BOOTHBAY HARBOR — One kayak camping trip to an island off Acadia National Park is all it took. Diane Gilman was hooked.
That was 10 years ago. Now the Woolwich resident leads paddle tours for land trusts, around islands and on the open ocean. From that first kayak trip to her most recent, Gilman has never tired of the Maine coast. On weekdays she runs the Boothbay Region Land Trust office, but come the weekend, Gilman, 61, is a woman who needs a paddle.
When did you start paddling?
The minute I got into a kayak I felt I had died and gone to heaven. I had heard about ocean kayaking in Bar Harbor. So I went with an outfit that did everything for you. Some offer lodging in B&Bs. That wasn’t for me. There was one that camped on islands and that was appealing. There were about eight of us and none of us had much experience. It was five days and so much fun. I went home and asked my family to buy me a kayak for my birthday and Christmas. My daughter and husband did.
How did you get experience?
I started paddling by myself. I know you’re not supposed to. I went to safe places, small lakes and ponds. Then I went out with the (local paddling group) Pemaquid Paddlers on Tuesdays when that group existed. My boat weighs 60 pounds and I can’t get it off my car by myself. There are racks that lift it up and down but I can’t afford that. At the group paddles, everyone helps.
When did you hit the ocean?
I was paddling by myself for a while but I never paddled on the ocean by myself. Too many things can go wrong. I also paddled with the Pemaquid Watershed Association. Now I lead trips for them. Now I’m second in command. I go to almost every Saturday paddle. There are not many I miss. My family knows that’s what I do on Saturday.
So when did you start exploring the finger peninsulas?
Once I started taking trips by myself, I realized I could find my way. I went down the Sheepscot (River) and into Wiscasset (Harbor). It’s wonderful and gorgeous. One of the first times out by myself I got lost and ended up in a marsh because I missed a turn. Once I got the scouting down, I kept trying places out. I got better and better at exploring. I hate to say it, but it wasn’t until five years ago that I took a paddle course. I was paddling so much I thought I should. I found out I was paddling incorrectly. I had been paddling canoes for 20 to 30 years, but the stroke is different. In a canoe you move your arms, in a kayak you move your body. I had to relearn how to paddle my kayak. It became clear if I did it wrong and a wind came up I wouldn’t be able to paddle for long. Now I watch people paddling incorrectly and think no wonder their arms, elbows and shoulders hurt.
Do you paddle alone in some of the bigger rivers, which are formidable?
I do not paddle parts of the Kennebec. Now I know better. It’s a big body of water. All these tidal rivers, the current is so strong. Not only that, but so many places (drain) of water and you can’t get back to them. That happens to a lot of people. The closest I came to that was in the New Meadows River; I didn’t even recognize where I put in when I got back to it. And I was lucky to get back. A lot of people are left stranded. You have to pay attention to the tides.
How far do you travel to paddle?
I started looking in Augusta, Belgrade and Liberty. Then I finally said, I live on the coast of Maine with all of these rivers within one to two hours. I could do a paddle every Saturday for the rest of my life and never do the same thing around here. Even if it’s the same paddle, it never looks the same. Different tides produce a different kind of day.
What’s your favorite trip?
I still love to paddle marshes and small rivers because of the wildlife, all kinds of birds and turtles. You can come upon them quietly. It’s one of the reasons I started paddling by myself. It’s hard to see wildlife when you’re paddling with 17 other boats. I like the solitude. I like that I can sneak up on a heron. But once I started paddling on the ocean it’s so mind-boggingly beautiful. You see seagulls, seabirds, seals. I’ve never had a close encounter with a whale but it’s all just magical. In Wiscasset, down the Sheepscot around Pemaquid Point, there are 1,000 different possibilities.
You’re not a guide but if you guided someone from out of state just one time, where would you take them?
If they were not a beginner paddler, I’d leave from East Boothbay and paddle to Damariscove Island, which our land trust owns. It’s an amazing bird sanctuary. We’d get out and hike around Damariscove. On the hill you have a 360-degree view of the islands. You can see all the way to Monhegan. Then we’d paddle back past Outer Heron Island, Inner Island. These islands produce zillions of seals if you go at the right time.