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Popham Beach, Oct. 8th: Surf, crossings, standing waves


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On Sunday morning I drove up to Popham Beach for a day of long boat surfing. Expecting to find at least a few other paddlers drawn here on this beautiful Columbus day weekend, I met a considerably larger group assembling in the parking lot at Fort Popham : some familiar faces, some not, a group of about a dozen paddlers, into which I was quickly assimilated. So, at @11AM, thirteen of us launched from underneath Fort Popham, and headed out along the beach , which wrapped around to the right and extends about two miles to the west.

The Popham beach area is beautiful and offers a more diverse array of paddling opportunities than just surf play . As we made our way along the beach, the group began to spread out , disperse. Four paddlers peeled off from the group for a crossing to Seguin Island, about two miles offshore, so alluring on this most beautiful of autumn days. For the rest of us, the general destination was the area around Morse Point, about a mile to the west , where the surf seemed to be concentrated. Here, near the parking lot for the State park, the beach forms a salient which, as the tide ebbs, enlarges into a bar extending out to a small island about four hundred yards offshore. As one looked to the east or west. “standard” waves sets rolled into the beach and at this salient waves were meeting at a 45 degree angle, creating classic zippers, and a triangle of perhaps a few hundred square yards with small haystacks and confused waves. Twice I ventured into this little vortex in search of excitement after getting frustrated missing good wave sets. (Surfing is over 50% timing -my weak point - the rest is a mixture of luck, skill, and audacity), At this triangle I caught one long ride right into an oncoming wave, which my boat rode right over, almost becoming airborne, and slammed back onto the water, and was immediately struck by another wave, which infused me with enough adrenaline to sustain me until we landed for a lunch break. At @ 1 :30.

Quite pleased with myself for having caught some good rides while remaining upright all morning, after lunch I was quickly humbled with about four capsizes; on all but one I rolled up, on the last one, I had no paddle purchase in a mass of foam, rolled , was immediately hit by another wave, ran out of air & pulled my skirt. Unable to pull or follow my boat into shore a mere thirty feet away (unfriendly current, or undertow), I did a re- enter & roll and paddled my lurching, sloshing boat the short way to shore to bail and regroup. I felt like a heel ,but was consoled to see a considerably more experienced paddler meet the same fate a few minutes later.

Others looked like they were having a good day. I saw a paddler in a beautiful skin- on -frame (he was one of four paddlers here from Montreal) surfing a wave backwards, his greenland stick planted in an elegant bow rudder (really a stern rudder, since he was going backwards) with amber sunlight shining through his translucent hull. Very sharp!

We eventually migrated over to the surf on the west side of Fox Island. Four paddlers reappeared in our midst, our friends, returned from Seguin Island (their quickie trip report: “it was lovely”.) and three of us joined them and we headed for Pond Island, back towards the fort and the mouth of the Kennebec River. On the east side of Pond island was a full fledged tidal race running at close to max current, maybe four , four and a half knots. We gathered for a quick consult in an eddy at the island’s northern tip, then snuck around to another eddy on the northeastern corner of the island and ventured into the standing waves. Paddling vigorously while standing still is a slightly surreal experience, requiring a mixture of paddling / bracing skill and timing/anticipation ; to make any progress one needs to use the falling water, a combination of brains and paddling chops , both of which I had in dwindling supply as it was the end of the day and I was beginning to fatique . After some forty minutes of standing waves(or did it just seem that long? ‘the sands of time move swiftly except in the hour of pain.”) , we regrouped in the eddy , rode the current around the far (southern) end of the island, ferried over to Wood island , where a vast sand bar was emerging, a most welcome spot to land and and take a rest while the tide slackened, before our final 3/4 mile slog home. Other paddlers began to filter back to join us , and after about a fifteen minute rest, we launched in ones, twos and threes, and strung out over good quarter of a mile, plodded home against the dwindling current in the lengthening shadows of a fine, memorable day .

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ah,Popham Beach!. In a moment of uneducated insanity many years ago,I launched my shiny new Carolina into the full ebb of the Kennebec from behind the fort. Managed to survive two trips around ferrying Linda's boat to the beach also. She had more sense than I did. We camped the night on Fox Island,and proceeded to paddle into that craziness behind the island,resulting in two swimmers in shallow water! The best result from this fiasco was Linda's insistence that we take lessons,so "We'll know what the hell we're doing out here!"

First paddling trip,fully loaded boats,totally clueless...but hey! we lived through it!

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