Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Kayaking a Fjord

Since H and I were on Mt. Desert Island, the home of the only fjord in the eastern US, I had to kayak in the fjord. Somes Sounds forms a rift that nearly splits the island in half. It is a 4.5 mile long, glacial carved channel that leads from Northeast Harbor to Somesville. It is surrounded by Acadia Mountain on one side and Norumbega Mountain on the other.
The forecast for the day was for a dry and pleasant day with light winds. When we woke up, the tent was flapping, I couldn't keep a match lit long enough to start the stove, and our camp chairs were dancing dervishes. Aside from the breeze, the weather was as predicted. Not one to be daunted by a little inconvenient truth, I convinced H that it wasn't that windy, it was probably less windy on the water, and that the fjord is protected from the wind by all the Mountains around it. Ahh sweet alternate worlds in my head.
Fueled by delusion and an unhealthy need to kayak in a fjord, H and I drove to the Mansett town boat ramp. Once there, we checked with the Harbor Master to see how things in the Sound were shaping up. He told us that other than a little breeze blowing up the sounds, it would be a great day to be on the water. He also left his office shortly after we started unloading the boats...
If the wind wasn't enough of a sign that we shouldn't be kayaking today, I realized, after unloading all of our gear, that I had left my paddle at the campsite. At this point, I'm sure, a reasonable person would have just put the kayaks back on the car and picked one of the other outdoor activities that the Island offers. H, the reasonable one, actually told me to drive back to the campsite and get my paddle. (OK, I didn't really give her much choice... I was just going to use my back-up paddle.)
So while I careened along the windy roads to the camp site, H packed our clothes into the kayaks and vainly battled the double seal on the Q-Boat's Valley hatches. I don't know why Valley had to make there hatches impossible to seal up. I get more water in the darn things because I cannot seal them properly that I ever got in the neoprene covered hatches in my Seaward.
While fetching my paddle, I took advantage of H's absence to prepare a little surprise to spring on her during the paddle.
Once I had my paddle and the hatches on the Q-Boat were beaten into submission, we headed out. H, because she had the chart, took the lead. Her course took us NE to Greening's Island, around Greening's southern tip, down Greening's eastern side, and then across to the entrance to Northeast Harbor. From Northeast Harbor we planned on paddling north along the eastern shore of Somes Sound to the end, and then returning along the western shore.
During the first part of the paddle the wind made its presence felt, but was not making much trouble. It was a steady breeze out of the north with occasional heavy gusts. Because of the relative shelter and the short fetch, the seas were dimpled with small chop. The conditions kept things interesting without ganger, but hinted at impending drudgery.
When we reached Northeast Harbor and turned north to enter the fjord, the winds seemed to have calmed a bit. Of course there was a big point of land sheltering us. One look out into the sound, however, and you could see a number of sail boats deftly tacking into the Sound or dashing out to the open ocean on white cap speckled waters. H was not lulled into blissful enjoyment. In fact I suspect she was torn between enjoying the sun and the kayaking and dreading the imminent slog up the fjord. I was thrilled to be out, energized by the sun and the gentle rocking of the kayak, and inspired by the challenge posed by the wind!! My state of addiction fueled elation didn't help H.
Once we hit the Narrows, the true entrance to the fjord and a reputably nasty place for paddlers, the full force of the wind made itself known. Blowing the entire 4.5 miles, the wind was a steady 15knts. With startling frequency, the wind would serve up a long cold 25knt gust.
Aside from the wind, the conditions were ideal. The sun was shining, the humidity was low, and the temperature was mild. The scenery was breathtaking. The houses on the eastern shore of the fjord are quaint million dollar cottages that are a touch nicer than the ones that line the Bonnett Cliffs. Behind the cottages, Norumbega Mountain rises 852ft out of the sea. On the western shore, Acadia Mountain rises 681ft out the ocean in steep cliffs. The western shore is also home to Flying Mountain which was given its name by the native population who believed it had attempted to fly away from nearby St Sauveur Mountain.
We made it almost as far as Sand Point before needing a break. We found a nice couple, enjoying their summer cottage, who let us land on their beach. They also offered up access to a real live bathroom. It was quite the lunch break.
The nice couple had been out kayaking earlier in the day and mentioned a spring that was just a short way up the fjord. It sounded like an interesting, and reachable, next stop. I was pretty sure that we weren't going to make it to the head of the fjord, but was still not willing to give up the ghost.
Once back on the water, we were initially shocked to find that wind had died down. Then we rounded Sand Point. The wind seemed less vicious than earlier, but it was still making us fight for every inch. I was still thrilled to be out on the water. The Q-Boat was happily skipping along the chop and my stick sliced through the wind like butter. Still, paddling into a head wind is hard work.
After about another 45 minutes and a 1/2 mile, we still could not find the spring. We had passed the northern end of Acadia Mt. and the next possible stop was sill a distance down. So, I asked H if we should turn back. It was not fair putting the burden on her, but I would have kept paddling just to spite the wind and say I did it. Fortunately, H embraced her role as the reasonable member of the team and suggested that we needed to head back.
We crossed the fjord and paddled along the cliffs of Acadia Mountain into Valley Cove. Valley Cove is interesting and has a good bit of history. It is very hard to see into the cove as you are paddling into the fjord, so it makes an ideal place to hide ships. Apparently, the American's took advantage of this during one of the wars with the British. The cove is also lined by steep cliffs for 1/2 of its length. The other 1/2 is a rocky beach that is the head of a number of trails heading up Acadia Mountain and Flying Mountain.
H and I stopped on the beach and decided to hike the 1 mile trial to the top of Flying mountain. The thought of climbing up Acadia Mt. in our paddling shoes was not appealing.
After an easy hike we found ourselves with a clear view of the Cranberry Islands to the east and a large portion of the fjord. It was a spectacular place to spring my surprise on H. I'd like to say I was smooth in my delivery, but I fumbled it a lot before just giving her an engagement ring. In between the crying, she agreed to be my better half and then stowed the ring away for the paddle back to the car.
Returning to the car was a breeze, literally. The wind that had fought us all day pushed us out of the fjord and back to our car. We decided to paddle straight through the Narrows and along the western coast. This trajectory is the straightest line from Valley Cove to the town boat ramp in Mansett.
This was the first time I'd had the Q-Boat in a following sea and it was a learning experience. The waves were tiny little things, but they picked the back of the boat right up and surfed it. The Q-Boat breached immediately. So while H was speeding happily down the waves, I was fighting to keep myself straight. I considered dropping the skeg, but was adamant in my belief that I had to learn how to handle the kayak sans skeg. It took a little experimenting, but I finally figured it out. If I picked an edge to surf the Q-Boat on, it would stay pretty straight. I'm quickly learning that with a hard chine boat, the edges are very important.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Eric; A ring, eh! Boy, you do like an adventure!!May you both have a wondeful relationship. Thanks George