September 2017

Last Multi-Day Trip this Summer

    We paddled back to Stonington Town Landing last weekend in 10 - 15 mph winds just in time to miss the late afternoon downpour and the gusts which reached 30 mph later in the day.  Closely monitoring the weather during the morning, we somehow, by luck or by judgment, managed to enjoy another perfect day on the water.  While an easy paddle with sunny skies and flat water would have been our choice, the conditions as they were mean't that we had a rollercoaster of a ride getting back from Steves (sic) Island without mishap.  It was a LOT of fun.  
    We'd camped overnight on Buckle Island which has become our go to island for two-day trips.  Wind on the first day had picked up in the afternoon which mean't that rather than circling McGlathery Island we settled in and enjoyed the island serenity - it seemed even more peaceful than usual since lobster boats were in port due to the Labor Day holiday.  We saw groups of terns scurrying along a beach and also guillemots - smallish black and white birds of the puffin family - diving almost in sequence.  Gulls circled as they feasted on shellfish - clams and mussels - first cracking them open by dropping them from a height on the rocky shelves at waters edge. In the early morning we saw cormorants which go through a complicated routine of shedding water from their wings and body after diving - apparently they can dive 100's feet and do so by first soaking their feathers in water to reduce their buoyancy.  After surfacing from a dive, they spend several minutes  flapping their wings then find an exposed rock where they spread their wings wide to dry in the sun.  There they hang out in groups looking like huge vampire bats.  We also saw a kingfisher and a few ospreys diving for small fish which they catch below the surface.  We could hear bald eagles calling across the water on Spruce Island and caught a glimpse of one where they perch high up on fir trees. Eagles are far more common now and it's not unusual to see them up close from the kayak. A lone harbor seal observed us while we were drinking coffee first thing - we must have looked to be an uninteresting bunch, after a glance of just few seconds the seal dove and didn't resurface near our beach.
    We decamped and paddled away reluctantly from our two tent sites - one in the woods, one at the waters edge - not only because skies had now become grey, but more simply because we were sad to leave our island haven.

Tide and Tidal Current

    As I've written in previous newsletters, wind and fog are two of the environmental factors which we consider when planning a sea kayaking trip.  Tidal current and tide times are also factors to think about and both impact our decisions about where to go and when.
    Tide - the vertical movement of water due to the gravitational effect of the moon and sun -  affects our planning and we are always aware of whether we're paddling on an incoming or outgoing tide.  The rate of rise or fall of water is not linear but follows a sigmoidal curve - in the first hour after turn of tide, typically, water rises or falls a foot or less; during the third and fourth hours it rises or falls at three feet an hour or more. Three vertical feet may not seem a lot but in those two hours between low and high tide, for example, 10 or 20 yards of beach may be covered with water, enough to carry kayaks out to sea if they are not secured after being left on a beach.  On the other hand, on an outgoing tide, we can safely leave kayaks at the waters edge while we explore an island.
     Tidal current is horizontal movement of water resulting from tides and in this part of coast is significant in the hours right between low and high tide and is often the reason why boaters are 'swept out to sea' when not cognizant of tide times. Tidal currents, like the tide, increase when the moon is full or new (Spring currents), and decrease when the moon is at first or third quarter phases (neap currents).  Current is affected by geography - by the rising of the sea bed closer to shore and by the 'bottleneck' effect of bays, harbors and headlands - and also by the flow of water from large rivers. 
     It's useful to take both wind direction and tidal current into account when planning a route.  Wind and current together can create complex water movements which are difficult to predict and can make paddling tricky especially when wind is blowing against the direction of the current.  For example, around the islands near Brooklin, water moves in and out of Eggemoggin Reach with the tide and creates significant tidal current.  We often see whitecaps building in the early afternoon when winds are 12 mph or more and if we know that we're at maximum current speed between low and high tide, we'll always head back to the mainland to avoid 'bumpy' water. 'Reading' the water becomes another tool in the sea kayakers toolkit for having fun on the water.  

Book of the Month:  "Sea Kayak Rescue" by Robert Schumann & Jan Shriner

     Sub-titled "The Definitive Guide to Modern Reentry and Recovery Techniques", this Falcon edition published in 2001 covers all you need to know about safe paddling to prevent capsize and describes rescue techniques for recovery in the event of capsize.  Every experienced sea kayaker should know how to do deep water rescue - I do this twice, perhaps three times in a summer and I am probably typical of sea kayaking guides.  The most valuable information is knowing how not to get into trouble.  This starts with using the right gear, and is illustrated perfectly in a figure in the Guide, shown here.


In the photo, the paddler in front is wearing a wet suit, paddling jacket and PFD, and she has a paddle float, bilge pump, boat with adequate flotation, spray skirt, spare paddle and other safety gear (compass and marine chart, VHF radio, spare clothes, medical kit, repair kit, flares and strobe light).  The paddler in the back is wearing cotton, is in a 'wreck' boat and carrying no safety gear, and is a poster child for hypothermia.  A picture speaks a thousand words.

A highly recommended book for your kayaking bookshelf.


August 2017

      As I've written in previous newsletters, fog, tidal current and wind are three of the environmental factors which we consider when planning a sea kayaking trip.  In a previous newsletter I've talked about advective fog.  Fog is an occasional feature but wind of whatever speed and direction is a given.  We see wind speeds this time of year around Deer Isle anywhere from 5 knots or less to 20 knots or more and we are usually paddling in the 5 to 15 knot range. Anything more and unless we're with an advanced group, we are off the water.
       Our plan for the day will depend on the wind and starts before we leave land.  Our route will also depend on the the group, for example how physically fit group members are and whether they've had prior experience of paddling in windy conditions.  NOAAreports hourly prediction of windspeed and direction which we discuss before we leave and observe throughout the day - do the observed wind conditions agree with NOAA predictions?...can we train ourselves to know wind direction and speed by surface wind patterns on the water?...can we take advantage of the island geography to avoid the wind? do we keep the boats going in the direction we want to go when, for example, we're paddling with a beam wind which pushes the stern so that the kayaks 'weathercock' into the wind?  
       NOAA predictions of wind speed and direction are essential and useful but local geography impacts both.  When winds pick up speed we can find quiet stretches on the lee side of islands which means that we can alternate hard slog in open water with relaxed paddling on the lee side.  As mentioned, sea kayaks, being longer in the stern than in the bow tend to turn into the wind and strategies to prevent this include shifting your weight in the cockpit to one side ('edging' the boat), angling, or 'ferrying' the boat into the wind to reduce lateral exposure and even simply paddling harder or more often on the opposite side to the wind. 
       In the summer afternoons, heat rises off the land creating a partial vacuum which is then filled by air moving onshore across the colder water.  Onshore winds in the afternoon and early evening compound surface winds in both speed and direction.  This often means a hard paddle against a headwind at the end of the day.  It is also the reason why inexperienced paddlers sometimes have trouble making it back to shore.  Talking with locals who are familiar with local wind conditions is often helpful. 
       The upside of understanding the wind is that you can use it to make paddling easier and more fun.  'Surfing' in open water on a following wind, paddling into a headwind, successfully maintaining a course with a strong beam wind..these are all a lot of fun and will worth perfecting and adding to your repertoire of paddling skills.

Special Offer:

   I If you've paddled with us before and want to book a multi-day trip for at the first two weeks in September, you're eligible for a free night's stay w/ breakfast (a $95 value) before the trip.  Wake up on the morning of your trip refreshed and ready to go with no traveling involved.  Call us at 617-957-8802 to reserve this special deal.

Joys of Kayak Camping

     A couple of years ago I wrote a guest blog on 'Kayak Camping' for the blog, 'The Naked Kayaker' (nothing to do with nakedness) and by request I thought to revisit this blogpost here. For those interested in the complete post, check out the link at the end of this excerpt...
     The upside of embarking on an overnight kayak-camping trip can be huge.  At the very least, it’s a fun time where you’ll get a good work-out for a couple of days, hone your camping skills, enjoy the outdoors, and get to know some like-minded people who enjoy paddling.  At best, it can truly be a life-changing experience, particularly when you think about the interpersonal dynamics that can develop between paddling buddies - parent-son/daughter, spouses, partners, friends, siblings, etc.
     On a multi-day trip, regardless of weather and sea conditions, you’ll probably experience a certain ‘discomfort level’, hopefully minor, that can be both physical and psychological. And when things work out, which is usually the case, getting over this barrier with friends/family might just be one of the coolest things you’ll ever do in the great outdoors.  (complete blogpost)

Book of the Month:  "The Complete Sea Kayaker's Handbook" by Shelley Johnson

     First published in 2001 this 2nd edition of this popular book is packed with information which is particularly useful for the beginner to intermediate paddler planning to venture out onto the ocean on longer trips.   It's the book I recommend to anyone who asks ' Is there one book which covers all the basics?'   Well, this is it!  Topics include how to select the best kayak for you, choice of gear, the basics of paddling technique, navigating from the cockpit of a kayak as well as chapters on trip planning and logistics and kayak camping. - it's all there, including a great section on Resources and References on specific topics.  Highly recommended. 

July 2017

Season Underway

    It's been a wet and windy start to the kayaking season up here on Deer Isle and we seem to have woken up to more than a few mornings where the fog sometimes sits like a wet blanket on the sea.  Stories of mariners finding themselves fogbound on the Maine coast are rife - the coastal fog we see here at this time of the year is advective fog where, even as temperatures rise through the day, moisture continues to condense over the cold water and so doesn't burn off as it does south of here where the water is not as cold.
       Kayaking in fog is a challenge which we usually avoid.  That said, it's truly an experience to be on the water with the magical effect that fog has.  Eerie island  coastlines... islands suddenly appearing out of mist...the silence - avoid it, yes, but who would want to miss it?  Navigation is made easier here by the proximity of the islands in the archipelago, each island is generally no more than one and half miles from its neighbor and usually much less.   Even so, kayaking in fog takes experience and should only be done with training and with the right equipment - compasses, charts, foghorn and VHF radio.  See 'Book of the Month' below for more about sea kayak navigation in fog.   

Advective fog beyond low tide mud

Advective fog beyond low tide mud

       Shown above is a bank of advective fog which persisted throughout the day and became thicker as the tide came in.
       Also shown in the above photo is that long stretch of low tide mud which brings to mind another feature of paddling along the Maine coast - the effects of tide. I recently heard a story about out-of-town kayakers who were transported along with kayaks by motorboat to one of the Merchant Islands.  The plan was for them to be picked up a few hours later after an afternoon's paddling.  Apparently they were not familiar with the tides we get here, which run anywhere from 9 to 13 feet depending on moon phase and other factors. Some time after the drop-off a lobster boat picked up some kayaks floating without paddlers - apparently they had neglected to take account of the tide while exploring an island on foot. Their kayaks, which were parked on a beach at the waters edge, had floated off when the tide came in.   Fortunately, the kayakers were picked up by motorboat some time later, somewhat the wiser.
       But tide is also what makes it interesting out low tide on islands hidden, sandy beaches are miraculously exposed - great for exploring as are intertidal rock-pools teeming with a variety plant and animal life... sponges and seaweeds ...shellfish, crabs, anemones etc etc.  Between tides, water is rising or falling at its fastest rate - as much as three feet an hour.  At high tide you have the advantage of being able to park the kayaks without any risk of them disappearing on the tide.  Tide charts are available online - we make a point of planning the day around the tides.  And we always remember to park our kayaks well above the waters edge on an incoming tide!     

Special Offer in July:

   The special offer for returning kayakers which we announced last time is still in place.  If you've paddled with us before and book a multi-day trip for any time in July, you're eligible for a free night's stay w/ breakfast (a $95 value) before the trip.  Wake up on the morning of your trip refreshed and ready to go with no traveling involved.  Call us at 617-957-8802 to reserve this special deal.

Goings-on:  Stonington Lobster

     Historically, there have been just two industries in Stonington and Deer Isle - granite cutting and also, of course, fishing.  Today, lobster fishing and related activities such as aquaculture of clams and oysters and tourism are now the dominant activities here on the island. 
       Evidence of granite workings can be seen out on the islands where discarded blocks of granite along shorelines show where stone was loaded onto barges for transfer to the town for shaping and then for shipping south to major cities  - Boston, New York, Philadelphia.  Today, just one island - Crotch Island has an active granite mining concern and 'low impact' tourism has largely replaced activities around granite mining and cutting as a source of income for residents of Stonington and Deer Isle. 
       'Traditional' fishing - for groundfish cod, halibut and flounder and larger offshore fish like tuna and swordfish has been replaced by fishing for crustaceans  - lobster, crab, sea urchin and others. Lobster fishing is by far the dominant of these and the islands are surrounded with literally thousands of multicolored markers for lobster traps and 'going lobstering' is how many of year-round residents make a living.  Year-to-year lobster populations are variable and there is some new evidence that the number of young lobsters in the area is falling. 
       According to the website from the University of Maine Darling Marine Center, the American Lobster Settlement Index (ALSI)  tracks the number of newly settled lobsters that repopulate rocky coastal nursery grounds in New England and Atlantic Canada. Keeping track of this part of the life history is useful since it measures the strength of an individual year class. and is useful as a predictor of future trends in lobster recruitment.
       A recent ALSI update from the Wahle Lab at the Darling Marine Center, reports that recoveries of growing young lobsters are  the lowest they have been for twenty or more years.  This is in spite of the fact that the number of egg bearing lobsters has increased.  The reasons for this are not clear but could be due to increased predation of larval lobsters or a decrease in their food quality or availability.  For more insight into tracking of lobster populations, visit the Wahle website

Book of the Month:  "Sea Kayak Navigation" by Franco Ferraro

     Subtitled 'A Practical Manual. Essential Knowledge for Finding Your Way at Sea', this is fantastic little book written by a Level 5 BCU coach and which, as you'd expect, is packed with information about tides, maps and charts, compass and also handheld GPS.  It includes strategies for crossing open stretches of water, how to use land features for positioning, how to incorporate distance estimation into trip planning and how to navigate in fog.  Written primarily for expedition kayakers, it is also useful for day paddlers and explains in simple terms how you can add another level of safety and enjoyment into day trip planning.