The Day I Took Up Sea Kayaking

Mark Island Lighthouse, Winter Harbor, 1984

My father made a kit kayak in the early 1970s. My brother being a few years older than me got dibs on using it whenever we went out for a family paddle. Being a younger brother I felt this was a grave injustice that had to be set right. In about 1982 or so, the art guild my mother belonged to needed a bunch of portfolio stands to display prints at their gallery. They hired me to make a bunch and paid me about $200 dollars for a dozen stands. That was the most money I had ever had so, I took some of that money and bought a used whitewater kayak.

Back then most whitewater kayaks were made in clubs. The club would have a mold of a kayak or two and members could lay some fiberglass and resin in the mold and make themselves a boat. They got their molds by pulling a copy off some other kayak that a more wealthy member bought. This particular kayak seemed to have been made from a mold of a Perception Mirage

Like most whitewater kayaks at the time, the Mirage was built to slalom specs which at the time was 4m [13'-2"] by about 60cm [~24"]. The cockpit was small, low and tight. At the time I bought it, I was planning on doing whitewater, thus a whitewater boat made sense. But I found myself out on the ocean more frequently.

In 1984, while home from college on summer break, I joined my parents on vacation in Maine, up near Mt Desert Island and Acadia National Park. For part of the week we camped up at the north end of Somes Sound. From there we paddled down to Southwest Harbor and back. Me in my 13'-2" tight whitewater kayak with no backrest and not much space for my legs. It was a great trip, but not a great boat for paddling long distances on flat water. I recall I was in some pain after that paddle.

But a few days later we put in somewhere in Winter Harbor and paddled out to Turtle Island. The photo above was taken by my mother as we paddled past Mark Island Lighthouse. This trip was magic.

Just to the southwest of Mark Island is Turtle Island. The south end of Turtle has a rocky exposed point with a slot running down the middle. At high tide you can paddle down through the slot to a bowl surrounded by rocks and ledges. The waves expend their energy on those rocks, leaving a pool of relatively calm water in the middle. Just beyond the point is a bay that was full of seals. Paddling in amongst the rocks around Turtle Island that day changed my life.

Growing up I had always been around canoes and kayaks. I already liked kayaking, but this day set the hook. Two years later I had built my first kayak.