Peter Macfarlane's 2023 Solo Paddle of a Circuit of the Androscoggin, Kennebec and Dead Rivers
in a Cedar-Strip Canoe by Otter Creek Smallcraft


Day 5

28.0 miles

Thursday 25th May

Pejebscot Dam - South Gardiner ME


Day 5 route on Google Earth imagery

Having gone to bed by 8:00 pm yesterday, I was awake before 5:00 am. Rain had been intermittent through the night; more seemed to drip from the trees than from the sky. This morning was not unpleasantly cold, maybe due to the cloud cover restricting radiational cooling, but when I emerged from the hammock the sky was clear. Breakfast and packing were nearly done by the time the sun crawled over the gorge cliffs opposite. A little before 7:00 am I started downstream, the sounds of Pejebscot Dam fading behind me, and soon reached the Interstate bridge. In about an hour I was at the Mill St portage in Brunswick. Almost as if someone had turned on a spigot, a lively north wind arose as I was taking out; its reversal, anticipating my own imminent change of direction, did not go unnoticed.

Launching below Pejebscot Dam

Morning light en route to Brunswick

The portage signs started just fine, but disappeared as I ventured into the streets. I merely followed my planned route, stopping to talk to a few people and have my canoe photographed. Just before Paquette Landing, the first place that I had chosen to investigate for a put-in, I found a boat launch, and so, totally forgetting that I was on a mission to top up with water before heading out into brackish tidal water, I launched and started east towards Merrymeeting bay. The north wind was now strong, 15-20 mph, leading me to opt for shelter along the left bank. Where there were islands, I opted for the narrower left channels. Eagles had been abundant all along the Androscoggin and now were joined by osprey, and for the first time on this trip gulls abounded with their raucous calling.


Yet another eagle

As the small channels ended, I found myself in the ever wider waters of Merrymeeting Bay, together with an ever stronger north wind. Hugging the left shore offered me a little shelter, but eventually I had to cross the outlet of the Cathance and Muddy Rivers. The ebbing tide combined with the north wind gave this northeasterly crossing a measure of challenge. The mile between the headlands was full of factors pulling me out into Merrymeeting Bay, and my sole focus was on maintaining a line between the headlands. Taking transits at regular intervals, I held my course, ultimately sliding into the shelter behind the far headland. A little farther on I rewarded myself with a break for a snack. Even though my formative years in boats were on an estuary, I was embarrassed, on returning to my canoe, to see that it was now high and dry, left stranded by the ebbing tide.

A small part of Merrymeeting Bay

Brief, but listen to the wind

Rounding the next headland, I faced another bay, this one the outlet of the Abagadasset River. Following the shoreline would have offered most shelter from the wind, but it was clearly very shallow, and ebbing tide would soon exacerbate that. So I cut across the bay, ferry-gliding into the wind and across the current, aiming for a crossing that would be about a mile and three-quarters to the distant headland. It was not long before I learned why shipping often relies on pilots with local knowledge of the waters. The depth deserted me. I found myself in shallows, unable to sink a paddle blade. I took to my poles, with much success, until the depth reduced even further. I grounded on the mud and stuck fast. There was only one solution. My boots, kept essentially dry until now, were about to have their first soaking. I leapt out, grabbed the bow painter and hauled my canoe across the bay, several hundred yards from shore. I'm sure Mainers have their own term for 'flatlanders', those people from 'away' who really don't understand the local situation. Anybody watching from the shore would have been in no doubt about my status.

After several minutes afoot, I found a little extra depth, enough to float, and so took to the poles once more, and finally the paddle. It was a relief to be able to move freely in deep water, homing in at last on a headland where power lines crossed to the eastern side of the Kennebec River. I was now very much at the junction of the Kennebec with Merrymeeting Bay. The first part of the headland proved a challenge to round, the wind and current opposing my every movement. The second part of the headland was even tougher. Now I was working hard, glad that I had had a few days of steady paddling, even gentle, to warm up for this. Even around the point, my work rate could not let up; I was in a bay with essentially no shelter. The wind whipped over the low lying land to my left, churning up choppy waves in the shallows of the bay. Little by little I reached the northern part of the bay and picked up a little shelter. Now tucked into the western shore, I enjoyed marginally less hard work until the next headland. Here, a little off the southern tip of Swan Island, the previous scenario repeated itself. Finally I tucked into the Kennebec proper, taking the route along the western side of Swan Island. My original plan had me camping on Swan Island, but I was here too early, so aimed for Richmond opposite the northern end.

Kennebec valley

Approaching Richmond

Still against the tidal outflow, I made slow progress, but eventually founds signs of habitation. My notes told of a bakery in Richmond. I had notions of finishing my day there and even beginning the next. A group of people on a beach gave me a target to aim for. Aside from bakery products, I needed water. They were happy to oblige regarding the water, filling the bag of my gravity filter system, adding maybe 20 lb to the weight in my canoe. Their news regarding Annabelle's bakery, however, was dire. It closed at 2:00 pm. A glance at my watch told me that I had missed it by half an hour. There would be no baked goods and no opportunity to recharge batteries. They also told me that the tide should be reversing at about 3:00 pm. Sure enough, as I rounded the northern end of Swan Island soon afterwards, a buoy was leaning in the direction that I was travelling, showing that there was a slight current in my favour.

I now ventured out into the main Kennebec River, another beautiful river valley, about a quarter of a mile wide here, narrower than the Androscoggin, but still a mighty river. Still opposed by the wind, and experiencing minimal, if any, help from the current, I soldiered upstream, the beginning of a few days of upstream travel, something I would have to get used to after the 4+ days of downstream. Large fish, probably sturgeon as I later learned, were spooked by my approach, and stirred up the muddy bed as they scattered. Once more I started scanning the banks for possible camping spots, and a few miles upstream saw a likely looking place on the opposite bank, river-left. I had been aiming for somewhere near Colburn House, the site of the Arnold Museum, but had run out of steam. That would wait for morning. Even though the current had nominally been with me for a while, I had not been taking advantage of it, preferring to stay near the bank for shelter from the wind. Indeed I was sometimes caught in a downstream eddy. On the other side of the river there was a sandy landing, a level spot a few feet above river level, so probably well drained, and a collection of trees. There was also, as I found when I arrived, a fire pit full of empty beer cans and bottles, a disused grill also being used as a trash receptacle, a broken chair, another gas grill which maybe worked, and at least nine metal grilles hanging from various trees. Clearly I was not the first to find this spot attractive. Unlike the previous occupants, however, I was going to take better care of it, and immediately set to clean out the fire ring, loading all of the rubbish into the disused grill.

Tonight's Kennebec camp-site ...

... with a sunset

The lack of wood brought the gas stove into play for the first time, and, as I was setting up camp, the wind dropped, no doubt conserving its energy for tomorrow. A few more clouds appeared. Today had been essentially sunny with a few scattered clouds, lovely weather again, if the wind can be ignored. It had also made me work the hardest yet on this trip.


Website design & Photography © Peter Macfarlane

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