Some backyards have a patio set. Some backyards have a climbable tree. Some backyards have grass (maybe even enough to play a respectable round of croquet). As for Portland’s backyard? It has an ocean.
It’s a good ocean, too, strewn with islands, and boats, and forts, and swimming things below the surface that are sometimes hard to see until one pops its head out of the water to say hello or simply to take in the scenery. And for boatless locals, it’s been a good ocean to gaze at. Or maybe wade in on those heavy humid days when the 58-degree waters are a godsend. But if you didn’t own a boat – or a kayak or a paddleboard – actually getting out there was harder.
It was hard, that is, until Portland Paddle opened for business on East End Beach in June. Portland Paddle offers kayak and paddleboard lessons, tours, and rentals to locals and visitors (East Enders get a discount!), giving the folks who live on the peninsula a long-overdue opportunity to push off from the beach and paddle around in their own backyard.
A few weeks ago, on an overcast morning that hinted of rain (much like most of our days lately), I took a tour. Even better, I took pictures:
During working hours, Portland Paddle has a table at East End Beach with information, maps, and a sign-up sheet. But if you’ve already signed up, you’ll want to head back toward the parking lot and look for the boat racks stacked with kayaks. Or do what I did and loiter about the table for 20 minutes wondering where everyone is. (Note: There is a sign with an arrow directing the way, which you will see…eventually.)
All the necessary gear is provided, including PFDs, paddles, kayaks (tandem if you want it!), and instruction.
Registered guide and Portland Paddle co-owner Zack Anchors led our tour and gave us a run-down of where we were headed: Out into the bay, past Fort Gorges, and on to Peaks Island. When the wind and waters are right, he said, the tours can even head out into open ocean. But before any of that can happen, we need some tips on proper paddle form (hands at shoulder width, and use your torso!).
Boats are doled out, adjustments are made.
And then we shove off.
It looks like this:
Our destination: A beach on Peaks Island for a break and some snacks.
And a few minutes on the rope swing.
On the way back to East End Beach, after two hours of hemming and hawing, the weather finally made a decision: Rain. And wind.
But it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to Tiffany Kulpa and Ben Raymond, visiting Maine from Michigan, and it didn’t matter to Sarah Tozer, from Brisbane, Australia, who was in town for a conference. And it sure didn’t matter to me, because just look:
We eventually returned from our half-day tour, fairly well soaked but with spirits undampened. Because we just spent the day on Casco Bay, not just staring at it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Portland paddle offers sunset tours, half-day tours, moonlight tours, full-day explorer tours, and custom trips. Prices range from $35-$75. Rentals are also available for kayaks and paddleboards.