A kayaker explores one of The Ovens on Frenchman Bay. Contributed photo

Commencing the sport in 2002, sea kayaking is a relatively new activity for me. When you’re in your 70s, anything less than 20 years seems like last week. Already eligible for AARP membership when I began, I lacked the risk taking mentality of younger paddlers. Late fall and winter kayaking on the ocean has never had much appeal. Frigid air, wintry winds, icy water, and frozen hands increase the dangers and decrease the enjoyment.

Fifteen years ago, a friend recommended a December trip to Damariscove Island, the far end located five miles off the coast of Linekin Peninsula near Boothbay. A cloudy breezy day with temperatures in the thirties, we departed from Ocean Point navigating past massive distinctive boulders called White Islands to Outer Heron Island in comparatively benign conditions. Leaving the protection of Outer Heron for a two-mile open crossing directly into gusty piercing southwest winds to the southern terminus of Damariscove, the complexion of the excursion changed dramatically. Approaching the southeastern tip, large intimidating swells spewing a frosty spray rocked our tiny crafts. The prospect of accompanying the undulating waves as they crashed into nearby jagged cliffs seemed a disagreeable possibility. Finally achieving relative safety in the sheltered cove, thoroughly chilled I resolved that cold weather sea kayaking was for younger tougher paddlers.

Since then, the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society fall outdoor weekend on Mount Desert Island has often resulted in my last sea kayak expedition of the year. With the possible exception of the Bold Coast, there is no more spectacular shoreline in Maine than the island explorer Samuel de Champlain called Isles des Monts Desert. Hence, it’s an ideal setting to end a year of paddling. Typically, my friend Ken leads a club sea kayak trip as he did again this year. Several members, mostly elderly boaters, were enthusiastically awaiting his choice. No shrinking violets in our geriatric group, the reality was we were all lobbying for individual preferences.

An offshore storm complicated decision-making. Turbulent seas rendered paddling along the completely exposed rugged southeastern shore or touring to outer islands potentially hazardous. Since those were the favored choices, a prolonged discussion ensued. A traverse of picturesque Frenchman Bay was the final selection. Infrequently paddled but still exceptionally scenic, the bay offered the benefit of probable sanctuary from predicted prodigious ocean waves. The strategy was a good one as calm conditions were experienced throughout.

Beginning the endeavor at a boat landing on Hadley Point, the island’s northern extremity, we launched on the eastern end of Mount Desert Narrows just a short distance from the mainland. Journeying southeast close to shore, we were initially in search of a landmark called The Ovens. Vertical cliffs with hollowed out caves soon emerged. Paddling into The Ovens is an essential element of the experience; even for seniors posing as youngsters.

Continuing southeast past Salsbury and Hulls Coves, the aptly named Porcupine Islands were directly ahead. Dominating a channel between two of the Porcupines was an immense vessel, the Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Inspecting the ocean liner and reconnoitering the Porcupines became an extended destination.

A sense of insignificance is guaranteed when approaching a cruise ship in a sea kayak. The gargantuan watercraft loomed over us like a small mountain. Surprisingly, no one in our aging group expressed any enthusiasm for embarking on a cruise. A succession of comical observations about the dangers of getting ill while on board followed. While perhaps lacking in good taste, a suggestion that such an outing required a cabin with a “throw up” window was probably the funniest.

Paddling amongst the Porcupine Islands is always a pleasurable diversion. Consisting of several closely connected diminutive atolls extending east towards Schoodic Point, they offer an entertaining escapade while normally ensconced from offshore winds and waves. Completing our exploration, we navigated towards the iconic coastal village of Bar Harbor. During the last mile of our voyage, a perpetual view of majestic Champlain, Dorr, and Cadillac Mountains was savored as we approached the bustling landing adjacent Bar Island. Fortuitously, we arrived just before an outgoing tide would have culminated in a muddy disembarkation.

At my age, I consider myself blessed to have enjoyed another year of exceptional sea kayaking opportunities along the coast of Maine. No cold weather ocean adventures for me, time is nearing for winter hiking and Nordic skiing instead. My last paddle of the year, fortunes willing, I’ll be back in my sea kayak come spring.

Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at [email protected].

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