Our original plan to complete a four-day sea kayak excursion along the Bold Coast in eastern Maine was aborted after the first day due to foggy weather and turbulent seas. Six Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society Chowderheads regrouped and resolved to take advantage of other exceptional sea kayak opportunities the Down East coastline has to offer.
Since we were situated in Lubec only a few miles from Cobscook Bay that was our obvious first choice. A phone call to Cobscook Bay State Park confirmed campsites were available and there was a convenient boat landing just outside the park in Edmunds.
The campsites at the park are some of the finest in Maine. We secured two scenic sites next to one another overlooking the bay. Both had picnic tables and one included a large lean-to. We were ideally positioned to explore perhaps the most unique body of water in Maine.
Cobscook Bay has an average tidal range of 18.4 feet and it sometimes exceeds 26 feet. The extreme tides were a cause for concern as we wanted to ensure water access and egress at low tide without wading through expansive mud flats. Park employees confirmed that Edmunds Boat Landing accommodated boat traffic at all tide levels.
As a result of the huge tide differentials, massive amounts of water flow in and out of the bay twice a day. The consequence is unusually strong currents particularly in narrow channels. The best example is found in an attenuated waterway between Mahar Point and Falls Island in Pembroke called Reversing Falls.
Left to right, A kayaker cruises through rips leaving Bellier Cove. Paddlers cross Cobscook Bay towards Reversing Falls. Kayakers encounter spectacular cliffs in outer Machias Bay. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase
Attempts to harness the ocean tides running between Cobscook and Passamaquoddy Bays to generate electricity began about a century ago. In 1935, the Passamaquoddy Bay Tidal Power Project was initiated but ultimately failed for a variety of reasons.
More recently, the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project was created to again consider the feasibility of using the tides to produce energy.
Six Chowderheads launched solo kayaks from Edmunds Boat Landing in warm sunny weather with gentle winds. Still recovering from our struggle with dense fog the previous day, the clear conditions were a welcome contrast.
The tide was flowing out as we traveled north along the western shore of the bay. After passing Birch Island, we used a GPS, map and compass to determine the location of Reversing Falls.
Following the designated bearing on our deck compasses, we traversed easterly across the bay and entered a narrows between Kelley and Mahar Points. Soon after, waves were observed in the passage between Mahar Point and Falls Island. From our vantage point, descending the falls seemed a reasonable option. However, it was unclear when the tide and current would permit a return, so a collective determination was made to forego the adventure.
While lingering above the falls, the group decided to investigate Bellier Cove farther northwest. We found the pull of the current surprisingly powerful when withdrawing from the perimeter of the falls.
Persisting northwesterly against an outgoing tide, we navigated past Dram and Williams Islands to Hurley Point, which marked the entrance to Bellier Cove. Strong currents were flowing out of a narrow passageway exiting the cove. A substantial effort was required to paddle upstream into the estuary where we disembarked on a rocky point for lunch. The reward for our perseverance entering Bellier was cruising through entertaining rips when departing. The tide was with us on our return to the landing.
Left to right, Kayakers navigate around the Point of Maine in outer Machias Bay. Kayakers explore the shore of Hickey Island, one of many islands in the Machias Bay area. Paddlers locate Point of Maine in the fog. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase
For our final two days in the sea kayaking paradise, we chose to explore outer Machias Bay. The bay has many similarities with the Bold Coast: tall spectacular cliffs, powerful tidal currents, and frequent fog. Unlike the Bold Coast, there are numerous islands to reconnoiter.
On day one in Machias Bay, we embarked from a landing in Bucks Harbor and encountered superb conditions with clear skies, warm weather and mild winds. Traveling along the rugged shoreline and around the Point of Maine was nothing short of glorious. Alas, on day two we were socked in with soupy fog. Our Machias Bay experience was typical for Down East sea kayaking: wonderful views, challenging seas, unpredictable weather and fog seemingly always lurking nearby.
Read about eight more exciting sea kayak voyages along the Maine coast in my book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine.”