Under a cloudless sky, Mark Fletcher leads a dozen paddlers in yellow tandem kayaks from Pretty Marsh village’s Bartlett’s Landing boat launch site out into a saltwater channel separating Mount Desert Island from the mainland.
Just five minutes from the shore, the Maine Registered Sea Kayak Guide and kayakers stop paddling to watch a bald eagle soar over the rippled water before resuming their 2.5-hour outing along the western side of MDI.
With the wind at their backs, Fletcher and his party — a couple hailing from North Carolina and two families from Atlanta, Ga., and Waco, Texas — push ahead up Bartlett Narrows.
Earlier in the morning, the beginner paddlers had met and been oriented by Fletcher at Maine State Sea Kayak headquartered in Southwest Harbor. The outfitter’s owner Brad Jordan holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Recreation and Tourism Management from the University of Maine at Machias. For five years, Jordan worked as a guide and later as an office manager before buying the enterprise last year.
“We have amazing routes that are just full of wildlife. I think the best in the state,” said Jordan who still gets out on the water and leads tours four times per week.
Originally from the York County city of Saco, Jordan and his family retreated summers to their camp on Moosehead Lake in northern Maine. There, his passion for water recreation was born. He started out canoeing and moved on to paddling a lake kayak by age 12. He has a special affinity for sea kayaking and interest in the wildlife that inhabits the Atlantic coast.
“That’s our gem,” he reflected. “That’s what I focus on while I’m out there, and that’s why I love paddling on this side of the island. It’s quiet.”
Jordan seeks to instill that same appreciation and consideration of coastal Maine’s natural beauty and fauna in the adults and youngsters who venture out on tours in Maine State Sea Kayak’s fleet of Necky Kayaks. The touring craft are designed and produced in the eastern Maine town of Old Town.
“In the nine years I’ve been guiding I’ve never had one of these capsize, so they’re extremely stable boats,” Jordan said. “They’re the best, and they’re made locally.”
In Southwest Harbor, before heading out in a van to Pretty Marsh Harbor, kayakers were outfitted with life jackets and spray skirts. They also got from Fletcher a brief paddling lesson and thorough instruction on various safety issues.
Back on the water, the tide is out. Fletcher and his paddlers pass the forested Squid Island and eye its seaweed-draped granite boulders exposed along the shore. Beneath the water’s surface they can spot baby herring vigorously swimming past submerged rocks encrusted with periwinkles.
At Crystal Cove, they put in and break for lunch. Some paddlers brought their own food while others opt for the picnic lunch prepared by Sips restaurant in Southwest Harbor. The kids explore the beach and discover moon jellyfish that have washed up. They get to touch the slimy marine creature and learn it’s harmless from Fletcher.
From Crystal Cove, the kayakers head for Indian Point passing one of the largest harbor seal rookeries in the world. The marine mammals lift their brown heads as the group glides by. In compliance with the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, all Maine State Sea Kayak’s tours stay 50 yards or more from the animals and their pups to protect their wellbeing.
If its clients fail to see a bald eagle, harbor seal or harbor porpoise during their tour, the outfitter will give them a wildlife voucher good for any half-day tour the following year.
At Clark Cove, Fletcher and his party conclude their 5-mile journey. They haul up their kayaks and climb into an awaiting van to take them back to Southwest Harbor. During the 15-minute ride, the conversation ranges from where to get the best ice cream and lobster roll to which hiking trails the families should conquer.
“You get to meet tons of people and show them the more remote areas,” Fletcher related. “It gets them out their chaos of city life when they’re on vacation and they can just unwind. It’s therapeutic.”