Down a lazy river

Posted Sept. 09, 2011, at 10:55 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 12, 2011, at 9:24 a.m.
Heading down the Union River, there are small points of land that provide breaks for the wind coming up river.
Heading down the Union River, there are small points of land that provide breaks for the wind coming up river.

Sometimes it takes a different perspective and a desire to try out a “new” (to you) place to paddle your kayak.

I’ve paddled a fair number of places around the state, but surprisingly never on the Union River in Ellsworth. I’ve stopped at the public landing, the Ellsworth Waterfront Park and Marina many times, but never with a boat on my car.

Sunday was the day to give it a shot. My wife, Kathy, and I had completed a couple of major cleaning chores around the house and we needed to get out. The weather looked like it would cooperate, and the time and tide were right.

I loaded the “Yellow Banana” tandem on the van and off we went with Plan B being Branch Lake. (If the weather turned bad Plan C was to wander through the L.L. Bean outlet in Ellsworth.)

The public landing is a nice facility, complete with a harbor master’s office, a pavilion-picnic area, restrooms and parking. The launch ramp is grooved concrete and not too steep. There’s room to the left of the ramp to launch a kayak without getting in the way of other boaters. I checked in with the harbor master to get a feeling for the latest weather and water conditions and confirm that he monitored VHF Channel 16 (just in case).

We outfitted the yellow beast in the parking lot and wheeled it to the water. A 10-knot-plus breeze blew up the river on the incoming tide. My plan was to hug one side of the river or the other depending on available shelter. Turns out it was a good plan, but there weren’t a lot of sheltered places along the banks with Sunday’s breezes. But the few places we found were adequate to provide respites.

Just off the ramp to the left there’s a cove that provided us a chance to warm up and coordinate our strokes and for me to reacquaint myself with the tandem’s rudder system. The Wilderness Northstar has a lot of rocker and takes constant attention to keep it on course. On the other hand, if you have to turn quickly, cranking the rudder makes the boat turn on a dime.

Our little side trip provided a great chance to watch a flock of two-dozen mallards until they got nervous and relocated (sorry, ducks). It was only the first of what turned out to be several bird sightings including a majestic eagle as well as what I think was an immature eagle, an osprey, a loon, cormorants, crows and gulls.

Had there been a little less wind the day would have been perfect. The incoming current was mild (we launched a couple of hours before high tide). Hugging the shoreline helped with both wind and current.

We had a nice trip down the river. There are lots of nice homes along the banks, yet there are other places that you could imagine are wild and pristine. A new venue is fun to explore. Each turn provided a new goal until we reached the open head of Union River Bay that was churned up and white-capped. We’d come about 3 miles, and it was a good place to turn around.

What a difference it makes to have the wind at your back and the tide running with you. At times we could stop paddling and still make good forward progress.

Since we made such good time on the return we opted to extend our tour to the far side of the harbor and upstream to the bridge carrying Route 1 south. To my surprise there was a lot more current coming downstream than I’d anticipated. We slogged upstream to the bridge, turned and rode the current almost back to the dock.

The tide was high and it made for an easy exit next to the top of the ramp. And according to the incoming clouds, it was time to get off the water.

We encountered only a couple of larger boats on the river. There’s enough room to be out of the channel (at least on the upper end of the tide) to give them easy passage.

Our little voyage wound up being just under 7 miles, but it could be lengthened or shortened as your ability and time allow. I’d recommend it to almost all levels of paddling skills with cautions on the tidal current, weather and other craft using the river.

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