May 5, 2013

John Christie: It's that first paddle on the Penobscot

I know that I've made the transition from winter to spring when I hang up the boards (except for one last trip scheduled to the East Snowfields on Mount Washington with some pals in early June) and I slip the kayak off the Jeep and nudge it into the still-chilly waters of Penobscot Bay for my traditional inaugural April paddle.

click image to enlarge

Columnist John Christie marks the coming of spring with the first of what will be many kayaking adventures on Penobscot Bay, although he may get in one more day of skiing on Mount Washington.

Bob Lane photo

The excitement starts to build around Easter Sunday, the day I annually pull the kayak off the wall in the barn and mount it in its rollered rack on the car roof in anticipation of the first spring excursion on the water.

This premature preparation usually results in quizzical glances from folks in the parking lots at Sugarloaf and Saddleback, my customary spring skiing haunts, as well as the occasional pile of snow on the kayak that results from a late-season storm. But I want to be sure that if an especially warm day in April suggests that it's time to hit the water, I'm ready.

Like I still feel on Christmas Eve, or when the first snow arrives in November, I have a hard time sleeping the night before my first planned trip on the motorcycle, or the first assault of a 4,000-footer, or the first day the fly rod comes out of its case, or my first paddle of the season.

So it was last week when my kayaking buddy (and first-rate photographer) Bob Lane and I made preparations for a day trip onto Penobscot Bay. That particular stretch of water, more often than not, is where I begin my paddling season for a variety of reasons. First, it's close enough to my midcoast home to allow me to get out on the water early to allow for a long, leisurely day loosening up and exercising some atrophied upper body muscles that feel like they've been in a six-month hibernation and resist being so rudely reawakened.

Equally important, I like to save unexplored water for later in the summer and begin my season in the arms of an old familiar friend. My love affair with Penobscot Bay goes back more than 70 years, from my childhood growing up in Camden to years spent in our Jonesport lobster boat exploring (and dropping the hook in) every gunk hole from Port Clyde to Stonington. Not to mention that my familiarity with that particular spectacular stretch of the Maine coast provokes me to feel not just at home, but very comfortable.

Bob and I met at the working wharf on the snug little working harbor in Owls Head as a couple of boats were bringing in their morning catch and another one was steaming out.

There was a breeze out of the east kicking up 2- to 4-foot seas, and the temps were hovering around 50 degrees, but we were dressed and prepared and the bright sun made for a very comfortable paddle -- especially for the first day out.

A duck family accompanied us as we headed out of the harbor heading north toward Owls Head lighthouse, past some still boarded-up summer cottages, and the ever-present gulls that had followed the lobster boats and decided to spend a little time socializing with us.

Out around Dodge Point and inside of Dodge Point Ledge, as the tide was approaching high, we made our way inside of the marker on Owls Head Ledge and the classic lighthouse loomed ahead.

It took only a few hundred yards and an equal number of strokes before it felt like I'd never left the water and I was reminded of the old adage about getting back on the bicycle. You might not remember what to do, but your body, thankfully, will.

Some spray over the deck, and the roll of the kayak as the swells built out around the lighthouse, reawakened the dormant sensations that conspire to make ocean kayaking the enjoyable and stimulating experience that it never fails, at least for me, to be.

Turning back south at the light, we rode the rollers back down along the leeward side of Monroe Island as we felt that testing the ocean side of the island could wait for a subsequent visit. As we paddled by the interesting and variegated western shore of the island I was reminded of a trip long ago in the lobster boat as Marty and I were headed home to our mooring in Rockport after a couple of days exploring the Port Clyde peninsula and a beautiful morning motoring up Muscle Ridge, when we watched in fascination as a large doe swam effortlessly toward the island from the mainland.

Staying inside of Sheep Island, and making the mental note to return once again to the sheltered, sunset-facing beach on its westerly shore before the summer's over, we crossed over Sheep Island Bar and took a bearing to Hendrickson Point before scooting back up past Holiday Beach -- quiet on this chilly April day -- and then home to our launch spot in the harbor.

Not an especially long and exhausting paddle. Just the perfect start to a summer of pleasure on the water.

John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son, Josh, write in Outdoors about places to enjoy the beauty only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at:

jchristie@fairpoint.net

 

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