Trip report: New Meadow River, Harpswell Islands, Orr’s Isla

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Ken R
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Trip report: New Meadow River, Harpswell Islands, Orr’s Isla

Post by Ken R »

Recently I had the pleasure of exploring the New Meadow River and the Harpswell Island area in the Brunswick/Mid-Coast region of Maine. The area had always intrigued me because of a black and white picture of my Great Grand Father, on the back, in pen it simply said Orr’s Is. Maine.

Early this spring was the first time that I drove to the end of the chain of islands, Sebascodegan (Great Island), Orrs Island and Bailey Island. Seeing how beautiful the area was I began mapping out paddling routes on Google Earth. I created a route that would be 2 separate days, one paddle up the east side (19-22 miles) and one paddle up the west side (15-18 miles) of the island chain. I did not however know where the launch and takeout’s would be nor the logistics of vehicles to transport kayaks. I also realized that I would have to keep the size of the group small because of the logistics of launching and returning at separate locations. If I had it to do again, I would have split it into 3 days allowing more time to explore and enjoy the eastern side of the islands.
(See Google Image)

On a future trip to the area I sought out a local outfitter to obtain local knowledge. The owner of Sea spray Kayaking, Scott Shea was very helpful and advised me that there was one area called Gurnet Strait that needed to be traversed only at slack tide. However he was not able to tell me when slack accrued relative to the time of high and low tide. I began my research online and found one article on the subject:
The New Meadows is gentle unless severely constricted, as it is at Gurnet Strait and the entrance to the Basin. Gurnet Strait is best left alone except at slack tide—the current can fly through here at better than 7 knots during mid tide. The entrance to The Basin is more reasonable and can be paddled during the entire tidal cycle, though at mid tide you’ll need an all-out sprint to push through an opposing tide. There are plenty of places to duck behind for protection from the wind throughout the run of the New Meadows, but because the river runs along a north–south axis, a strong southerly or southwesterly wind can funnel down its course and make for some tough going.
Better than 7 knots, wow, the entire plan needed to be scheduled around passing through Gurnet Strait at slack tide. Without being able to find any more detailed local knowledge I had no other choice but to drive over the bridge at various times in the tide cycle. The current flows west on the flood, east on the ebb and slack accrues about 30 minutes before high tide at Lowell Cove.
His other piece of advice was to do the eastern crossing of the wide bay early in the day before the predictable Southwest wind built as it does almost every day.

My next challenge was finding put-in/take-out spots. There are many locations but they are not all listed on one site or publication. I found ramps in the MITA (Maine Island Trail association) and on the following sites:
Somehow I also found the Harpswell town landing and several other sites that would serve as bailout points if problems arose during each leg of the trip.

When I stumbled upon the Thomas Point Beach Park and Camp Ground ( ) it instantly became clear that it would be the base camp for the trip regardless of the routes and lunch spots. The camp ground host many large corporate, musical and charity events that I tried to schedule our trip to avoid. Originally I planned on using the public boat ramp on Sawyer Rd in Brunswick but as it turned out we pulled out each day at the campground beach. The beach is limited to 2.5 hour each side of high tide. Although Thomas Point park is peaceful it is also within a few miles of many convinces such as Walmart, Dunkin Donuts, Shaw’s, Starbucks and many restaurants.

I originally planed the trip as a circumnavigation trip but tides and currents made it more practical to launch from Mackerel Cove at the southern end of Bailey Island and head north each day. The beach at Mackerel cove there was not any a charge or restrictions on parking.

I then needed to make the route fit the slack tide a Gurnet Strait. I found that using a tide graph was the easiest way to visualize the process. Starting by saving the picture of the tide graph I then opened it with “Paint” and was able to mark up the details.
This is the tide site that I us as my main source for tide information. The plan was to paddle the Western side of the islands on Friday, the Eastern side on Saturday and a rec paddle on Sunday before heading south. I got to the area around noon, my wife, 2 dogs and the group arrived around dinner time on Thursday.
(see Tide chart)

I didn’t sleep much the night before the first leg. The wind was predicted to be from the North West 8-12 knots rather than the prevailing South West. This would mean that we would be faced with a head wind the entire way regardless of witch legs we did first. We would however have the benefit of the tide regardless of the route. Typically most multi day paddles have the longest day first but I was reversing that because of timing at Gurnet Strait. After waking around 2:30 a.m. and running every scenario and every alternative through my head hundreds of time, I finally decided to do the trip as outline in in the tide graph above and managed to get another hour of sleep before 0645 when I rose from my tent to announce to the others that I felt we should reverse the trip, doing the second leg the first day and the first leg the second day. This would become known as “Plan Bea”

Leg 1
0800 we headed for the launch spot 15 miles, 30 minutes from the campsite. We were all in the water and making way by 0910. After many pictures of the scenic harbor we rounded the southern end of Baily Island to find the wind blowing harder than expected and began a long slog, jumping from one island to island until we reached the entrance to the New Meadow River. 1230 we had made it to the island that my sick mind had selected as the perfect lunch stop, Malaga Island. The link tells an interesting story of its history. From where we landed the island itself was impenetrable due to thick patches of poison ivory and lack of trails. After lunch it was more of the same beating up wind, passing miles of the rocky Maine coast and numerous lobstering villages. Had there been less wind we would have spent more time weaving in and out of the many islands and coves.

Leg 2
Two of my fellow paddlers could not fit the second day into their schedule, so we were down to three for the second leg. The weather forecast was for N.W wind and rain to arrive in the area around 2 pm.
Because we were timing this leg to correspond to the currents at we held off till 1030 before launching. We were also uncertain that we could time the current through Gurnet Strait, avoid the rain and complete the entire leg back to the campground, therefore we left a car at one of the bailout points that I had found along the river. 1050 the winds had subsided and we began what will go down as one of my most memorable paddles. After a short 3 miles we got to the Stone Crib Bridge over Will’s Gut and Cook’s Seafood where we had eaten the night before. Overall the scenery was breathtaking. Although we were only a few miles from civilization each cabin that we passed appeared to be in a secluded piece of paradise.

Sunday we decided to pass on the rec paddle, we slowly broke camp and reluctantly headed south to face another work week.

I left saying to myself “I’ll be BACK!”
Plan A.png
Plan A.png (32.03 KiB) Viewed 14277 times
Plan Bea.JPG
Plan Bea.JPG (130.73 KiB) Viewed 14277 times
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Re: Trip report: New Meadow River, Harpswell Islands, Orr’s

Post by NorwayLady »

Great report, Ken, with lots of useful information.

Here is the public link to photos I posted on Facebook. Enjoy! ... afbe2ef4c1

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Re: Trip report: New Meadow River, Harpswell Islands, Orr’s

Post by norm »

Ken - It was an excellent trip and expertly planned out.

Bea - thanks for posting all the photos, they are very good.

I'll see if I can get to organizing my photos some day soon and will add a link to them here when I get them on Facebook.
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Re: Trip report: New Meadow River, Harpswell Islands, Orr’s

Post by Chip »

Great Report Ken.
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