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Escape to Maine-Q20 #1-Cape Small to Fort Popham, 7.6


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Not known as a popular paddling route, at least to me, the coastline from Head beach, Phippsburg to Fort Popham looked quite appealing, as shown by the satellite images of Cape Small, with at least seven visible large and small sandy beaches.

Word on the street was that Barry was vacationing nearby, and was game for a day trip. As a Massachusetts resident, I fretted that he would be “carded“ at the campground entrance gate, likely without evidence of a previous negative COVID test, and might be fined. Turns out he was only a few miles away, seaside, and would just paddle to meet us in the morning. Cath, Kyle, and I gathered at the beach at 0845, And Barry arrived at 0920.

I had kept an eye on the weather forecast, and decided this would be a fine day (light wind, favorable tides, and sunny skies).

We paddled leisurely around the Cape, confirming the exquisite large, small, and tiny, pocket beaches along the shore.

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At length, we straight-lined to tiny Heron island, where Cath, with local knowledge, indicated we could find a beautiful, narrow slot to paddle through. Sure enough, on a second look, a tiny gap opened between the cliffy walls to reveal a slot through to the other side, which we enjoyed immensely, so much so that we would repeat the passage on the way back home.

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The paddle up to the Fort was non-eventful, if not a little choppy, especially over the sand-bar sections, though nothing more than ?Level 2 abilities. We paddled up to the Fort, hoping to land on the southerly beach, but near-high tide (1257) made that impossible, so we backtracked a few hundred yards and found a spot that was unoccupied by beachgoers; there were not a few on this fine day.


As we were enjoying our fine standard repast of Italian sandwiches, Kyle chatted up a Portland friend walking by. Post-lunch, Barry was excused from the group, as he was charged with entertaining/feeding his in-laws, a duty that we all know cannot be buggered with. His wife would drive the <10 minutes to the Fort, where he would be picked up and driven home.


Most everyone is familiar with the mighty torrent of the Kennebec, especially on the ebb. Some may find of interest that the timing when the river “turns“ (slack) is far off from posted high (~2h) and low (2h 25m) tides on this particular day.

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Given that the Kennebec would still be flooding at nearly 2kn at our high-tide departure, we launched, hoping to find a bit of possible eddy current away from the river current upstream. Neither eddy or opposing current did we find, and we meandered back the same route, finding a little more chop with the opposing outgoing tide and mild sea breeze. Once we turned the corner up the New Meadows, conditions quieted down, and we lazily paddled by scattered beachcombers, paddleboarders, and waders, landing on peaceful Head Beach.



Wildlife for the day included herons, gulls, terns, grays, bait fish schools, and jumping sturgeon (Kennebec mouth).




Link to track HERE



  • Pick a day with light winds from the marine point forecast, and launch from either Head Beach ($10/car) or Fort Popham (arrive early, for non-fee parking), depending on tidal flow.
  • Most of us had not paddled this section before, but ALL remarked this had been a grand day out.
  • Pay close attention to the tide and current stations before your trip; this area is notorious for kicking up some challenging waves.
  • COVID is making its own waves, judging by the crowd size at Popham (?reduced), and Head (very sparse) Beaches. The beautiful, but otherwise eerie, Thomas Point Campground that I was staying at had a paucity of camping parties, 15/>100. My, and I use the pronoun accurately, western half of the campground was empty the second night, one other camper night #1.


Edited by gyork
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Surprised you did not stay at Hermit? Were they full? 

about the currents:

 Believe I would figure if it was high tide at Hunniwell about 6 am that there would be a good ebb at the play spots at mid-day. 

   I miss the days when we would set Popham play days in the winter and plan rough water and current play dates for he season based on max ebb.. 

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Did you Photshop those pictures?  I don't believe I have ever seen it so flat around Popham.  Have been thinking about that stretch for awhile and wondering how  to make it not a long paddle.  Now I know about Head Beach and how to do it as a reasonable day paddle...maybe even up to Perkins before returning.


Ed Lawson

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You guys lucked out. The sand bar between Wood and the shore is commonly known as the zipper.  I believe on the flood the swells wrap around  wood and merge at the sand bar causing a zipper like wave effect. Also the beach landing and launching can be challenging while the zipper is happening. Personal experience. Popam is a favorite training location for John Carmody. 

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  I have been told by local sages that on the ebb , The current from the Kennebec wraps around and creates an eddy (purple on the diagram)  that affords an easy ride from Cape Small to Popham Beach. I am not aware of experiencing this myself though I did paddle that route on the ebb once  (arriving at Pond Island on the last of the ebb) and may have been enjoying a bit of a  free ride but didn't realize it at the time. Your route looks like it was done on the flood ,so I don't now if this eddy would have been in reverse during your trip, would be inclined to doubt it .
A trip from Cape Small out  to Seguin Island  ( typically timed to be  done on the ebb &  returning on the flood )  can encounter slow going because of this eddy: perhaps wiser to follow the shore and  than peel towards Seguin once near White and Pond Islands. Returning to Fort Popham  from Seguin   ( again.  usually done at the beginning of the flood after riding the ebb to Seguin,)  can be  a bit tricky if encountering the remnants of the ebb from the Kennebec, so peeling off towards Popham Beach  on the return can be a  a good idea.

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My attitude as a conservative paddler and timid woodland creature (Ed L) is to stay away from Fort Popham on the ebb, lest you are ending your Kennebec River paddle southward, or planning a paddle to Sequin. I've only been to this area thrice-once @ slack ebb to CW circumvav Georgetown, once @ slack ebb to CCW circumnav Georgetown/Arrowsic, and this trip. 

Edited by gyork
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