JEFF STROUT

Pick a spot, take a paddle, enjoy


View Sears Island circumnavigation in a larger map
Posted July 22, 2011, at 4:29 p.m.

As much fun as paddling a kayak can be, there are times I have to twist my own arm to go. Last Sunday was one of those days — hot and humid. But I’d already made plans to go, and the redeeming factor was that it would be cooler at the ocean than the 90s of Bangor.

Besides, how could I stand up my paddling buddy, Robert Causey, who has been a canoe convert for the past few years, eschewing his kayak and condemning it to a life of misery in his dark storage facility in Orono? For him to suggest that we go kayaking — on the ocean — was landmark, something I couldn’t pass up. A day, even part of a day, on saltwater is worth a few days on the lake.

Where to go, was Robert’s first query. I suggested Surry or Sears Island because they were relatively close to home. Great, he said, he’d be ready after he mucked out a few stalls at the university. He’d swing by the storage facility, load his boat and gear, and be along about 1 p.m. (coincidentally the time of high tide).

Chores a bit overburdening, was the next call. How about we use your boats and gear, Mr. Mucker suggested. That would save a trip to the storage facility and he could just show up, pop into the van and we’d be off, close to being on our prearranged schedule. “Mind terribly if I borrow your slippers [water sandals]?” — and a paddle, and a PFD, and spray skirt, paddle float, etc.

No big deal, I’ll just throw the whole gear bag into the van, drag the kayaks out of the garage, heave them on the roof of the van and we’ll be all set to go. I’d just finished when Robert showed up.

We were off (float plan filed with my wife) to the gas station (Robert bought).

Three-quarters of an hour in air-conditioned comfort made me wish we’d selected a more distant location (It’s 27 miles from Bangor.) It didn’t seem that much cooler than the city as we stood on the Sears Island causeway, but it was breezy — enough so that we discussed our route of travel with the idea of winding up our island circumnavigation with the wind at our backs.

There’s a short path to the beach near the gate at the end of the causeway. With one of us on each end of the boats it was a fairly easy launch. We’d opted to begin on the eastern side and go clockwise around the 940-acre island, finishing up on the western side of the causeway only a few hundred feet from the van.

The eastern side was in the lee where it could have seemed incongruous wearing a PFD and spray skirt. We slathered exposed skin with sunblock, covered our noggins with wide-brimmed hats and pulled away from the shore. After 10 minutes I sought the shade of a tall tree near shore and a good slug of water. It was going to be a hot one.

Another 10 minutes changed that — a lot. We had rounded the northeast corner of the island and were in the passage between Cape Jellison and Sears Island. The tide was ebbing and the wind, which was gusting to 20 knots or more, was pushing against it making for some steep chop.

Fortunately, the shoreline has numerous small indents that provided brief respites. The farther we progressed, the fewer the indents and the more the exposure (there were still many landing possibilities). While it got a little rough, never did we feel we had surpassed our abilities, and best of all never were very far offshore.

While I’d recommend this 5-mile circumnavigation to most paddlers, I’d caution that it can get windy and rough. Use discretion and fairly assess your abilities. If the going looks like it’s getting rough, turn around and explore another part of Stockton Harbor that may not be as rough.

Better yet, land on one of the several gravel and sand beaches (mostly on the northern sections) and go for a swim or have a picnic. There’s nothing wrong with sitting one out and enjoying just being beside the ocean.

If you go, be aware that there are no services available (there is a portable toilet), but you are not far from Route 1 (a mile) and Searsport or Stockton Springs. Remember to take water to drink (a couple of quarts on a hot day) and check the weather forecast and know the tide report. An alternative launch site for Stockton Harbor is on the Cape Jellison side near the condominium development. Check the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 15, A-1.

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