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Gulf of Maine Sea Kayak Symposium - July 9-11


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I arrived on Thursday night in rain and fog. Found Maine Maritime Academy and decided that I needed a bowl of soup and a beer. Somehow my car headed to the water like a trained hunting dog and as I looked through the fog I found Dennett's Wharf Restaurant with a kayak hanging on the side.

I headed in for chowder and found that they have a strange custom there: the ceiling is littered with dollar bills thumb--tacked to the ceiling. Of course I had to ask...the bartender said "it will cost you a dollar". He preceded to show me how they get up there (which is a secret and you will now have to go pay your own dollar to find out). It turns out that the last time they cleaned the ceiling off was for a donation to a family that was affected by 9/ 11. They donated $12,000 from the ceiling. It was late by now, so I headed back to the dorm rooms as it was to be an early morning on Friday.

I got up early on Friday and headed over to the cafeteria to join the other volunteers there early for the set up. There was a great breakfast spread -- as were all the meals provided by Maine Maritime. After breakfast, we headed to the Field House to set-up down there. Before I knew it, it was 11 a.m. and the rest of the 20+ volunteers were arriving right on time. We reviewed the volunteer duties, prepared the registration desk and signed up for our shifts throughout the weekend.

On Friday afternoon, Christopher Godfrey, Paula Riegel, Mike Crouse and Rick Crangle put on a towing demonstration that was well received.

After dinner, the Tom Bergh moderated a round-table-type discussion in the auditorium with the clubs that were present: CONNYAK, BSKC, Champlain Kayak Club, RICKA, NSPN and SMSKN. It began with a representative from each club talking about what they felt the purpose of their club was and what were the major issues facing them. Their stated purposes ranged from: having fun, network of paddlers, fight legislation (access issues), educational focus, outreach. We seem to be lucky in that NSPN isn't facing the same access issues that our friends down south in Rhode Island and Connecticut are -- it is probably only a matter of time.

Each of the clubs discussed initiatives that they are involved in: RICKA has worked with their Department of Environmental Management to publish public access materials; CONNYAK has published a paddling etiquette brochure and worked with DEP to design a kayak launch at Indian River Marina; SMSKN has developed safety seminars that are open to the public and Champlain Kayak Club has partnered with environmental groups to develop a paddlers ' trail on the lake.

Some of the hot topics that were mentioned were: access issues; developing a universal "rating" system across New England (so a that a level 2 paddler means the same thing everywhere); the role the clubs play and our duties to the paddling community -- moral, social, legal and financial. We touched on risk and liability and how each of the clubs handle it: NSPN is the only club represented that carries insurance through the ACA!

We wrapped up the discussion, agreeing that the clubs need to find ways to gather together to continue these discussions and work together on issues that face all of us.

The organized activities for the evening finished with Tom Bergh showing a slide show of Coastal Maine from Casco Bay to Nova Scotia. I know that I left thinking I needed to spend more time in my boat on longer trips as far north as I can. A large group of us continued discussions down at Dennett's Wharf and drank lots of beer.

Saturday morning came early with lots of great things on the agenda. Something for everyone: lectures in the halls by Wayne Horodowich, Ken Fink Karen Francoeur; demonstrations from Keith Attenborough on Greenland paddle making, Sandy Martin from Lincoln Canoe on repairs and on-water classes on strokes and braces by Steve Maynard, Doug Van Doren, Jen Kleck Keith Attenborough, Tom Bergh, Karen Francoeur and Nigel Foster -- a really full morning (you cannot do everything and it was hard for people to make choices).

Everyone then made their way to yet another fine lunch provided by Maine Maritime and then on to more lectures and on-water activities in the afternoon. Gail Ferris and Deborah Walter gave presentations of their solo expeditions in the Arctic; Ed Friedman spoke about Swan Island; Ken Fink lectured on navigation and Ben Fuller gave tips and tricks on navigation that work in cold and wet places. There was a wilderness emergency presentation from David Craig of the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS and Jen Kleck demonstrated what to bring to ensure a safe and enjoyable outing. On the water, Wayne Horodowich brought out his bag of tricks and Doug Van Doren, Nigel Foster and Jen Kleck spoke about paddle form and function. Karen Francoeur demonstrated what happens when a recreational boat overturns and Alison Bramhall spoke about her solo paddling down in Palau. After a full afternoon of activities we convened for yet another fine meal in the cafeteria.

The highlight of the evening was Tsunami Ranger Michael Powers presenting a slide presentation of his amazing on-water photography. (How does he do that from a boat???) He also brought one of their open kayaks for us to see. The evening was filled with many interesting stories about the "tribal" feel of the rangers. Of course, it would not have done to end the night at that point, so the group re-convened (yet again!) down at Dennett's Wharf!

Sunday morning came so soon -- and with it the kayak cooking demonstration by Paula Riegel, Mike Crouse, Kim Flint and myself. We prepared two hot meals: one from dried ingredients and one from fresh, along with some hot scones baked in an Outback Oven. Wayne Horodowich did a recovery and rescue lecture; Ken Fink continued with maneuvering in Wind and Waves; Sandy Martin spoke about the elements of Sea Kayak Design and on the water there was Nigel Foster and kayak handling and a really cool demonstration of Greenland Rolling by Doug Van Doren, complete with the 16-lb.bowling-ball roll!

Then we were off to another fine lunch before the afternoon activities: a lecture on the Maine Island Trail; Ken Fink on navigation and Wayne Horodowich on learning and practicing good judgment when kayaking. There were many beach activities and small group instruction by all the instructors. Paula and I were lucky enough to spend a few hours with Jen Kleck who is a BCU 5* paddler -- only the second women in the US. She provided a few "ah ha" moments for me on the forward stroke.

Throughout the weekend there were boats to demo and people to meet. The goal of the Castine event is to build a paddling community. I know that it helped me to network with paddlers from as far away as Georgia and with instructors from our own backyard to California. It was the first symposium I have attended and I will be sure to put this event on my calendar for next year. I urge you to do the same.


PS - Could the other attendees write about their favorite class or "ah ha" moment that they had?

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Credit should not go to me for the towing demo, someone else lent a hand since I arrived late. Step aside Mr. Foster, I'll take over now.... yeah right :-)

Don't forget the tandem kayaks that we felt the need to roll, or the Chatham 17 that looked just like John Leonard's Pintail when I was paddling it.

A great weekend, lots of great people coming together to do what they love.

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Oh, man, I really wanted to be there, but family obligations managed to preclude our attending. Michele and I spent that weekend at Lake George at a family reunion.

Please, Suz, as soon as it's announced, would you post the dates of next year's event?


Mike and Michele.

"I would rather be upside-down in my kayak than be right-side up at my desk"

-Chesapeake Paddlers Association.

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