This column was first published November 5, 2005

I’m still not sure I like this onset of darkness an hour earlier thanks to the return to standard time, but if it brings with it the kind of weather we woke up to Sunday morning, I’ll take it any day.

Several of us who are sea kayak guides had loose plans for an outing on the ocean last Sunday. By loose I mean I was the most noncommittal because I knew that Sunday morning after a Saturday night Halloween costume party might be shaky. I’d been flirting with some sort of ailment, a cold or something, that hadn’t materialized fully, so I opted to wait and see what Sunday morning brought.

The promise of a sunny day was all it took to get me going. And the clock, having been turned back an hour, made getting up and out much easier.

Our rendezvous point was Bagaduce Falls (nice new bridge and approaches, by the way). From there Deb Merrill, Brent Slowikowski, Karen Francoeur, and I hopped over to Buck Harbor in South Brooksville where we would launch and explore nearby Orcutt Harbor and Horseshoe Cove. Buck has a great public launch ramp with room enough at the top to outfit boats out of the way of others launching and retrieving motorboats.

Our float plan was sort of as-you-go, so we headed out of the harbor to the east of Harbor Island and into Eggemoggin Reach before turning southwest and taking a bearing on Condon Point. There we dawdled in the seaweed and ogled the fascinating rock formation rising from the water. We reasoned it had to be rock formed by molten lava hitting water and cooling quickly. It resembled a pile of balloon-shaped rocks. We termed it pillow lava, and later when I had a chance to run a Google search, the term seemed to stick.

A north wind of 10 to 15 knots kicked up some small whitecaps at the mouth of Orcutt Harbor. Instead of pushing upwind into that harbor we opted to cross over the Charles Howard Point and head up into Horseshoe Cove. The outgoing tide and headwind provided enough resistance to make for a little exercise as we poked along.

The tide had receded enough that our route mostly was confined to the channel. I tried (unsuccessfully) to negotiate a couple of routes that turned out to be too shallow. And a set of reversing falls eventually blocked our progress, although it provided some fun as we poked our bows into the onrushing water.

Horseshoe Cove provides great protection for pleasure boats, and it was great to see there were still a good number of them moored, their owners possibly optimistic there might still be a few good sailing days left in the year. As a matter of fact, we saw two or three sailboats on the reach as we paddled.

We rode the current and wind (we paddled, too) back out to Eggemoggin Reach and got a good view of the Deer Isle Bridge in the distance to our east. Visibility on Sunday was great. We had no trouble seeing Thrumcap, Pumpkin, Spectacle, Pond, Hog, Two Bush, Pickering, and Birch islands, all to the south.

As we rounded Howard Point again, we opted to paddle northward to the head of Orcutt Harbor, practically to Route 176. Toward midafternoon the breezes tapered off. As we rested at the head of the harbor, an eagle circled overhead, probably thinking we looked a little too big for lunch but worth the look anyway.

By the time we’d rested and had a quick snack, my watch was saying it was early afternoon but the sky was saying it was much later. We had a little less than three miles to go to circle Condon Point and hit our launch spot (about three-quarters of a mile by road), so it was time to begin a leisurely return.

Turns out we hit the bottom of the ramp (literally – there was no water at low tide) with just enough daylight left to pack up and begin our drive home. I hit the local market for a snack and turned northward.

A brilliant red sun was settling over Penobscot Bay as I reached an open area on Route 176 that affords a wonderful view of Castine Harbor. It had been another great day on the water. We covered 11 miles and saw the best of what Mother Nature had to share with us.

Sysladobsis revisited

After my column last weekend on our adventure on Bottle, Junior, and Sysladobsis lakes, I received a nice e-mail from John Jay Hanlon of Brewer, whose family has owned land and camps on Sysladobsis for the past 100 years. He offered the following perspective on the area he obviously loves very much.

“I read with interest your column on your kayak trip from Bottle to Sysladobsis. It happens that my family [has owned] a compound of summer camps on lower Lake Sysladobsis (we call it Dobsie) for 100 years and I personally spend my summer months in camp on our 20 acres, located about half way from Dennison’s to the new boat launch at the head of the lake.

“Dennison’s, the portage and the locks have a long history. At the turn of the century – early 1900s – it was a thriving farm with livestock, several buildings and barns and a small camp used by Maine guides who would hire out to the sports for fishing and hunting.

“I am now well into my 70s and have been going to our camps for 70 years. I can still remember the old farm building and sitting in on dark and stormy nights, listening to the guides spin their tales of big fish, big moose and trophy deer.

“The early sports were members of the so-called Duck Lake Club who would come into Dennison’s in coat and tie and an occasional top hat. By the 1950s the buildings were gone by fire, I do believe, and all that remains is that old stone fireplace you saw. And the Dennison campground became a popular way station for the numerous canoe and kayak trips that frequent Dobsie. In the 1950s the guides holed up at The Pines – the large resort directly opposite Big Island as you paddled north.”

As I read Hanlon’s letter I tried to envision some of the scenery on Sysladobsis, but the raindrops and snowflakes on my eyelids that day made for blurry memories.

Continuing, Hanlon wrote, “In the 1930s we would put in at Bottle, make the same trip (you described) in canoes under the direction of our guide, over the Dennison Locks and paddle the remaining six miles north to our compound. In the 1950s and ’60s a logging road was put in from the mailboxes to Horseshoe Cove and since then that’s where we put in our boats. (We have no road to our camps.)

“Finally, the Dennison Locks got their name from the Dennison family of Framingham, Mass., of famed Dennison mailing labels and a descendent of Dennison still has a large camp on the lake south of the Locks.

“Thought you might enjoy this little slab of history.”

I sure did, John, and thanks for passing it along. Next time I head up that way, I’ll re-read it.

Shortly after our first exchange of e-mail, Hanlon wrote back with this bit of advice for anyone planning a trip on the area’s waters.

“If you are planning a canoe or kayak trip to Grand Lake Stream, do it in July/August when calm weather prevails. West Grand is a large lake and a northwest wind can build very heavy seas.

“Even on Dobsie a northwest wind can quickly build three-four foot waves. I know first hand because we have rescued a fair number of young kids when they hit the large part of the lake with a three-four mile fetch of wind from the Narrows. From Dennison’s they hug the eastern shore until they get to my place. Then, they have no protection for the 3.5-mile paddle to the Narrows. That’s when they get in trouble and swamp or capsize. We’d bring them into our camps, dry them out, feed them and when the winds settle down early evening we’d send them on their way.”

Duly noted, John, and thanks again.

Jeff Strout’s column  is published on Saturdays.