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Mid Casco Bay camping, May 2-3

Dan Foster

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A few weeks ago, Warren made an offer to mentor someone interested in kayak camping this season, and I took him up on his most generous offer. We discussed trip planning and gear selection, and I pored over my gear and made sure it was ready for the colder temperatures we'd been experiencing so far this spring. We settled on a one night trip to a private MITA island in mid Casco Bay, and the tides and weather lined up nicely for our trip this past weekend.

We launched from Winslow Park in Freeport, alongside a troop of Boy Scouts from Marblehead, who were paddling over to newly-protected Lanes Island to perform a service project. Their camping gear was ferried over on a small power boat, whereas our gear had to be packed away hatch by hatch. Luckily, it all fit.


Winds were light, but building to 10 knots out of the south, so we swapped our two daily paddling plans and worked upwind to the southern tip of Whaleboat and then rode downwind toward our destination.


We stopped to check out the meadow campsite on Whaleboat, and to admire the rocky shoreline it looks out onto.



With the wind at our back, we enjoyed a pleasant paddle along the varied shore. At one point, a bald eagle flew overhead, and a bit later, a mink scampered up from the waterline as we passed.


Having paddled 9 nautical miles for the day, we hadn't seen a single boat or person out on the water since launching. But as we approached the group of islands where we intended to camp, we saw two kayaks hauled up the beach and a lone hammock at the treeline. We glided silently past, wondering whether another NSPN group was out enjoying the weekend.

With plenty of daylight to spare, our first order of business upon landing was to decide whether a sunny bench-like nook in the rocks would provide enough wind protection to serve as our kitchen. With the sun out and and an osprey circling over a nest on the the adjacent island, we got comfortable and devoted a good 30 minutes to this task, just to make sure.


With our limited space to make camp, I was happy to find that my tent lined up with its lowest profile exposed to the prevailing south wind.


Even the rocks align themselves to the wind!


Right around the corner we found a small cove with a wind-sheltered ledge at the perfect kitchen height, and promptly moved there for appetizers and dinner prep.


Warren cooked up an Indian feast, and I opted for chili, Fritos, and guacamole.


We watched the osprey come and go, and watched loons, eiders, and gulls go about their routine as the tide fell and rose, and then it was time for us, too, to turn in.

Waking to a foggy "sunrise", I explored a bit of our shoreline, and then made the mistake of announcing that I'd be ready for an early departure since I was already partially packed. Not everything goes back in the dry bags as easily or as compactly as it does when packing back home. I quickly learned that although my tent and fly fit nicely into a tapered dry bag back home, I was now combining a perfectly dry tent with a soaking wet fly in a single bag. Oops. At least it was only a one-night trip.


I straggled down the beach with the last of my gear and made it into the boat just a few minutes past our "early" departure time. With no wind to worry about until later in the day, we worked our way north, handrailing along the shoreline in the fog, and exchanging hellos with the first and only boat we saw on the trip. A second, immature, bald eagle greeted us from a perch high up above the water as we paddled onward.


With visibility around 1/3rd of a mile, and several ~1 mile crossings to get back to the cars, we spent some time plotting our bearings. This was my first time navigating to targets enshrouded in fog, so we did things by the book, plotting courses for the centers of islands, keeping close together with a sharp watch for traffic, and staying well outside the "busy" boat channels. A highlight of the trip for me was watching a little island slowly emerge from the fog in front of us after paddling into the abyss.

Warren introduced me to several NSPN landmarks in the area, including Andy's rope swing. I used the fact that it wasn't high tide to avoid any temptation to give it a swing. We passed by the octagonal HOUSE seen on the chart, and made a final foggy crossing back to the ramp at Winslow.


Just as we pulled our boats up the ramp, a motley flotilla of kayaking Scouts arrived back out of the fog, and our weekend of solitude on Casco Bay drew to a close.

I'd like to thank Warren for introducing me to the joys of kayak camping and for guiding me through the pre-trip planning process. Most of the hard work happened long before we got on the water, and when we finally did, things unfolded smoothly. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend on the water, and one I won't soon forget.

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Thank you for a wonderful trip report and for being a great paddling buddy. We were very fortunate that Mother Nature cooked up a few treats for us this past weekend. I know that was your first time navigating in fog and you did a great job.

It might be helpful to the gentle readers who are planning to paddle and camp in Casco Bay over the next few weeks to understand some of the aspect of our planning.

With our cooler than normal spring we have not seen an abundance of fog in Casco Bay. It was only 48 hours prior to launch that the variables aligned for a nice foggy experience. We could see the wind shifting and coming from the south. That allowed us to track the dew point off the live weather stations as far down as Long Island. (Since cell phone access is excellent in Casco Bay and iPhone apps are readily available, you can have the data at your fingertips 24/7.) Once we added in the water temperature in Casco Bay and the movement of the tides it was easy to predict when the fog would arrive, when it would thicken and when it would begin to lift.

Next we assembled the tools in our tool kit for paddling in fog. The nautical chart, compass, watch, VHF radio and fog horn are the key essentials. I like to add in a GPS with embedded nautical charts. Since we knew we needed to complete three crossings during max flood we could experience drift off our established headings. Although we were seeing only an 8 foot tidal range, there was enough water movement and wind to be concerning. An interesting aspect of paddling in early May is the lack of lobster buoys. So we had no fixed points to establish a range and adjust our ferry angle. That is where the GPS was a great benefit.

Dan, I suspect your interest in kayak camping will continue to grow and I hope we will have many more camping trips together in our future. I would suggest working on fine tuning the skills of cookware clean-up during a rising tide. :)

Last but not least, I continue to seek paddlers who are new to kayak camping to join future trips of discovery. You will need to PM me with your interest and goals since each trip is carefully crafted to the individual paddler(s). I can promise you I will strive for a safe journey on each and every trip.


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In the time it took us to wash and rinse our cookware off in the ocean, the tide advanced enough to leave me stranded on the rock I'd selected for easy access to rinse water. Warren was kind enough to rearrange some stepping stones so I could hop my way to safety without soaking my feet. :)

After reviewing our GPS tracklog back home, it's clear we maintained a constant and correct heading through the fog on two of our three homeward crossings. But our crossing from Little Bustin to tiny Crab Island (both private) shows enough [current induced?] drift to the north that we would have passed by it in a zero-visibility fog. Something to be aware of and work on in future trips.

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.....we saw two kayaks hauled up the beach and a lone hammock at the treeline. We glided silently past, wondering whether another NSPN group was out enjoying the weekend.

Rene, who was camping with Jeff, thought Dan's orange kayak might have been my "School Bus". The hammock may have been a clue, though our own "pinkpaddler" would have been in the differential diagnosis!

Great report Dan.


Edited by gyork
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Next we assembled the tools in our tool kit for paddling in fog. The nautical chart, compass, watch, VHF radio and fog horn are the key essentials. I like to add in a GPS.............


Warren, did you employ the watch for dead-rekoning while crossing?

Agree GPS is nice to have for back-up, even one without chart software.

Good environment to practice Securite calls, even without boat traffic.

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We would know the distance for each crossing and got an idea of our speed so we would check the time when we began the crossing and that gave us an idea as to when we might begin to see the island.

Because the distances were significant in relation to the degree of fog, we would spend a good amount of our time seeing nothing but water on all sides. No turning back! Just trust your calculations and push on!

Wicked cool stuff when you do not have boat traffic.


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One technique I think I'll start practicing is to start my crossing with an identifiable landmark behind me (like the lone house on Little Bustins), and then, as we approach the point where the land behind us is fading from view, I'll turn around and shoot a back bearing. On Sunday, that would have been about 1/4 of the way across, and (based on the GPS track) would have shown that we were actually proceeding at a 310 magnetic course, despite our heading of 295 to Crab.

I'll also follow Warren's suggestion and get a grease pencil, and I'll start writing down some of the bearings we chose out on the water, for a reality check against the GPS track back at home.

I was very happy to have a watch for these crossings, especially after paddling for two hours at the beginning of the trip thinking I'd left mine at home, only to find it strapped high up on my new Posiedon PFD at our first stretch break. Another reminder to practice everything and develop routines.

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Too bad we were both napping. It would have been nice to connect. We had a nice campfire that night. The tent site was unoccupied as we were both in hammocks.


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