The Bold Coast in eastern Maine meets my definition of bold. For about 20 miles between Lubec and Cutler, it is an almost continuous succession of tall, dramatic cliffs and a rugged landscape completely exposed to the vicissitudes of the open sea. The nearby Bay of Fundy has some of the most extreme tidal ranges in the world and the water temperatures are the coldest along the Maine coast. Particularly challenges for sea kayakers are frequent, unpredictable fogs, powerful tidal currents and few safe places to land if you encounter problems.
Recently, six Chowderheads with the Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society gathered in Lubec to take on the Bold Coast challenge in sea kayaks. We were a distinctly senior group — three of us retired and the others probably should be. All experienced kayakers, everyone had previously paddled at least some of the Bold Coast. Our immediate goal was locating a potential campsite in tiny Sandy Cove, about 12 miles away. An additional three days of paddling was anticipated to reach our ultimate destination in Bucks Harbor.
Due to travel time for some and a time-consuming shuttle, we got a late start. Unfortunately, dense fog had set in by the time we launched from the Lubec Boat Landing. The fog was so thick Mulholland Point Lighthouse on nearby Campobello Island in New Brunswick was barely visible on the eastern shore of Lubec Narrows. The tide was running out, causing puzzling currents as we passed under the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Bridge connecting Lubec and Campobello and entered Lubec Channel.
Once out in the channel, we obtained a GPS bearing for West Quoddy Head and proceeded, following our deck compasses. A few motorboats were in the area so I turned my fog light on hoping to get their attention. We navigated a little east of Lubec Channel Lighthouse, suggesting we were still on course. After paddling for about an hour, land was visible on our left. Despite carefully following the specified compass bearing, the strong tidal current had pushed us close to the shore of Campobello Island.
We stopped on some ledges to recalibrate a bearing for West Quoddy Head. Traveling westerly for about a half hour, a vague profile of land could be seen. Shortly after, the lofty rugged cliffs of West Quoddy Head became visible. Progressing along the cliffs, we detected West Quoddy Head Lighthouse high atop the vertical escarpment. Normally a bustling place, it was eerily quiet enveloped in the gloomy haze.
Kayakers stop on ledges in the Lubec Channel to set a bearing for West Quoddy Head. A kayaker approaches West Quoddy Head. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase
Just beyond the lighthouse, we encountered turbulent waters caused by powerful tidal currents while negotiating along the ragged shoreline. Avoiding the worst of the baffling paddling conditions was complicated by dense fog. At times, it seemed as though we were paddling upriver into sometimes choppy breaking waves.
We persisted in the formidable circumstances for about an hour. Turning into a quiet cove, the time elapsed indicated we had progressed to Hamilton Cove or possibly outer Baileys Mistake. Instead, the GPS denoted we had entered Carrying Place Cove, just beyond West Quoddy Head. Six miles remained to reach our destination and there was no indication the fog would lift or the strong currents would diminish.
We assembled in the calm for collective decision-making. Everyone was concerned about the risks of continuing. Two of us believed we had landed in the cove on a prior trip and thought there was a location to camp. An extensive search failed to turn up an even marginally acceptable site.
The fog remained and by then continuing our expedition was even more perilous. The road to West Quoddy Head State Park was nearby. Reluctantly, our consensus decision was to carry out. Ironically, we had landed in Carrying Place Cove. Given the name, the six disappointed Chowderheads probably weren’t the first to exercise that option.
On this day, the Bold Coast had been too bold for our determined group. Speaking for myself, I think we made the correct decision although doubts persisted. On the positive side, three days remained in a sea kayaking paradise.
Read about a five-day foggy sea kayak voyage along the Bold Coast from Milbridge to Lubec in my book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine.” A book signing will be held at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta on Sept. 10 between 1 and 3 p.m.