Several years ago while hiking with a group of friends on Seawall Beach at the end of Morse Mountain Trail in Phippsburg, we came upon the mouth of Morse River on the east end of the beach. A remarkably scenic location; several small barren islands are located just offshore and distinctive Sequin Island and Lighthouse dominate the view beyond. Expansive Popham Beach is located on the opposite side of the river. On that day, large waves were building outside the nearby islands and crashing onto the beach creating a stunning coastal setting.
One of the hikers mentioned there was a unique paddle trip on Morse River that originates at a small inland tidal pond called Spirit Pond. She added the trip could only be navigated during periods of high tide and entailed several interesting features including a washed out dam. The adventure had been on my mind ever since.
During a conversation with my long-time friend Bob Rowe, I learned he was a veteran of several Spirit Pond and Morse River excursions. His description increased my desire to explore them and we began formulating plans.
It was November and the paddling season was winding down when Bob and I identified an acceptable weather forecast for our anticipated endeavor. We decided to begin at Spirit Pond an hour after high tide at Popham Beach.
We met at a small parking area on Route 209 adjacent to Spirit Pond where a trail begins and continues along the pond. It appeared to be high tide when we arrived. Although the trip could be completed by canoes or kayaks, we used sea kayaks.
Launching requires lowering boats down a steep embankment to the shore. Beginning at high tide is problematic as there is no means of gradually entering the water. We waded into the pond and assisted one another into our kayaks.
A strong headwind confronted us as we paddled south across the pond. The remnants of an old granite dam are located at the outlet. The tide was flowing out and we easily navigated a feisty current through the widest of three openings in the dam.
Once on Morse River, we were impressed with the large number and variety of birds. Flocks of ducks were particularly abundant in the marshy habitat.
Even with the assistance of the outgoing tide, paddling against the southwest headwind while weaving around turns in the river was arduous. We moved away from marsh grass to gain the protection of higher ground afforded by Morse Mountain on the right shore.
Paddling south, the river widened and turned left. Approaching the mouth, we could see Sequin Island in the distance. Large waves were exploding above the dunes on the crescent-shaped right shoreline.
Kayaking out into rough seas without prior inspection did not seem like a prudent decision so we stopped at an elevated mound next to the shore. A view from the top confirmed our suspicions; the turbulent seas were no place for puny sea kayaks on this day. The high point did offer glorious views of the entire area.
A healthy tailwind benefited us on the return trip. Proceeding to the dam was easily accomplished despite the outgoing tide. However, conditions at the dam had changed dramatically. Robust whitewater rapids were flowing out of the two remaining gaps. After a substantial effort, I was able to paddle up into the pond. Bob carried left which was the wiser choice as capsizing while thrashing against the powerful waves was a definite risk.
While traversing the pond, we speculated about the source of the name Spirit. I’ve been unsuccessful in my efforts to identify the origin. However, I did learn that Spirit Pond was the setting for an international controversy five decades ago. Three small rocks called Spirit Pond runestones were found there in 1971. The stones contain alleged runic inscriptions that are supposedly indicative of pre-Columbian Norse colonization. Many consider them a hoax but there remain some true believers.
What is true is an outing on Spirit Pond and Morse River is a unique adventure that provides a variety of paddling experiences. Pond paddling, a tidal river, glorious vistas, the option for ocean navigating, and, at some tidal levels, whitewater, are all part of an escapade well worth experiencing.