This is part of a series of posts of my 200 mile kayaking trip up the coast of Maine by the Maine Island Trail. Today I casted off from Portland and kayaked the Casco Bay. The first leg of a Maine adventure. Previously: My first trip on the Maine Island Trail
Casting off in Portland
The time had come for me to finally start this voyage from Portland. The day before, I drove up to Camden and purchased a 16’ yacht of a kayak and all the required gear. I think it is impossible to live in Maine and not have a desire to someday own a boat or a camp. It was only a matter of time before this would happen. Some Mainers dream of owning a camp someday, I dreamed of having a sea kayak. Seeing as it would bring me to some 200 islands available for camping, I would say that I do own a camp.
Up at 5:30am with everything packed, I drove out to the Bug Light public launch in South Portland. For about an hour I played gear Tetris; trying to shove a week and a half worth of supplies into one kayak tested my skills of spatial perception. Fully loaded, I believe my kayak was somewhere between 120-150lbs. Normally before a grand trip I am brimming with excitement but today I was apprehensive and edgy. Once I cast off from Bug Light, I would be at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean for the next week. So many factors played into this trip of which I had no control. Godspeed.
View Casco Bay Kayak Route in a larger map
I’ve kept relatively quiet about this trip to most people for fear that I would be telling friends about a grand adventure only to be turned around 2 miles off the shore. To those I did tell, I publicly recognized that I could get turned around before making it to Peaks Island. (just a mile from Portland). This is not feigned humbleness either- right off the bat I was paddling perpendicular to the busiest shipping channel in the state of Maine. Ocean going tankers regularly cross this channel and I doubt a 16’ kayak is going to alter their course. There were an infinite number of boats who could crush me and they would be none the wiser. Out of the furnace and into the fire. I vigorously paddled the mile long nautical superhighway between bug light and Peaks Island hoping I didn't end up like a fly on a windshield. It was something like crossing a Boston freeway on foot during Friday rush hour.
Well I made it to Peaks Island- one mile down, one-hundred-and-ninety nine to go. At least I could say I didn’t get turned a mile off shore.
Rough idea of what I packed
As I float through the channels between Casco Bay’s more populated islands, the initial rush of the channel crossing subsides and I settle into the kayaking equivalent of a leisurely stroll. Pleasure boats dart in and out of private coves and occasionally a ferry goes by but for the most part my path is unobstructed. The stress of packing and planning also subsides and float on into this dream. “I’m actually doing this, I’m actually trying to float 200 miles along a wild stretch of the Gulf of Maine in a plastic, man-powered boat”. Not burned by any bad weather, currents or wind, I savor the moment. In Edward Abbey’s famous account of floating down the Glen Canyon of Utah, he writes what I now feel:
“I am fulfilling at last a dream of childhood and one as powerful as the erotic dreams of adolescence-floating down a river. Mark Twain, Major Powell, ever man that has ever put forth on flowing water knows what I mean”
True, I am on no river, but the ever dependable Southwest winds and currents of Maine fill my day with fair winds and following seas. I’m just on a wider river.
Harpswell and the edge of Casco Bay
Unlike the Colorado River however, the Casco Bay is populated and developed. For the most part I don’t mind it. I actually enjoy the passive company of fellow mariners and vacationers. I’m far enough away from each island and camp that I can sing songs or think out loud without anyone hearing but close enough to feel the camaraderie of fellow ocean-goers. I will not have this company the further I go.
From the bird’s eye view of a map, Casco Bay is easily navigable but when your eyes are just two feet above the waterline, it can be a maze. The whole coast of Maine is a navigational nightmare. I keep a constant eye on my heading, use lobster buoys to judge the current and check the marine forecast through my marine radio. I've been caught in high seas and thick fog where getting lost is easy. Upon the horizon, the various islands and peninsulas all blend into a green line which makes navigation that much harder. I have no GPS but I feel growing confidence with the passing of every island. I’m happy I forked over the extra cash for highly specific, waterproof marine charts.
Lobster country
Rounding Harpswell neck I thread the needle in between Bailey and Orrs Island which essentially is my exit out of Casco Bay. It’s just about lunch time and I've paddled ¾ of the distance I planned for day 1. Up till this point, things have been quite pedestrian. On the far side of Casco, I’m at once more exposed to wind and current. The real trail has begun. Although the winds and currents instantly became more serious, I was leaving behind the city and entering lobster country. The marinas, mansions and boat traffic thinned out and I began seeing more of Maine's thriving lobster industry. Once I neared Phippsburg, the sun was setting and I camped out at a surprisingly developed campsite. Actually, it was more of a hotel except with tents. It had all the amenities of a hotel though: wifi, a restaurant, beach volleyball ect. How strange to be feeling like I am one a great wilderness adventure and to be staying at a posh campsite. I really had no other options and decided I would just deal with it. I covered almost 30 miles on my first day. Not bad. Next: Kayaking the Western Rivers and Boothbay Harbor