Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hikes in Harpswell: Skolfield Preserve

Merricoonegan Farm from the trail.   Classic Yankee solution to housing in the 19th century.
The farmhouse in the background.
Lucky me.  Not only do I live in Maine, I'm right next door to Harpswell, one of the best kept-secrets in the state.  The town is full of history, nature, and great food.  Harpswell reaches out into the Gulf of Maine with its peninsulas and islands, and offers quiet coves and boiling narrows within its boundaries.  If you haven't been there yet, shame on you.  If you have, you know what I'm talking about.

This month is pretty busy at work, but I still want to get out and enjoy Maine's oceans.  So I'm going to spend the month (among other things) highlighting hikes in Harpswell.  Think all the coastal land is private and developed?  Think again.  Harpswell has a ton of open space, much of it dog-friendlyThis guide is a great place to start, and I'll highlight some of my favorite spots here.  Hope you enjoy it.

Skolfield Shores preserve is right on the border between Harpswell and Brunswick, and it's preserved by the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.  You can't miss it as you drive south from Brunswick on 123 -- look for the mammoth Merricoonegan Farm on your right (this mish-mash of building is gigantic).  The area is known as a "carry place", and is thought to have been used by natives to portage their boats between Middle Bay and  Harpswell Cove -- it's very low, making portage easy.  Merricoonegan (sometimes merrucoonegan) in fact means "swift portage".  The upper end of Harpswell Neck is known as Merriconeag; derived from this word. 

Who can resist?

A piece of marsh, probably moved by ice.  Note the ribbed mussels embedded in it.

It was a bit windy.  Note the standing waves in the tidepool.

Mudflats fill Middle Bay at low tide.

A quahog, probably opened by a gull.  Looks like he left some behind.

I always wonder about this boat house.
The trail leads to three interesting habitats -- Middle Bay mudflats, hemlock forest (so common in Midcoast Maine), and saltmarsh.  Middle Bay has extensive mudflats, and is one of the places I'll be hunting for horseshoe crabs when they come ashore to spawn next month (or in June).  It's known to be home to one of the few populations in the state (which is the northern limit of their range).  With its calm waters and soft shore, I can see this would be an attractive place if you're a  mama horseshoe crab looking to unload some eggs.  The flats are also completely covered in birds at low tide -- probably a great place to see migrating shore birds in fall. 

The trails lead on to the hemlock forest, where towering hemlocks cast a cool green light below.  Harpswell has no shortage of hemlocks -- at least if we can keep the woolly adelgid out of the state.
Those signs you see as you drive into Maine from New Hampshire, telling you it's illegal to import firewood (including for campfires)?  This is why we see those signs.  It'd be sad to see this preserve, and all the other lands with hemlock forests, decimated. 

The salt marsh at the end of the trail is where the Native Americans would have carried to and from.  This whole bay is ringed by marshes (in fact the one I study with my class is right across the bay).   It's common to see marshes starting at the end of bays, and growing out to the mouth.  Water moves more slowly up in these bays, so sedimentation rates are high -- a natural place for a marsh to begin.  As marsh plants establish themselves, the trap more sediment, and the marsh grows itself.

This was a grand old tree.

I couldn't have made those holes more perfect myself.

Monster dead hemlock next to monster live hemlock.

Lots of woodpecker activity.

Who could resist a bridge in the woods?

This tree reminds me of the hobbit!

Baby hemlocks in a forest clearing -- fighting to get to the sun first.
There's a second part of this preserve -- the Alfred Skolfield preserve -- just up the road.  That part isn't dog-friendly, so I've never been there.  Maybe someday I'll run there from work and explore on my own.  Until then, it's on to another hike in Harpswell.

GETTING THERE:  From Brunswick, drive south on Rt 123.  Just after the Harpswell town line, you'll see a massive farmhouse on your right.  Turn in at the drive; parking is on your left at the kiosk.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Goodbye to an Old Friend

Treasure, about to have her winter coat put on.
This week, we said goodbye to a friend -- our Compac 19 sailboat, Treasure.  Like so many goodbyes, it was bittersweet.  On the one hand, we'll miss her steady pace and easy launching -- 45 minutes, a minimal amount of sweat, and splash -- she's in the water and we're sailing off.  On the other hand, we really don't have the time you need to be a good parent to a boat -- not with our being up on the island all of June and July.  We spent some time participating in the Indecision Olympics, but we finally decided to find a good home for her.

A Compac is a great little boat.  They're small and easy to trailer, but tough.  For many years, we were members of the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, where an old salt named Walt was quite a fixture.  Walt was a sailor from way back, and had once been a notorious drunk.  It's okay for me to say it; he would tell you himself, and was a recovering alcoholic of many years when we knew him.  He was a badass sailor; winning many a race in his Bayfield.  Before that boat, he had a Compac 16.  Legend has it he sailed across the Gulf Stream in that Compac 16 -- at least four times.  Of course, he was drunk every time, but that speaks even more to the qualities of the boat.  When we starting thinking about a trailer-sailer, we figured Walt was a good recommendation for a Compac.

And Treasure lived up to our expectations!  From our first time launching her, she's brought us adventure. For five years, she took great care of us.  Although we're away all of June and July, we were able to swing a mooring at Paul's Marina in Casco Bay in August and September.  There were many a great day sailing south past the Goslings in the morning, then running with the wind as we headed home.  Of course, she wasn't the fastest or most nimble boat out there, but she did the trick  And she trailered ike a dream.  A terrific week on Buzzard's Bay introduced my niece to sailing and allowed my brother a day out under the sun sailing for the first time for many years.

But we always knew Treasure was a temporary boat for us.  In fact, we had a secret name for her -- Meantime, as in, the boat we had in the meantime -- until we're able to have our forever boat.  (We never told the boat that was her new name.  It's never a good idea to tell a boat she's not the perfect match for you.)  And last year, we found we didn't even have time to sail in August and September, since we only have those months to work on the house here in Maine, and the porch needed to be renovated.  So we decided it was time to find Treasure a home.  Monday, we listed her on Sailboat Listings and Craigslist; thinking we'd have plenty of time to dig her out from under the snow and ice that still encased her, uncover her, and give her a good rinse.  After all, the economy isn't that great, and we've watched boats sit on the market for months, so we obviously would have plenty of time to get her ready to sell.

We were wrong.  It turns out Compacs are highly sought on the market -- at least well equipped, clean Compacs.  It took about an hour before the first buyer called, and the calls just kept coming.  So yesterday we passed Treasure on to a new owner.  It took quite an effort to send her on her woay once we accepted an offer.  I had started the day with a 20 mile run, training for my upcoming marathon.  Damon was at work all day, working wonders with other field station directors from around the Gulf of Maine.  So it was up to me to get the boat on its way.  Luckily it was the first warm day of the year, because I hadn't been able to budge the 2-3 inches of ice surrounding her the day before.  By the time Treasure's new owner arrived, it looked just possible to extricate the boat.  He and I spent about an hour chipping ice away from her, then another hour getting the boat hooked up and moved out of her dry mooring.

I'm happy to say we got most of our money back from her.  We stashed that chunk of change in our "forever boat" account, which is quietly growing every month.  But even better than getting a good price, we sent hert to a new owner who'll truly enjoy her and use her to the fullest.  Boats don't like to sit; they like to be used!

Fair winds, Treasure!  We hope to see you out there!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Safety at Sea Seminar

Well this is a new one.  I've been working on this blog for over six months and learning as I go.  It's been super fun, and my brain has soaked up a ton of insight in the blogging realm -- a lovely addition to my generally useless academic skills.

A bunch of people have told me they tried to comment on posts but couldn't, so yesterday I did some googling to see if there was a solution.  I figured out the problem (so comment at will) but in the process somehow erased the entire content of this post.  Who'da thunk it was possible?  This problem became an opportunity when I discovered "cached pages" -- another modern miracle . . . just like salmon bacon or the mute button.

Hark, now hear the sailors cry,
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul & spirit fly
into the mystic.
-- Van Morrison

I love boats.  I love being on the water.  Skimming along on a summer's day; muscling through waves on a gray ocean; floating quietly at anchor.

But I have a confession.  I'm afraid of water. Terrified of it.  Always have been -- always will be.  I like to tell myself it's a healthy terror; placed in my head by generations of sailors who met an unkind fate at the hands of the sea.  Like a terror of grizzly bears and tigers.  Like a fear of tailgating.  I know in my heart all the time I'm on a boat that Bad Things might happen.

To minimize both the possibility of these Bad Things happening, and my fear of them, I spent a perfectly lovely spring day in Newport -- not seeing the sights, but learning all the ways they might write our obituaries if the worst happens, and why the worst happens (so we can avoid them).  The Cruising Club of America held it's biennial Safety at Sea seminar, as preparation for the many sailors racing from Newport to Bermuda this year.  Now I have to say; some of the least safe experiences I've had on boats were with racing crews (there are some stories there!) so this is probably a much needed meeting for most of these sailors.  Damon and I aren't racing (we'll be hard at work on the island) but this was a useful meeting for us nonetheless.

This was a really useful seminar.  First off, they let us put our hands on lots of stuff.  Knives, inflatable lifevests, tethers, personal AIS units, etc.  Second, they brought in some of the top marine safety people around.  The range of expertise was impressive -- weather experts, medical experts, electronics experts.  (Unfortunately, the only gal they had speak was someone talking about clothing for about 5 minutes -- really?  Is that the best we can do in this day and age?  The Ocean Lover was not impressed by that.)  (Damon has pointed out I am completely wrong here, and as usual he has a point.  The first day, run by the Cruising Club of America, was man-centric.  The second day, run by a private company, featured Theresa O'Connor, who was badassity personified.  The photos below show her saving us from disaster time and again.)  This was all topped off by dozens of stories illustrating how to stay safe at sea.  We heard a lot about disasters (with analyses of why they occurred), a lot about outstanding leadership in the face of overwhelmingly difficult decisions, and a lot about mistakes and poor judgement.  We really did hear people's obituaries; a powerful lesson for the hundreds of optimistic sailors packing the lecture hall.  

Lessons learned:

I never, ever, want to see Damon in this position unless it's practicing in the pool:

This is the look on his face he would have when the rescue swimmer arrived.
It's worth it to get a boarding platform on your life raft.  Rope boarding ladders are worthless, especially while you are wearing a giant inflated king-sized pillow on your chest.

Attempting to board; this raft has a boarding platform and even so; it was very difficult to get in (imagine if there were waves!)

Learning to right a liferaft.  This one has the ballast bags removed.
Take seasickness pills.  Don't be a pansy about it.  Especially if you are in a liferaft; you will get seasick.

Before we went in the water -- nervous laughter abounds.

Seeing how long it takes our new friend to be rolled on his back by his inflatable.

Now we all try it.  Happy to say all the life vests inflated!
Electronics are probably the most important thing you can have in your ditch bag nowadays.  Invest wisely.

Demonstrating the best way to use a signal mirror.  Make a target sight with your fingers then get the light between them.  Ignore the directions on the mirror!

Learning which knives actually cut line.  Many did not; or only with great effort.

Looking at many tethers.
Try out your equipment before relying on it to save your life.  A great advantage of the seminar was having a bunch of items out for you to try -- like knives.  Some looked very useful -- until you tried to actually cut a line.  And that chintzy little whistle you have on your lifejacket -- it sucks.  Get a serious one -- and try it out before committing to it.

How to patch your life raft.  Patch kits suck; this thing rocked.  Damon knew what it was; no one else had a clue.
You can't have too many fire extinguishers.  You just can't.

Stuff you might want in your ditch bag.

Immersion suit.  I want one.
People have NO idea the difference between a Mayday situation and a Pan Pan.  Here's what I want you all to remember:  if I ever end up in the water, call a Mayday.  I can't tell you how many times I've had this conversation with people:  if there is any possibility I have a serious injury or may die, just call a Mayday.  Yes, I may die if I go overboard.  You can cancel it later if you recover me from the water or whatever injury I have proves to be minor.  Until then, don't waste my life on a Pan Pan; got it?

Inflating a life raft.  They hiss at first -- they're not leaking; they're stabilizing the amount of air for the local conditions.
Don't fall off the boat.  Don't fall off the boat.  Don't fall off the boat.

There it is, in a nutshell.  If you're a sailor, I can't recommend this seminar enough.  Get down there in 2016, find out about the Bad Things and how to avoid them, and I'll see you out on the water.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Out Like a Lion

Given the winter we've had, it's no surprise winter went out kicking and fighting this week.  Yesterday a nor'easter blew through the Gulf of Maine, and it was angry.  Though the Midcoast caught just a glancing blow, folks Downeast, and our neighbors in New Brunswick, took it on the chin.

Some people have to rubber neck as they drive by a car crash; that's the way I felt about this storm.  Sitting in my vacuum-packed cubicle yesterday, I couldn't even tell there was a storm passing by.  I had to keep heading to the window to see what was going on.  But that simply wasn't good enough.  I knew I could convince someone else that we had to go see the storm's fury, and my victim was the department's marine bio postdoc, Sarah.  She was a sucker and agreed to accompany me to Pemaquid Point, famous for it's waves, but I thought I'd try to tempt Damon away from his work.

"Damon," said I, "wouldn't you rather be outside than here at your desk?  With your honey?  And the dog?  And Sarah?"

Though he grumbled something about deadlines and grants and students and conferences, I was undeterred.  Time to break out the big guns.

"We'll go to Pemaquid . . . ."  I said alluringly.

"And we'll stop at the King Eider Pub on our way back," I added, whispering "where you can get a beer . . . ."

Who could resist that?

So off we went.  And it was worth it!  The waves were just what I wanted to see -- crashing, spume-producing, probably ripping the poor little barnacles right off their rocks (making room for the next generation!).  But it was cold, too -- bitter cold with that north wind.  So it was a quick trip.  Nature's fury was awesome, and so was the warmth of a good pub with friends.

Sarah -- can you tell it's cold?

Very gray light.

This was serious surf, although this is one of those things you can never portray in a photo!

Really!   The waves were giant!

The promise of sun the next day.  Or maybe next week.  Or maybe next month . . . .

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A little forecast for the Gulf of Maine

Five days from April…

 344 AM EDT WED MAR 26 2014


 NE 45 TO 60 KT. SEAS 5 TO 7 FT...BUILDING TO 14 TO 29 FT. SE
 TO 50 TO 70 KT. SEAS 6 TO 10 FT...BUILDING TO 25 TO 40 FT. SNOW.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Who wants to be a marine biologist?

Wanna try your hand at science?  Help out a land trust (the Ocean Lover's favorite type of non-profit)? Spend a few hours outside?  What's that?  YOU want to do it?

Great!  Because despite current conditions and indications to the contrary, the earth is moving around the sun, our hemisphere is starting to get more direct radiation, and spring is about to arrive (gal-dangit, it better). With it will come some of the greatest migrations on earth -- whales (from as far as the Caribbean), sandpipers (passing through as they fly from South America to the Arctic tundra), and the anadromous fish that live in Maine's fresh waters for part of their lives.  This is National Geo worthy -- and you can have a front row seat.

The Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT), has protected almost 1000 acres on the Midcoast, and they want you.  KELT worked with the Bath Water District starting in 2010 to restore the fish ladder from the Kennebec via Nequasset Brook to Nequasset Lake, prime spawning habitat for alewives. Later this year, the ladder is getting a major refit, expected to make passage for fish easier and maintenance of the ladder less labor intensive.  Every year, KELT recruits dozens of volunteers to count how many alewives climb the ladder.

Swimming upstream!  Gotta make me some babies!  Credit: Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA
I'm psyched to help out.  Volunteering involves choosing a 2 hour shift, and within that 2 hours, doing two 10 minute counts of fish, as well as collecting associated data such as temperature and the presence of predators (if you're a bird watcher, this part will thrill you).

Alewives were part of the enormous biomass our ancestors found when they arrived in Maine.  Every river would have been jam-packed with alewives in spring, as they ran up the rivers to spawn.  Any number of species relied on this bolus of protein during the migration -- gulls, ospreys, and eagles; raccoon, fox and turtles; and marine predators like cod and even whales.  (Dogs?  Probably.)  People relied on the alewife run too -- smoked alewives were an important source of nutrition (especially for the poor), and they were commonly used as bait for lobstering.  Everything eats alewives.  Everything.

Unfortunately, most of the alewife runs in Maine are a shadow of their former self.  Dams have blocked passage of alewives (and many other anadromous fish) along almost all of Maine's rivers. But this is a new era.  Recent efforts to eliminate barriers to fish passage have succeeded in opening the St Croix watershed (where the alewife run was reduced to just 900 fish at one point) and much of the Kennebec, plus smaller watersheds around the state -- like the Nequasset Dam.  It's an exciting time to be an alewife!

I know you're chomping at the bit to sign up to volunteer -- aren't you?  How can you resist?  Go to the KELT website and follow the link for the 2014 Fish Count.  Mark it on your calendar and dream about being out in the spring sun cheering these small heroes on their way up the ladder.  Maybe I'll see you there.

*Want to see alewives but don't think you can volunteer?  There are two other great places to see them. The Damariscotta Mills fish ladder is probably the most amazing place (going to their Alewife Festival on Memorial Day weekend will make it even more fun), and you can check out the fish ladder at the Brunswick Hydro Dam (on the Androscoggin).  Alewives start running when the water reaches 57 degrees, so May is probably a good time to visit.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Something you probably don't want to see . . . .

Sorry, I couldn't resist that.  Last week we took a break from the cold and headed to South Carolina and Georgia to visit the Parental Units.  Amongst other things, I dragged them all over to see the beaches and marshes around them.  There is no escape from the Ocean Lover . . . .

The beach at Hilton Head.  Soft, white sand, gentle slope, minimal surf.  No wonder it's so crowded!

This poor old lady.  A huge horseshoe crab.  She obviously got rolled around in the surf; probably she was looking for a place to lay eggs.  Her parts were strewn along the beach for a ways. 

Checking her out.  I wonder how old she was?

Mermaid's purses.  Egg cases from a shark or ray.

"I'm not dead yet!"  I did my best to get him back to sea.

Fiddler crabs!  My favorite.
Stop complaining about the weather!  This cold is great for the Gulf of Maine.  Pass the blanket.