JEFF STROUT

Voyage of the Yellow Banana

Posted Aug. 05, 2011, at 4:24 p.m.

Another Milbridge Days is in the books. Last weekend’s celebration, from my perspective, was another success, at least judging by the number of people who showed up in town.

I’d say the number of parade watchers far outnumbered the town’s population of 1,200-plus. As usual, the town was hopping as residents, visitors and summer folk turned out to witness the annual Miss Milbridge Beauty Pageant, attend the sock hop, run in the 5K road race, chow down on lobster (lunch) and pancakes (breakfast), check out the cars at the auto show and swap meet, bid at the Chinese auction and scarf up a blueberry pie or any number of grilled treats from vendors lining Main Street.

And I hear the 27th (at least I think that’s the number from what I can find in the record books) annual Cod Fish Relay was the usual show for participants and spectators. I couldn’t make it to the event this year, but I can tell you from having “raced” in the event in another century it’s something everyone should see or do.

I need to pass along a compliment to organizers and supporters of this year’s festivities for not only keeping the event alive, but more than that, the marvelous fireworks display that lit up the Narraguagus River and thundered across the landscape. It was a great show that entertained for more than 20 minutes. Good job!

Despite this stunning array of entertainment and an inspiring church service Sunday morning by the Rev. Eric Kelley, I was itching to be outside on Narraguagus Bay’s water, getting in some paddling time. Turns out my wife, Kathy, was duly inspired to do the same. We’d not yet had a chance to Christen the “Yellow Banana” tandem kayak we picked up last month.

So after church we scouted out a good launching spot near Smith Cove and beat it back to my mother’s summer home at Baldwin Head to change into paddling togs. Time was of the essence because the tide had turned. (Once it gets past half-tide, landing options are more limited — mud, ledge etc.)

The “Yellow Banana” (a Wilderness Systems Northstar) is not what you’d call a lightweight at 90 pounds, so the closer to a launch and retrieval site you can drive, the better. You can pretty much forget about clambering over rocks with it. A straight, flat shot at the water is the preferred approach.

We outfitted the beast with safety gear, adjusted the foot braces, donned spray skirts and life jackets, pushed away from shore and we were off — and then my spray skirt popped off the cockpit coaming. (Note to self: Get a slightly larger spray skirt.) We headed for some calm water and I wrestled it back onto the coaming.

A steady 15-plus mph breeze kicked up some smaller waves on top of a sea swell. Had we been in single kayaks, I thought, Kathy would have been struggling and uneasy with the waves, but the width, length and heft of the tandem took most of that away. We turned around at Baldwin Head, waved to the neighbors and headed toward town, exploring a bit as we went.

On a different tide we probably would have made it uptown, but the current from the outgoing tide and nearly exposed mussel beds forced us back. We ran with the tide and against the wind.

Paddling the larger boat was not as much of a chore as I’d envisioned. Yes, it’s heavy, wide and long, but the rudder and rocker of the hull make it quicker turning than any of the three 17-foot singles I normally paddle. If it were not for the rudder, however, keeping the beast on course would be difficult.

The ride is dry (particularly if you’re the one in the stern cockpit) and stable, and although I haven’t tried yet to pack it for camping, I’d say we could put most of our gear into the nooks and crannies. I don’t think it would carry the volume of gear we could pack into two singles, however. I’ll give it a shot sometime and let you know.

In the meantime, I think my wife will be more apt to want to go for a paddle when it involves a tandem rather than a single. After the experience on our maiden voyage, that’s all right by me. I can still throw a single on the roof when I want to do some solo exploring.

Oh, by the way, that repair I told you about last time? The epoxy-filled gash? It looks solid as a rock. I’m still singing the praises of West System’s G/flex epoxy.

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