Three of us were sea kayaking along the rugged western shore of Upper Flag Island in Casco Bay. Paddling close to my left, Bud pointed to a large fin moving in the opposite direction about one hundred feet to our west and yelled, “I think that’s a shark!” Play the intimidating Jaws soundtrack, please. My thought, he’s just trying to frighten an old man.
Our adventure had begun two days earlier. After studying the weather forecast, I identified what appeared to be a good weather day to kayak to Eagle and Jewel Islands in outer Casco Bay. Posting a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society trip, my retired friend Bud immediately signed on. The next day another frequent paddling companion comically known as Eggman announced he was able to steal away from his hectic schedule to make it a threesome.
Meeting at the Dolphin Marina on Basin Point in South Harpswell early on a calm, partly sunny morning, a last minute change in the wind forecast had me concerned. The possibility of an offshore afternoon gale had raised its ugly head and the direct route between Eagle and Jewell Islands is completely exposed for about three miles. An examination of our marine charts indicated we had the option of partially protected island hopping from the west on our return if the gusty northwest winds materialized. An insouciant Eggman promised to tow me if necessary. Elderly reservations notwithstanding; the trip was a go.
The two mile paddle past Horse and Upper Flag Islands to prominent Eagle Island was uneventful. The former home of Arctic explorer Admiral Robert Peary now a state park, the unique distinctive island is a remarkable place to visit. Converted to a museum, daily tours are conducted during the summer. Arriving before it opened, the Park Ranger, carrying an armload of delicious looking muffins, was disembarking from a shuttle boat with his staff. Declining to share their tempting pastries while we waited, our intrepid band pushed on towards Jewell, hoping for an afternoon return visit if winds permitted.
Enduring mildly bumpy conditions resulting from a strong tidal current near sometimes treacherous Cow Ledges during the crossing, we navigated to a rustic landing in Cocktail Cove on the northwestern extremity of Jewell. A popular destination for mariners several sailboats were moored in the cove. Portaging our kayaks to the top of the beach, we hiked about a mile to the southern end of the island to explore two abandoned WWII military towers that had been used for submarine surveillance.
Arriving minutes before an incoming tide engulfed our boats the ocean gods smiled as we had a light tailwind and slack tide for our return to Eagle. The park was open and we spent about an hour touring the museum while enjoying almost continuous banter with the gregarious, hospitable park employees. Free for us senior citizens, appropriately Eggman had to pay. The home and island have been preserved much as they were prior to Peary’s death in 1920 achieving the intended impression of reverting back to an earlier time.
Launching from a gravel beach on the north side of Eagle, boat traffic on the traverse to Upper Flag was surprisingly light with gentle seas. Shortly after passing the southern terminus of Upper Flag, the menacing fin was observed.
In the twenty years since I began sea kayaking, I’ve had the good fortune to have sighted many of the more substantial denizens of the deep including a variety of whale and seal species. During paddling excursions in Florida, kayaking with the manatees has been an exceptional experience. Alas, I’ve never knowingly seen a shark.
After hearing Bud’s excited shark announcement, Eggman concurred. I was skeptical, suspecting a dolphin instead; acknowledging I didn’t know the difference between a shark and dolphin fin. The arcane sea creature continued out into Broad Sound and we finished our expedition without incident.
The following morning, Channel Six News reported a possible shark sighting at Popham Beach just a few miles from our location during the time of our trek. According to the broadcast, the beach was temporarily closed and the video they aired showed a fin that looked similar to the one we had encountered. My research indicates the rear of a shark fin is almost vertical while a dolphin’s is curved. The back of the fin we observed appeared to be straight.
Reluctant to claim a shark sighting based on this flimsy evidence, I’ll let the reader be the judge. However, it seems obtaining a definitive confirmation could have been precarious.
Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at email@example.com