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Kayaking the Islands off Acadia National Park

Few luxuries are as precious to a kayaker as a perfect day -- intense blue sky, a few little puffy white clouds, a breeze to keep temperatures in the low 70s and make the sea interesting without making it dangerous. I just spent a day like that paddling in the island-sprinkled waters off a section of Acadia National Park that most park visitors donít even know exists.

The Schoodic Peninsula lies north of Mount Desert Island, where the rest of the park is, and we met Ed Brackett, owner of SeaScape Kayaking, at a shingle beach south of Winter Harbor, just outside the park boundary. He had already lined three sleek sea kayaks up ready to go. Since we were experienced salt water paddlers, he asked if weíd like to skip the usual how-to instruction. But we asked him to do it anyway, so we could tell readers about it, and we were glad we did. First, it was one of the best we have heard, thorough, instructive and filled with helpful tips -- one of which may some day save me from capsizing when I need to back-paddle.

Edís imagery was good, too, making the instructions clear and easy to remember. In explaining what to do when a kayak begins to tip sideways, he said to think of how a belly dancer moves her hips without changing the angle of her head or shoulders. Itís a good image to keep in mind.

We began by paddling north toward a tiny islet -- hardly more than a shoal of rocks and sand sticking out of Frenchmanís Bay. En route, we stopped to watch three harbor seals in the water, and a row of black cormorants drying their wings atop a low rock. From the water we could see several distinguished old summer ďcottagesĒ secluded in the wooded shore.

Beaching for a break on the far side of Crow Island, Ed gathered some shells for a show-and-tell. We learned that the tiny neat round hole in one of the purple mussel shells had been drilled by a carnivorous little snail, whose shell was only a small fraction the size of the mussel. And that the mussels that we had consumed with dinner at Bunkerís Wharf the previous night were farmed in nearby Blue Hill, on long ropes suspended into the water.

Back in the kayaks, we skirted Heron Island and headed across the bay toward Ironbound Island, a long strip of undeveloped land covered in pointed fir trees. Along its shore rose a solid wall of sheer cliffs that seemed to grow taller as we approached. From the middle of the bay we could see Mount Desert Island, with Cadillac and Champlain mountains forming the skyline -- possibly the best view of the island from anywhere.

The swells were larger as we went farther away from land, making our kayaks feel like surfboards as we rode the waves. Little black-and-white guillemots bobbed up and down on the water around us.

Closer to the cliffs of Ironbound Island, we could make out a sea cave, where waves crashed in crests of flying white foam, and finally a cleft in the cliffs that Ed told us was called Devilís Den. We had hoped to explore this spot, where an 8-foot-wide gap in the cliffs forms an entrance to a dramatic sea-filled opening into the interior of the island, surrounded by cliffs on all sides. As we approached we watched an eagle fishing in great swoops from a perch in a tree above the water.

The price we paid for this glorious day that followed in the wake of Hurricane Irene was a choppy sea with higher than usual swells at the high tide, so it wasnít safe to follow the channel into Devilís Den to explore it. A good excuse to come back and kayak this beautiful bay again.

Seascape Kayaking is located in Birch Harbor, Maine; tel 207-963-5806; http://www.seascapekayaking.com


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