Paddling from Inn to Inn on the Coast of Maine
After biking from Inn-to-Inn in Germany and Austria, my husband and I were ready for a new adventure. We wanted to do some sea kayaking on the coast of Maine for a few days, preferably kayaking from Inn-to-Inn, but was there such a thing? I didnt mind doing some of the hard work (the paddling), but I also wanted hot showers and a warm bed at night. I didnt want to do all of it (the cooking, etc.)
Finding help in arranging such a trip wasnt easy. Water Walker Sea Kayaks, (207-338-6424), www.touringkayaks.com, based in Belfast, ME, is a rare outfitter leading guided and guide-supported inn-to-inn trips on the Maine coast (Penobscot Bay) for beginners and intermediate paddlers.
We opted for guide support, which meant that the owner of the company, Ray Wirth, devised an itinerary and provided us with nautical charts, compass, guidebook and radio, and accompanied us for the first hour to give us safety tips and paddling pointers.
Our route went north from Tenants Harbor, stopping for one night each at bed-and-breakfasts a few miles apart in South Thomaston, Rockland and Camden. In kayaks we could dip into coves and inlets and circumnavigate small islands, exploring a seldom-seen side of Maine.
We started on a late August day at the town dock in Tenants Harbor, adjacent to Cod End, a seafood restaurant whose backyard was littered with stacks of lobster traps and bushes of wild roses. A gusting onshore wind flooded the entire harbor with the smell of roses as we pushed off past moored lobster boats and the occasional white clap board house.
The wind sent a ripple of whitecaps across the oceans surface and kicked up some waves, which washed over the tandem kayak my husband and I were paddling. There was also an issue of the tide, which can be quite strong because it is linked to the extreme tidal fluctuations of the Bay of Fundy, and the fact that the water was a biting 55 degrees. But Mr. Wirth had told us that in eight years of guiding, he had never seen a tandem capsize.
To be extra safe, we headed for the leeward side of Whitehead Island, three miles out from Tenant Harbor, surfing the waves into a the calmer waters of a small channel, then cruising alongside gray granite slabs surrounded by rose bushes. Our boat skimmed a couple of feet above boulders covered in weeds that looked like the seas answer to shag carpeting, and we glided around the island until we popped out at the base of the magnificent Whitehead Island Lighthouse, at the southern entrance of Penobscot Bay. Seeing the lighthouse, it felt like an official Maine welcome. We continued on through Seal Harbor and into an inlet where, according to our chart and itinerary, we would find our lodging for the night, the Blue Lupin B&B. As we searched the coastline for the inn, a great blue heron flew past us, and a plump seal sunbathed on a rock.
The Blue Lupine (207-594-2673) www.bluelupinbandb.com in South Thompson, ME is a white two-story house on a grassy bluff side with a pier. We dragged our boat up off the beach and set it under one of the three hulking maple trees on the lawn. Inside the house we found the innkeeper, Helen Mitchell, sitting on her living room sofa finishing up some sewing.
Staying at the Blue Lupin was like stopping in for a night with your great aunt if you were lucky enough to be born into a family with a stunning oceanfront plot of land and one of Maines best lobster shacks as a neighbor. To get to the shack, Watermans Beach Lobster recognized a few years ago by James Beard Foundation for its lobster roll we walked out of our rooms, across our private deck, a hundred yards through the grass to the beach and up a set of stone steps beside the pier. We ate lobster, of course, and rhubarb pie (both to die for) as we watched lobstermen on the pier pulling traps and a group of local kids on the beach skipping stones. Later that night in our room, we listened to waves breaking outside while studying the chart, planning our next days route.
After a good breakfast, it was time to get back on the water. We packed the boat and paddled past dozens of colorful lobster buoys, headed for the Muscle Ridge Island, an archipelago a couple of miles offshore where underwater ledges serve as a breeding ground for harbor seals. We reached the archipelago within an hour, landing our boat on Birch Island for a short hike. The cries of an osprey protecting its nest on the far side of the island grew more urgent the closer we got, so we backed off and returned to our boat, swishing past tufts of daisies and roses. A seal popped up its head and then disappeared at the sight of an oncoming lobster boat.
It was a long paddle to Owls Head, where we would have our choice of a few stony beaches with good shelter for lunch beneath the 1825 lighthouse that marks the entrance to Rockland Harbor. We stuck close to the shore, examining giant maples and pines rising up from a thin layer of soil covering slabs of rust- and brown-colored igneous rock. The rock blocky and jagged, reminded me of a brooding Picasso painting. The tides had been against us all day and the sun was in our eyes as we paddled into the harbor at Rockland, ME. My husband and I emerged from the marina in our life jackets and spray skirts lugging paddles, nautical charts and clothing across the street to the Old Granite Inn, our shoulders sore and heads aching from two hours of paddling in the heat. We were so tired we thought about going straight to sleep.
When you reach it by road, Rockland doesnt look like your quintessentially quaint Maine town. But because we approached it from the water, we missed the Walmart and Pizza Hut most people drive past. Our visit to Rockland started with the Old Granit Inn, (800-386-9036) www.oldgraniteinn.com - an airy bed-and-breakfast with a meticulously kept garden and a front porch overlooking the harbor.
When my husband and I walked into the Black Bull, (205-593-9060) www.blackbulltavern.com, a bar two blocks from the Old Granite Inn, we were so exhausted, we had given up on dinner. My husband had been attacked by some tiny black flies at Owls Head and his forehead was now bulging with a welt the size of a ping-pong ball. The bartender came to the rescue with ice for the welt, dinner reservations at Primo, a local restaurant, one of the best one in Main, he assured us and a taxi to take us there. Even though the Black Bull serves food (including a delicious burger, according to our innkeepers), he was adamant that we have dinner at Primo, (207-596-0770) www.primorestaurant.com. People fly in just to eat there, he told us. I wonder how many people had paddled in
Thats how we wound up having fresh-fruit cocktails from the garden of Primos owner, Melissa Kelly, a James Beard-award-winning chef who trained with Alice Waters and grows most of her ingredients in Primos backyard. We went on to order a delicious halibut caught just offshore that was served with steamed mussels and sweet shrimp gnochetti.
Our last day of kayaking was leisurely, the wind and tides pushing us all the way to Camden, about 25 miles from our starting point at Tenants Harbor. We beached ourselves just below the Camden library, to the right of a waterfall. Mr. Wirth met us there, we hauled the boat onto his trailer, and he dropped us at our final stop, the Hawthorn Inn, (866-381-3647) www.camdenhawthorn.com a massive Victorian where a king-size bed and Jacuzzi bathtub awaited.
We still had to drive back down to Tenants Harbor to pick up our car. But first, we stopped at Camden Cone for a scoop of Maine blueberry ice cream, filled with enough whole berries to rival the flavor of those heavenly strawberry-and-rhubarb drinks wed had, the ones that tasted so good after a long days paddle up the coast of Main.