By AJ Allen, MITA Member
I started kayaking after graduating college about three years ago. Paddling has been my main source of exploration and adventure since then. I love to travel but I don’t always have the freedom to go very far from home, which is the North Shore of Massachusetts. But I’ve realized that you can see a ton of amazing sights within a short drive of your own backyard.
One of my good friends from high school, John Chapman, actually introduced me to sea kayaking. John took me on a trip to Casco Bay. We stayed on Whaleboat Island, which is not on the Maine Island Trail but owned by Maine Coast Heritage Trust. That trip was the first time I heard of the Maine Island Trail Association and even thought about kayak camping.
If you haven’t been, Maine is to sea kayaking as Colorado and Utah is to skiing. And that’s pretty obvious the first time you go out. After that realization I was pretty much hooked.
After borrowing a boat on my first trip, I ended up purchasing the cheapest boat I could find and wound up with a Hurricane Tracer 165. It is a thermoformed plastic boat with a skeg and has treated me well.
We have spent almost every weekend kayaking the past few years. That was really when I was able to develop a lot of the skills required, like navigation, self-rescue, and camp-cooking, for this larger trip. When I found myself on this trip it felt super casual. Just like a long weekend. More of a pleasure cruise rather than something I trained for, which kept it fun.
I had originally planned on starting my trip on Saturday, July 3rd but hurricane Elsa hit that day. 25+ knot winds coming from the north forced me to start on July 4th instead. Boat launch to boat launch it took me 11 days to go from Portsmouth, NH to Lubec, ME, which includes the day where I had to hunker down to avoid the heart of hurricane Elsa. In total, there were 10 days on the water.
My official route:
Portsmouth, NH to Cape Island (Cape Porpoise).
Cape Island to Jewell Island (Casco Bay).
Jewell Island to Five Islands (Sheepscot River).
Five Islands to Black Island (Muscongus Bay).
Black Island to Monroe Island (Penobscot Bay).
Monroe Island to Naskeag Point (Brooklin).
Naskeag Point to Crow Island (Cranberry Isles)
Crow Island to Bois Bubert Island (Milbridge)
Bois Bubert Island to Ram Island (Englishman Bay)
Ram Island to Lubec.
There were a couple of scary moments. I cracked my hull on the first day. So, my kayak leaked from Kennebunkport to Five Islands where a true friend brought me a roll of flex seal as a temporary solution. That flex seal is still on my boat, so the stuff really works!
That same night I picked up the flex seal, I got caught in a thunderstorm. I had to shelter and camp overnight behind the dumpsters at the Five Islands Lobster Co. Thank you again to Five Islands for letting me crash for the night!
One of my favorite days actually was one of my hardest. On the trip from Muscongus over to Penobscot Bay, I was hammered with a headwind all day. But by the end of the day I watched the sun set over Camden Hills State Park from Monroe Island in the Mussel Ridge archipelago.
Whether it’s hiking, mountain biking, cross country skiing, or kayaking, the beauty of nature is almost amplified by the physical effort exerted in experiencing it. There’s a completely different appreciation for the scenery when you have worked hard to see it. So, going from Portsmouth to the coastal mountains of Maine by kayak, this sunset was a very satisfying view. Especially knowing I was halfway to the end!
I had originally planned on doing most of the trip alone. However, my friend John was able to get more time off of work than expected so we ended up paddling a little more than half the trip together. In addition to having company and conversation for the long crossings, every time we linked up he was super helpful and brought me supplies. When he had to head back to the mainland for stints of the trip, his girlfriend would be waiting to pick him up with fresh supplies for me. She even picked us up at the end! (Leanna, seriously. Thank you and you’re awesome.)
I’m especially grateful for all the support because it allowed me to focus my routes on more secluded areas rather than seeking out the coastal amenities. Using the Maine Island Trail app, I was able to familiarize myself with less frequented environments and discover sights that I would have otherwise never known existed. And sharing those experiences with friends is especially fun.
Since the trip, I’m in the process of getting my girlfriend into sea kayaking. The other weekend I took her up to Stonington to see all the glacial erratics! And before it’s the ski season we plan on getting up to Castine to check out the bioluminescence. I’ve also paddled out to Vinalhaven since the trip (Shout out to Jeff, Alex, and John).
For anyone who wants to get into sea kayaking I recommend supporting your local guide company and signing up for a kayak tour. There are simple techniques and procedures that guides can teach you to be safe and responsible on the water. Plus you can ask experienced paddlers for recommendations on close island chains, sheltered waters, tidal precautions, weather observation techniques and other bits of information that will build your confidence in exploring further reaches of the sea.