Casco Bay sure is a beauty. And Portland’s East End has an enviable 24-7 view of those scenic waters. But for some locals on the hill, looking at Casco Bay is akin to looking at a tater tot frozen in a block of ice. You can see it, but you ain’t touching it.
See, the small East End Beach makes an excellent launch pad into Casco Bay, but it’s historically been a BYOK sort of place. Folks who own kayaks and paddleboards are free to cruise Portland’s coast or paddle over to Fort Gorges for a picnic among the overgrowth. But for locals who can’t afford a kayak, or whose apartments don’t accommodate such a hefty piece of sporting equipment, Casco Bay can feel out of paddle’s reach.
“It’s too easy to live in Portland and not experience the water,” said Erin Quigley, co-founder of Portland Paddle, a kayak tours and rental company opening on the East End in June.
“We’d always hear about people wanting to rent kayaks at East End Beach or in Portland in general, but there was no place to do it,” she said. “You had to leave town in one direction or the other.”
Portland Paddle aims to change that. The company, run by Quigley and co-owner Zack Anchors, will offer kayak and paddleboard tours, rentals, and lessons from their “mobile unit” at East End Beach. No doubt visitors from away will appreciate the chance to get up close and personal with Portland’s waters. But Portland Paddle also hopes to give locals the opportunity to experience their own watery backyard – maybe for the first time.
“We want to be a resource for people who live here,” said Quigley. “Casco Bay is one of the most amazing and beautiful kayaking destinations in Maine. It’s not as wild as some places maybe, but it has variety, islands to paddle to, and it’s accessible.”
Novice kayakers can take a guided tour of the bay and pick up tips on sea kayaking while learning about Casco Bay’s history and unique features. Experienced paddlers can rent a boat or board and go on an island-hopping adventure of their own making. And first-timers can take advantage of Portland Paddle’s regular lessons and learn how to paddle safely and smartly.
In the process, Quigley said, paddlers will gain a new appreciation for Casco Bay, whether they’re visiting for a day or they call Portland home.
“We want to encourage people to take care of Casco Bay and understand it through kayaking and outdoor recreation,” said Quigley. “You won’t steward a place until you’ve experienced it.”
And now everyone can.
Lessons include Intro to Sea Kayaking, Rescue Clinic, and Rolling Clinic and cost $40-$45. A Wednesday Night Skills Session is $20 or $10 if you have your own kayak.
Tours range from 2.5 hours to a full-day excursion and cost $35-$70. Experience Casco Bay at sunset or guided by the light of the moon, or island hop all day with the Island Explorer Tour.
Full day rentals cost $55 for a sea kayak and $50 for a paddleboard, and two-hour and half-day rentals are also available.