Sunday, March 29, 2009

Canoe trip turns treacherous

Here is a terrific story about a canoe trip in the Travel Section of this morning by Richard K. Taylor.

The author first told us about their second thoughts about their first thought on the decision of the trip:
Had we realized the danger ahead, we would have reconsidered before paddling our old, 16-foot aluminum canoe for two miles across Maine's Frenchman Bay to Ironbound Island. But we'd canoed together for the entire 22 years of our marriage. This relatively smooth bay posed no problem - or so we thought.
Then he practically took onto their canoe for the ride:

On the water, we could see the misty outline of Maine's famous Mount Desert Island seven miles ahead. To our left, the six-mile-wide mouth of the bay opened dazzlingly into the Atlantic Ocean.

But it was a beautiful day, with bright blue sky and temperatures in the 70s. Wavelets did a happy tap dance on the canoe's bow. The cool, salty air was invigorating. Gray harbor seals swam by gracefully, looking up at us with great, dark, wary eyes.

The canoe rose on the two-foot-high ocean swells coming down the bay, then sank into the sparkling trough between them. Topping the next wave, we glimpsed the jagged, perpendicular, 100-foot cliffs of Ironbound Island. After an hour of paddling, we were close enough to see that the massive granite rock was punctuated by dark caves and narrow, shaded clefts.

We became intrigued with one of these openings, a 10-foot-wide, 50-foot-deep cut in the towering rock. After studying it carefully, we saw that the approaching waves didn't so much break into it as smoothly fill it, rising up its dark walls, splashing into its farthest corners, and then retreating with a loud chatter of overturned pebbles.

We eased the canoe to the entrance, waited for an in-bound wave, then paddled with it until the narrow walls of the cleft rose on both sides, ending in a sliver of blue sky and scurrying clouds.

For a half-hour, we rocked back and forth on the swells, taking care not to smash against the walls. We examined the purple rockweed, the dozens of orange and red starfish clinging to crevices, and the thousands of barnacles cemented there. We listened to the tumbling pebbles and the sucking sound of water rising and falling in this confined but beautiful space.

Exiting was simple - a wave swept us out neatly, and we backstroked until we could turn parallel to the shore once again.

Emboldened by our exhilarating foray, we failed to study the next notch as carefully as the first. A long shelf of solid rock lay across its entrance, but it was acting as a breakwater, the waves sloshing across it and making for a relatively placid stretch of water just before the cleft's mouth. None of the waves were breaking dangerously. It looked easy to paddle in behind the shelf, then turn and slip into the narrow opening.

which really makes us feel like that we were there too. Now the culmination:

Just as we attempted this maneuver, however, a large rogue wave came crashing over the shelf and into the canoe, dumping 6 inches of seawater into it. We reversed direction with rapid backstrokes, only to be hit by another breaker that doubled the volume of water at our feet. Now the canoe was rocking dangerously, with the heavy weight of the seawater shifting from side to side.

Two more muscle-straining backstrokes pulled us away and into calmer water. Trembling with exhaustion, adrenaline and fright, we bailed furiously until our craft steadied and was controllable again. We paddled back to Grindstone, kicking ourselves all the way, not only for failing to examine the notch more carefully, but also for risking our lives so casually. If we had tipped over, we never could have climbed Ironbound's cliffs, and the 50-degree water would have brought us almost instant hypothermia.

Back in town, we told our tale to a lobsterman who said, in the laconic tone of Mainers, "Probably not a good idea to go out there again. We like to spend our time lobstering, not dragging for dead bodies."

Yes indeed, if I can have a choice, I would certainly prefer enjoy eating lobster than on the canoe. But I really enjoyed reading their adventure -- not at all wishing that I were there.

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