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Maine Coastal Kayaking:
maine kayakingKnubble Bay, Robinhood Cove
& the Sheepscott River
by Tom Holtey

Maine is certainly a world-class kayak destination especially with its 325-mile long Water Trail, maintained by the Maine Island Trail Association. Considering all the islands, tidal rivers and the convoluted rocky coastline the opportunities for exploration by kayak are almost infinite.

Athena and I recently joined the Appalachian Mountain Club. We had been wanting to for some time; after all we are currently nestled in New Hampshire's White Mountains. We attended one of their Winter Workshops on backcountry travel in winter, X-C skiing and snowshoeing. It was very well done. Although I teach on the coast at Portsmouth and we've explored some of Maine's coastline by kayak, it was a delight to discover that the AMC sponsored kayak and canoe trips as well. Our curiosity was peaked and we signed up. (AMC has flat water, white water and ocean trips.)

The AMC maintains a "camp" (a no-frills cottage) on the shore of Knuble Bay and a campground for tenting on nearby Beal Island. During a handful of weekends over the paddling the season they organize sea kayaking trips for AMC members. We attended the "Beat the Bugs" first trip of the year.

Careful preparations had to made for this early spring paddling trip (1st week of May) considering the chilly waters and the strong tidal currents in the area. We read our guidebooks, studied the charts & maps, and consulted the Eldridge Tide & Pilot Book.

We loaded four kayaks on the van (2 sit-on-tops and 2 sit-in-sides) just in case we encountered any prejudice. We did not want to be turned back after a long drive. Fortunately the AMC members graciously accepted our Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 and our Perception Illusion 14.0, the only two sit-ons in the fleet. We found them to be a great bunch of people and fun to paddle with.

maine kayakingThe AMC Knubble Bay Camp has a couple bunkrooms, but we opted for one of the shore side tent sites for the fresh ocean air and water views. Naturally I had a bit of trouble being comfortable on a Therma-rest camping mattress, but was rewarded in my restlessness by the sounds a four little feet passing slowly outside the tent. I figured it was probably a skunk or maybe a raccoon, as there was no smell. I was too tied to poke my head out for a look, but someone did. The little creature came scurrying back the way it came; at fast pace, no doubt startled by one of the other tenters taking a peek.

maine kayakingThe morning proved to be an equally rich wildlife experience with several woodpeckers, at close range, hamming away like a crew of carpenters at 5:30 AM! Between them, the wild bird songs of dawn and my semi sleepless night, I amused myself with thoughts of sticking my head out of the tent and yelling "SHUT UP!"

After a hearty AMC breakfast we had pre-paddle meeting and prepared the fleet. We opted for our wet suits, as the day was sunny and warm. (Wet suits or dry suits were required due to the 45-degree water temp.) We helped each other out lugging our kayaks down the stairs to the small gravely beach below at high tide.

maine kayakingPlanning for tides is of the utmost importance when kayaking among the tidal rivers of Maine. Our route of the day was the Sasanoa River across Knubble Bay, past the Knubble, and into the Goose Rock Passage to the Sheepscot River. Our launch at low tide, during slack water, was well timed, and our route was with the out flowing ebb tide. Currents on the Sasanoa River can run 1.8 knots on an ebb tide and as much a 3 knots on the flood tide. Stories of paddlers' futile attempts to make progress against such currents are common lore and demonstrate the need for preparation.

We took a turn down the Little Sheepscot River, a one-mile section of narrow water between MacMahan and Georgetown islands. The current here can flow through this channel like a white water river, but on this day the water was smooth sailing and made for an interesting short cut.

Once out of the Little Sheepscot we were exposed to the open ocean, could feel the swells under our hull and the sea breeze on our faces. After a short bit we made our way to the quaint fishing village of Five Islands. The islands make a protected cove and we paddled right through the middle of them and under a footbridge that joins two of them.

We took a rest stop on Wood Island on the way to Reid State Park, our destination. The low tide, now on the rise, had exposed the tide pools and seaweed covered rocks along shore. Exploring the shore was fun, but tricky due to the slippery rockweed.

Paddling on we finally landed on the sandbank of Outer Head at Reid Park for lunch. (Outer Head Island is a Bird Sanctuary, do not land or hike there.) The park is a beautiful place to be, accessible by car and a possible launch spot. We also considered the location for later pick-up of weary paddlers, but all were fit to go for the return trip.

Our group followed the same route back to Knubble Bay, but this time we were taking the incoming flood tide home. The tide had changed while we had our lunch, and now was in our favor with a following sea.

Some of the crew opted to paddle the outside of MacMahan while others paddled back through the Little Sheepscot. We kept in touch using VHF radios that many had brought along. Harbor seals curiously welcomed us back to Knubble Bay.

Overall it was a great all-day trip, not too challenging and the perfect way to start off the season. About 14 miles (statute miles) round trip, add a bit more, depending on detours and explorations.

maine kayakingThe next day's trip was also well planned, considering the tides, and there were many options to make the trip shorter for those who had far to drive home. The plan was to circumnavigate Beal Island, but conditions were good and we extended the trip a bit.

We paddled north to Beal Island where the AMC maintains a campground along the route of Maine Island Trail. From there we paddled the Little Hell Gate, a narrow water way to the west of Beal Island, upstream on an outgoing tide. While that leg was a bit challenging I could only imagine it when the currents are rally flowing. I hugged the eastern shore looking for back eddies to help me along.

From Beal we paddled the western shore of Bareneck Island into beautiful Hockomock Bay. At this point I was wondering what route the leaders had in mind, as the trip seemed to growing longer than it was billed as. The water conditions and weather was very nice despite a hand chilling north wind, so it did not make much concern to me.

We entered into Heal Cove and around the Tyler Islands. From there our route took us into the Sasanoa River's Lower Hell Gate east of Beal, and through the Boilers, just off the south tip of Beal Island. The water was calm and flat, providing no clue at all to the strong tidal currents that give rise to names like Hell Gate and the Boilers.

Our Eldridge Tide & Pilot Book lists a 3-knot flood current and a 3.5-knot ebb current (maximum current is in the middle of the tide). Our guidebooks indicate that the 2-hour slack water (one hour before and one hour after low or high tide) is the only safe time to paddle these waters. It would be nice to camp on Beal to see the currents run at full bore. It has been said that the currents are different every time.

maine kayakingWe took a short break on Beal Island and from there we paddled past Knubble Bay Camp where some of our comrades opted to shorten their day. The rest of us paddled past the Knubble and into Robinhood cove.

Robinhood Cove is an excellent clam water paddling destination free, for the most part, of tidal currents and open ocean conditions. While the cove is three miles long we did not paddle the whole length, but did get to Mary Barretts Bones, a hulk of a five masted schooner beached there long ago as out-dated in the wake of the new steam ships. You can see it marked a wreck on the chart.

Our overall mileage was about the same as the day before, but took less time due to fewer stopovers and maybe the out flowing currents.

Resources:

Accomodations:

  • Appalachian Mountain Club's Knubble Bay Camp and Beal Island Campground
    Launch access at Knubble Bay Camp for campers and lodgers
    Knubble Bay Camp

  • Beal Island Campground

  • Gray Havens Bed & Breakfast (207) 371-2616
    A very nice place to stay with access to the water down a rather long stair with a launch across the water from Wood Island on Harmon Harbor.

Access: (expect to pay a fee)

  • Robinhood Cove; Robinhood Marine Center (207) 371-2525
    Easy portage to a small cove next to the main dock.

  • Reid State Park (207) 371-2303
    Although not tailored to kayak launching you can carry your boat from the lot to the sand bar adjacent to Outer Head.

Clubs & Organizations

Charts & Maps

  • NOAA Chart: # 13293 or other similar charts available at Marine centers.
  • Waterproof topo map of the area An on-line purchase of any waterproof topo map at MyTopo.com with this link helps to support TopKayaker.Net.

Books:

At Tom's TopKayaker Shop:

  • SEA KAYAKING ALONG THE NEW ENGLAND COAST by Tamsin Venn
    Appalachian Mountain Club Books A guide from Connecticut to Maine, for novices and old salts alike. Covers every thing from where-to to what to wear.

  • HOT SHOWERS! Maine Coast Lodgings for Kayakers & Sailors by Lee Bumsted The coast of Maine can be a chilly place. This guide can keep you warm if you don't feel like ruffing it, or if you need a safe harbor in bad weather. A good resource for stylish lodgings and emergency accommodations.
  • Kayaking The Maine Coast by Dorcas S. Miller
    Day trips from Kittery to Cobscook. More than 50 trips are described. Each chapter includes suggested trips, where to find launch access, how to read tides & currents, nautical chart & map references, key points of interest, safety for you and your car. Incredibly detailed. We use it hand in hand with Tamsin's book which covers an area more broadly & romatically, while Miller's book fills in the blanks.

At Amazon.com:


Tidal Current Tables 2009: Atlantic Coast of North America, by NOAA or search for current issue.

Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book 2009 or search for current issue.

Maine Atlas and Gazetteer

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