Saturday, November 24, 2012

Verona Island

One thing that keeps me exploring in my kayak is the nearly unlimited spots I’ve driven past and wondered “I wonder what it’s like to paddle there.” Among these locations, a few stand-out to the extent that they’re almost iconic, that it might seem a required Maine sea kayaking rite of passage to get your photo snapped in front of them. Perhaps it was that impulse that brought us, on a warm day this last week, to Verona Island.

On the chart, Verona Island is a four-mile chockstone where the Penobscot widens from its riverine origins north of Bucksport, transforming, as its channels converge south of Verona Island, into Penobscot Bay.

 Most of us in Downeast Maine have driven across a short stretch of the island many times as we’ve followed Route One over the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, as well as the smaller bridge connecting the island to Bucksport.

It takes about ten miles of paddling to circumnavigate Verona Island, and as far as I can tell, there's no perfect formula to get the current pushing you the whole way, especially if you put-in from the ramp on the north end of the island, as we did. After all, the Penobscot is a river, with fresh water continually flowing down from Bangor and beyond. Rebecca and I launched mid-cycle on a rising tide. I could probably put a lot of effort into theories about the best approach, but my guess is I'd be wrong half the time. To keep it simple, some of the time we had the current behind us, and sometimes we didn't. When we didn't, we adjusted our position between the edges and middle of the river, looking for eddies, or lack of them, and sometimes it helped.

We took a clockwise route, only because the current seemed favorable that direction at the time. This took us down the Eastern Channel at mid-day, which is surprisingly undeveloped. A big shallow bend in the river surrounding Porcupine Island (which appears to be non-private) is shallow and muddy- maybe not prime real estate. And I'm just guessing that before the Penobscot was cleaned-up, living downstream from the paper mill might not have been so pleasant. (This is merely conjecture- I'd love to hear if this wasn't the case).

Maybe it works well to go clockwise around the island because you save the real highlight- paddling beneath the bridges- for last. The east side was fine, and the southern end afforded a spectacular view down Penobscot Bay, but I think our pulses quickened the most as the bridge came into view and we progressed toward it, finally passing beneath, just before dusk.

And right now, as an added bonus, there's still two bridges to pass beneath. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge was built to replace the old Waldo-Hancock bridge. When the new bridge opened in 2007, the old one remained. Finally, it is being taken-down. As we approached, a pair of workers high above paused to let us pass. Just beyond the bridge, we pulled to the side to watch them work, torch sparks shooting in the dusk. 

I don't know how long the deconstruction will take, but there will be a little less of the old bridge each time we see it. Eventually it will be lowered onto barges. I'd like to be around to see a bit more of the process- whether I'm in my kayak or on the shore. It will only happen once.

The man-made wonders continued as we finished the paddle, passing before the paper mill. However you want to look at it, the mill is a spectacle. As I've driven past, I've often admired the billowing clouds lit by Bucksport's lights, and the reflection in the river. A few days later, as we visited a more pristine island- the sort that most sea kayakers come to Maine to visit- we had to appreciate its wildness, since it wasn't so far from these man-made spectacles. But it also made me appreciate the diverse environments we can paddle in around here. Shaking-up the scenery every once in awhile helps us keep our eyes open.

Thanks to Rebecca for some of these photos.

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