Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Bold Coast: Boot Head

I had a lesson to teach on Cobscook Bay, so Rebecca and I used the opportunity to get away for a couple of days and get in a little paddling and hiking of our own. We’ve been at Old Quarry in Stonington, doing a bit of everything, and it felt good to be going down the road, off in our own world again.

Meeting the locals at Cobscook Bay
We camped at Cobscook Bay State Park, and after my lesson on Monday we went in to Eastport to poke around in a way that we really couldn’t when we were camping out of our kayaks. The town seemed quiet, recovering from the weekend festivities – a Pirate festival, and there wasn’t much going on. We strolled the empty sidewalks, peering in windows: antique shops, galleries, a marijuana dispensary, a pet store… We looked at the statues and the waterfront and pondered the menu at a restaurant before deciding to return to the campground to make dinner. 

But Tuesday we had all day to explore and the weather was fairly calm and warm- almost hard to believe how nice it felt. Like summer. We launched at Baileys Mistake, at a launch mostly used for the 8 or 10 lobster boats that moor nearby. There’s not much parking there along the roadside- barely enough for the fishermen’s trucks and trailers, so at this point it’s not really a dependable launch for kayakers, but I heard it was being acquired by a land trust. Hopefully this is true and they will develop the parking enough to accommodate both fishermen and recreational boaters. The launch adds considerable possibilities to Bold Coast paddling – easier access to (or a bailout from) the stretch between Moose Cove and Quoddy Head (Route #2 in my guidebook) which includes Boot and Eastern Heads, cliffy sections of coast with plenty of nooks to explore if the seas aren’t too big.

We paddled out of the harbor and soon exchanged our caps for helmets so we could get into some tighter spots among the rocks. The mild swell felt perfect for some gentle play, and we made our way along the shore slowly, looking for small challenges. We hadn’t done much paddling like this for awhile. The last time we’d passed here we’d been offshore in a dense fog, a thirty-four mile day that afforded us little time or energy for anything beyond getting to our destination. Today, with no destination, we paddled our barely loaded, nimble Delphins – the opposite of the sort of paddling we’d done most of the summer, and we felt playful, cut loose, remembering how it feels to make a tight turn through a slot or let the surf take you over a ledge, simply because you can.

Currents get to be fairly consequential in this area, but for the first stretch we noticed very little current close to shore- not even eddies. We rounded Boot Head near mid tide though, and with the increased mid-tide current and the concentrated flow off the headland, the conditions were getting livelier. As we took a break on the beach at Boot Head Cove, we watched the surface turn into acres of whitecaps- true to form for the Bold Coast. I’ve heard plenty of sweeping statements about the place, but the most accurate and useful one is that things can change here pretty quickly, and often, dramatically.

The paddling was really no more difficult though. For us it mostly meant that our long-period small swells had been replaced with short-period bouncy chop- not really conducive to much play along the shore. That was okay- we’d had our fun and now it was a short paddle back to the launch. We were still hoping to get-in a hike. 

Last month as we paddled past the Cutler Peninsula – another stretch of awesome cliffy shoreline, we saw some hikers atop the bluffs and wondered how they’d managed to get there. Chatting with some local walkers on another trail, we heard about a trail that goes out to Western Head in Cutler, down near the end of Destiny Bay Road, and we thought we’d give it a try. We weren’t too surprised to find a 247-acre preserve owned by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, preserved since 1988.  It has a small parking area- maybe room for 5 or 6 cars, and maybe it’s good that it’s a well-kept secret, since it is an absolute gem. A 3.5-mile trail follows the Little River out to the head where it loops along the bluff-tops with views out to Grand Manan and southwest toward Cross Island. The trails are well-maintained, and you get some nice glimpses of Cutler Harbor as well.

Route #2 in AMC’s BestSea Kayaking in New England covers the area between Carrying Place Cove in Lubec and Moose Cove. The launch in Baileys Mistake is not included, but if it really is being acquired by a land trust and the parking situation improves, it will make it into the next edition. Conditions during today’s paddle were mild, but the guidebook has much sterner warnings as well as strategies for paddling this area. One of the most volatile and remote areas of the New England coast, it is not a place for inexperienced or unprepared paddlers.

Here’s a link to some more info on MCHT’s Western Head Preserve. And here’s a link to the MCHT website, which does have information on their other nearby preserves, but not this one.  

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