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Sharing An Acadia kayak adventure

I do not usually remember dreams, but one awakened my deep desire for a long ocean paddle. Discussing this dream with our friend David Terry, he responded with an enthusiastic “Yes.” Our early September Maine paddling adventure from Bass Harbor to Southwest Harbor along the shores of Acadia National Park was born.
Looking at a nautical chart, we estimated a 12 mile paddle. As some of the way would be in the open ocean, our adventure required careful planning; kayak sea rescue training, strength endurance training, study of the tide chart, the nautical chart and consideration of weather patterns. David stated at the start that kayak training needed to be completed first. If we could accomplish that exercise, we would plan the rest.
We decided to do our sea rescue training on Long Pond because the fresh water was warmer. Wearing wet suits, David and I launched and entered our kayaks. Our friends stayed on the dock ready to help if needed.
The lesson began with strict instructions about how to tip the kayak over and then exit the boat. David instructed me to roll all the way over before trying to exit the kayak. If I tried to exit while on the side, I would not be able to extract myself. I needed to roll all the way over, reach my arms around the gunnels (sides) of the kayak and bang the bottom in order to signal my partner that I was okay, then release the skirt and jack knife out.
On the first two attempts I failed miserably. Panicking, I tried to exit too early. He was right. I got stuck and couldn’t get out. The third time, I waited and calmly followed his directions. Upside down, I banged on the bottom of the boat, sending David the signal that I was fine, released the skirt and popped out.
The next step was learning how to right the boat, bail it and get back in. I did the exercise multiple times. Returning home that night, I was exhausted, bruised but very happy. I had overcome the biggest obstacle on the planning list.
The rocky coast along which we would paddle presented challenges. Careful study of the nautical chart showed a rock ledge jutting out from the coast line. The farthest end of the ledge held a buoy with bell and flashing light, warning larger boats not to travel inside and close to shore. We knew that if our timing was right, arriving at high tide, we could paddle over that ledge avoiding the additional time and danger of paddling out around the buoy. Studying the location from shore, it became clear that when the tide changes direction, the wind and waves increased producing rough seas. Taking the tide chart into consideration as well as knowledge of the nautical chart, we finally needed to consider the weather pattern. Everything fell into place.
The September day arrived, beautiful, calm and sunny. Pushing off from the Bass Harbor town dock, David and I waved good-bye to Jan, David’s wife, and my husband, Keith. Jan and Keith would follow us on land and at certain points try to wave from shore. Our adventure had begun!
Paddling out of Bass Harbor was easy. Lobster boats preparing to cast off and travel out to their traps and large homes along the shore provided a beautiful New England scene. For the first time the reality of our sea adventure hit me. Waves, tides, winds, sun, heat and fatigue were main elements of the day. Would our plan work?
Personal doubts can undermine the best of plans. I was not going to give in. Seeing the beauty around me, I decided, “This will work!”
The first milestone was the Bass Harbor Light House where wind and tide converge with choppy waves. Steady paddling stayed the course through turbulent waters. As abruptly as the waves arrived, they receded. Paddling on, I began to observe the wild. Eagles and osprey above, porpoises following close behind, increased my sense of wonder. The rising sun beat down on us with growing heat. Sips of water became a must. Splashing cold ocean water on my face helped cool me. I began to appreciate the intensity of nature and the fragility of human bodies. I was not alone in being hot and thirsty. David was too.
The incoming tide lifted us easily into secluded Ship Harbor. After two hours of paddling the bows of our kayaks rode gently up on the sandy shore. We needed to get out and stretch. The shoreline was surrounded by stately pines and the kind of soft sand that fills the spaces between your toes. The blue-green water shimmered with silver in the sunlight. Warning me of hikers across the way, David headed to the woods to pee. In such a secluded spot, I decided to ignore David and stand on the wood’s edge to pee. No people, just birds, sea and wind.
Giggles erupted across the inlet. There they stood, cruise ship tourists hiking in Acadia National Park. I became part of the wildlife they could talk about at dinner that night.
Emerging from the deep cover of the woods, David joined the tourists’ laughter. “I told you so,” he said. Returning to our kayaks, we paddled out of Ship Harbor waving good-by to the tourists. Outgoing tides rapidly swept us into the ocean’s currents.
For the next few hours we paddled in large swells up and down like a slow-moving roller coaster. Mesmerized by the motion, hot, tired and sweaty, I felt as though I was falling asleep. A wave broke over the bow of my boat delivering a cold wakeup bath – shocking my system into wakefulness, I experienced goose bumps inside and outside my wet suit. David called and motioned toward a rocky beach. Thank goodness for a lunch break.
Landing my kayak presented a challenge. The rolling waves did not look ominous from a distance, but the closer I got to the shore, the more nervous I became. The wave pattern of the water rolling in, immediately followed by a strong sucking out, did not give me enough time to unhitch my skirt and jump out. Timing became everything. In and out, in and out, I needed to exit carefully, not tip over, slip on the rocks or let go of my boat. Studying the wave pattern, I finally caught one and out I sprang. Pulling my boat up on the shore, David and I celebrated a much-needed break. Peanut butter sandwiches never tasted better, however we miscalculated the beach and were too far from our support team. They were on the other side of the inlet. We waved and assured them we were okay.
In four hours, we had paddled half way. The lunch break gave us an opportunity to walk and get a short rest. Refreshed, knowing that in order to keep with the tide’s timetable, we continued paddling. Getting back in our kayaks was as challenging as getting out.
I watched as David launched. Carefully, pushing his kayak into the waves, he climbed in just as the wave was sucked off the shore. Paddling out, he stopped and tucked his skirt around the cockpit opening.
My turn.
Heart pounding and praying I would not tip over, I pushed my kayak away from the shore. A large wave washed up, sucked out from the shore and I fell over. Trying again, I pushed out, using every ounce of strength I had, and climbed into the kayak. A swell turned me sideways and broke over the side, filling my cockpit with water. I paddled away from shore as fast as possible. Bailing quickly, I put the skirt on and we continued toward the ledge off Wonderland. I was learning about the power of water.
Approaching the rock ledge and bell, David pointed that the timing was perfect. The tide was high enough to pass over the ledge and paddle directly to Southwest Harbor. Watching the waves break high in the air around the bell, I was thankful we did not need to go out around it.
The sun began dropping in the sky. “Paddle on,” yelled David. “We are almost there!” As we entered the harbor, we heard our friends and family cheering us on as we paddled to the finish line. Nine hours after we launched, we arrived at the dock. Thirsty, hungry and with tired shoulder muscles, we celebrated our accomplishment.
David loved hiking and kayaking in Acadia and Camden and thanks to his willingness to plan and train, what began as a dream took on a life as an adventure never to be forgotten.
— By Mary Scott

Friends of Acadia member Mary Scott wrote this story to celebrate the life of her dear friend, David Terry from Camden Maine. After a brief illness, David passed away in November 2017. Always willing to take on an adventure, David carefully planned every detail of the trip chronicled above. “He mastered whatever task he took on,” Mary Scott said. “David loved hiking and kayaking in Acadia and Camden. He is greatly missed.”