Get Skied At Sea

Gnarly Currents Await
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The Best Season
Optimal times to go Down East: In June, the days are longest, the islands are awakening from winter and are in flower. The grass is vibrant, days are calm but foggy. August is peak berry season. September may be less foggy, more brisk and windy.

The region also boasts the highest recorded tides in the world, according to Philip Conkling in his book From Cape Cod To The Bay Of Fundy. To the south, near Cape Cod, tides rise a meager four feet in six hours. Down East at West Quoddy Head Light, the eastern most point on the U.S. mainland, they surge five feet an hour. In the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, they can reach 50 feet. No wonder that in harbors from Corea to Lubec, evidence of the dramatic flows is seen in piers soaring high above the harbor during low tide. With such extreme changes in water level, boaters should also plan for low tide, or risk becoming marooned for hours in vast, quicksand-like mud flats.

Meanwhile, beware of the gnarly 8-10 knot currents that sweep offshore. Add to the mix frigid Labrador waters (even in summer), and dumped boaters risk hypothermia long before they could ever swim ashore—insulating layers of polypropylene, wet suit, fleece pullover, windbreaker, and life vest notwithstanding. Once waterborne, an added peril is losing your boat; the current can carry you one way while the wind blows your kayak the other.

Add to that the weather: maybe you'll reap a half-moon, calm tide with no wind or no swell, but you may just as well awaken to an eerie pea-soup fog with no visual markers. And don't count on pleasure yachts on the horizon for rescue.

Still, as Bergh's clients practice rapid rescue on shore ("If we got wet, the trip would be over"), he assures everyone that the drill is designed to get them back in their boats within minutes. And once he sobers clients, he doesn't dwell on the perils. His passion is turning paddlers on to adventure and the maritime rhythms of"kayaking heaven" Down East.

For most clients, the lapping waves, breeze on their skin, and blowing fog can be transforming. Not to mention classic lighthouses or gunkholing along painterly shoreline ledges in areas inaccessible to other boaters, perhaps side-surfing swells in the gaps between volcanic spires on the way.

There's also the rafts of eider ducks (renowned for their down) you might see feeding artfully just beyond the break in the waves. Harbor seals you glimpse from afar might suddenly pop up yards from your bow to investigate. While you wait for dinner, savor for an appetizer the freshest mussels you ever ate.

Ultimately, Tom's goal as a guide is for everyone to get "skied," or "blasted out of themselves." How does he know when its happening? "If people start to sleep out at night without their tent, and they sleep well, then we are starting to open up." Another sure sign: at the end of five days, they don't want to go home.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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