Riding the Tide

Kayking in Maine
Riding the tide off the fogbound coast of Maine. PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Roberts.

By trip planning guru Jack Roberts

The village of Jonesport is what most of coastal Maine only pretends to be. It is a “rockbound” “fogbound” “pine clad” living post card of “island studded” waterways, weathered saltbox cottages, white-spired churches, lobster docks, bald eagles and streetwalking moose. The harbor is full of Jonesporters, the familiar open cockpit lobster boats seen everywhere along the northern Atlantic coast. There is not a restaurant or souvenir shop in town. Jonesport is the essence of “Down East”, and we and our kayaks spent six weeks there last summer. It is as genuine a place as any we have ever visited, and, oh, by the way, Jonesport has 14 foot tides.

Now, if you are an L.L. Bean inspired summer traveler, passing through an area that has 14 foot tides means that you get a lot of chances to take pictures of boats lying on their sides in the mud. But if you are a kayaker, especially a kayaker “from away”, 14 foot tides make it necessary for you to call up the best of your skills, judgment and resourcefulness.

The major consideration for those who paddle in northern Maine is the strength of the currents created as tremendous volumes of water pass through narrow inlets and straits on their way to and from the open ocean. Without help from locals it is nearly impossible to determine the direction of tidal currents flowing between the thousands of islands and capes along the coast, and there are many, many places where the strongest of paddlers has no chance of overcoming the power of the flow. Even short trips must be planned keeping in mind the idea of using those currents, not fighting them. In Maine, you must learn to “ride the tide”.

But we’re not in Maine right now, and here on the Treasure Coast life is simpler. We don’t have 14 foot tides. In fact, according to the NOAA Tides and Currents website, the average tide rise/fall in our area is between .5 and 1.5 feet, not very impressive by northern standards. But yet, there are quite a few spots on local waterways where, for various hydrological reasons, the tidal flow can be very strong and paddling against it is an option to be exercised by only the strongest of paddlers in the most efficient of kayaks. And no matter how strong the current, it is, in my opinion, more fun to paddle with it than against it, so riding the tide can be important here too. Learn how to do it and you will be able to please and amaze your friends. It’s really pretty simple.

Let’s say you’ve been kayaking for a few months, maybe a little longer, with a group of about a dozen friends who are all relatively new to the sport. None of them have much boating experience, and so far you’ve limited yourselves to short trips of about five miles or less. But this is a spunky group and you feel that they are ready for some true kayaking adventure. So you get on the NOAA website and you find that on November 16th there will be a high tide at the Hobe Sound Bridge at 11:42 A.M. and a high tide at Jupiter Sound south end at 10:36 A.M. With that information in hand you notify your friends that on November 16th you will be leading a 12 mile trip from Coral Cove Park at the south end of Jupiter Sound to the Hobe Sound Nature Center (and back), paddles wet at 9:00 a.m. The emails soon start to fly. “Twelve miles! I’m bringing a flashlight“. “I hope you’ve got a tow line!” They begin calling you ”Columbus”. You relish the good natured doubt and sarcasm. You are confident. You assure your crew and members that everything will be fine.

The big day arrives, 9:00 a.m. Everyone has shown up, still giving you the business. But, as you knew it would be, the current is flowing north toward Hobe Sound, flooding from Jupiter Inlet, and you know that it will By Trip Planning Guru Jack Roberts continue to do this until about 11:42 a.m. when the peak of the flood reaches the Hobe Sound Bridge. The water is cool and clear as it always is in the middle of the incoming tide. There is very little wind. Manatees and dolphins are all around. There are no jet-skis. And the conversation is no longer focused on you and your folly. You set a moderate pace and stay to the east side of the channel. Your friends begin to comment on how easy the paddling seems to be today. They are riding the tide. After about four miles you pass the long row of sea grapes that separates Tiger’s place from the rest of the world, and you hear someone say “We can’t be here already. Last time it took two hours to get this far.” You sneak a look at your watch. Plenty of time. You spot a sliver of sand along the west shore and suggest a rest break, although no one seems tired. Splashing, swimming, snacking and smiling ensue. Looks of admiration are cast silently in your direction. You try to appear indifferent, but you feel good.

Then it’s back to the boats. You still have the current and plenty of time. You can see the bridge in the distance, and you soon reach the Nature Center with its bright sand beach, gift shop, and most importantly, clean rest rooms. Lunches are shared and jokes are made. You look at you watch again. Noon. Perfect. Slack tide, soon to begin ebbing toward Jupiter Inlet. Perfect! You slowly begin gathering up your gear and others quietly follow your lead. There’s no need to rush, no need to appear impatient or uncertain. The fleet departs, rounds the point and heads south, once again riding the tide. Happiness and good nature reign. A few impromptu races even break out, a first for this group. No one can believe how quickly the once daunting distance has been devoured. The take-out comes into view. Someone shouts “Twelve miles! Let’s do it again!”, and you know that, sometime, they will, and that it will be done with your name in mind: ”Columbus”. Beers at the Square Grouper are promised to you, and your kayak mysteriously finds its own way onto your roof. But you know that you will soon be asked to explain how you made the trip so easy and enjoyable. Has no one figured it out? Should you tell them about “riding the tide”? Should you?

To contact Jack Roberts, email treasurecoast@coastalanglermagazine.com.

Coastal Angler & The Angler Magazine