If you can’t quite decide where you want to go exploring this week, an inland pond or coastal bay, you can experience both at once at The Basin in Phippsburg. This secluded tidal cove on the eastern side of the New Meadows River is shaped like an irregular starfish, with fingers of water reaching out in many directions from its center.

This can be a popular anchorage for sail and power boaters on sunny summer weekends. We visited on a recent murky Saturday morning and enjoyed three hours of quiet paddling along the convoluted shoreline, a total of five miles. Except for one sailboat heading out to sea, we had the place to ourselves.

There are a few homes along the western side of The Basin and a handful of boats at moorings. Basin Island, a half-mile out from the boat launch site, is the only island. An osprey family lives in a large nest on the southeastern side of the island.

Many blue herons flew over us. Others stood resolute along the shoreline, while a few daredevils awkwardly teetered on tree branches above us as we glided under them.

Eider ducks and their fluff-ball chicks paddled along the shoreline, diving below the surface on mom’s command as we neared. As they resurfaced one at a time, utterly bewildered, the female eider would utter a low call, and they would scuttle furiously back across the water to the safety of her care. As we rounded a bend a large raccoon scampered up from water’s edge and quickly disappeared into the forest.

The eastern shoreline is spectacular on a calm, cloudy day. Blue skies are wonderful, but clouds and placid waters at The Basin offer a completely different experience. Walls of continuous ledges grasping beards of seaweed, and steep cliffs and gnarled boulders line the shoreline, providing artistic reflections on the water.

For hundreds of yards you will feel that you are paddling along a large Rorschach inkblot test. Let your imagination soar. We saw a man with a jutting jaw and Mona Lisa smile sporting a sporty driving cap. A 30-foot-high cliff reminded us of the gigantic square head of Moby Dick, complete with closed mouth and huge eye.

The channel leading out to the ocean is a few hundred yards wide and features a very strong current at certain phases of the tide. Paddlers should be extremely cautious, and experienced in Class I river travel if venturing out through the passageway for a look out over the frigid waters of Casco Bay. There are many powerful eddies that can grab your bow and instantly turn you around.

Any breeze only increases the challenge. Harbor seals are often seen here swimming through the colorful glut of lobster buoys.

The Maine Chapter of the Nature Conservancy owns nearly 2,000 acres of land on the southeastern side of The Basin. This shoreline is a bit gentler than the northeastern side, and features many red pines, characterized by their red scaly bark. Also known as the Norway pine, this tree along with the more common white pine was still being cut and sold to the British Navy for ship masts as late as 1875.

Grassy areas in the southern arms offer refuge for black ducks who noisily catapulted skyward as we passed.

Many piles of broken white quahog shells sit on submerged ledges. In the 1940s, the New Meadows River and The Basin were one of the world’s largest quahog producers.

In some of the coves, large oak tree limbs extend out over the water, their lower branches covered with tufts of dried seaweed, looking very much like Spanish moss hanging on the live oaks of the Carolinas. Chicken of the woods mushrooms often grow on oaks in Maine. We kept our eyes peeled and sure enough found a brilliant orange outcropping growing on a tree at water’s edge. And, yes, the tender end tips do taste just like juicy chicken breasts.

To get to the rustic put-in spot on the southeastern side of The Basin, drive south on Route 209 from Bath. A half-mile past Bisson’s Center Store in Phippsburg turn right onto Basin Road. The pavement shortly turns to gravel. Follow the road for two miles, bearing right at a fork. You will see The Basin come into view on the right, and a small turnoff leading a few yards down to the water.

At low tide you can scamper down over the ledges onto a muddy shoreline. At high tide it is easier carrying your boat 20 yards up the road and following a dirt lane down to the water. Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 6) for help in getting there.

On your return home, continue south on Basin Road toward the fishing hamlet of Sebasco. In a few miles this road will loop back to Route 209. The Water’s Edge Restaurant at the end of Blacks Landing Road offers hearty fare and outstanding views out to the remote islands of Casco Bay.

Maybe all is not lost on a murky, cloudy day after all. You can be at the lake and at the shore at the same time, making everyone happy. Go inland paddling at the coast in Phippsburg’s hidden gem, The Basin.

 

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses and schools. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]