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Great-sounding trip for teens – Chewonki’s Solar Sail

Chewonki Solar Sail boatThe other evening, the editorial staff here at Chine bLog got flipping through one of the kids’ copies of Ranger Rick magazine, the venerable publication from the National Wildlife Federation. Usually the magazine is a source for pre-teen wildlife education, but this one issue actually contained Chine bLog fodder: a picture of a gorgeous, traditional open boat with a gaff-headed ketch rig. The article discussed a program called Solar Sail, a Maine coastal adventure for teenagers. We had to dive in to this story.

The boat is part of the fleet owned by Chewonki, a one-time summer camp in Wiscasset, ME that has grown into a broader environmental education organization. We know of it first because we spent a week there in fifth grade and secondly because it is just up-river from a former Chine bLog family property. The area is all kinds of mid-Maine gorgeous and the organization well-regarded.


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The Solar Sail trip is for girls and boys ages 13-16. It begins with land-based education on sustainability, but then takes to the water in one of these lovely boats for a multi-day camp-cruise from Montsweag Bay to Mount Desert. Obviously the trip is fully “naturally” powered – sail and oar to move the boat and solar for the safety electronics.

We couldn’t find much about the boat itself beyond the pictures. It looks to be about 30′LOA, double-ended, and fully open. She appears to be wooden and has attractive, rough-hewn spars. The rigging looks traditional and relatively simple. I love the plumb stem and raked stern post. Can we convince the kids to join up in a couple years?!

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!

Days 3-5 of Muscongus Bay, ME 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).

Day 3, In which we log some miles
On day 3 I awoke – still groggy – at 7:45! I didn’t get on the water until 10:00, a pretty poor performance. The rest of the day was to make up or it.

My original plan was to paddle up some intriguing looking narrow passages to Friendship, then head west back into the main body of the bay and up the Medomak River to Hungry Island. I set out as planned between Friendship Long Island and Cranberry Island, the first narrow passage I had seen. The tide was dead low, so it was an especially narrow waterway, but no problem for us. It was one of those gunkholing experiences that make camp cruising so exciting. When I got to the end, though, and glanced to the east and realized, in consulting the chart, that the northern set of Georges Islands were not far away. I decided to follow the next narrow passage, between Friendship Long Island and Morse, and the circle around the north side of Morse to emerge back in the same bay by Gay Island. This I did, feeling excited that the weather was again letting me get further afield.

As I passed south of Caldwell, enjoying the day fully, I again looked east and saw that Port Clyde was not a great stretch more. I needed water anyway, and, in stopping there, I could tag the eastern edge of Muscongus Bay. I pushed on and bummed water, inadvertently, from the owner of a private dock. Not my fault you have your own dock that looks like a small marina, pal! Actually he was very gracious and impressed by my voyage.

I spun back out of Port Clyde in a freshening breeze and hard a long pull across the mouth of the St. Georges River. I had noted another interesting narrow passage, Pleasant Point Gut, and the tide more than made this stunning channel accessible to me. I still had barely stopped for a rest, never mind lunch, but I pushed on towards Friendship as the afternoon was creeping by. I finally grabbed a quick bit at the northern tip of Friendship Long Island, gazing out at the only Friendship Sloop to be seen there.

Under still sunny skies and a solid afternoon breeze, I headed through Friendship Harbor, buzzing a nice-looking motorsailer, and west to Martin Point and the Medomak. There I turned mostly down wind and had an easy final couple miles to Hungry Island, arriving at 5:30 tired, but not exhausted. Again I was alone and again the spot was pretty, with views across to some small islands and, to the side, down the bay.

I unhurriedly pitched camp and then glanced through the trees to the west to see ominous clouds. NOAA was reporting severe storms to the south, but I just got rain and nearby thunder. The weather coming in created some amazing clouds, though.

Day 4, In which we steal away, again, to Thief Island
Day 4 dawned foggy, but, with the sun clearly peaking out, did not remain that way. I headed north up the Medomak River as far as Havener Island, a small MITA island that looked really cool but would have been hard to land on with AL DEMANY CHIMAN. I spent the rest of the morning heading down Hockomock Channel, staying on the Bremen Long Island Shore, before getting to Strawberry Island for lunch before noon. Tons of mussel shoals exposed at lower tides there made the area particularly interesting (and muddy when one stepped off the boat). I set off with a stronger northwest wind mostly behind me, crossing down to Thief Island again with little issue.

Thief is a stunning island, particularly in a nice, clearing northwesterly. It is in the middle of the bay and is high enough to afford views well up the bay and off to the east and west. I was alone, as before, and was able to select a lovely camp site right on the bluff above the rocky beach. I walked around the island, greatly annoying an osprey on the nest, and catching sweeping views to the south. I got treated to a lovely sunset before climbing into bed and falling asleep to a loon calling.

Day 5, In which all good things…
Day 5 was again calm, but more overcast. I got ready and headed southwest through Marsh Harbor, around Ross Island (toward the mouth of the bay) and then north along Louds Island toward Round Pond. I dawdled, trying to find interesting wildlife amidst the kelp beds, but nothing showed itself. At mid-day I paddled into Round Pond again, ogled some nice boats, and brought to end, nearly 55 miles later, one amazing voyage. I strongly recommend others try this kind of trip.

Day 1 & 2 of Muscongus Bay, ME 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.

Day 1, In which we get our keel under us
The 4th of July dawned overcast and a little foggy. Truth be told, I was pretty nervous about the voyage around Muscongus Bay in AL DEMANY CHIMAN. As much as I wanted to make such a voyage, I never actually had and I had the jitters. All told, though, I got off smoothly from Round Pond, ME in late morning and headed north along the shore towards Bremen. Folks on the dock showed great interest in the boat and were very complimentary, which made me feel good. Even more exciting was when a kayaker put in from shore just to come out to see the boat. They weren’t the only interested parties. I learned later, from a party of kayakers that left at the same time, that a seal followed me for some way. I saw a loon as I spun Greenland Cove and was feeling good when I entered a suddenly foggy Hockomock Channel north of Hog Island.

I decided to put into Crow Island for lunch and suddenly found it lost in the fog, even though it is only about 50 yards off Hog. I set a compass course and put my whistle in my teeth and gunned it safely to the little island. There I found some older guys blasting old-timey country music and a nice beach where I had lunch and pondered the fog.

With the fog still thick after lunch I paddled back to Hog and headed south along its shore, hoping for some clearing. I thought I’d head to Thief Island instead of the planned Black. Soon the wind came up and visibility improved, but, as NOAA had suggested, somewhat threatening clouds appeared. I landed on Louds Island to dump water from the ama and thought some more about the next steps. In retrospect I could have made it, but, with a longish upwind pull ahead of me, uncertain weather, and an ama I suddenly didn’t trust as much, I turned back to the campsite on Hog Island for the night, feeling like I hadn’t made it very far.

On Hog I found some locals having a 4th of July picnic and gathered more interest in – and compliments on – the boat. I made camp as the fog rolled back in hard. After a couple hours the locals left and I was alone in thick fog, wondering what I had gotten myself into. The campsite was certainly comfortable, but I tucked myself in early feeling a good bit less sure of the venture.

Day 2, in which we relearn how to cruise
When I woke and stepped out of my tent I was greeted by clear visibility and calm waters. Before the trip I had planned my route up, down, and sideways. Part of my anxiety on the first afternoon was the thought that my plan had already been mucked up. As I stared out at a beautiful, still bay, however, it dawned on me that going with what they day gives you is what cruising is all about. I have always found the old saw “its the voyage, not the destination” a bit tiresome, but it fit here. Cruising is about exploring and serendipity. I had forgotten that was what I was there for. I resolved to go where I could and enjoy whatever I found within those parameters. I got on the water before 9:00 in good spirits.

With a clear, calm bay I decided to head south while I could. I made for Thief Island, had a look around this spectacular little spot. I then crossed to some ledges where I found a seal colony, some of whom followed me halfway around Wreck Island. I am guessing Wreck Island was not so named when it came into the possession of James A. Wreckham in 1831. Alas there is no doubt a darker tale. Today I noticed great blue herons coming and going like O’Hare airport on a Friday afternoon. My bet is that there is a rookery there, though I didn’t spot the nests.

I continued heading south and east as the wind came up from the usual southwest. By the time I was rounding Franklin Island I had a bit of chop against me, but I got great views of the pretty lighthouse there. After Franklin I headed downwind to gorgeous Harbor Island.

Harbor is privately owned and is mostly wild. I landed on a lovely beach of sand and small cobbles. There were many beautiful skipping stones, and I was able to knock off a series of 10+ skips. Lunch was on a rock overlooking the beach, and, after being unable to find the trail that supposedly exists across the island, I happily lolled on the beach for a while.

The wind was quite fresh as I again headed downwind to Black Island. The crossing was a little hairy, but not bad. Black proved to be a gem of a little island, a quintessential chunk of Maine coast with rocky shores and spruce forests. I pitched my tent just off the shore by some Cape Code rose bushes. This proved to be the only night I had company, as a father and two sons were already there. After exploring the island I settled in for dinner and the watched the sun set from the rocks. Sleep came much more easily.

A fantastic first camp cruise – Muscongus Bay, Maine in AL DEMANY CHIMAN, Introduction

AL DEMANY CHIMAN on Thief IslandRegular readers know all about my skin-on-frame outrigger canoe project, which culminated in the launch of AL DEMANY CHIMAN last October. Her launch represented the completion of two “bucket list” items: designing my own boat and building to that design. It also represented my first true forays into longtime interests in outrigger canoes and the skin-on-frame medium. the end of 2010 brought some great successes, to be sure.

There was always, though, one more element, floating around the back of my mind. It would be great to design and to build my own boat, but I also wanted to cruise it, and, given the size I envisioned, that meant camp-cruising. Well, as of last week, I can check that off too. Over the course of the winter I hatched and brought to life a plan to extend our family vacation to Maine by another week during which I would camp cruise some part of the Maine Island Trail in AL DEMANY CHIMAN. I am pleased to be able to report on this voyage over the course of a few posts.

Once I figured out how to make this trip happen, I had to think about where to do it. I have spent a great deal of time between the Kennebec and Pemaquid Point, so that was out. Far down east was too far and remote, so that was out too. I finally dropped Deer Isle to Mt. Desert because I have also seen that area, thought not as much and not very recently. That left Casco Bay, which I have seen only a little, oddly enough, Muscongus Bay, which I hadn’t really seen, and Western Penobscot, which I have seen, but not in a while and not enough. After some kicking around, I settled on a trip from Muscongus around into southwestern Penobscot.

I arrived in Maine, however, prepared to test the plan before embarking. I decided to do a shakedown trip around Rutherford Island (at the mouth of the Damariscotta River). I was glad I did, as I learned to key facts. One was that AL DEMANY CHIMAN’s biggest weakness is her ama, which I must confess, has a design flaw. In short, it was shipping fairly large amounts of water in any significant chop. This came somewhat dramatically into play as I passed out of the Thread of Life into a southwest breeze and, in rounding the island, found the ama nearly fully submerged. I remained stable, but I wasn’t going anywhere fast and had poor maneuverability. I was able to land, luckily, and dump the water, but it left me concerned. I remedied this issue to some extent afterwards through some judicious caulking, but that didn’t fully fix the issue. More on this later.

I also found that I hadn’t gone nearly as far as fast as I had hoped, given that one long leg was dead upwind and a couple others were against the tide. This left me thinking my plans may have been too ambitious. In the end, therefore, I never left Muscongus Bay. While ensuring the trip would be achievable was a factor, I also realized I really wanted to focus and do a smaller area well. And this I believe I did. The decision was definitely the right one. Muscongus Bay was amazingly beautiful and had plenty to offer on its own.

Below is a nice interactive map showing the whole voyage. All the stops are Maine Island Trail Association islands (their site as a really nice online guide for MITA members).


View MITA Trip 2011 in a larger map

As you can see, I covered much of the bay, from Round Pond in the west to Port Clyde in the East; Havener in the north to Franklin in the south. Nearly 55 miles of paddling across five days. In subsequent posts I’ll share some pictures of the actual voyage, but this post sets the scene. So be looking for more.

New design challenge from WoodenBoat and Professional BoatBuilder

I like that our friends at WoodenBoat and Professional BoatBuilder have launched the third in their series of design challenges. This one is inspired by the burgeoning raid movement and asks for a “fast expedition sailboat.” It must be a new design after September 1, 2010 and is due on April 29, 2011. The boat must be less than 40′ LOA, must be trailerable (meaning less than 8′ 6″ beam and 3,500 lbs), have “spartan overnight accommodations,” and must be able to go to windward in gale-force winds.

I wish I had capacity to enter; someone else should. Let’s see some great designs!

Nice piece from NPR: “Adirondack Waters Welcome Paddlers Back”

Good use of 3 minutes. Trust me.

A great read: the Dyes’ “Ocean Crossing Wayfarer”

As I mentioned recently, my dad gave me Frank and Margaret Dye’s Ocean Crossing Wayfarer: To Iceland and Norway in a 16ft Open Boat for Christmas and I tore through it in several days. Great book for those liking adventure or those liking nice wooden boats.

For those not in the know, Frank Dye began investigating the possibilities of dinghy cruising in the early ’60s. He bought a Wayfarer dinghy and began going offshore, into – and then across – the North Sea. He survived force 8 gales and kept pushing. The book details two voyages: one from Northern Scotland to Iceland and one form Northern Scotland to the Faeroe Islands and then central Norway. Both were double-handed trips, and both are full of the fine line between expert seamanship and sheer lunacy. It is all, however, entertaining, the moreso because of Dye’s no-ego style (Margaret’s words based on Frank’s logs).

Even more interesting is the appendices, which detail the supply lists and lessons learned from the trips (the Dye’s went on to do many more dinghy cruises). In particular, he reviews equipment choices (including updates in the newer edition on more modern alternatives) and even maps out rigging / layout he used on the Wayfarer WANDERER. Its fascinating and makes you think a bit about following the Dye’s brave lead…

Northern Forest Canoe Trail benefit auction

Northern Forest Canoe Trail

I mentioned the Northern Forest Canoe Trail a bit ago. I see in Paddling.net’s newsletter today that they are holding a benefit auction online. Check it out.

How cool is this – my Wayfarer Dinghy adventurer surfaces!

A while back I wrote about the Wayfarer Dinghy, a subject that still keeps people coming back to Chine bLog. It referenced my first knowledge of the boat, an adventure in one up the coast of Labrador. Imagine, then, my very pleasant surprise to see that the man behind that adventure found my post and identified himself. Geoff Heath, many thanks for stopping by – I am truly honored.