We humans are attracted to water. We sit and gaze at it, splash our toes in the froth of incoming waves and go swimming in freshwater lakes. Perhaps it is because our cells are made up of nearly 65 percent water, and it’s a case of like attracting like.
Maine has plenty for those cells to like. The state has a coastline that stretches 5,500 miles from the Canadian border to New Hampshire. Along that coast are more than 2,000 islands to explore, some inhabited only by colonies of birds. The state’s interior is blessed with over 2,500 ponds and lakes, rich with animal life.
Maine tour boat outfitters offer you the chance to go out and explore the state’s water wonderland. Choose from paddling a canoe or kayak on a half-hidden lake, or hoisting a sail on a historic windjammer on waters shared by whales and other creatures of the sea.
Paddle Your Own Canoe or Kayak on Maine’s Varied Waterways
Canoes and kayaks are excellent ways to explore interior waterways as well as the state’s rugged coast. In Maine’s lightly populated north western section, canoe/kayak camping tours are offered along the 92 mile long Allagash Wilderness Waterway. In addition to paddling on quiet ponds looking for the Common Loon or water-plant munching moose, you have the thrill of challenging white-water rapids.
Another option is the St John River which begins at Baker Lake. As you paddle north, more streams dump water into the river creating a more challenging white-water experience. St. John River is known for its Class II and III rapids. Both trips offer riverside camping. The most popular time is mid-spring when the snow melt increases the water-flow.
Average length of these excursions is five to six days, requiring varying degrees of paddling skills. Costs run roughly $800.00 per person. Shorter three-day, four-night trips tend to be in the $550 range. Guided tours include most or all meals, depending on the outfitter.
Paddlers should bring rain gear, sleeping bag, bathing suit, towel, extra clothing and shoes and a personal kit for roughing it in the bush. Bring your fishing rod and tackle (don’t forget the fishing license), bug spray, sunscreen, binoculars, camera and a pack to carry it all. You might want to bring along a good book. Having a read while camped next to a tranquil stream is most relaxing.
It is also possible to rent kayaks along Maine’s coast. Several unpopulated islands can only be reached by boat. One example is Warren Island State Park near Lincolnville, roughly three miles from the mainland. Open between Memorial Day and the middle of September, the park offers primitive campsites and the perfect spot to commune with nature. Rangers do come and check on visitors at least once a day, but other than that you are on your own.
Kayaks average $35 for a three-hour rental, $60 for a full day, and $350 per week. Rentals come with life-jackets and lessons if needed. If planning an overnight trip, paddlers should bring the same type of equipment as for the interior kayaking/canoe trips. In addition, you’ll also need food, water and cooking gear. Novice paddlers should consider staying closer to shore. Stay out of the ocean if the seas are rough.
Maine’s Windjammers – A Taste of History
There was a time that all ships were powered by the wind. True, they were more at the whim of Mother Nature, but an experienced captain and crew knew exactly how to position the sails to take advantage of even the slightest breeze. Today’s huge ships, powered by steam or fuel, do indeed cross the oceans in record time. Cruise ships carry thousands of passengers at a time, tankers and freighters haul goods around the world. But it is the elegant curve of deck and the billowing sails of a windjammer that brings out the nostalgic in all who love the sea. Some of Maine’s boat outfitters give you the chance to climb aboard a windjammer and experience a historic sail.
In the Downeast and Acadia Region, day and overnight cruises on authentic Maine-built schooners sail past Baker Island Lighthouse at Acadia National Park, on Somes Sound and around the Cranberry Islands. These ships are quiet, and less intimidating to the local animal populations. You may catch a glimpse of whales, dolphins, harbor porpoise and seals as you zip along the surface of the sea. Dolphins in particular like to ride the bow waves and may swim along right beside you. If you like you can help to steer the ship or raise sails.
Two hour sailings run around $25 to $35 per adult. Some outfitters offer a discount for children and sometimes allow dogs on board. Overnight cruises, sort of a bed & breakfast only you spend the night anchored safely at sea, are about $500 per couple. Chartering the entire ship for a party of four typically costs about $750. Enjoy a sunset at sea, bed down in a comfortable bunk and then wake up to the aroma of fine brewed coffee.
The Greater Portland and Casco Bay area also offers the windjammer sailing experience. Early 19th century ships offer two hour cruises as well as overnight sails. Sail past the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse, one of the most photogenic of Maine’s coastal guardians, or the state’s second tallest lighthouse on Petit Manan Island. This locale offers the chance to see nesting sea birds, including the comically feathered puffin. Canso Bay is also rich in marine life, so catching a whale spouting from deck is a distinct possibility. Overnight cruises anchor off of one of the bay’s quiet islands, just in time for sunset.
Rates are similar to those charged in the Downeast and Acadia Region. Charter sailings are also offered in both locales. These romantic ships are the perfect backdrop for a wedding at sea, family celebration or a corporate gathering. Some outfits offer school and camp charters, introducing youngsters to a hands-on sailing experience.
Other options are out of Camden, fronting West Penobscot Bay. In addition to two-hour sightseeing cruises, some companies offer longer voyages. Choose a quick weekend adventure, or, if you have the time, a three, four, five or even a six day voyage. Some cruises include all meals and wander farther afield, even as far as Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park. Just think, more time to find whales in their hiding places and spy on the puffins as they waddle and fly about. Rates average roughly $550 per person and up, depending on length of cruise and the season.
Maine Windjammer Sail Necessities
No matter which windjammer sail you decide on, you should bring along a few necessities. Dress in layers so you can be comfortable no matter what the weather brings. Bring a windbreaker and/or a fleece type jacket. Things cool off more quickly on the water. At the same time, you will need a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. The sun’s rays reflect off the water’s surface, increasing their intensity. Bring along or wear comfortable shoes.
Depending on the cruise, you might bring some snacks and drinks. If you are going on an overnight sail you might want a bottle of wine to enjoy. Don’t forget your binoculars, camera or video equipment. Most of all, come with a sense of adventure. Stepping on to one of Maine’s windjammers is like stepping back into history. It is a nostalgic experience you will long remember.