Saturday, November 5, 2016

Yet Another Way to Paddle Frenchman Bay

Yesterday morning I had one of those “how long can I keep doing this?” moments as I rolled out of bed. I ached in all the usual places, but at the end of a long season of teaching and guiding sea kayakers, it felt like my age was catching up with me. I hate to admit that – to blame it on age. It immediately makes me think of some of my coaches, maybe ten years my senior, still hard at it, more so than I. They’re either just tougher than I am, in more pain than I am, or maybe they’ve adapted in some ways to sustain their ability to keep at it. Or maybe a little bit of all of the above.
         After rolling out of bed though, I spent ten to fifteen minutes on some stretches, and started feeling better. I’ve done those stretches nearly every morning for probably a decade, and they help. Maybe I need to do more. Maybe it’s time for an update of the yoga classes I took thirty years ago.

I’d spent the last couple of days with M, who’d come from Tel Aviv and wanted to work on a few things you can’t find easily along the Israeli coast, like rocks and ledges and tidal currents. We told him he’d come to the right place. And since Rebecca had errands in Ellsworth, we had the perfect opportunity to plan a shuttle – get dropped-off at one place and picked-up at another. Nate dropped us off in Bar Harbor and helped us get our gear together while his golden retriever ran on the beach. Nate looked out at the Porcupine Islands: damp spruce beneath a gray, overcast sky. The wind had dropped to almost nothing, and the air temps had risen into the fifties – warmer than they’d been lately. “Looks like you’ll have a good day,” he said.
            I might have suggested that Nate come along, but I knew he was looking forward to getting stuff done around the house and returning to his winter projects in the wood shop. Still, he had that wistful look that we get when we launch someone else and kind of wish we were going.

M and I headed-off into the Porcupines, and it was a good day out there, with just enough swell to create a few challenges. We got into the Keyhole and made our way among the tall chasms on Long Porcupine around high tide. We ate lunch on The Hop, the island barred to the west end of Long Porcupine, where you can sit atop high, meadowy ledges and take-in a view that encompasses much of the south end of Frenchman Bay. M asked me if I went there often and I looked around and nodded.
            “You’re lucky to have this in your backyard,” M said, and I agreed.

We went through the gap between Jordan and Ironbound – the “Halibut Hole” and followed the cliffs of Ironbound's eastern shore. The tide was still high, so we managed to paddle deeply into the caves. I’d started the day demonstrating places that M could get into, but by now he knew the drill. He’d start paddling-in while I waited, keeping an eye out for any jumbo waves. 

When introducing people to rocks, ledges and cliffs, one big concern is that, no matter how much I point-out the need to work on that 360-degree awareness, that hypersensitivity to everything around you, and in particular everything that can go wrong- where the waves are coming from and where they’ll take you, it takes some experience to develop this awareness. There’s always a bigger wave coming and you need to anticipate what that will do to the stretch of water you’re about to enter.

So after M paddled deep into the longest cave, I almost didn’t take a turn – after all, he wouldn’t be getting anything more from my demonstration, and while in the depths of the cave I wouldn’t be keeping an eye out for potential close-out waves. And I knew what to expect. But it would be crazy to not go in; the tide was perfect, waves weren’t too big, and when would I get there again?

I backed most of the way to the rear of the cave, from where the entrance appeared as a massive mouse hole in the cliff face. In the dim chamber, the outgoing waves dragged the rounded cobbles over each other, tumbling them like bowling balls in a giant’s popcorn popper, and then the wave would come, driving into the undercut, bored-out back of the cave and erupt in an explosion of mist that shot all around you. You could feel the booming in your chest, this release of energy contained by a vault of stone, like a bomb going off underground, just behind you.
        It put a smile on my face. I paddled out of the cave, and we headed onward, checking-out every stretch of shoreline, looking for whatever surprises it might offer. 

At the end of Ironbound it just seemed natural to continue southward, across a stretch of open water to the Egg Rock lighthouse. From there it wasn’t much more than a half-hour to the take-out at Grindstone Neck, where Rebecca waited for us as the sun set behind the mountains of Acadia.

We spent the next day at Sullivan Falls. Another day, another story, but probably a big part of why I woke-up feeling beat-up after a couple days of this. I know. Tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

The places on this route are covered in Trips #8 and #9 in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England. As illustrated here, there’s no end to the ways you can approach these routes and mix them up.

The take-out is not really a boat launch and not listed in the guidebook since there isn’t  much dedicated parking, but it can be a useful spot. Just drive down to the south end of Grindstone Neck in Winter Harbor. There’s a wide spot in the pavement to turn around or park, and an old stone bench that overlooks the shore, which is a mix of rocky slabs – probably not an easy landing in rough conditions. No facilities.


Anonymous said...

I think keep doing your stretching, but perhaps supplement it with something like Tai Chi? This is a short routine I like to follow along with:

Catherine Ring said...

This is fantastic! Thank you, Michael!