might be tough to paddle so close to shore. I've been paddling along a lot of shoreline lately. After some places I think "that was interesting enough," but I know I may never return. Others, like this, I feel a sort of urgency to get out there and discover what it has to offer. The current and the conditions obviously make it a dynamic, quickly-changing place to paddle, very different from one hour to the next. In that photo above, just wait another twenty minutes and we could paddle through that slot. The chart lists tide rips north of Black, but at mid-tide we found nothing- we'll have to try it on a falling tide.

The Kellam's two-mile trip to Bass Harbor in their dory often took around two hours. Ours was quicker than that, but if there's one thing to learn from their example, it could be the merit in slowing-down. They took the better part of a lifetime to get to know one island, and I suspect that in the end, there was still more to discover. So these are notes from just a few hours in their neighborhood. More, I hope, to follow.

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