Exploring the rugged shore by kayak
There’s a spot on the coast of Ironbound Island where the cliffs don’t quite fit together.
The break in the coastline creates a grotto where just three or four sea kayaks can slide in next to one another. On the right side of the entrance, a head-shaped rock juts out from the cliff face.
Ed Brackett, a registered Maine kayak guide, knows this place well.
Whenever he takes a group of kayakers out to the grotto, he requires they tap the rock, the “guardian,” to pay homage.
We take great lengths to slip into the grotto close enough to tap the guardian. Then, we spin our boats around and gaze up into the sun streaming between the towering rocks. After a pause to take in the grotto while water drips from the cliff tops, the guide takes a few pictures and we’re off again.
This is the 11th season Brackett has guided sea-kayaking trips. While he’s out on the water around Winter Harbor, his wife, Cheryl Brackett, runs the business and administration side of their company, SeaScape Kayaking.
When she’s not busy with bike and boat rentals, the business guru bakes snacks for Ed Brackett’s guided trips. Morning paddlers dive into vegan blueberry scones while afternooners enjoy white chocolate chip cookies with blueberries on their snack break.
“Believe it or not, there are people that come back just for the snacks,” the guide said.
It’s not hard to believe. We munch on the soft scones on the shore of the aptly named Flat Island. The relaxed ocean laps against the coast. From where we sit propped on the rocks, Mount Desert Island looms in the distance.
“Boy, the ocean is taking some nice, deep breaths today,” Ed Brackett said.
The guide calls the paddlers to gather around for a quick demonstration. He grabs a handful of seaweed and jumps into a mini-lecture on rockweed, mussels, clams and whelks.
“If you’ve had ice cream or brushed your teeth today, you’ve tasted this,” the guide said.
After a five-minute lesson, we’re paddling again, streaming back to the launching area off Gray Road in Winter Harbor. Ed Brackett calls out instructions and tracking tips as we go.
The instructor is an experienced paddler, but a canoe was his first vessel of choice. He and Cheryl Brackett both hit the water in a kayak for the first time about 18 years ago.
“We had a playful seal with us that kept tapping on our boat,” Ed Brackett said.
The two each have their own techniques, so kayaks made it possible for the couple to paddle in individual boats — together, but separate.
“It was a way for both of us to share the water at the same time, but still paddle in our own style,” the guide said.
When they both lost their jobs simultaneously, the duo decided to capitalize on their love of the sport and founded SeaScape Kayaking. They had always wanted to share their love for paddling with beginners.
“There weren’t a lot of people doing it,” Ed Brackett said. “There wasn’t a lot of instruction.”
They moved from the Bangor area to the Schoodic Peninsula to ease up their commute to the water. Now, the business duo puts in boats around the Schoodic Peninsula area, depending on the weather and the tides.
Operating out of Winter Harbor, the “other side” of Acadia, makes it difficult to avoid rough waters and attract business, Ed Brackett said. He calls every group of kayakers the night before their trip to tell them where to meet and when. Often, waves and inclement weather make trips too risky, and the guide has to cancel the day’s adventures.
The mom-and-pop outfitter takes out two trips (capped at 10 kayakers) each day, weather-permitting, and they rent bikes and boats for freshwater paddling out of their Winter Harbor store. For more information or to schedule a trip, visit seascapekayaking.com.