With a steady wind blowing 15 knots out of the northwest, it didn’t take long for the salt spray to freeze on everything — The deck of the boats, paddles, zippers and exposed skin. At eight degrees we should have expected it. It was January in Maine, after all. That said, we knew the risks and came here to paddle and skate, in that order. Our destination has to be one of the coolest and most remote ponds on the coast of Maine.
Big Pond sits at the extreme southern edge of the Petit Manan Wildlife Refuge in Steuben. The only thing that separates it from the crashing waves of the Gulf of Maine is a 20’ high cobblestone berm that some call a “beach”. I fondly remember paddling this section of coastline on an expedition a number of years earlier, and as a summer storm was bearing down, we sought refuge and pulled out at this very spot to wait for its passage. Little did I know that years later, I would find myself returning in the middle of winter to skate on this same pond.
The plan was hatched over beers and wings. David McLain, a longtime friend and independent photographer explained to me and another friend, Scott Leighton, what he was up to for his next photo shoot — He was looking for a pond we could skate with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop. We’d be taking pictures for a new men’s brand called QOR launching Fall 2014. And I knew just the spot. The only catch? We would have to get there by sea kayak.
You must be a skilled and confident seaman as well as an adventurous soul to kayak in the dead of winter on the coast of Maine. It’s a risk/reward thing. This time though, the purpose of paddling was to get to a remote pond that few, if any, have ever skated before. Hell, we didn’t even know if the pond was going to be too brackish to freeze. There was no way of knowing what we would actually find out there. All things considered, we were willing to take the risk and given the cold winter we were having, we felt the odds were in our favor. Sounded like an adventure worth having. Let’s do this.
Dry suit, check. Neoprene gloves, check. Extra layers, check. Shovel, check. Skates, check. Hockey stick and puck, check. Not your normal equipment list for paddling the coast of Maine but all essential for this particular excursion. We had just under three nautical miles to paddle from our launch site. Aside from the cold temps and setting sun, conditions were favorable. A slight tail wind made the paddle out chilly, but enjoyable. We were prepared. Approaching the pond we were anxious to see if we’d find ice or not. Scott was the first to exit his kayak and climb the berm to see what conditions awaited. His body language made it seem doubtful we would be skating. David and I landed and scurried up to have a look for ourselves. To my surprise and absolute amazement we were looking out over a pond the size of four football fields — It was mirror ice. Frozen and clean. The best ice of the year.
Time for action. We were losing valuable light and we knew David was anxious to begin shooting. Breaking off frozen sea spray from the decks of our boats to access the skates and camera equipment was a bit of a challenge with numb fingers. Next we needed to change from our paddling gear into our skating gear. A washed up lobster trap made for the perfect seat to lace up the skates. With the sun setting and the temps dropping, the ice was all ours. We had about 90 minutes of skating before complete darkness. We enjoyed every moment on the ice despite the inevitable; we would be paddling back to the truck on the darkest, coldest night of the month.
I’ve spent my life accumulating experiences that have gotten me to this spot, this moment, here on this pond. I grew up playing pond hockey. I’m very comfortable on ice. Paddling came later and so did my comfort level on the water. Woven throughout these experiences is an adventurous spirit that we all posses. Like many adventures I’ve been on with David and Scott over the years, this one will be added to the quiver of experiences that I’ll be forever grateful to have opted into.
All photos © David McLain Photography.
Written by Marc Bourgoin
Marc co-owns Lincoln with his brother Ron. His passion for paddling knows no bounds. Every once in a while, the Saltspray blog is graced with a post about one of his many adventures.