July Newsletter: Season Underway

Wow, are we busy this summer??!!!!

Just over a week into July and we are already well on our way to being fully booked for the season and may even close down the Reservations page earlier this year.  We're welcoming back a number of kayakers who have paddled with us before for a day or more and are now reserving for overnight trips.  

This week we spent three wonderful sunny days paddling.  The following, written by Sarah now back in the U.K., describes one of those days...Thanks, Sarah!

  ¨While visiting my Grandma on Deer Isle, my husband (Matt) and I decided to take a kayaking excursion with Peter. We had travelled from London and this was our first time in Maine, so we were keen to explore the area and make the most of the great outdoors. With a little assistance from Pippa, the Welsh terrier, Peter got us up to speed with the essentials - equipment, charts, and paddling technique. It was 4th July, and we accidentally joined at least one parade on our journey to Brooklin, but before long we were on the water.
     The sun was shining and the ocean was glassy, not a wave in sight. We had heard that wind, rain and fog were the norm, so we couldn’t believe our luck! We spent a blissful day paddling between islands: Harbor, Sellers, Hog, Babson and Little Hog. Whilst the sun was hot, the water was cool, and a gentle breeze passed over its surface. A bald eagle glided overhead, guillemots bobbed by in the water, and Matt spotted the shiny head of a seal during our lunch stop at Babson. The islands’ pristine beaches of shells and white sand were blooming with wild roses and irises. We were entranced.  By Hog island, we encountered the largest ‘erratic’ rock we have ever seen, and peeked right through the fault line to the water on the other side. As we meandered between islands, we travelled through diverse conversation topics, from psychology to philosophy, geology to bad canteen food. 
     As we made our way back to the shore from the tiny island of Little Hog, the wind was just picking up, and the sea was speckled with the white tips of waves. We could feel the difference in the water, as if the sea wanted us to work for our return to land – a taste of more typical paddling conditions. As we hauled our kayaks out of the water, we realised that our next time kayaking in Maine may not be such an easy ride!¨

Our route from Nuskeag Point to Babson Island and back.

Our route from Nuskeag Point to Babson Island and back.

Sara and Matt leaving Sellers Island on their 1-Day Trip

Sara and Matt leaving Sellers Island on their 1-Day Trip

Food on Overnight Trips


This coming weekend we have our first overnight trip with Torrey and Joanna. As well as having fun, Torrey will be taking photos and footage for a video. Food on our trips is important and this Saturday at the end of our first day's paddle, our island dinner will come from from a recipe by the incomparable Julie Sahnie, a chef / cook of Indian food who has influenced thousands following the publication of her seminal cookbook of Indian cuisine 'Classic Indian Cooking' (we still have our 1980 copy!). Dinner will be a vegetarian curry with simple ingredients - tomato, potato, cauliflower, newly picked garden peas - but cooked in Indian style with a magical combination of spices - fresh coriander, turmeric, red pepper, cumin seeds all blended together with home made ghee. Wow! We may even take a bottle of wine along.

Paddling Guide: Trips from New York to Virginia

Interested in kayaking the Atlantic Coast on points south of NYC? I recently reviewed a guide book of kayaking routes and the review which follows was published in the July issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine.

Michaela Gaaserud’s ‘Best Sea Kayaking in the Mid-Atlantic : 40 Coastal Paddling Adventures From New York To Virginia’, a forerunnerand companion toMichael Dougherty’s‘Best Sea Kayaking in New England’ (recently reviewed in Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine),isa book certain to whet the appetite of sea kayakers who are unfamiliar with the coast of the mid-Atlantic states and who, like me, have vaguely considered large sections of that coastline to be too urbanized and heavily trafficked for enjoyable sea kayaking. 


Nothing could be further from the truth. As the author explains in her introduction to the book:‘With major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC and Richmond located in this region, it might seem as though it would be difficult to find solitude and nature while paddling this stretch of coastline.I have found the opposite to be true….many local and state kayaking organizations (such as the Virginia Seaside Water Trail)throughout the region have developed kayaking trails and have been instrumental in lobbying for the protection of natural areas and wildlife habitat.’ Thissimple factbecomes evident as you read her descriptionsof these 40 coastal paddling adventures between New York and Virginia.

The region has ‘just’ 428 miles of coastline, buthasatidal shoreline amountingto over 10,500 miles! Though the mid-Atlantic region is characterized by many major coastal features, including bays, harbors, tidal rivers and islands, it’s dominated by asinglefeature – the mighty Chespeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, whichextendsall the way from Havre de Grace, Maryland to Virginia Beach, Virginia – a distance of 200 miles.

For the author, the difficulty becamehow to select the 40 ‘best’ sea kayaking trips from thisextensivetidal shoreline, and sheadmitsthatthis wasa ‘tricky business’and thatany selection would be a compromise. But through both personal experience and extensive research she hasmanaged to selectplaces that would appeal to a broad range of paddlers – some city routes, some inisolated wilderness areasand many routes that fall somewhere in between the two. Some of the features she used in her choiceinclude scenery, accessibility, wildlife and unique history. Some are open water paddles, some are along protected shorelines, and witha good mix of point-to-point and round-trip routes.

Locations of the 40 tripsare indicated on a single regionallocatormap. There follows a very nifty at-a-glance Trip Planner, a table containing descriptors such as launch site, distances for choices of route, protected vs.open water, etcfor all40 trips. So in just five pages you can very easily make a quick plan for some optionsbased on geographybefore even getting to the trip descriptions. No wading through page after page of text needed - this is great. There is also a very nice little section on trip planning, safety andequipment,big topicswhich arecovered in detail in any number of books on sea kayaking. Here, just 13pages gives you a primer on stuff you probablyalready know but mayneed reminding of.

Each trip - organized by state - comes with a map, launch site info. and a description of the route which is standard for this kind of guide book. What’s different is the richdensity of information in each trip description, and this is where you can appreciate that the author is not only a sea kayaking enthusiast (thatgoes without saying) but is also a seasoned writer of adventure travel books. In fact, much of the text reads more like atraveloguethan a simple route description and in reviewing this book I found myselffrequentlystopping to look up information on various side topics. For example, on the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge trip in New York State…’The bay is known for its fantastic bird watching, and more than 330 species of birds have been recorded there. Thousands of feathered travelers stop in Jamaica Bay every year during their migrations. The area is part of an avian superhighway called the Atlantic Flyway that stretches from the northern Atlantic coast to South America. Millions of birds migrate in the Atlantic Freeway each year, and more than 500 species have been recorded along it.’ And all this in the heart of New York City!

In the same vein, scattered throughout the book is a series of short one-page essays, succinct gems on a range of topics relevant to the trips such as ‘Horseshoe crabs: nature’s success story’ and ‘Windmills of Long Island’. I particularly like the story of the wild ponies of Maryland’sAssateague Island, ponies whose ancestors swam to shore from a shipwreckedSpanish galleon in the 1700sand who today run wild in two herds, one in Maryland, one in Virginia,...’eating wild grass that grows on the dunes and the marsh, finding fresh water in the island’s ponds’.

n summary, this is a book that belongs on the bookshelf of anyone considering embarking on day trips onthe coast south of New York City and beyond. It should specially appeal to kayakers who never knew there are still wild places to be found near urban centers and that nature on the shoreline is flourishing there and is not too hard to find. 

2019 Maine Island Trail Guide

A book review I recently wrote of the trail guide produced by Maine Island Trail Association came out in this month’s issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine. Here it is…

Pages from MITA-Guidebook-2019 COVER.jpg

Each spring, the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) issues its annual updated guide to the Maine Island Trail, a 375-mile coastal waterway that spans the entire coast of Maine extending from Portsmouth Harbor in the south to Cobscook Bay on the Canadian border. Self-described as a “water trail created, protected, and enjoyed by people who love the coast of Maine” and modeled loosely on land trails like the Appalachian Trail, the Trail was conceived in the late 1970s and is the pre-eminent water trail of its type. It has since has become a poster child for other water trails in the United States.

There are over 3,000 islands off the Maine coast, as well as thousands of rocky ledges which are exposed at low tide, and the Maine Island Trail connects over 200 of these islands as well as mainland sites which are available for day visits or overnight camping. The Guide provides a comprehensive description of all the sites as well as critical information on safe and responsible boating practices. Incidentally, nearly all the islands on the Maine Island Trail are wild and undeveloped.

The Guide is very much a “living book.” New sites are added or removed each year, conservation practices and usage guidelines can and do change, so MITA recommends that boaters refer to the most recent version of the Guide. The book divides the Maine coast into ten distinct geographic regions. For each region there’s an overview locator page that describes its general character, followed by one or more maps showing MITA sites and resources found within the region – for example in the Cobscook Bay region there are now eight sites. You can use the locator pages to identify where each trail site is in relation to other trail sites, launch sites, points of interest, etc.

Following each locator page for that region are maps and detailed site descriptions that outline specific site usage guidelines such as where best to land a boat at low tide, where to place your tent and for how many campers, whether you might expect, for example, to see raccoons, mosquitos, or a bald eagle. 

At the front of the Guide are sections on Stewardship and Safety, topics which can often be dry and easily skimmed over, but a MITA publication is different. Obvious care has been taken to provide the information that you need but no more. I for one, as a “summer kayaker,” read these sections as a refresher each spring for “things you need to know” when taking small boats into coastal waters. MITA emphasizes both “low impact practices” to protect the natural integrity of the islands and also safety practices to reduce risks to boaters in a fun but high risk environment. What to do if you go overboard, how to interact with a seal you see on a rock ledge (don’t!), how to recognize plant species which are invasive in Maine – topics which are all succinctly covered here. 

This year’s Guide is dedicated to the late Dave Getchell Sr., small boat captain, outdoor recreation writer, editor, and cofounder of MITA and features a photo of Mr. Getchell on the front cover in the early days of the Maine Island Trail. 

Also in this year's guide are two examples of newly added sites which illustrate the range of environments on the trail: Little Whaleboat Island in Casco Bay and Rodgers Island in Cobscook Bay. Little Whaleboat, “a cluster of islands linked by mud, sand and ledge” is owned by a family limited partnership and is listed as having two camping sites for ten people in total. “Campfires permitted below high tide line...pets allowed on leash only.” About 200 miles to the northeast of Little Whaleboat, Rodgers was “bequeathed to the town of Lubec and...consists of two forested islands connected by a gravel bar. The bar is exposed at lower tides creating a single, slender island measuring roughly a half mile long. On the island one can often find songbirds and shorebirds and spot ospreys and eagles perched in the trees. Cobscook Bay has the highest density of nesting bald eagles in the northeastern United States...follow careful, low impact guidelines to minimize the potential for disturbance of birds and other wildlife. Please leave pets at home.” MITA’s goal is to encourage conservationists and users of Maine’s coast to actively support the Trail and the Association through membership and the complete guide is therefore available to members of MITA, but not to the general public in local bookstores or online. However, the members-only mobile app which contains everything found in the hardcover guide is available, in a more limited version, to the general public. 

The Maine Island Trail Guide is an indispensable and inspirational guidebook for all recreational paddlers, sailors, rowers and those moving under power in small boats on the Maine coast and coastal islands. And not just that - it makes for great bedside reading!

Fit To Paddle - A Fitness Guide to Getting Back on the Water

Who wants to be on the water all day and then feel exhausted by the end of the day’s paddle? In a recent social media survey of sea kayakers planning a kayaking trip this Spring / Summer, around 30% of paddlers were over 45 years old and 12% were over 55. Some of these may have done some winter paddling or may have worked out in health clubs in the off season, and it struck me - as one of those in the over-60 age group - that it would be a great idea to get fit at the start of the Spring / Summer kayaking season by getting in shape on the water. In other words, take the workout out of the gym and into the fresh air! Use those same muscles and muscle movements needed for kayaking before setting out on that first paddling trip of the year.


Fig.1. Sea Kayaking: Basic Skills, Paddling Techniques, and Expedition Planning by Dan Henderson

Last year I reviewed Dan Henderson’s ‘Sea Kayaking: Basic Skills, Paddling Techniques, and Trip Planning’ in ACK magazine. Dan Henderson, a leading kayak racing trainer (he’s a Senior Worlds Team Leader at USA Canoe/Kayak) has a solid academic background in exercise physiology and has a passion for technical perfection in kayaking. The final chapter in his book is titled ‘Kayaking for Fitness’. The chapter is divided into four sections – ‘Fitness Concepts’, ‘Designing Your Fitness Plan’, ‘Planning Daily Exercise Sessions’, finishing up with ‘How You Can Expect to Feel’ during and after a series of workouts. 

Each summer I guide sea kayaking trips for 30 or so days, including several multi-day trips, and last year at the start of the season I put Dan’s program to the test. I selected Walker Pond in Brooksville, Maine as my training ground. Walker Pond, about three miles in length with little boat traffic, and a short distance from our home in Deer Isle has public access and a well-maintained town ramp with parking. It was the perfect spot. I knew from exercise bike routines at my health club that boredom can be a limiting factor in sticking to a personal exercise plan. But Walker Pond, at about half a mile across, surrounded by mixed woods and home to a large number of various bird species, is a delight to paddle, especially first thing in the morning. Just being out there mean’t that my training routines were not going to be boring.

I set aside two weeks in early June and mapped out eight training sessions followed by twice-weekly sessions for the following four weeks, the latter to run concurrently with my regular kayaking trips. The bottom line was that I found that Dan’s methods are just the thing for getting into the paddling season - for effectively reworking those muscle groups used in paddling, for increasing aerobic capacity and for building strength and stamina while maintaining good paddling technique.

First, a brief background in exercise physiology: The goal is to produce overload to increase fitness and there are four basic concepts that apply to all fitness training activities:

a) selection of the muscle groups to be exercised, especially the core muscles in our case,

b) progressive increase in the level of exercise to produce overload,

c) adaption to overload, and

d) improvement in performance. 

Exercise scientists have identified four parameters that produce overload in an exercise routine: frequency, duration, intensity and density. The first three are self-evident. The last one, density, describes the length of rest interval between exercise bouts. To improve performance, a good exercise regimen will incorporate an increase (or decrease) in each of these parameters over time – progressively building sequences which are more frequent, for longer times, with more intensity and with reduced rest times.

Dan describes a few aerobic endurance paddling workouts in his bookand suggests that folks use these as a guide to organize their own paddling exercise sessions. I focused on his workouts using interval training that I thought would work for me . First, warm up (5 minutes, light paddling) followed by 45 minutes of pyramid interval paddling (more about that later), cool down (5 minutes, light paddling) and, finally, stretching (10 minutes). Ideally the workout would be done wearing a heart rate monitor to track progress - I skippedthat piece, at least for this year. My primary objective was to find out whether training was effective at all, not necessarily by how much.

For interval paddling I needed to know my my fastest stroke rate and my comfortable cruising stroke rate. The dilemma is that when you paddle as fast as you can to determine your fastest cadence, yes, your speed increases initially but since you’re concentrating on increasing stroke rate, your technique suffers. It’s a fine balance but ideally you aim to first establish good paddling technique then increase paddling rate.Of course, paddling rates will be different for each individual paddler. By counting strokes I settled on a fast paddling rate of 35 double strokes per minute (dspm) and an easy cruising stroke rate of 25 dspm.

I used a pyramid interval paddling schedule of 3 minutes cruising rate and 1 minute fast rate, followed by 2-minute / 1-minute,then 1-minute / 1 minute. Then 1/2 and 1/3. I repeated this set twice. To do three sets on Day 1 was a push, but the beginning of the second week, the fifth session, I found that I could increase my fast rate and my stroke technique during fast paddling had improved significantly over the previous week.

Fitness training protocols for kayak racing have been established for many years using biofeedback with, for example, data generated from heart monitors, cadence sensors and more recently using smartphone apps. Based on my experience of those training weeks my sense is that fitness training for recreational kayakers is definitely something worth thinking about. For me, it was a great start for the kayaking season. If you’d like to learn more, you can follow Dan on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/dan.henderson.1238),or take a look at his book where you can find links to numerous training routines as well as other useful information on getting ‘fit to paddle’.

Book review: Exciting murder mystery that kayakers might enjoy

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