Sunday, May 18, 2008

Maine Bunk House Adventure

As winter settled in those many months ago, a group of desperate paddlers starting planning adventures for the following season. One of the adventures was to spend a weekend at the AMC's Knubble Bay hut and do some late Spring paddling on the Maine coast. As winter settled in and started turning into early Spring, the Knubble Bay trip started to take shape. We made reservations for the hut, assembled a list of participants, developed a budget, and organized cooking details. What I thought was going to be a mid-sized group of core RIC/KA paddlers turned into a group of 19 paddlers. By the day of the trip, the group had shrunk to 14.
I do better in smaller groups and I was a little concerned about how I'd do being in a small house with such a large group. I was also nervous about how the sleeping arrangements would work; it is not a large house. Making me even more concerned was the talk of paddling to Hell's Gate, which is a great place to play in strong currents just outside of Bath. In mid-May the water in Maine is still cold, big groups are hard to manage, I hadn't been paddling much, I was unfamiliar with a number of the people on the mailing list, and I was not convinced that I would listen to the little voice in my head in the heat of the moment. Basically, I was being a nervous nelly.
Last week the forecast for the weekend looked abysmal for a paddling weekend in Maine. When we finished packing the car on Thursday night, and both predicted a 90% chance of rain in Bath for Saturday. Friday at lunch the forecast had not changed. H and I were considering just staying home. Fortunately, we decided to take a chance and got in the car.
The drive up was long. We started off by sitting in traffic - and rain - for an hour. We, however, were not the last to arrive. That honor fell to J&BD.
The Knubble Bay hut is relatively new facility. It has solar powered lighting, propane cooking and refrigeration, and two composting toilets. However, there is no running water. The water must be pumped out of the well.
For sleeping there are plenty of bunks on the 2nd floor and two futons on the 1st floor. BH and MO decided to sleep outside. Finding a comfortable place to sleep was not a problem.
Saturday dawned grey and overcast. Fortunately, the breakfast crew prepared plenty of coffee, eggs, fruit, and oatmeal squares to perk up the group before we donned our kayaking gear. It was a drysuit day. Naturally, there was plenty of discussion about exactly how much polypro and fleece to wear under the drysuit. The air was in the 50's and the water was in the 40's, so I choose to wear two long-sleeve polypro shirts on top and a single layer of long johns on bottom. I wanted to make sure I'd have some thermal barrier between me and the drysuit if I took a spill. However, I did not want to be so warm that I soaked the inner layers with sweat.
The plan was to paddle down the coast about 7 miles to Reid State Park. Given the predominantly calm conditions, it was going to be a relaxing paddle. Feelings among the group varied. A few people were hoping for a little more action. They consoled themselves with the knowledge that there are plenty of rocky ledges along the route.
As expected the paddle to the park was uneventful. The overcast sky held back the rain and the steely gray skies highlighted the craggy beauty of this area. The rocky shoreline is flush with evergreens and a growing population of ostentatious houses. People spotted seals, a dolphin, and Ospreys along the way.

As we pulled into Reid State Park, the rain broke through the clouds for a short shower. We ate lunch in the pavilion to stay dry. Once the skies cleared people started wandering around the park. The beach on the ocean side of the park is a classic New England beach. The wooded paths almost made you forget the roads that were just on the other side of the trees.
On the rocks we all spotted what appeared to be a lesson plan on tidal zone biology and a sheet of paper. We all wondered what had happened to the person who who had left this behind. Where they swept out with the tide? Were they in the bathroom? Was this left out intentionally so that people could doodle on the pad and learn from the accompanying laminated chart?
Before we could figure it out, we got distracted by BH paddling up into a small inlet where the water was gushing through a bridge opening. He was looking to play in the raging current. Before long, BH was joined by RB, MO, CC, and RS. I don't think anyone made it into the current, but they sure gave it an old college try.
Seeing people on the water made me a little antsy, so I headed back to beach and suited up for paddling. By the time I was ready to launch, CC and RB had paddled back to the beach. BH had gone missing and they were looking for him. We paddled out the big rocky outcropping he said he was going to explore. No luck. We started paddling over to where MO and RS were last seen. No Luck. As CC and I started around the back of the rocky outcropping one more time, RB found the missing paddlers.
They were checking out the one spot in the area with any action.
On the back side of a large rock there was a nice chasm and at its opening one of the points has a shallow rock sitting a kayak's width off of it. The swells were just big enough to generate some splash and the constricted space made maneuvering tricky. During the summer, with a helmet, it was something I would have jumped into without thought....
MO played in the slot for a while. He is a master boat handler and made it look easy. RB, after putting on his helmet, took Sparkles in for her maiden encounter with the rocks. Some good size waves pushed through while he was in the hole, but RB looked good and Sparkles never seemed to scrape the rocks. Then it was time for another person to jump in.... I was in position, I wanted to play, I knew I could handle the conditions, I wasn't wearing a helmet.... I jumped right in the slot and took a few good sized swells. It was exhilarating.

Then everyone went in for seconds. MO took a huge wave that nearly stranded him on the rock, but he expertly recovered. RB and I also had bigger waves during our second round in the rocks.
I also took the opportunity to take the Q-Boat into the chasm near the rocks. It was getting some crashing swells at the end that looked like fun. Once I had nosed into the chasm and played a little, I needed to get back out. Instead of back paddling out into a crowded area where others were playing in the rocks and nobody could maneuver well, I tried to spin the Q-Boat around and paddle out forward. The Q-Boat is 18' long and the chasm was maybe 18' wide when the water was at its highest. No matter how agile I find the Q-Boat to be, she still needs a certain amount of space to spin around. I didn't really have the space and the water was not flat. Somehow, I made it around and back to the group without any damage to the Q-Boat or my skull.
After we finished playing in the rocks, the group turned back to the lodge. The sun burned through the clouds and the sky turned a brilliant blue. We were totally lucking out in terms of the weather.
The sun was both a blessing and a curse. We were paddling against a slight current and there was no wind. People starting getting a little warm in their drysuits. Some people took breaks to do Eskimo cooling, some made their own wind by paddling at speed, others practiced their rolls. It was, for the most part, a leisurely paddle back.
At the intersection of Sheepscot Bay/Booth Bay and Knubble Bay, we spotted a pod of seals and stopped to check them out. We floated around for a bit and watched them. They swam around and watched us. It was a fun break and allowed people to catch their breath.
Before getting off the water, I took the opportunity to practice my rolls. They felt good. The water is still too cold for me to do more than a few regular sweep rolls. I'm hoping the water will warm-up soon and I can spend more time working on stupid rolling tricks.
For dinner, MO and RB provided us with a hearty meal consisting of a chorizo and pasta dish and a chicken curry dish. The dinner was capped off with H's knock-you-naked-bars.
The evening entertainment consisted of pleasant conversation and various activities. H and I spent some quiet time enjoying the clear night and the view of the bay in the moonlight. RB provided some musical entertainment. People slowly drifted off to sleep worn out and well fed.
On Sunday, most of the group planned a short paddle to Hell's Gate. It was a six mile round trip and they planned to be back by 1pm. H wanted to get home early and told me I could paddle if I wanted. Knowing how "short" paddles with an interesting water feature along the way easily morph, I decided it was best to skip the paddle. The possible fun was not equivalent to the certain guilt.
It was all good though. The Saturday paddle was a perfect early season paddle. And I didn't have to hose our gear out in the dark while dreading work on Monday.

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