I could use some suggestions -- please see specific questions at the end of this post.
I just renewed my Maine Island Trail Association membership. I'd like to paddle in Maine next summer for about a week -- camp on some islands and maybe also day-paddle from a shore base. I'm thinking about Stonington because there are lots of islands offshore. I think I read somewhere that currents are not particularly strong there.
I have been to Maine but have not paddled the coast. I am concerned about things I haven't had any experience with here in North Carolina: tideraces, extreme tidal ranges, fog. I can negotiate surf launches and landings OK but I don't seek out rough water. I have passed my BCU 3-star sea assessment (this year). I paddle an NDK Pilgrim -- I have a lot of confidence in that boat in bumpy water. I paddle alone a lot, though not on the sea.
I might go to Maine alone, or I might be able to enlist a couple of paddling companions from my kayak club here. If alone, the alternatives for me would be to drive up with my own boat or to fly up and try to rent a kayak.
QUESTIONS: Would Stonington be a good base (Old Quarry Adventures perhaps)?
Do I need a guide for a day or two to check me out on how coastal Maine water behaves and how to assess risks?
If I fly up, are there outfitters who will rent good sea kayaks such as Nigel Dennis kayaks? I just mean real sea kayaks, not tubs.
My least favored option would be to join a group paddle for several days, but to be honest, I think I'd hate that after a day or two.
Thanks for any and all suggestions!
Ginger in NC
I could use some suggestions -- please see specific questions at the end of this post.
Flying really restricts you
Your own car has appropriate racks etc. Flying you depend on a rental car and Maine is not an easy market to get the rental you want.
Old Quarry Campground is good . In the summer I avoid downtonw Stonington like the plague. I also like launching fron Naskeag.
You can make wonderful use of your MITA membership in this area. One thing I like to do is camp on Isle au Haut for a couple of nights but you have to reserve early in January.
Tidal races are not bad in the Deer Isle area.
However I prefer all over lesser known Muscongus Bay, which also relatively kind with tidal currents.
The Sheepscot River-Kennebec River area is known for fast moving water but its not terrifying for an experienced boater. It is my home area. You just have to watch eddylines and whirlpools and go with the flow.
Yes its worth the fourteen hour drive to bring your own boat.
East of Acadia of courser the shore is wilder and the tidal range goes from 12 feet to much more…making timing essential.
Its worth it go get the MITA book in print. Its certainly more cohesive than the online version.
There are clusters of islands in several places…not just Stonington.
Lots of stuff
First, while Stonington is all the rage I agree with kayakmedic about Muscongous. This coming summer will be our 21st or 22nd - I forget - July renting on that bay. It has many of the charms of the more crowded destinations, including being within near reach of the Muscle Ridge archipelago which is a mini-Stonington, but can be very manageable for paddling solo. With moderate planning you can just about always find a way to hop land masses and get home safely - it is rich is landing points.
You are correct to be concerned about fog - the summer fog in Maine has left us a bit nervous more than once even when we knew absolutely for sure where we were. But there is something about only being able to see 15 feet and hearing boat engines that robs confidence from most anyone. We found there are good and bad years… last year was very light on fog, the summer before that wasn’t bad and late June/July three summers ago was wicked bad. We are probably due for another bad one.
I have to run out right now. I’ll email you when I get in, but for right now I’d suggest that you check in with two folks about the possibility of grabbing a boat from them (if you can score a rental car with racks). One is Tom Bergh of Maine Island Kayak Company, the other is Ray Wirth of Water Walker Tours I think is the name, out of Belfast. Both great people to work with, they have good boats and reliable local knowledge.
First of all, for disclosure purposes, I work part time as an instructor and guide at Old Quarry in Stonington. That said, I’ll try to be fair.
The areas of Muscongus Bay and the Stonington Archipelago offer some really great paddling, and both are probably a reasonable place to get your first experience dealing with large tides, fog, and other Maine treats. I think it’s fair to say Stonington has a lot more islands to visit and camp on, but that’s perhaps moot, as you’d need weeks to stop at all the options there.
It sounds like you’ve got a solid base of skills with the 3-star award, so primarily you’ll probably need to adapt your skills to the new environment, and look out for hazards which you haven’t dealt with before. Paddling alone is of course always a greater risk than going with capable partners, so I would be a little concerned about exploring a new area, solo, and possibly with an unfamiliar boat. It’s true that Muscongus and Stonington are not the most dangerous areas on the Maine coast, but they are afflicted by fast-moving fog, 10-15 foot tidal ranges, and tidal currents up to 1.5 knots in some areas.
Whether alone or with friends, I think I’d strongly recommend hiring an instructor for a day or so, to help get you oriented to the Maine environment, and pick up some local knowledge. Navigation is really important here, as the dozens of small islands all look quite alike, and buoyage is often very sparse. You can’t simply rely on glancing at the chart and comparing it to what’s in front of you. Solid chart and compass skills, dead-reckoning, and piloting are key. It’s also good to get an idea of which passages the lobster boats tend to come flying through in the early afternoon on their way home (generally not where you’d guess from looking at a chart). You’ll also learn from an Instructor where are the better places to camp. Where the best views are. Which islands are notoriously bug-infested!
Ray Wirth (Water Walker) is an ACA instructor, though I haven’t talked to people who have been his students, and we have two ACA instructors at Old Quarry. Tom Berg offers good instruction, but generally not in the areas you’re considering.
Since you’re used to paddling a small-person boat, it might be tricky to find a comparable rental. Tom Berg (Maine Island Kayak) is an NDK dealer, so he may be able to rent you a Pilgrim, but he’s 2-4 hours drive from where you’re going. Bangor is a lot closer to Stonington if you’re flying, so renting from Portland would be a pain. Old Quarry boats that might be your size include a Necky Eliza, Necky Chatham 16, and a Wilderness Systems Tempest 165. There may be others but those come to mind. All are plastic. Old Quarry is the only viable put-in in Stonington, because you can’t park overnight anywhere else, and if you rented there, you wouldn’t require a rental car with a rack.
If you’ve got other questions drop me a line, and I’ll do my best to help.
Great advice, thanks!!!
Kayakmedic, Celia, and Nate, thank you very much for the suggestions – all very helpful. I will ask for this year’s MITA guide in print – good idea. Will check out Muscongus Bay. Nate, I didn’t realize you guided at Old Quarry Adventures. I did know about Michael, who blogs under Sea Kayak Stonington, or a similar title.
Thanks again, all. If you have more thoughts, send 'em my way!
G in NC
Ask for what you want
Although you might not get it, if you want to rent a Pilgrim, ask flat-out if somebody has one to rent. You might get lucky.
When I was planning my trip to San Diego, I asked Jen at Aqua Adventures if they had boats for someone of my size and weight. I gave her my height and weight. Told her I have a PEX and that either of the Pilgrim models or the Romany LV would fit me well. Turned out that she had a Pilgrim available to rent. The nice stock hip pads had been removed, which made the cockpit fit too loose, but she gave me some WS hip pads to strap in. They made the fit so perfect that I’m considering doing the same in my PEX.
I know that Sea Kayak Georgia had a PEX to rent this fall. So these kayaks are starting to become more available–worth asking about.
get some friends and drive…
take shifts and you can make it in short enough order…it’ll be part of the adventure and then you have all your own gear…the stuff you’re most comfortable with using.
old quarry is an excellent base of operations to get down into all the islands off stongington. everything i’ve ever heard is that bill is keyed in and i’d guess his folks are too…great place.
lotsa options in maine though from casco to bold coast. you might think about getting a guide so that you aren’t the only one’s concerned about tide/current fog and nav. hire out the heavy lifting and get a lesson along the way…the 3 star is now the rough equivalent of the old 4 right? i’d guess they’ve touched on nav (lamar?) and if you get a guide sure they’ll give you some additional pointers from the cockpit.
mita and charts will go a long way but having a good guide with you can’t be beat.
and one of the things you didn’t mention as a concern was water temp…it’s a might colder up here in the great white north than balmy nc…dress accordingly.
questions or need suggestion, just holler.
Consider Cobscook Bay area - 25’ tides because it is part of the Bay of Fundy. It is 2 hours north of Bar Harbor and the easternmost part of the U.S. I have friends up there that are guides that could help you get the right kayak. A bunch of us are going up there from Virginia in June.
Great area up there, but I’d strongly suggest that it’s not the right place for an unguided first trip to Maine. Hire a guide for the whole trip if you want to paddle up there, IMO.
I’d add . . .
Rick is spot on. I’d just add that with 3-star training, you’ve got more technical skills than many Maine Guides. I think you’d be well served to find a Guide who is BCU or ACA certified, either as an instructor or as a sea-leader, for example, if you want the benefit of some instruction which complements your previous training.
If you’re not equipped with cold-water gear, you can rent that at various places (including Old Quarry).
Stonington is a great choice. Low risk/high reward Fog can always be an issue in the summer but many of the islands are so close together you should be able to avoid really long crossings in low vis. Tides are not that bad there but definitely need to be paid attention to. LOTS of lobster boat traffic. If you want a safe (and free) place to leave your car Naskeag harbor, as mentioned, is the spot to launch from. But you will have a little bit of an exposed crossing to get a few miles east to the Merchants Row islands directly off Stonington. I did a four day solo trip there in August and loved it.
I love Cobscook Bay
and seven years ago did paddle through the Cobscook Reversing Falls but our group watched the effect of tide on the falls for a day before.
Only then did we venture through. And its been seven years so I would need a refresher called local knowledge.
“…I’d just add that with 3-star training, you’ve got more technical skills than many Maine Guides”
it’s funny…all my paddling buddies are all pretty accomplished (bcu this, aca that) and some are rmg’s as well but you’re right, this is clearly skewing my interpretation of the rmg standard.
yeah, if you get a guide…ask the right questions about training and certs…there are plenty enough of us and there’s no reason to not get some practical class time along the way…best way to learn anything is to do it.
Some info on what Ray is doing …
cobscook is lovely…
but if you aren’t familiar with it and tide/current fog and nav it’d be pretty easy to get caught out in the wrong place.
definitely a place where a good guide is key.
like the fella said…some of the largest tides in the world.
just noticed he’s carrying ONNO
That’s great that we’ve got a local dealer of your paddles. Does he have a full line to demo?
Onno paddles in Maine!
We run into Ray frequently when paddling the Muscle Ridge Archipelago. Didn’t know he carried Onno!
Mid-Coast Maine paddling
We've been paddling mid-coast Maine for 15+ years, also some paddling around MDI the last 5 or so. We've been spending some summer time in Friendship for 21 years.
Fog is part of Maine coastal paddling. As Celia noted, some years more so than others.
Tom Bergh (MIKCo) is the best bet for getting a rental Pilgrim.
Portland to Muscongus Bay is an hour drive. Take a look at the significant number of MITA islands in Muscongus. There is also Eastern Egg Rock for Puffins.
John Carmody (Sea Cliff Kayakers) is in Boothbay and knows Mid-Coast waters maybe better than anyone. John is featured in Eastern Horizons and is one of only 4 BCU L5 coaches in North America. John is also a P&H guy these days and you could rent a Cetus LV from him.
Mike Scarborough (Friendship Kayak) is in Friendship is a BCU trained coach and a great guide.
Maine Coastal waters are some of the finest sea kayaking anywhere.
some responses to your suggestions
Probably midcoast next summer, saving Cobscook Bay for another trip.
I already have heard from Ray, the guide in Belfast. Basically, it seems that midcoast Maine has plenty of good guides and I could hook up with one or more for trips. I’d like to do that, whether I come alone or with some friends.
Yes, I’ve learned a little navigation but I need to PRACTICE a whole lot more. (Saltmarshes would be good for practice on our coast because everything looks alike!)
Last thing is, yes, I know the water in Maine stays cold through the summer and I expect to dress for it, for sure.
Many thanks, you all. These suggestions are a huge help.
A few thoughts about Maine
For several years, my wife Caroline and I have been kayaking (in September) among the islands in the Stonington area, including nearby launch areas such as Grey’s cove. We have launched at Old Quarry and, usually, the (free) Colwell’s Landing in Stonington.
We use Waterproof Chart #104, Eggemoggin Reach, and #106, Rockport to Bangor, which are waterproof versions of the NOAA charts, and which we got at Hamilton Marine on U.S. Route 1 in Searsport (on the way to Stonington). We also bought our VHF radios from them. The people at Hamilton Marine are very accommodating; if you call ahead and tell them what you want to buy and when you expect to be at one of their stores, they will transfer the product(s) to that store from their other stores. (www.HamiltonMarine.com)
We know a Stonington resident who is BCU 3, a Maine Guide and one of Capt. Bill’s guides at Old Quarry. We’ll consult him concerning his opinion about your needs.
Have a great trip!