Seals, Sunshine, and Shipwrecks: The Bigelow Interns go Kayaking

After a short but informative introduction to sea kayaking from our fantastic Midcoast Kayak guides, the Bigelow interns were ready to get into the water and start their kayaking trip.

On Saturday, Dr. David Fields took most of us REU interns out for a kayak trip. I could not imagine a nicer day to be out on the water. After a week of chilly weather and long hours in the lab, there’s nothing any of us wanted more than fresh air and sun, and that’s exactly what the day had in store for us. The jackets we were advised to bring in case of cold weather were destined to sit abandoned in our kayaks while we soaked up every ray we could. The day started with a caravan to Midcoast Kayak, and after a brief detour when David got momentarily lost, we got out of the cars, slathered ourselves in sunscreen, and picked out (and in some cases, paired up for) our kayaks. After getting our gear together, we set out into the water.

Mostly, we traveled between islands while the less experience among us tried our best not to bump into each other too much. Our guides, Tess (David’s daughter) and Luke gave us background on the area and local wildlife—turns out, Hog Island actually served as a natural pen for domesticated pigs. We also checked out the Cora F. Cressey, a shipwreck with a somewhat nefarious history—according to Tess, it was an offshore speakeasy during Prohibition, and later on served as a drug front before its owner fled, leaving it to rot and disintegrate in the water. Paddling around and through what was once a five-mast schooner was surreal, especially while we were encased in our plastic shell of a vessel. It’s hard to believe they fall into the same class of objects (although the day also included a debate on the difference between a boat and a ship).

One of many pleasant surprises of the day involved kayaking around a large shipwreck, the last thing any of us expected to find.

We stopped for lunch on a sandy beach where we ended up staying for a while. We’d all brought sandwiches from home, and David brought snacks to supplement (I don’t know what it is about the Hannaford brand apples, but I could honestly eat them all day). We ate, we talked, and we laid out in the sun. A family came by in a boat and their dog came wandering over looking for affection, which we were all too happy to give. David and his daughter even showed off some acrobatics before we packed our kayaks back up and headed to shore.

By far, my favorite part of the trip was the opportunity to see some local wildlife. We stopped in a couple spots to seal-watch—looking at their little heads popping up then bobbing back down put us all in a great mood. We also stopped by an eagle’s nest and saw some cormorants fishing. Not to mention all the jellyfish we paddled by (don’t forget to report all jellyfish sightings with #MaineJellies).

Dr. David Fields points out a friendly seal that has stopped to watch the interns.

My research is all computational, so after a week of sitting in front of a screen, getting outside to finally spend some time on this water I’ve been analyzing, to soak in the atmosphere I’ve been crunching NASA data about was exactly what I needed, and from the reactions of everyone around me, it seemed to be a common experience. We came home sunburnt, sore, and exhausted, but tranquil and fulfilled. And we all slept very well Saturday night.

Dakota Young is an REU Intern working in Dr. Nick Record’s Lab

Seals, Sunshine, and Shipwrecks: The Bigelow Interns go Kayaking