Category Archives: Kayak

Postcards From Maine

Standard

It is 53 here this morning, and there is a light breeze.  There is no question that Fall is in the air.  Everyone walking the drive this morning is wearing sweatshirts, shorts, and gooseflesh.  The dogs act like they’ve been drinking from the Fountain of Youth.  There is a steady stream of sailboats passing the mouth of the bay, dangling their dinghys behind – a sure sign that they are picking up and migrating south.  The other thing that has been migrating south are the Monarchs.  They fly through here  at this time every year.  Some years are better than others – this one is pretty thin – but it’s always a magnificent vision.  Not because there are huge flocks of Monarchs in the air – they don’t seem to travel in big flocks, but alone – but because there is something terribly inspiring, and a little sad, to see something as ultimately fragile as a butterfly heading out for a journey of thousands of miles.  They don’t even fly straight, they really don’t even fly at all…they’re fluttering out on a journey thousands of miles long.  Every time I see one of those frivolous orange and black creatures head drunkenly out over the ocean, I don’t know whether to smile, laugh, or cry.

Monarch

The water is covered with billions of tiny ripples this morning because of the breeze, but it is still enough to hear, clearly, the sound of working boats plying their craft across the bay.  There is a lobsterman out there right now, pulling up his traps, and probably harvesting my dinner as we speak.  Every time I think about how hard my job can get, I just think of those lobstermen.  And lobsterwomen. While I’m sitting here on my porch, happy in the knowledge that there’s a hot chocolate any time I need to warm up my fingers, those guys are out on the ocean – in all conditions – getting soaked to the skin and dealing with things that will eat each other if they don’t put a rubber-band on the claws.  That’s what those bands are for – not so the cook won’t get pinched, but so the livestock doesn’t consume itself.  Their job is difficult for other reasons, too.  One of my favorite quotes about a boat is that it is a hole in the water, lined with money.  They’re notoriously prickly to keep running.  It’s as if the only transportation I had to work was a vintage Triumph motorcycle – got to get up extra early and make sure the wheels still work.

And then, there is the smell.  I had heard that lobster bait is smelly, and I thought at the time, “Well, yes, all bait is pretty smelly.”  Then, yesterday when I was out on the kayak, I heard what sounded to all purposes an eight-track recording of one of Elvis’s mid-career albums, being played loudly on the water, which meant we could all hear it for miles. I’m sure that the neighbors deeply appreciated that experience.  It took me quite a while to catch up to the boat playing the rusty tunes, but long before I saw him, I knew him for a lobsterman, because I was hit with the Smell.  Lobster bait is not smelly.  It is Smelly.  Possibly SMELLY.  Imagine a five-gallon jar of anchovies and sardines.  Now put the cap on and leave it outside in the full sun…for about three or four days.  Now distill it until you have one pint (Imperial) of Essence of Rotted Sardines and Anchovies.

That is what lobster bait smells like.

Now, in addition to the deep gratitude I already felt to the lobstermen for providing my supper and doing an incredibly hard job, I am also grateful that they’re usually doing it somewhere far enough away that I can’t smell the boat.

Morning

Morning on Linekin Bay

We’re off to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this morning.  These gardens never grow old for me.  They have something different, and unique, and lovely to offer in every season.  I saw them last at the end of July when the exuberance of the blooms was enough to put a sailor to the blush. Now I am anticipating a slightly more subdued experience, but the weather change will also let me cover more ground.  There are, I recall, some short hikes of remarkable beauty along the balsam woods at the edges of the gardens.  Nothing beats the aroma of balsam needles being crunched underfoot.  It is such an intoxicating scent that around here, they bag it up in colorful sacks so that you can take it home with you.  It works, too.  A few years ago I had a draft-dodger for the back door that was a simple tube stuffed with these balsam needles – every time I moved it to open or close that door, I got a wave of this fragrance.  And, like all smells, it has the power to transport me to a particular place and time…what better place and time than the coastal woods of Maine in the summer?

Lily Pond

Lily Pond at the Coastal Gardens

I’m looking forward to my last lobster for a year – because I expect it will be that long, or nearly that long, before I’m back where I can see the traps from my dining table…and a Girl’s Gotta Have Her Standards. I will pretend that this is my birthday dinner, because the meal I had at the place last night was mediocre in the extreme.  The menu described the dish as a NY Strip (yes, I do eat something other than crustaceans and bubble gum ice cream) with onion jam and a grilled corn salad.  Now, I love grilled corn salad when I make it at home, and this description conjured up just the sort of robustly flavorful dish I wanted last night.  After eating no more than half of it, I wanted to send a note to the kitchen:

Dear Cook,

First, when you grill a steak, it is customary to salt and pepper it – at a minimum – before throwing it on the grill.  It is preferable to apply other seasonings as well, something like thyme, or rosemary, or oregano, would have been a nice touch.  But the salt, and especially the salt, is essential.  It is what delivers a nice browned crusty effect on a piece of medium-rare meat.  When you do not do this, the meat is tasteless and pallid, and looks like it might just as easily have come out of the microwave as off of a grill.

Second, “onion jam” implies an actual condiment, usually something prepared in advance.  Typically, a quantity of onions have been caramelized, then seasoned thoroughly with interesting stuff, and then been let to sit while the flavors meld.  A thin slice of onion, sauteed in an oily pan, and drooped over the steak, does not constitute an “onion jam.”

Third, “grilled corn salad” implies both the cooking of corn on a grill, and the notable presence of ingredients other than corn.  Usually these other ingredients would be things like grilled bell peppers cut into chunky bits, grilled shallots, minced up, possibly a grilled pepper with some heat.  For your edification, you cannot fake grilling corn by dumping a load of kernels into a pot on the stove and letting them sit there untouched until they blacken.  There is a marked difference from both flavor and textural perspectives between “grilled” and “‘scorched”.  “Scorched” is what you did, and it tastes nasty.  It tastes so nasty, in fact, that the small palmful of scorched corn that was on my plate would be sufficient to ruin five gallons of meat stew.  I know this because I did it myself, decades ago, when I was learning to cook.

Finally, it is desirable if everything on the plate is hot.  It is not acceptable practice to dump a wad of mashers on a plate and let it sit there while you scorch the corn and turn the meat brown.  Putting a hot piece of steak on a pile of room-temperature potatoes will not cause them to become warm.

Yours,

Dissatisfied Diner

In honesty, my husband loved his dish, so it looks like this cook was not totally incompetent, but that his/her skills are, at best, uneven.  Nevertheless, the only part of my dinner that Satisfied was the super-hefty pour of Malbec and a very tasty wild Maine blueberry pie.  Today, we eat at Bet’s fish fry, and tonight, I am take a Mulligan, and I’m for a dish of Glidden Point oysters (my second favorites in the world, after Wellfleets) and a grilled lobster with butter and fennel seeds. And maybe one of those blueberrry wheat ales from SeaDog.  And maybe my final bubble gum ice cream for dessert.  And tomorrow, it’s Out Oars For Home.

Sign

On Monhegan Island

Happy Returns Of The Day

Standard

Today, happily, is my birthday – “happily” because, as my grandmother always said, “having one more is better than not.”  And “happily” because I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than where I am right now.  And if that is not a statement of Existential Bliss, I don’t know what is.

We had storm after storm after storm through the night, and it was wonderful. There’s nothing so nice as having thunder rolling and lightning flashing and the ocean heaving…outside your windows, as you lie firm and solid upon dry land.  We woke this morning to bright blue skies and what I believe they call a “freshening breeze”…and this lasted for a lovely quarter-hour when it was abruptly, quickly, and without warning replaced by a pea soup fog.   Fortunately, our freshening breeze put paid to the fog – it wearied of the fight and took itself off down the coast.

We celebrated all of it, my birthday, the fog, the storms, and the bright blue sky by taking out a pair of kayaks for a lovely long paddle.  All week there’s been a mysterious and very large sailboat anchored in the bay; it took its leave this morning, but before it did, I was able to get some information about it.  This boat is large. And I mean…gigantic.  The schooner Eastwind, a windjammer that comfortably accommodates 30 people on an afternoon cruise, passed it at anchor on the way out of the harbor and looked like a toy next to this monster, both in terms of length and height.  I found out that the Monster Ship is the “Christopher,” a racing ketch from Britain in town still from the recent Shipyard Cup, and it is 150 feet long.  Quite that in height, too.  I would have loved to see her under sail, but alas, she pulled out of the harbor by motor.  I can’t blame her sailors – I’m sure it is an impressive task to get the rigging and sails up, but likely an extremely tiresome chore to get them stowed again later.

The wind offered some interesting challenges for kayaking, especially out towards the mouth of the harbor.  This harbor is extremely protected and typically features very quiet seas.  Today, with the wind picking up, it offered large swells instead.  One has to keep the hips loose and continue to paddle with as regular a rhythm as possible – the paddles then function as a type of outrigger, and stabilize the craft – but this is a bit of a challenge when the ocean isn’t where you think it will be, and when the swells are rolling you along.  Once again, I found the horseback riding to come in very handy – the rolling swells reminded me a lot of Huey, the warmblood I’ve been riding lately, who has a gigantic motion to his walk and a very large barrel.  And the answer to keeping my seat on both was the same: stay nice and loose in the hips, let everything below the waist absorb the motion, and keep on keeping on.

A lunch, a fix of my deadly sin (the bubble gum ice cream), and the purchase of a white cotton sweater with anchors knit in across the chest (my husband said, when I showed it to him in the store, “What, do you mean you don’t already own one of those?  You should buy it now.”) I’m ready to face the afternoon Sunset Promenade.

The breeze has moved beyond “freshening” into a state that I’d consider “stiff”.  The big swells of yesterday have been replaced by a pattern of whitecaps today.  The wind is pouring into our room on one end and exiting, unchecked, on the other.  I found that today, when I close the bathroom door, the entire room begins to make the musical hooting sound of someone blowing over the top of a bottle.  I wish I were superstitious enough to conjure up the romance of a ghost, but since it only started doing this with the wind today, I must regretfully conclude that this is a matter of physics.

Outside the window, the seagulls are hanging in the sky and look like they are flying on a string like a kite.  A woman has plumped her toddler down in the rocks across the road for an informal family photo shoot, but the child is fascinated by the birds that are hanging overhead.  The schooner has gone rocking across the mouth of the harbor in the distance. The water is an inky blue that throws the white foam of laughter at the sky. The kid next door has drawn Dinghy Washing Duty and is competing with the ocean on the matter of producing spray.

And today, for the first time since we arrived, the Ram Island light is silent.  The fog and the humidity are defeated by this breeze. If only I’d thought to pack clothing that is both dressy and warm, rather than only one – it looks, as a result, that my new anchor sweater will be launched on its maiden voyage for dinner tonight.

Monhegan

On Monhegan Island

And Then For Many A Weary Moon I Labored At The Galley’s Oar…

Standard

Well, really, it was for a good few hours, and I labored at the kayak’s paddle, but I feel that this lacks the poetry of the original.*  And then later, for what felt like a many a bloody moon I labored with toothpicks, rubber erasers, and packing tape.  My husband’s bifocals gave up the ghost this afternoon, cracking right across the bridge, which has got to be the most difficult spot for repair.  And they’re wire, too, so you don’t have a lot of leverage to play with, and I think they’re also titanium, which means that none of the 1,000,000 artists and sculptors that populate this area would be able to effect a useful repair with a soldering iron.  My solution, which is utterly makeshift and which I suspect will disintegrate with a breath, was to hack the tip off of a pencil eraser (the pointy kind that the pencil wears like a hat), slot the busted ends of the wire bridge into it, and then tape the lot together as quickly as I could.  I think that this will hold together well enough for the emergencies that may arise until we can see the optician in town on Monday.  Why these things must always happen on Saturday afternoon (or Friday night or Sunday morning) I do not know.

In the meantime, we went into town so that he could acquire a pair of cheaters. He picked out a pair that was festively decorated with polka-dots, brightly colored stripes, and a few little flowers painted on.

“Those are for women” I said.

I am proud – amused, but proud – that this information did not deter him.  By golly, he wanted the blingy festive reading glasses, and he was going to have them.  He sees them as being “hippy” and feels what I suspect to be a misplaced confidence that Bill Nighy would wear such a thing. Why it should matter that Bill Nighy might wear them is a topic that I have yet to explore.

While jerry-rigging the bifocals was a fiddly process that felt like it took much longer than it did, the time I spent laboring at the kayak’s paddle seemed to flow by in an instant.  When we rose this morning, we had the fog that I thought we would have yesterday.  Visibility was down to, I’d say, 20 feet here.  It was as thick as a feather mattress, this fog.  Over breakfast we formulated a set of extensive contingency plans, starting with a trip into town to see if it was fogged in (and kayaking if it was not) then moving on to a trip to the botanical gardens to see if they were fogged in (and taking in the gardens if it was not) then moving on to a possible hike in a high area of the point, etc.

The meteorologists predicted clearing in late morning as they did on the last two days.  In all three cases they were entirely wrong.  The first two days the fog cleared well before they expected, and today, it didn’t clear until 4:30 – and even then, it was only mostly clear.  So given that we were socked in like a down comforter, why did we need to investigate the situation in town, which is 3 miles away as the crow flies?  Because I have seen cases where the western half of the harbor is entirely clear, while the eastern half is invisible…and where the air at the top of the harbor is crystalline, whereas the entrance to the harbor is opaque.  It is impossible to formulate a reasonably reliable expectation…or to expect that whatever the conditions are now, they will remain so for any length of time.

Lucky us, the town was totally clear of fog, so we rented our kayaks and set out.  We have done tandem kayaks in the past…but there is a very good reason that the professionals refer to the tandems as Divorce Boats.  My husband has a singular sense of rhythm, in that he’s usually the only one with that particular beat.  He is also non-goal-directed.  I have a standard and firm sense of rhythm, and am goal directed. This does not make for Happy Tandem Kayaking.  We have sworn off those – several times, I’m afraid – in the past, and now, it is single kayaks all the way.

I lit out with the intention of visiting the Burnt Island lighthouse.  It is placed on an island in the mouth of the harbor, and is very scenic.  Halfway there, however, the wall of fog descended on everything so firmly that I thought for a moment that I’d heard it go “clunk” when it hit. Ordinarily, I would not take a single kayak out into a busy harbor in the fog…the problem was, I was already there when it happened.

Things got exciting for a bit.  My first thought was to circle the kayak back around so that I could tell my husband “Don’t go into the fog.” but then I decided that since he’s got a PhD, he was probably smart enough to figure that out for himself.  I was 90% in favor of this conclusion – although notably, not 100% – so I kayaked on.  Since I couldn’t see 30 feet in front of me, and since the Burnt Island fog horn was now sounding like it was coming from everywhere I bailed on Plan A.  And formulated Plan B: kayak across the harbor to the other side, and paddle back making sure I could see land at all times.

Plan B started off with a thrill.  I could hear a mid-sized power boat, possibly a lobster boat, possibly a cruiser, roaring into the harbor from the bay.  Problem was, I couldn’t see it.  Which meant, of course, that it wouldn’t be able to see me.  I love ocean kayaking, it’s my third-favorite sport (after horse riding and downhill skiing, both of which are tied for first place) BUT…it is not really the sort of thing where adrenaline will help you lay on speed.  I kept paddling as constantly as I could, watching in what I thought to be the right direction for the entrance of the harbor, and hoped that the oncoming boat would turn out to be nowhere near me.

That hope turned out as so many hopes like that do…in disappointment.  The boat was on me before I could see it, and I was deeply grateful to discover that it was a commercial craft – which meant that the captain understood where the Slow Zone started and that he needed to watch out for small craft in the fog.  I could have gotten very unlucky if it had been one of the Weekend Warriors that you get around here once in a while.  Speaking of those Weekend Warriors – last year on the ferry back from Monhegan the ferry captain drew everyone’s attention to the sight of a mid-sized sailboat being towed into the harbor by a commercial tow-boat.  The mockery he had to shower on the head of a sailor who couldn’t sail his own boat into a very large, very deep harbor bears repeating, but I am afraid that I cannot do it justice.

My little collision narrowly averted, I paddled on for another 45 minutes, enjoying every minute of it.

Kayaks go over everything

My kayak went over some very interesting rocks, investigated several tidal pools, visited a small colony of terns, carried me past the local hospital – which has an Emergency Dock – and through the shipyards.  All this with the fog blowing over and through it all.  Great time, and I can hardly wait to go again.

*Robert Howard, “Thor’s Son”

Kayaks

Rockport Kayak Corral