Moving to the Sea

By Ray Wirth | Jun 04, 2012
Photo by: Ray Wirth The pilings of an old pier, near Commercial Street in Belfast.

Belfast — This time of year I trade  my downriver kayak for a sea kayak.  Rather than a wing paddle, a flatter-bladed Euro paddle occupies a place in the backseat of my car.  Instead of monitoring stream flow data, I keep an eye on the tide charts.  The bays and islands, not the rivers, become the target of my afternoon and weekend plans.

River paddling is linear.  We drive upriver and then make the trip down, sometimes repeating it again.  The days are still short.  Daylight is at a premium.  We look at our watches and paddle harder to make sure we can get to the take-out by sundown.  The river itself is a line, albeit a living and moving one.  In sections where rocks interrupt the rivers smooth surface, we seek to run the ideal lines, following the current, avoiding the rocks and holes.  As spring advances, we move from the first rivers to ice out to the ones that hold their level longer, due to upstream dams or large watersheds.  This migration, too, is a line, a sequenced progression repeated from one year to the next.

Ocean paddling is more about arcs and circles.  The days are longer and warmer and we shed the sense of urgency that kept us in continuous movement.  We linger in quiet coves or pause for a moment to bob in the  waves.  The number of put-ins and take-outs is almost infinite -- as are the routes between them.  Getting from point A to point B is about possibilities.  The tide rises and falls.  The winds swing from north to south and back again.  We skirt shorelines and trace the gentle arcs of pocket beaches.  We circumnavigate islands for the sake of doing so.  Destination becomes less important.  There is no end to get to.  Just a vast sea to experience and appreciate.

It’s a human thing to resist change and to mourn it.  The time to ride the rivers on the flood of snowmelt and spring runoff is always abbreviated.  The brief season of running rivers is one of thrill and urgency and a little bit of danger.  And then the rains slow and the rivers subside, and we make the transition back to the sea.  We go reluctantly at first, but then, after arriving, we are glad to feel waves rise underneath us, glad for the early light and the islands, glad for the seal pups and eider chicks, glad for the island blueberries and wild roses, whose own time is even now growing closer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Ray Wirth is a Registered Maine Guide and owner of Water Walker Sea Kayak, LLC. Comments and questions can be sent to


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