My childhood friend Bob Rowe and I had been discussing sea kayaking options for several days. When another longtime friend, Carolyn Welch, announced that she and Teena Patten would be exploring Middle Bay on what was predicted to be a beautiful sunny day, we seized the opportunity to join them.
Middle Bay is located between Harpswell Neck on the east and Merepoint on the west. The southern end of Brunswick forms the northern border and the bay connects with Casco Bay on the south. Carolyn chose to depart from Simpson Point Landing, a hand carry boat launch and popular swimming area situated on the northern sector of the bay in Brunswick.
Launching from Simpson Point requires some planning as extensive mudflats at low tide make departing or returning an unpleasant ordeal. We began our trip a couple of hours after low tide, allowing ample time for exploration. Ours was a decidedly senior group. My informal calculation was that our average age was a youthful 74.
Carolyn had selected a superb day for a paddle. The skies were clear and winds light. Traveling south, our initial goal was a narrow channel between substantial White Island and tiny Scrag Island.
A little north of White, we encountered a busy oyster harvesting operation. The affable crew provided detailed information about their fledgling business. Solar panels used for roofing were a unique aspect of their barge. They served the dual purpose of powering some of their equipment while providing protection from the elements.
Progressing south, we spotted what appeared to be a dolphin. Closer inspection confirmed it was a playful harbor seal. Bird sightings were frequent as we navigated through a passage between Scrag and White Islands and progressed towards Birch Island, the largest island in Middle Bay. A handsome osprey perched high on the limb of a tall spruce tree on White Island was a particularly captivating observation. Alas, no little ones could be identified in a nearby nest.
Approaching Birch Island from the east, Carolyn encouraged the group to disembark at an attenuated landing on the northeastern shore. This was sage advice as it turned out to be the access point for the relatively new Helen and Walter Norton Preserve.
Established in September 2016 by the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, the preserve encompasses 43 acres and 3,000 feet of shoreline. Near the landing there is a small cabin, picnic tables and abundant tent space. A young couple was camping there when we arrived.
The preserve has an interesting history. The landing was formerly the site of a boatyard and boys’ camp. Ancient shell middens are evidence the island was inhabited by Native Americans in prehistoric times. Europeans settled there in the 18th century and began farming and logging. As time progressed, modernity invaded the island in the form of a casino, hotel, and baseball field. Today, it is primarily inhabited by cottage owners and summer visitors. However, 43 acres have now been permanently set aside for the enjoyment of all.
Forgoing the sun-drenched picnic tables; we discovered a shaded area on the rocky shoreline for a lunch spot. During our break, I found the rudder line on my kayak was broken, but Carolyn came to the rescue with a miniature carabiner that provided a temporary remedy. More ominous, water was leaking through a crack in the stern despite recent efforts to patch it. Like its owner, my kayak is showing its age.
The return trip was exceptional. A gentle tailwind propelled us along the west side of White Island and past campers on Crow Island. As we approached Simpson Point, the winds increased to gusts making for a bumpy stimulating disembarkation. The verdict was unanimous. Ours had been a remarkable outing.