One way to get on the water and sharpen your paddling skills is to get familiar with a nearby lake or pond that you may access quickly from home and plan on weekly visits (perhaps more frequently if you have the time).
Every outing cannot be the great adventure or an overnight camping trip. The fun in paddling is just that — paddling. Every day is different, even though the scenery might seem the same. But keeping your eyes open and paying attention will lead you through changes in three seasons (if you start out in April and continue through October).
Having a close-by destination is also nice in this day of $4 per gallon gasoline. It would be even better to live next to that favorite paddling place, right?
Since most of us don’t have that luxury, then the next best thing is a public boat launch. You’ll find them in the “Maine Atlas and Gazetteer” marked by a red, boat-shaped icon, either solid red or outlined in red. The solid icons mark hardened ramps where trailered boats can be launched, the outlined ones are carry-in sites. Most have adjacent parking.
I reside in Bangor, therefore I head to Pushaw Lake regularly since it’s relatively close to home, and Gould Landing is a nice place to launch a kayak — you get a good take on lake and weather conditions, and there’s a soft beach.
As you can see from the accompanying map, the landing is at the northern end of Essex Street. There is adequate parking and several places from which to launch. If the beach is clear it’s a nice sandy place to put it. If there are people using the beach, look between the beach and the boat-launch ramp to your left when looking up the lake. There is a small gravel beach that’s fine for a launch site.
Or use the concrete launch ramp. There’s a small dock next to it. Whichever place you use remember to be mindful of others. Don’t tie up the launch ramp, don’t hog the beach and don’t paddle among swimmers. Get in your boat and on your way efficiently.
In this sample 3.5 mile paddle, you’ll head north away from the beach toward Dollar Island. Once clear of Hemlock Point you have some open water that can provide wind and waves with a north or northwest wind coming down the 7-mile length of the lake. At Hemlock Point reconsider the water conditions and your paddling abilities. If you feel challenged, turn around. If your skills are more advanced, head on out to Dollar Island.
Many evenings I’ve paddled under an eagle perched on the island’s eastern shore, and side-by-side with loons. If it’s windy, the eastern side usually provides a break until you approach the northeast corner.
From here its maybe a half-mile over to Harwood Island (I’ve also seen it named Hardwood) . Once past the rocky bar on the southwest tip, you’ll usually find another break from the wind. And just ahead you’ll find a tiny gravel beach where you can get out and stretch if you need to.
Continue your loop by heading up the eastern side of Harwood and rounding the northern end, then begin your return. As you head back to Dollar, decide, depending on the water and wind, whether you go to the western or eastern side. A stiff breeze and waves makes for fun wave surfing if your abilities permit. Otherwise, head for the lee.
At the southern end of Dollar you’ll have a strong half-mile or so to hit Hemlock Point.
Many of my paddles in this area have been in the evening, and I’ve used the radio tower lights in Bangor as navigational references. If you are on the water after sunset be sure to have a flashlight that you can shine at other boats that may be on the water. The nice thing about paddling is you’ll hear them before they see you.
As the weather warms you’ll want to arm yourself with bug spray. The mosquitoes can be voracious. I find they like to be the biggest pain when you’re concentrating on strapping your boat to the roof racks.