[Teaser photo: Bob flanked by two finback whales]
People: Peter Brady, Bob Levine, Shari Galant, Yong Shin, Cath Kimball, Sue Hriciga, Jeff Barrell, Joe Berkovitz
Forecasts and Predictions
Just before our arrival, the weather forecast for the 4-day trip was variable winds < 10 kt and sun with air temps 60-70F, water temps 55-60F and seas in the 1-2 foot range.
A spring tide during the trip was expected to bring a range of 20-25 feet (8 meters in St John NB on Saturday). In some areas, this would mean a huge current dictating the direction of travel (for example, in the Lubec Narrows). However, along the immediate Bold Coast rocky coast, we expected eddies and countercurrents everywhere and the freedom to travel in either direction.
We keyed off the predictions for St. Johns NB. Thanks to info from the excellent tide atlas in "Cruising Guide to the St John River" by Nicholas Tracy (thanks Dan Carr and Gary York for sharing this) we were able to determine the relative timing of currents in the complicated Cobscook Bay system. Here's what we were working with:
Lubec: slack before ebb is 2h before St. J HW
Lubec: slack before flood is 4h after St. J HW
Lubec: HW/LW around 30 minutes later than St. J
Cutler: HW/LW around 15 minutes earlier than St. J
Reversing Falls: slack before ebb around 45 minutes later than St. J HW
This isn't an area at which a single time suffices to describe what the water is doing!
Day 0 (Arrival)
Our group (excepting Peter, who arrived the next day) filtered into the Sunset Point RV Park in Lubec on a foggy, rainy, windy Thursday afternoon. The next 4 days were forecast to be nice, but this day certainly wasn't! We set up our flapping tents in the waves of light showers and cooked up dinner along with our plans for the next day.
The campground is a most excellent one with very clean facilities and grounds, and a terrific view of the water on 3 sides from our campsites on a small peninsula. The only regret is that our campsites were not adjacent (despite having consecutive letters A,B,C) so this broke up the group. Something to fix on later trips!
Day 1: Cutler to Bailey's Mistake (12.6 nm)
St John's Tide Data:
2018-08-10 Fri 10:25 AM EDT 7.59 meters High Tide
2018-08-10 Fri 4:39 PM EDT 0.94 meters Low Tide
Weather: Sunny, air 70F, wind W 6-10 kt, seas 1' swell with local wind waves
Plan: since we had enough cars with double racks, we planned a one-way shuttle between Cutler and Bailey's Mistake to allow us to see about half the Bold Coast with plenty of time to explore and play. After some debate, we finally settled on going from Cutler to Bailey's against the ebb tide, launching near high water in Cutler. Based on prior experience we felt that the offshore current (a/k/a "the escalator") would drive nearshore eddies in the opposite direction, helping us along. And doing a one-way entirely during the ebb cycle, meant that whatever kind of conditions we saw going into a long, committed paddle, they would not be suddenly altered at the turn of the tide.
The day began with a spectacular cloudy sunrise, after which the clouds cleared right up.
After dropping off a couple of cars at Bailey's Mistake on the way, we launched from Cutler Harbor a little before 11 am, near high water. Parking was a bit confusing but it was not hard to find the 4 spaces we needed with some help from a friendly local person.
We had a smooth cruise out of Cutler past Money and Almore Covers and then along the base of the high cliffs of Fairy Head. It was apparent that the back eddies were helping us as expected. We alternated between stopping for some rock play and moving along at around 4 knots with help from the current and the westerly breeze. The opposing offshore current could be glimpsed from whitecaps that stayed far away except at a few points near headlands. As we moved northeast, at each point (particularly Long Point, the first major land projection) the eddy would kick up a fast sideways current parallel to the point that would make for some boils and interesting conditions, but these were temporary (and in any case pretty mild compared to what we saw later on the trip!).
We stopped for lunch at Long Point Beach, a beautiful cobble beach lying in a deep cove on Maine public land. Some people were camping nearby on a small promontory overlooking the beach but they kept to themselves so we did too.
We continued along the rocky coast. This section of coastline is among the least developed in Maine with only a few houses along the dozen-odd miles. Many little places and indentations to wander and play.
Our second stop (or, for me, "lunch 2") was at a cobble beach at the SW corner of the entrance to Moose Cove. This is a lovely spot with great views of Grand Manan, which was a constant presence about 10 miles offshore. There is something about this pocket beach that makes it seem unexpected when approached from this direction... you can't see it until you're right there, and it seems much farther along the coast than it should be... anyway, it was a another nice place to spot. The water was dropping pretty fast now that we were at mid tide though.
We continued up the coast, passing the dramatic Eastern Head cliffs where a large eddy continued to push us along at 4+ knot speeds. Another excursion into Haycock Harbor to investigate a sailboat wreck. Jeff, Yong and Cath paddled against the last gasp of the ebb current into the almost-drained channel of Haycock to get to it, while Bob and Shari walked along the land instead.
Finally we landed at Bailey's Mistake around dead low. Fortunately the shallows here are just ordinary mud, not the sucking foot-swallowing kind, and the lobstermen drive right down on to the beach making a path that clearly showed the safest way to get a vehicle down past the soft spots. We talked to a couple of them, and they mentioned a curiosity: the water here tends to come in and recede several times in succession at low tide.
Day 2: Johnson Bay (campground) to Bailey's Mistake (12.75 nm)
St John's Tide Data:
2018-08-11 Sat 11:22 PM EDT 7.84 meters High Tide
2018-08-11 Sat 5:35 PM EDT 0.68 meters Low Tide
Weather: Sunny with increasing high cloud cover, air 65 F, wind S 10 kt, seas 1' swell with local wind waves
The plan for this day was to run the Lubec Narrows and Quoddy Narrows on the ebb (which starts maybe 90 minutes earlier in the Narrows than in the Grand Manan channel). Then we would poke out around W Quoddy Head lighthouse and head to Bailey's Mistake from the other direction. Although the ebb would favor us in the Narrows, the countercurrents would work against us on the coastline, but the fast Narrows current trumped this particular decision.
A bit before 11 am, we launched directly from the campground -- another of its winning features -- and did a short paddle around the town of Lubec to the Town Landing just above the Narrows, which is a great place to stop and survey the action in the channel before committing.
Peter and Bob and I got out and took a look. There were a few obvious things: the current was running strongly, with eddies on either side (with seals swimming around in them hoping for a fish snack). We would have to make a big wide turn into the main current, to avoid getting anywhere near the landing's now-underwater jetty, over which the current was spilling. Once in the stream, we would face a decision about which pair of bridge pylons to go between under the International Bridge at the end of the NArrows. Plenty of space between pylons, but one would not want to hit one! It was a bit hard to see what was happening down there at the far end, and Bob felt the rightmost gap would be the best one to go through.
The group launched into the wide turn as planned, in single file with Bob in the lead. (The GPS track shows that we were doing 7.5 knots and we were only paddling to maintain control - the water was moving swiftly.) As we got into the main part of the Narrows, the main current itself got narrow, only 6-8 feet wide at some point with nasty looking eddy lines on either side. In no time at all we were at the bridge and decisions had to be made. Bob and some of the folks at the head of the line were able to follow the plan and take the rightmost gap between bridge supports, but the current was shifting around laterally and following a winding path. Depending on where you were, it was also viable to take the next gap to the left. Most of the tail end of the group did opt to take this other gap, in varying orientations of boats. It was a reminder that whatever decision you make in a strong current, make it purposefully... hesitation is not your friend... but no one capsized, and we all wound up intact in the relatively calm area south of the bridge!
The trip through Quoddy Narrows was uneventful except for an odd, cold headwind that suddenly dropped in the middle of the bay to a much warmer calm. Te strong assist from the ebb continued, our speed gradually decreasing from 6 to 2 knots as we reached a stopping point on a beach near a pair of international border range markers on West Quoddy Head. Food and a current debrief took place in the sunshine.
Our next leg took us around the point of the lighthouse, and on a beautiful traverse through the rock gardens of Quoddy Head. A light swell made it fun to seek out and play in the many passages. The south wind seemed to die back and the water was not that bouncy. The land/seascape was incredible:
We stopped for a while for a break at Carrying Place Cove. We moved on after a short break, progressing past Wallace and Hamilton Coves to Julia Cove for a longer break on the cobble beach there. The back eddy currents were working against us this time, and the GPS later reveals our speeds were in the 2-2.5 knot range along much of the coast this day even though the overall ebb was in our favor. Again it goes to show: you can't ride the general current along this section of coast (and you can ride the counter-current!) As we paddled this section, Yong went out into the channel to look for the main current, perhaps about half a mile out. He didn't find it. In fact, he didn't even see any buoys in the distance that were leaning in the correct direction.
Our final leg of this day took us past Boot Head and Jims Head. This section of coastline is the highest and most dramatic of the Bold Coast. In the increasing clouds and a chilly breeze, we played in the rocks; the swells at Jims Head were especially fun. I had a brief, unexpected visit well up a seaweed-covered rock slope (the same wave that took me there fortunately let me gently back down). Finally we landed at Bailey's again, and at dead low once more. This time we'd arranged for all the vehicles with racks to be on hand at the end of the paddle, for which we all were grateful.
Day 3: Johnson Bay (campground) to Reversing Falls and return (17.8 nm)
St John's Tide Data:
2018-08-12 Sun 12:16 PM EDT 8.03 meters High Tide
2018-08-12 Sun 6:29 PM EDT 0.50 meters Low Tide
Weather: Sunny, air 75 F, light/variable wind, calm conditions in Cobscook bay
The plan for this day was to switch gears and explore some of Cobscook Bay, launching from the campground and veering to the left of Eastport up towards Reversing Falls instead of the right past Lubec. The timing was intended to get us along the back side of Falls Island to Reversing Falls near the end of the flood, in time to play a bit and watch the falls go to slack. At this point we'd run the very beginning of the ebb current through the falls and complete our circumnav of Falls Island before crossing Cobscook back to Seward Neck and Johnson Bay.
We launched from the campground around 9.30 am, crossing Johnson Bay to follow an eddy that was running counter to the flood. We entered a narrow channel between Seward Neck and Rodgers Island, beginning a long run up the east side of Seward, encountering interesting tide rips and eddies along the way where the very considerable flood current was hitting underwater ledges and welling up. Going into an eddy made for a huge drag on speed and we endeavored to get further out into the channel to catch the main current. We wondered if this was a great idea, but there was not much boat traffic. In fact, as we rounded Grove Point at the top of Seward, we moved to the right to give a large fishing boat going the opposite direction plenty of room to stay in the eddy current along the neck. That apparently was to the captain's liking, as we got a little toot from the boat's horn.
During this part of the paddle, both Peter and I noticed the water seemed "sticky", almost like a viscous fluid trying to retard our progress. From the GPS data it turns out we were in an area where the current boost was gradually increasing in our direction of travel, which I think would give us exactly the sensation we noticed -- you have to paddle harder to catch up with the faster-moving water. The reverse is also true: water that seems strangely easy to paddle through, is going to be an area where the current decreases as you move forward.
Once out in the main part of Cobscook Bay, we aimed for the opening between Denbow Neck and Leighton Neck, behind which lie the falls. It did not seem as though we were going at any special speed, but the GPS again shows we were going more than 7 knots! It was very hard to tell with no land nearby.
Reaching Denbow Point, we encountered the beginning of the very dynamic area near Falls Island and the Reversing Falls. On the flood, there's a strong eddy line right past the point here, requiring one to cross it with purpose and an appropriate edge change. We hung out in the eddy and then handrailed in the calmer waters behind the point to a small beach to regroup and consider our next steps. The plan we made was to stay in the calm area along the neck up to Fox and/or Mink Island, and then get out in the fast current running around the east side of Falls Island, keeping the island on our right, and finally rounding its southern point to gain the eddy that would likely be there.
Right before Fox and Mink we met some local landowners and their relatives or friends, out for a picnic by the bay side. They were friendly and we talked for a little bit. Then we wound up going between Mink and the mainland and then down into the current to the east of Falls Island, first gaining the safety of a big eddy to the south of Mink.
At this point, Bob, Peter and I all made the same navigational mistake: we mistook a point further south on Race Point for the southern point of Falls Island, failing to see the opening between Falls and Race. It's interesting that we all converged on the same wrong answer. Whatever the reason was, we missed the opportunity to make the quick turn around that southern point of Falls, and went past it. Bob and Peter were in front and saw the mistake right away, turning into the fast-moving current on the other side of the opening (while avoiding a nasty-looking tide rip) and ferrying across the current to get into the eddy next to Falls Island. The rest of us at the back of the group saw what was happening but hung out waiting for the dust to settle and to see what we'd be aiming for. After some regrouping we all crossed the fast current to the eddy where Bob, Peter and Sue were waiting, but it would probably have been easier if we'd just turned directly into the eddy close by the point avoiding the need for a ferry.
From there we worked our way up the eddy towards the northwestern tip of Falls Island, a perfect lunch spot from which to observe the majesty of Reversing Falls slowly grind to a complete halt during lunch. Bob took the opportunity to play in what remained of the flood current.
The roaring gradually subsided until the entire area was flowing gently and quietly, and then arriving at a glassy calm. It was hard to believe it was the same wild place we had just arrived at.
After lunch, we launched with some haste into the very temporarily calm waters of the falls and floated peacefully downstream. Bob, Cath and myself went on a short detour to examine Cat Island near Leighton Point -- we had a met a woman from MITA at the campground who asked us to check up on it. The island looked clean and inviting.
From there it was a matter of riding the ebb tide back the way we had come. Again, the current boost was very considerable, as evidenced by the large mileage at the end of what had not really been that long of a trip. We landed directly at the campground at the end of another excellent day.
Day 4: Head Harbor / Fundy "Kayak Whale Watch" (10 nm)
St John's Tide Data:
2018-08-13 Mon 6:58 AM EDT 0.17 meters Low Tide
2018-08-13 Mon 1:08 PM EDT 8.13 meters High Tide
Weather: Sunny, air 70 F, light/variable wind, calm conditions in Bay of Fundy
[This trip included Bob, Cath, Sue and myself.]
With a midday high tide, today's plan was to ride the flood from Head Harbour at the northern tip of Campobello up the island chain that lies of Deer Island (Spruce, White, Mowat, Simpsons and Adam), and explore the islands on the other side of Quoddy River on the way back (Bean, etc.). We hoped to perhaps see some whales -- which we did!
We launched a little after 10 am, so around mid-tide, from the steep ramp in Head Harbour. Reaching the lighthouse at the end of the harbor we looked around for Shari who was sightseeing on the island, but we didn't see her. We jetted out through the surprisingly swift current between the lighthouse islands and Campobello, next to the now-submerged metal walkway affording low tide access to the lighthouse, parking in an eddy to the left. Shari related to us later that the lighthouse attendant had told her last year a man had tried to walk across this same catwalk in knee-deep water. He lost his balance, fell into the water, and the current carried him quickly out into the fast-moving, frigid Head Harbour Passage where he drowned. So, it's not a place that is forgiving of mistakes. Since then they have tightened up the time window when tourists are allowed to use the catwalk and Shari was not allowed to go out.
The sign visible above looks like this, in greater detail:
From here we ferried across to Spruce Island examining the fascinating rock formations, which looked a lot like solidified volcanic debris rather than the usual granite. As we crossed the currents and eddies of Head Harbour Passage, we saw lots and lots of porpoises passing by. I thought I noticed a lot of sighing sounds in the background but coudn't be sure.
Hanging out in an eddy at the eastern end of Spruce, it was Cath who heard and then saw the first whale somewhere between Spruce and Campobello. We waited a while for the next one, but didn't see it, so decided to press on. As soon as we were around the corner of Spruce, we began hearing and seeing them everywhere, although from a considerable distance. Almost every few seconds another whale would blow and it seemed that much of their activity lay in the direction that we were headed in.
Sure enough, as we came around the next island (White), we saw several whales surface in succession between White and Nubble. We just parked there and watched. Pretty soon a commercial whale watch boat from Lubec turned up: we were where the action was (or was expected). Also a small motorboat was there. The power boats stopped their engines and we just sat there and watched whale after whale for maybe 15 minutes. It seemed like a nonstop show. Mostly they seeed to be finbacks, displaying their small dorsal fins as they came up to breathe and then submerge again. But once, they appeared to roll to the side while coming up, showing us their much larger, sail-shaped flippers. Multiple whales did this same move in sequence. What did it mean?
They were quite close, perhaps 50 feet away at their closest, and it seemed to us they were at least 50 feet long. At one point the captain of the whalewatch boat asked Bob if he was nervous about being in the water next to the whales. Bob just smiled back. We were not trying to get especially close to the whales, but I think we all shared a sense that if they wanted to lift up or capsize our kayaks, wherever we might be, it was going to be up to the whales and not up to us. We were visiting a place that belonged to them.
The whales eventually moved on, and so did we. We took a lunch break in a beautiful pocket beach on Mowat Island with some fierce mosquitoes. The beach was inside a little rock gorge spanned by a fallen log sitting about 6 feet above the water, under which we had to pass to reach the beach. The water was coming up at 1 foot every 10 minutes at this point, so it was a kind of game of limbo, courtesy of Nature. (It would not have been hard to make it out in any case, really -- it was just an amusing setup!)
Finally we crossed Quoddy River to the Deer Island shore, passing alongside Bean Island with its large industrial fish farming operation. We had thought to go further south along Deer Island before crossing back to Campobello via Casco Bay Island, but we reached a point where Head Harbour Light was visible through a narrow gap between Bean and St Helena Islands, and it spoke to us -- we decided to take the direct route back. It was just after slack and the direct crossing would not offer much in the way of current. We passed by Tinkers and Sandy Islands on our way to the back side of Spruce, hearing many whales once again but seeing few. Eventually we reached the lighthouse and after circling it quickly, headed back up the long narrow harbor to our original launch point. Mercifully it was near high water; the low water carry here would have been brutal!
Meanwhile on land, Shari had been sightseeing:
Anyway, the Campobello was a super satisfying coda to a super satisfying trip. Many thanks to everyone who came, and especially Bob who contributed his experience and wisdom to the conception, planning and leadership of the paddles. Let's do this (or something like it) again next year!