October 6, 2013

John Christie: Remote Roque calls for kayaking

As my ocean kayaking season winds down with the shorter, cooler days and decreasing water temperatures, I recently embarked on what may have been my most enjoyable day of the entire summer in an area I'd thought about exploring for a long time but just never got around to it.

I'd been meaning to fit in a trip to Roque Bluffs State Park on the Down East coast ever since stopping by on a trip back down from Atlantic Canada with the family several years ago ... before I fell in love with ocean kayaking. Or even owned a kayak, for that matter.

For the record, Roque Bluffs State Park is an easy 15-minute drive from Route 1 in either Jonesboro or Machias, with ample signage to get you there.

I was inspired to schedule my recent visit for a couple of reasons.

First, several of my cruising friends had been waxing eloquent for years about the wonders of Roque Island, and the mile-long beach in its sheltered, southeast-facing harbor. The charts suggested to me that I could launch at the end of Schoppee Point Road, explore the waters around the park and then, winds and fog permitting, paddle a couple of miles out into Englishman's Bay and circumnavigate Roque Island.

Second, my old Squaw Mountain skiing buddy, Rich Donaher, has managed Roque Bluffs State Park for the past six years after serving a stint at Swan Lake State Park, and I was eager to reconnect with him and get the inside skinny on his park and what it had to offer.

Not only are there six miles of uncluttered hiking trails within the 274 acres on Schoppee Point, there's a half-mile crescent of sand and pebble beach. And for visitors who prefer fresh water to the bracing temperatures of the ocean, there's shallow 60-acre Simpson Pond for bathing and fishing for brookies in the spring, and brown trout through much of the summer.

The trail network leads hikers through orchards, fields and woods, and paths that follow the rocky shores of Great and Pond Coves. On my recent visit I had a full day of ocean exploration ahead of me, so I didn't spend as much time on the trails as I expect I will on my next trip, to which I'm looking forward.

Rich tells me that if I spend enough time wandering the park, I'll be assured of spotting bald eagles that frequent the area year-round, as well as pipers, plovers and interesting species of gull (like ring-billed) on the beach.

But my plan was to launch at the convenient town ramp for a day on the ocean. As I arrived at about dead low tide, there was a line of clammers launching their skiffs so I opted to put in on the rocky beach next to the ramp, which was no problem at all.

After launching, a brief exploration of Pond Cove was followed by a short paddle to the south and around a point heading east to get some shots of the beach that's the signature feature of the park.

With only a slight breeze out of the north and no fog in the forecast, it looked like the right day to point the kayak south toward Roque Island. Around Great Head after reaching the island, it was a short and pleasant trip west across Shorey Cove, then a turn south around Squire Point, then east inside of Great Spruce Island to get my first look at fabled Roque Island Harbor to see the anchorage and beach about which I had heard so much for so many years.

You could spend a day just drinking in the beauty, and peace and quiet of this horseshoe-shaped southeasterly facing harbor, generally free from rough water as the wind seldom comes out of that quadrant on this part of the coast.

Or if you want a real adventure, you can head southwest to Jonesport and Beals to get a taste of some genuine Down East culture.

Suffice it to say, Roque Bluffs State Park and the surrounding area are more than worth the trip. I'm embarrassed to say it's taken me far too many years to explore for the first time.

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

jchristie@fairpoint.net

 

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