Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gettin' Salty

Scarborough River spreads out in a broad, shallow bay behind Pine Point. It makes a great launching site with access to sheltered waters and the open water of Saco Bay.
The prudent mariner prepares for any reasonable contingency. It makes you look like a geek beside the happy-go-lucky casual boaters in a bathing suit and perhaps a PFD. I try to pack quickly and dwindle to a speck on the horizon before my preparations invite comment.

The sky looked strange. The forecast told us to watch for possible thunderstorms. This paddling venue gives us a good view of the sky. Clouds built and dissipated without reaching a critical point. The breeze seemed stiff when we started, but faded. We skirted the shore toward the channel at the river mouth. The wind carried the smell of salt air, diesel fumes and faint whiffs of marijuana.

We crossed the channel as the last of the flood tide swirled over rocks on the far shore. Large fish we could not identify leaped clear of the water as they fed on smaller fish they had corralled in the channel current. Terns circled above the choppy water.

Laurie always doubts her skills and worries more than necessary. Then she performs any explained maneuver perfectly well. We planned our channel crossing to account for the current, wind and boat traffic. The channel is not a busy one, but the boats that use it are piloted by either commercial harvesters of fish and lobster or the typical oblivious doofus who has just spent hours churning his children on inner tubes in endless loops behind a powerful motor boat. The working watermen should not have to accommodate recreational paddlers, and the doofuses can't be relied on to notice us.

We paddled along the beach headed out toward Prout's Neck. Sails were going up on 420-class dinghies beside a float. A large powerboat trailing tubes loaded with children swept in from farther out in the bay and started to do laps around the area we were trying to cross. We aimed close to the beach, hoping the boat driver would avoid the land, even if we remained invisible.

Hugging the shore we also cut behind the junior program sailors in the 420s, and others in Optimist dinghies closer to the yacht club itself. The 420 float is actually many yards out into the anchorage, not connected to shore. The Opti float is also separate. It may ground at low tide on the pleasant sand of the bay floor.

The sailing instructors in their launches seemed no warmer toward kayakers than most other power boaters seem to be. Our course very briefly cut between them and their shore base, but that had seemed better to me than cutting between them and their charges in the dinghies. We pulled through quickly.

Just beyond the yacht club we crossed one more small indented cove before suddenly facing a more distinct swell. The warning sound of white water over rocks announced that we had reached more exposed coastline. Laurie said she did not want to go further out. She waited in the last cove while I took a look at what lay beyond.

The swell was barely more than a foot high, with a small wind-chop on top of it. I never dropped into a trough deep enough to block my view. Even so, the waves made a dangerous break over the barely submerged rocks at this particular corner. I went outside that before curving eastward to look down toward more dramatic rocks on the outer shore of the neck. After a few minutes holding position on the restless waves I turned back to rejoin Laurie.

Tubing Boat One had been joined by Tubing Boat Two. The junior program sailors had moved to their racing areas. We cut through the anchorage on a more direct course now that we would not interfere with them. That still left the tubing boats. They cycled on an irregular oval at varying intervals. We watched them for several minutes before making our dash toward the beach. They shifted closer to shore as we approached it, but that was probably coincidental. Their course was dumbbell-shaped, so it veered away from us as we moved further from its end.

Saco Bay shores are made of soft, white sand. We landed on the beach for a bite to eat and a bit of wading in the chilly water.

While we sat on shore, we watched a seagull walk up and investigate the untended belongings of some beachgoers who had walked away. We would have prevented any vandalism or larceny. The first gull, who was later joined by a second, peered into tote bags and pecked at shiny sunglasses, but found nothing to take and left nothing but webbed footprints.

We launched again at slack tide, to cross the channel for a cruise along the teeming shore of the extended environs of Old Orchard Beach. Human beings make an amazing amount of noise, playing at the sea side. From a hundred yards or more off shore it becomes a wordless chatter and screeching. A crowd of mammals lies on the sand. Some run up and down along the beach. Others leap and lumber into the breaking waves. One observes feeding, the preambles to mating, some play, some aggression, competition for territory and interaction with other species. Shore birds wheel above the noisy herd, hoping to swoop down on undefended food.

We paddled smoothly outside the zone of bobbing heads and reaching arms, beyond the sound of intelligible words and meaningful eye contact. It was a great way to cruise the beach.

Before the ebb could set in too strongly, we turned back toward the channel. We would not have to cross it, but people fishing from the jetty cast lines far out into the channel. We would not test their patience or risk their sense of humor by ripping along right under their noses. I eyeballed the lineup to spot the best arm and set a course just outside his longest cast.

Back inside, we aimed for our launching beach. We easily overcame the faint pressure of the early ebb tide.

I always have trouble ending a boat trip. Even if I'm tired, hungry and ready to rest, the difference between afloat and ashore lures me to stay afloat a little longer. We paddled a little beyond the beach and boat ramp to look at some grass flats.
It's fun to float
The day was full of classic shorescapes and water scenes. Artistic compositions invite the eye every minute in any direction.

After we took the boats out and put on some dry shorts we found a great little seafood shack on a side street. The fact that all the cars in the parking lot had local plates tipped us off that it was the good stuff. We had a couple of lobster rolls, fries and some iced tea. A very friendly black jumping spider kept climbing my leg until I gave it a lift on a plastic spoon to the table top. Jumping spiders always remind me of cats. This one was fairly large, with iridescent blue eyes and a red marking on the top of its abdomen (not a red hourglass underneath)

Our next objectives were corn and tomatoes, and soft-serve ice cream. The veggies were for supper and the ice cream was, well, ice cream. As it happened, we did not get tomatoes, but we got some excellent corn, which we roasted and ate along with Swiss chard and kale chopped and cooked with garlic and ginger for our supper when we got home.

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