Final impressions of Muscongus Bay, ME camp cruise in AL DEMANY CHIMAN

This is a continuation of the story of my 2011 camp cruise in my skin-on-frame outrigger canoe AL DEMANY CHIMAN (the introductory post and map is here).

There were a few items I thought it would be useful to touch upon in summary.

Muscongus Bay
Let me start with the area I picked. Simply put, I am not sure why I had never discovered Muscongus Bay before, but it is a total gem. Beautiful islands and waterways, a mix of open and protected passages, and numerous lovely islands. It is a stunning spot. It was some compelling, in its own right, that when I got to Port Clyde and realized I could probably achieve my earlier plan of entering Penobscot Bay and exploring the Mussel Ridge Channel, I decided I’d rather stay in Muscongus and do it better. And I don’t regret that for a moment.

This leads me to muse, however: where was everyone?! It was the week of the Fourth of July, weather was amazing, and I ran into three other sets of campers (two on the first night, on a different island, and two using motor boats). I didn’t even see many cruising sailboats! How can people be missing this spot?! It makes no sense. People are missing out!

The Maine Island Trail
I want to call out the Maine Island Trail Association again. This organization has created an absolutely first class resource and, in my limited experience, the standard by which water trails should be judged. There are many camp sites reflecting a variety of needs / desires of a party. Those I saw were well-maintained and well-chosen for convenience to the water. Better yet, they are generally spaced well-enough to ensure one can travel a long length of coast or explore an area deeply, without having to get far off the water. There is also a guide book and web site with detailed information on sites and an array of background and safety information.

Look, I am clearly not an expert in water trials, but they do fascinate me and I have done some research on some which are closer to home here in DC. The characteristics above seem like what you need in a true water trail: camping all along the trail, a long and/or deep possible voyage, and excellent resources for planning a trip and using the trail. I haven’t seen that elsewhere. The Patuxent Water Trail is close by and certainly covers a lovely stretch of water, but it offers only about three camping spots and those are all in one general area. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail [gasp for breath] is really a collection of sites, with a few local trails, none of which have the same kind of water-convenient camping. I was able to find similar smatterings of not-really connected, not really camp-friendly trails in North Carolina. I know it isn’t easy to get trails done like MITA has, especially here in a more developed area. My point is not to criticize these other efforts as much as it is to hold up MITA’s stunning achievement as an example others should try to emulate. We need more trails like Maine’s and there are plenty of other waterways with strong potential.

In the meantime, get out on the Maine Island Trail and support MITA!

AL DEMANY CHIMAN as a camp cruiser
So, you may ask, how’d the boat do through all this? Overall, I’d say well. In her first heavy use, AL DEMANY CHIMAN proved a good boat for this purpose, though she was not without issues.

The good

  • Head-turning quotient – Oh let me have this one. The fact is that people all along the route took notice of AL DEMANY CHIMAN and we got many compliments. I definitely felt proud paddling around Muscongus Bay in this boat.
  • Stability – AL DEMANY CHIMAN proved plenty stable for my needs. With just me and my stuff, she showed no signs of capsize, even when encountering large wakes.
  • Dryness – In the whole trip there was only one case where AL DEMANY CHIMAN took water over side, and that was in a close hit by a pretty big lobster boat wake. She rode up over waves, as a skin-on-frame boat should.
  • Tracking in calm – The boat has a rocker, so it is not going to track spectacularly, but it wasn’t a problem when it was calm.
  • Capacity – I was able to load up the boat with five dry bags, and anchor bag, and bunch of water and still be plenty comfortable. If there had been two along it might have been tighter, but I still think it would have been doable.
  • Weight – This skin-on-frame boat definitely lived up to its weight advantages. In general I had to break the boat down (take off the iakos and ama) each night, but I could manage the main canoe hull (wa’a) alone, even on rocky beaches.
  • Durability – The skin took a few scratches from shells on the beaches, but none was remotely catastrophic.
  • Ease of paddling – See more on my speed below, but, overall, I was able to cover a good deal of ground, er, water, without working abnormally hard.

The bad

  • The ama – As I referenced in the introductory post, the ama needs a redo. The biggest issue was that, even after some judicious caulking, it still shipped a fair bit of water in any kind of chop, necessitating a trip to shallows for a dump-out. I could not go for any lengthy stretch without a shallow-water bail-out option. The fact is that it is hollow but uses the skin-on-frame medium, which creates a great many ways for water to get in (unlike, say, a strip-planked one). I am going to have to redesign the ama to be either solid (e.g., with foam) or watertight (e.g., with gobs of epoxy). I am leaning to the former. A re-working is also necessary because…
  • Tracking in a wind – When the breeze comes up, the boat tends to want to pivot such that it is not-quite broadside to the wind. Obviously this makes such passages a bit hard. I believe a good bit of the issue is that the ama rides with its aft end digging into the water too much. I need to re-do the aft iako connection and re-work the aft end of the ama.

My speed
I kept a log of the trip and thus have a record of time and distance. I think my speed was fine. I think the boat has good characteristics in the regard, but with a single paddle, only so much driving force is possible. What was interesting is the consistency across days and distances, pretty much always two-and-change knots:

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the boat and the trip!

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