This column was first published April 15, 2006

Whitecap Mountain west of Millinocket stood out on the northern horizon just like its name last Sunday as I paddled into a mild breeze on Pushaw Lake. It was my first on-water outing of the season, and it felt good to be out in the sunshine, catching a little splash now and again from the wind-whipped waves.

My goal for the afternoon was to get my cold-water gear together, outfit my kayak and go for a short trip. My thinking was that having been a regular at the gym for the past several months and having left 20 pounds there, I’d be in some semblance of paddling shape, but I didn’t want to overdo it the first time out.

A crisp breeze and cold water be darned.

I headed for Dollar Island and drank in the scenery. The top of Whitecap in its snow-covered glory was a bit of a surprise, only because we’ve not had much snow around these parts. Of course, there’d still be snow. I’ve been kidding Beurmond Banville, a colleague in Madawaska who reports to me, about the fact that he still has a foot of snow in his backyard. Nevertheless, when Whitecap came into view, I did a double take.

In the southern lee of Dollar, I stopped for a drink, then skirted the eastern shore and crossed over to Harwood Island. There’s a little sandy shore that’s kayak friendly where I landed to stretch. Aside from a leg that had fallen asleep, I was in pretty good shape. A short walk, a drink and a granola bar later, I was back in my boat and headed north again. Just around the corner I surprised (or they surprised me) half a dozen mergansers that took to wing a short distance up the lake.

There’s a sandy beach on the Old Town shore to the east of Harwood. It, too, is a kayak-friendly place to stop. The entire shoreline was in the lee as well. I didn’t need to stop, but I wanted to check out the bulldozing the winter’s ice had done to the shore – it did a good job of pushing the beach sand back. Even more impressive was the chorus of frogs coming from the wetland behind the beach. It sounded like a thousand ducks chuckling. I wished I’d had a tape recorder.

My second brief stop behind me, I headed down wind for a quick jaunt over to Moose Island to see if the for-sale signs were still up. The beach on the western cove is usually a great place to stop, but Sunday the north wind was pushing waves ashore. I opted for a quick fly-by and turned westward to the launch site at Gould Landing to wrap up a five-mile circuit.

Despite the cool temperatures and brisk wind, my drysuit and fleece mid-layers kept me warm, a little too warm, but not unbearably so. Neoprene gloves and boots did their jobs well, keeping fingers and toes warm.

For the first day out it was a winner. And having spent some time in the gym helped immensely. The next day, instead of walking around in pain, I could amble about with only slight discomfort!

Paddle Smart and beyond

You’ve no doubt marked your calendar and made plans to be in Bangor on April 28 to attend the sixth annual Paddle Smart Safety Symposium. If not, do it now. I’ll see you there, and I’m scheduled to talk about one of my favorite topics – paddling on the ocean. Those of us involved in planning the gala hope you attend this free event that begins at 5 p.m. and wraps up around 9:30 p.m. at the YMCA on Hammond Street.

Did I mention this event is free? You’ll be treated to a smorgasbord of talks and demonstrations that are tailored to all skill levels – from beginner recreational kayaking to emergency communication on the water. There will be pool rescue demonstrations for canoes and kayaks, talks on essential equipment for kayaking, GPS basics, and trip planning to the coastal islands. And if the free information and dozens of displays don’t tweak your curiosity and tantalize your brain, stick around for the door prize drawings. There will be several worth the wait. You have to check it out yourself, so be there.

One of the organizers, Karen Francoeur of Castine Kayak Adventures, is offering classes in the days following the symposium. There are beginner classes, rescue skills clinics, and rolling workshops. Check out for a full description of costs and what’s on tap. Or give her a call at 866-3506.

Build a boat

Ever have the hankering to build a kayak for your child or grandchild? Mike Maybury of Brewer has, and he has built a fleet of them using what’s called stitch and glue method.

If you’ve attended a Paddle Smart Symposium in the past few years, perhaps you’ve seen these cute little boats ranging from 8 to 10 to 12 feet being paddled about the pool by youngsters.

Now you can build one yourself at a course Maybury will offer through United Technologies Center on Hogan Road in Bangor during June and July.

The course will run about $100 and the materials another $100 to $150, but you’ll walk away with your own little kayak. The classes will be two nights a week (probably Wednesday and Thursday) for five weeks and each session will run from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. or so, Maybury said.

Call UTC at 942-5296 for more information or to register.

For the birds

The Dorr Museum of Natural History at the College of the Atlantic is offering a short course on bird watching, “Introduction to Bird-watching.” The course will be held on Wednesdays with the first class from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. this Wednesday. Following classes will be field trips, running April 26, May 10, May 24 and May 31, generally from 7 to 11 a.m. The cost is $60 per person.

The five-session course will provide an introduction to bird watching. The classroom session will cover the basics of bird watching: binoculars, spotting scopes, field guides and other resources, and bird and habitat identification. Study skins will be examined to begin developing a feel for key features of birds. Field trips will focus on finding and identifying birds. Hikes will be relatively easy and level, with frequent stops for bird identification.

To register, call the Dorr Museum at 288-5395.

Paddling fools

No Umbrella’s Paddling Picture Show is again bringing its unique brand of entertainment to colleges and universities throughout the state.

The show’s collection of four films and one multimedia presentation was created entirely by New England kayakers, rafters and outdoor enthusiasts with a passion for filmmaking. The films will focus primarily on paddle sports with an overall emphasis on Maine.

In addition to the evening’s entertainment, information about in-state paddling programs will be available. Highlighted programs include the intercollegiate canoe/kayak racing series, regional paddling clubs, the proposed whitewater park in Skowhegan and tips on getting outdoor writing and photography published.

Dates and venues left on the tour include: April 18 – 7:30 p.m., Maine School of Law, Portland; April 19 – 7 p.m., University of Maine at Presque Isle; April 21 – 7:30 p.m., College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor; April 27 – 7 p.m., The Strand Theater, Skowhegan.

For more information contact Scott Kaier at or or you can call 802-583-6070.

Scenic railroad program funded

The Downeast Rail Heritage Preservation Trust recently got its first grant from the Maine Community Foundation’s Hancock County Fund. The grant will be used to increase community awareness of and participation in the preservation of the Calais branch line.

In January, Maine Department of Transportation commissioner David Cole signed an agreement governing the trust’s use of 29 miles of the Calais Branch Line as a scenic railroad. The abandoned line is a historically rich, 127-mile “short-line” railroad extending from Brewer to Calais.

This summer, you are invited to volunteer and participate in weekly “work-rides” where you will learn first hand how to “work on the railroad.” Volunteers will assist not only with continued line maintenance – clearing the line of brush and keeping culverts open and washouts filled – but also with tie replacement and roadbed improvement. The MCF grant will help fund volunteer recruitment, training, and management.

For more information about the Trust and Downeast Scenic Railroad project, check out or call 1-866-449-RAIL.

 Canoe symposium

For 20 years now the Maine Canoe Symposium has celebrated all things canoe. This year’s edition is slated for June 9-11 at Camp Winona on Moose Pond in Bridgton. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, there’s always something on tap to challenge you. Canoeing, camping and the art of paddling are celebrated day and night with workshops galore, from Jane Barron’s talk on sewing projects to Buzz Butler’s full children’s program, which includes hands-on learning experiences about eagles, beavers, photography, crafts, canoe skills, orienteering, and a voyager competition.

Bob Foote, one of the premier open boaters in North America, will describe 25 years of canoeing the Grand Canyon. He will also present on-water workshops: “Flatwater drills for whitewater thrills” and “Advanced paddle blade control.”

Gil Gilpatrick, Master Maine Guide and author, will demonstrate his expertise in building outdoor gear.

Karen Knight, national freestyle canoe champion, will offer a freestyle demonstration on Friday evening. Freestyle is often described as figure skating on water. In her on-water workshops, Knight will emphasize improving balance, finesse, and precision.

Willem Lange of Vermont Public Radio fame will present humor and heart in describing his Arctic river adventures: the Burnside east to the Hayes then south to the George and Leaf rivers.

The list of speakers and topics goes on and on. Check out the Maine Canoe Symposium’s Web site or call 487-6122. Be sure to ask about camping and lodging opportunities as well as a meal plan for the three days (or part thereof).

Jeff Strout’s column is published each Saturdays.