The St. George River has always been one of Mother Nature’s gifts to avid paddlers who have spent the Maine winter eager to get back on the water.
Its coastal location and brisk current make it one of the first rivers to lose its winter coat of ice, and organizers of the annual St. George River Race take full advantage of that fact, staging the first race of the year on the river each spring.
On Thursday, race director Dale Cross reluctantly admitted defeat, postponing the race due to ice.
Earlier this week, Cross was fairly confident that the race would go on. Thursday afternoon, that confidence turned to disappointment.
The race was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. on Saturday, but has postponed until Sunday, April 6. Racers will meet at the Methodist Church in Searsmont, where they can register from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. The race will begin at 1 p.m.
The weather has varied wildly during the 34 previous editions of the traditional whitewater season opener, but Cross said only twice has it not gone off as scheduled.
“The river has iced back over,” Cross reported. “We busted it out with sledgehammers and canoe blades this morning, and it had iced back over around noontime when I went back down to check it,” Cross said.
Cross said the people trying to remove the ice said it was about two and a half inches thick.
“We’ve postponed twice because of low water. This year, it’s just too much ice. I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
Cross said the conditions on the St. George are what you would normally see much earlier in the month.
“We’re a good three weeks behind. Last year and the year before we were in the river three weeks ago,” Cross said.
Cross paddled the race route — or as much of it as he could — Thursday.
“It took just about everything in me to get to the finish line today. I had to portage through a bunch of stuff,” he said, adding that he had to carry his canoe through the fields a few times because there was just too much ice.
According to a long-range forecast on weather.com, daytime high temperatures in Searsmont should top 40 degrees on eight of the next 10 days.
If that happens, Cross is confident that paddlers will be able to paddle next Sunday.
“There will be no ice in the river and I think it’s going to be wonderful. There’s going to be more water in the river and it will be wonderful,” he said.
And though the current schedule calls for the Passagassawakeag River Race to now kick off the season on Saturday, April 6, the day before the rescheduled St. George race, paddlers may still get their first action of the year when the St. George is staged.
The Passagassawakeag River has shown no signs of losing its winter coat as of yet, Cross said.
“I don’t know. [Ice out] can happen pretty fast. I’ve got to try to be positive. But right now the Passy is very, very solid,” Cross said. “So [the St. George] may well be the season-opener. We’ll have to wait and see.”