One of the most interesting and lesser-known sea kayak destinations on the Maine coast is Thrumcap Island. Located between outer Johns Bay and the mouth of the Damariscotta River, the diminutive atoll is the last stop after passing a series of rugged ledges named Thread of Life.
The Thrumcap Island area has some of the richest history in America. Prior to the arrival of European explorers and settlers, Native Americans lived for centuries in settlements on the shore of Johns Bay and along the Damariscotta River, where they traveled the waterways in canoes.
Explorers such as John Smith and Giovanni da Verrazzano visited the area in the 16th and early 17th centuries. In 1688, a fort was built on nearby Pemaquid Neck during the French and Indian War, a conflict that continued for nine years.
When I recently announced a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society sea kayak trip to Thrumcap Island, two longtime friends, Dave Boyle and Ken Gordon, enthusiastically signed on. All being over 70, we constituted a serious senior threesome.
Ron Chase and his companions launch their boats (left) at The Gut in South Bristol. They later passed under a bridge (top right) on their way out of The Gut (bottom right). Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase
In the past, I’ve started my Thrumcap Island trips from the boat landing at Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site at the mouth of the Pemaquid River. Dave suggested a relatively new launch area more conveniently situated at the Gut in South Bristol.
The three of us met at the small landing on the east side of the bridge over the Gut. We were greeted with a glorious, warm, sunny day with light winds. A paved ramp and adequate parking make this an ideal place to begin and end a sea kayak voyage to Thrumcap Island.
Paddling three solo kayaks, we benefited from an outgoing tide when embarking into the Gut. The sheltered channel was frequently used as a safe passage by Native Americans during prehistoric times.
Today, the tiny harbor is bustling with activity. Fishing vessels and pleasure craft motored to and fro as we traveled east.
The waterway widened as we kayaked between Witch Island and Davis Point into Johns Bay. Restored Fort William Henry was visible in the distance on Pemaquid Neck. Angling south, we progressed past the rugged eastern shoreline of Rutherford Island with Johns Island in the center of the bay on our left.
Proceeding south, we arrived at the northern end of Birch Island, which parallels and hugs the eastern shore of Rutherford Island. At almost low tide, we speculated about the feasibility of traversing the attenuated route between the islands.
Our nautical charts were unclear. We gambled and won as we were just barely able to negotiate between some ancient pilings, under a bridge and through the narrow corridor.
After passing Hay and Crow islands on our left, we entered the Thread of Life ledges, which begin opposite the southern terminus of Rutherford Island. Since the seas were calm and winds light, the sometimes treacherous ledges provided a stimulating opportunity for exploration.
Shortly beyond Thread of Life, we arrived at Thrumcap Island. A small beach on the southern arm of the island offers a convenient place to land. After carrying our kayaks high onto the beach to protect against the rising tide, we hiked an irregular path to the scenic, rockbound shore on the south side of the island.
When leaving Thrumcap Island and departing north, an incoming tide and a gentle tailwind helped propel us between Inner Heron and Rutherford islands into the outer Damariscotta River. We soon passed Christmas Cove on the western side of Rutherford Island. The cove was reportedly named by explorer John Smith when he moored there on Christmas Day, 1614. Some sources dispute that.
Cruising blithely along with the assistance of the wind and tide, we accidentally passed the entrance to The Gut and continued north on Damariscotta River. Unfamiliar surroundings indicated there was a problem.
Ken’s GPS confirmed we had missed our destination. Backtracking to The Gut was necessary. On such a marvelous day, we embraced the “free mileage.”
The bridge connecting South Bristol to Rutherford Island was raised for tall boat traffic when we entered The Gut. After the congestion abated, we rode a strong current through the narrow opening, completing a phenomenal day of kayaking to Thrumcap Island.
My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” relates eight more exciting Maine sea kayaking adventures.