Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Advice: Where Should I Paddle? - advice on planning your adventure

It might seem like an obvious point, but identifying where you're going to paddle your kayak is essential, and can be the single most important aspect affecting the experience you'll have. Aside from the particulars of how you're going to get your kayak to, and in, the water (see my post Which Kayak Should I Buy? ), planning a trip suitable to your equipment, your skill level, who (if anyone) you'll be with, the water and weather conditions, the time needed to complete the journey, etc. is the first step in having a great experience. Don't get me wrong - there have been times when I've put my kayak in at a lesser known launch point, and experienced the adventure of dealing with conditions on the fly. Some of these trips have been a revelation. Others needed to be abandoned in short order. I feel confident (maybe overly confident 😏) in my experience in recognizing safety hazards (see my post Safety is a Mindset ) and other difficulties. I wouldn't recommend "winging it", though, to anyone new to the sport - or, in general, if you can avoid it. Planning your trip can seem like work, but it is also where you can explore your sense of adventure, and anticipate opportunities that might be available.

Instead of listing suggestions on how to plan your trip, I'll describe one that Tim (see An Unexpected Adventure) and I took a few years ago that still stands out in my memory as one of my most enjoyable...

For a short time, many years ago, I lived in Portland, Maine, across from a park (The Eastern Promenade, or "East Prom" satellite view Google Maps) that sits at the shore of Casco Bay. The location of the park, its large parking lot, and both boat ramp and beach access to the water lingered in the back of my mind as a possible launch location, long after I moved away from Portland. Many islands were visible on Google Maps as possible rest/exploration points (including Fort Gorges on a nearby island). There appeared to be coves and other shelters from any challenging conditions we might encounter, and the availability of a route that could "hug" the coastline of larger islands - making a short swim to shore possible in case of an emergency. Also, the larger islands are populated, so communication for emergency help should have been available if needed. Add a stop in the "Old Port" of Portland's downtown for a cold local beer at the end of the trip, and who could resist?   

That being said, Casco Bay is a large body of water, with boat traffic, working fishermen, tankers coming in to Portland, currents unknown to me, and the inevitable surprises that each trip brings. So, I lobbied Tim to come along, which wasn't really a hard sell considering the features I mentioned in the previous paragraph. We launched from the beach at the East Prom on a hot summer day, and paddled across a busy boat lane to take a close-up look at Fort Gorges. I like to plan an early stop, if possible, to assess any gear issues, and to generally make sure I'm feeling good about the location. We both felt confident, there weren't any gear issues, and the weather, though hot, was perfect for a day on the water. And, as it turns out, we could beach the boats for a little while and explore the abandoned fort, have a snack, and spend some time jumping off a short wall into the water below. So far, so good.

The entrance to Fort Gorges, near Portland, Maine in Casco Bay
Fort Gorges entrance, Casco Bay
A view of the interior of Fort Gorges, near Portland, Maine in Casco Bay
View of Fort Gorges interior

When we got back in the kayaks, we proceeded past walls of the fort that rise high and straight out of the water, and to the east, where we hugged the southern and eastern shores of Little Diamond Island. Passing the large pier at the southern end of Little Diamond, I logged it in my memory as a location feature ( a breadcrumb, if you will) to look for on our return trip. Being among islands can be disorienting, and can sometimes block the view to your destination. Maps can help, but I tend to use them more for the planning stage, and then use the actual physical characteristics of the area (plus a compass on the front deck of my kayak) to navigate. This strategy also helps keep track of your time - as the return trip should need roughly the same time to execute (providing for currents, wind conditions, and fatigue, of course).

We continued to paddle northeast through Diamond Island pass, past Great Diamond Island, then turned east past Pumpkin Knob and straight out to Overset Island. This is where planning couldn't tell us everything we needed to know. Overset Island, although not far off the coast of the larger and populated Long Island, was much more open to the bay than the previous islands we encountered. The wave actions at its' southern tip was much more like open ocean swell than protected harbor. It was important that we not get too close to it - to avoid any danger of getting tossed onto the rocks, or marooned on a rock top by a retreating wave. Maps can show you only so much, and having experience and a paddle buddy allowed us to continue. Had I been alone, I might have called that the end of my outward journey, and turned back around.

Tim and I discussed our plans at that point, and decided to paddle east to one more island -  Vaill Island. It looked from Overset that Vaill had a little cove with maybe a beach - and I thought I saw a boat anchored there. We paddled over much choppier swell than we had seen inside of Overset Island, and pushed hard to reach the cove. When we got there, we were rewarded with sheltered, calm water and a beach where we could land and take a rest. There was a boat anchored, but aside from the few passengers and their radio, we had the place to ourselves. A nice swim, some bottled water, and a half hour rest prepared us for the return trip. We picked our way back, a step at a time, passing each of the locations we had visited on the way out. There were a couple of times that I didn't recognize where I was headed, but relying on physical markers, my memory of the map from my planning stage, and my compass, we made our way safely back to the East Prom - and ultimately to Old Port bar stools and frosty mugs of suds. 😋

So, what does this tale have to do with planning where to paddle? First, I had seen the launch location and had reviewed its' suitability for a kayak launch. Then, I followed my hunch and consulted Google Maps to plan a route that we mostly stuck to. I noted features of the trip, like Fort Gorges, that could provide further exploration possibilities, and I left the plan flexible enough to accommodate on-the-spot decisions like continuing to Vaill Island from Overset Island. I also planned the most important aspect of this trip - not going alone (at least on the first one in this area). I didn't really talk about gear preparation for this trip (other than noting my compass), but you can read Safety is a Mindset  - and I'll probably publish some gear specific posts in the future. Let me know in the comments if you'd like to see anything specific.  

Remember, planning your trip is the first step in your adventure. Keep your eyes open, in your travels, for launch locations. Look at maps, read blogs and boards, and create a wishlist of paddling trips. Then, assess your skills, gear, experience and possible accomplices and pick a trip that fits. I got into kayaking to explore, and my planning process is just another aspect of that exploration. When I'm doing my research, I can almost see the adventure in my mind. The only thing better is actually paddling it - especially if you planned well. And, don't forget to plan a reward after a hard day paddling. Sitting on a bar stool, drinking a cold beer and eating a burger in the Old Port was the perfect end to one of my best paddle trips.

- TB on the Water      



1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey there!

Paige Troiano, here. I enjoy your posts! Ever since I visited Maine and kayaked the Kennebec around Norridgewock, I've been dreaming about going back up yonder!

I work for Wetsuit Wearhouse Inc. ( (located in Maryland) and I contribute to our pretty diverse and hefty collection of blog posts that we put out regularly. Here are a few on paddling you or your readers might be interested in!

I was wondering what it might take to get a link on your site in your "check these out" section and if you'd be interested in forging some sort of partnership in the future! I look forward to hearing from you!

Kind regards,
Paige Troiano
Wetsuit Wearhouse