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Knubble Bay 7/23-25

Dee Hall

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Because I had never paddled in this area before, I spent a lot of time planning it and putting the float plan together (about 40 hours). My goals for the trip included (in no particular order):

1. Spending more time paddling each day than packing and unpacking our boats.

2. Not competing for camping space.

3. Minimizing places paddled twice.

4. Minimizing paddling against the current.

5. Not competing for parking at the put in.

I chose to reserve camping for 8 at the AMC's Beal Island, however, packing up our boats at the AMC's Knubble Bay cabin, paddling 1/2 mile to the Island, and unpacking definitely didn't statisfy #1. I chose what was reported to be a large, free parking lot near the Bath Iron Works. I figured the downside to this put-in would probably be a somewhat urban beginning to our paddle.

We launched from the put-in at about 12AM Friday in hot, humid, cloudy, and breezy conditions. This was about two hours later than I had originally planned, and the tide was just starting to flood. The low-tide water was warm (72 degrees) and fresh. Much to my pleasant surprise, the sides of the river are very sparsely populated and there was no boat traffic at all.

Since the put-in was a bit farther south than I had thought, we passed our first landmarks sooner than expected. There was a cute little lighthouse and some pretty islands. We saw a deer dashing through the trees along the shoreline. As time went on, the current and wind slowly increased, against us, of course. By the time we had reached Phippsburg, the group was quickly spreading out. We broke into two groups to accomodate the different paddling speeds and slowly passed the last couple of points of land before the mouth of the Back River. While paddling, I listened to the various weather reports to find that they were all reporting 14-17 knot winds. The forecast was for more of the same.

We stopped for lunch on a very small and squishy island at the mouth of the Back River. It was 2:30PM and everyone was very hungry. As we sat on some rocks and ate, a fog rolled in obscuring the far bank of the Kennebec. Our stop was brief since we still had most of our trip in front of us although we were glad to have the wind and current with us from this point on. When we landed, Liz had pulled her boat onto a thin piece of land connecting the two parts of the island. In fact, the land was thinner than the boat long (very long), so rather than back out, Liz performed what was probably the shortest portage of a fully loaded boat in NSPN history.

Our trip up the Back River was at a considerably faster pace. For a few minutes Liz stowed her paddle and opened her umbrella and kept up with the group. During a lull she started to fall behind, then a gust abruptly inverted the umbrella, so she went back to paddling. We started seeing osprey and herons, and the sun came out.

The Back River connects Hockomock Bay to the Kennebec. Hockomock Bay looks like a large lake with many islands, and it was easy to forget that we were paddling in sea water. We paddled along the south shore of the Bay, crossing Hall Bay (disappointed that we didn't have time to explore such a wonderfully named body of water), and stopped to scout Little Hell Gate which runs along the west side of Beal Island.

Here, the tide was ebbing, and we thought avoiding Lower Hell Gate might be a good idea, especially since it was out of our way. In my research, I had found only one reference to Little Hell Gate being navigable. At this point it looked full of water which was moving along at a knot or two. It looked like a piece of cake, ok, more like a little gorge with walls of granite topped by pines. Very pretty and fun to paddle through. Around the bend, and there was the South Beach of Beal Island. Suddenly, our visions of a quiet night on an isolated island evaporated. There were dozens of people, and children, and dogs.

We landed and a couple of them came up to us with very concerned looks on their faces (the people, not the dogs.) They thought that they had reserved the whole island, and although there was plenty of space, they were very concerned about their group of 28 people and 5 dogs would disturb anybody else staying there. Since there weren't any other options, we stayed, staking out some areas under the pines off to the side a bit. The wind continued to blow, for which we were grateful as it kept the mosquitos under control, mostly. Everyone unpacked their boats and set up their tents quickly. (Since the food I brought was for the following evening and last morning, I left it all in my boat to prevent access by indigenous critters.) Then preparations for dinner started. We had appetizers of cheese, crackers, pear, smoked oysters, and cherries. Dinner preparations were directed by Karen with veggies, shrimp, scallops, and couscous covered with a sauce that had more ingredients than I have fingers including anchovies, garlic, basil, olives (several colors, I think), and sundried tomatoes.

While some of us cooked, Liz and Maria paddled over to the Knubble Bay Cabin to get water. It took them a good hour to paddle over, pump the water while slapping at mosquitos, and paddle back into the wind. Fortunately, dinner was ready when they returned. It was delicious and the dessert of cream cheese brownies was the crowning touch.

The next morning we awoke to heavy rain on our tents. The earlier risers set up some tarps and moved the cookig area underneath. As we made coffee and cooked breakfast (vegetable and sausage frittatas and biscuits), the rain stopped, but the clouds remained. It was cooler and the wind was now from the north promising drier air in the future. We launched at a very mucky low tide around 11:30 and headed down Knubble Bay and through Gooseneck Passage into Sheepscott River.

The cool temps and threatening skies appeared to be keeping the other recreational boaters away. We crossed the river, landing for a quick bio-break on a small island next to the Isle of Springs, and then proceeded north through the islands. To the northwest of us, we could see bright skies, the effects of a high pressure system pushing against the low pressure system south of us. It would take most of the day for the high pressure to win.

We paddled north and then east around Sawyer Island and then Hodgdon Island searching for the elusive Porter Preserve and Knickerbocker Island Park. Porter Preserve, which was supposed to be on the south cove of Barters Island never materialized. That area seemed quite densely populated with homes. Otherwise, the passage was quite pretty. Knickerbocker Island Park turned out to be next to a noisy bridge, so we paddled past looking for a quieter lunch spot. Eventually, we landed in some mucky grass next to some rocks. As we finished our lunch, it started to rain. Some of us added some layers before launching.

The thin strip of water between Hodgdon and Indiantown Islands and the mainland is virtually unpopulated. It narrowed as we paddled and almost disappeared where a road crossed it. Eventually we came to a large culvert which would have been impassable in almost any other tide. There was no current, and the only challenge posed by the culvert was keeping one's paddle from smacking it above. We came out into a harbor as the sun finally emerged. We passed Townsend Gut and Ebencook Harbor, and a Karen and I stopped on some rocks to remove our extra layers. An osprey nesting on the day marker above us watched suspiciously.

Continuing on around Green Island we paddled into Sheepscott Bay, our first exposure to the ocean. The northerly winds were quite manageable and the swells were small. We crossed the bay to the Five Islands and circumnavigated one of the more exposed islands. The swell gave us some interesting hydraulics including a boomer that caught yours truly and her heavily laden boat unawares. It rose suddenly in front of me, and the hole that formed behind it pulled me in. I side-surfed the next breaker which didn't push my heavy boat very far. Then we continued our trip around the island and under a wooden footbridge that connected the community on it to the main island.

Our trip back to Beal Island was uneventful except for a bit of boat traffic rushing to get through Lower Hell Gate before the current increased too much. Maria, Liz, and myself went directly back to the island while Bob, Dave, Allan, Debbie, and Karen stopped to refill our water bags. Dinner was another feast too big to completely consume. Appetizers of artichoke hearts, babaganoush, mozzarella wrapped proscuitto and basil leaf, and other cheeses and crackers went quickly. Chicken rattatouille was served in whole wheat French bread bowls. Dessert was freshly made applesauce.

On my float plan, our trip back to Bath was expected to be tricky due to passing through both Lower and Upper Hell Gates. I was expecting to give the group a few options including a 7AM launch, and 8:30AM launch and possible portage, killing time paddling around in Knubble Bay, or launching after 10:30AM. Since this group had some late risers and hadn't launched before 11:30AM yet, I considered the schedule to be a non-issue. After pancakes with blueberries, we packed up and launched at 11:00, passing through Lower Hell Gate at slack tide. Our trip through Hockomock Bay this time was at low tide, and it appeared a great deal smaller. Liz led the group along the southern "shore" to the mouth of the Sasanoa River without interfering with the increasing boat traffic or stranding us in shallow water.

Although the tide had been slack low at Knubble Bay when we left, it was still ebbing significantly through the Sasanoa. The trip up river proved to be a bit challenging as eddylines at each narrows pulled the kayaks out into the heavy current. At Upper Hell Gate, each boat ahead of me got pulled right into the middle of the river as each person paddled like mad to make headway. I was sweeping, and there were powerboats approaching at the same time as me. I tried to paddle through the rocks on the side and made it past only to find no place to put my paddle on the other side. After two unsuccessful attempts, I let my boat get caught on the rocks while I weighed my options. I decided to point my boat downstream, push myself off the rocks, eddy out below, and take the route that everyone else had now that the other powerboats were gone. I caught up with the last of the group as Karen was putting her short tow back under her bungies.

The Sasanoa spreads out into a shallow bay just before it meets the Kennebec. Part of the group decided it was time for a bio-break here. As she had several times before, Liz demonstrated her ability to find the deepest muck to land in, twice. The rest of us took the opportunity to recharge with some snacks.

When we emerged at the Kennebec, Karen suggested we visit the Bath Iron Works across the river to get a closer look at the warships being assembled there. The group proceded with a proper channel crossing directly towards one of the cranes. This provoked the security personel to jump into their boat and meet us at the boundary, defined by buoys that look just like white and orange "no wake" buoys except for the "keep out" lettered on them. When we turned downstream at the buoys, the security boat silently milled about inside the boundary. The pod spread out pretty thinly at this point, with the more intimidated paddlers towards the front and the more curious paddlers at the back. As the front of the group passed the last couple of bouys, Karen and Maria, stopped and hailed the security boat. Karen asked about the five big ships under construction and when tours could be had. The helpful crew told them the ships were destroyers and that the best time to visit was when one was being launched. At least that is what I was told when they rejoined us, but the conversation seemed to go on much longer than that.

We paddled by the Maritime Museum and back to the put-in discovering on the way that the water was quite warm again and almost completely devoid of salt. Karen and I decided that some rolling practice with fully loaded boats was in order. Lessons learned? Rolling loaded boat is easy. Capsizing is not. Fresh water up the nose hurts. Oh yeah, I knew that. I just forgot that water with virtually no salt is fresh, just like the lake.

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>Our trip up the Back River was at a considerably faster

>pace. For a few minutes Liz stowed her paddle and opened

>her umbrella and kept up with the group. During a lull she

>started to fall behind, then a gust abruptly inverted the

>umbrella, so she went back to paddling.

This was the first time I had used the umbrella in a kayak with a rudder. In the fully loaded boat I was doing between 4 and 4.6 knots. Pretty cool. Staying with the group was no problem. Avoiding running into them when a gust came along was, since I could not see in front of me.

>The Sasanoa spreads out into a shallow bay just before it

>meets the Kennebec. Part of the group decided it was time

>for a bio-break here. As she had several times before, Liz

>demonstrated her ability to find the deepest muck to land

>in, twice.

You know, landing in deep muck - and getting out of it with both shoes, is an important sea kayaking skill that we don't get to cover in trip leader training since Cape Ann is solid granite. Rock landings, hah! Anyone who cares not about gelcoat can do that. Try getting both feet unstuck without falling down! (I recommend floating your kayak bow between your knees to sit on and digging out one foot at a time. Also, reaching under the mud to lift the toe will help break the suction.) Try getting back in your kayak in water so shallow it won't float if you add 2 pounds and mud so deep you can't walk to deeper water. Now that is a challenge! (Thanks for the tow, Bob.)

Practice, practice.

Liz N.

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