Cousins Island - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
It is always a pleasant surprise when you can find quiet places to explore close to a large population center. As you listen to the sounds of traffic recede with each paddle stroke, you can't help but feel a bit lucky to leave all that hustle and bustle behind. Exploring around Cousins Island and the salt marshes that sit off its northern shore makes for some quiet bird-watching. At low tide only kayaks and canoes can poke among these grasses; large swaths of water are less than 2 feet deep, and many a motorboat prop has tangled in these grasses and stuck fast in the thick mud. Don't even think of getting out of your boat or you will, too.
As you depart from the Yarmouth town landing, you'll paddle along a well marked channel of the Royal River for about a mile. This is a no-wake zone for the many powerboaters and fishermen who use this launch site, and at low tide the channel narrows considerably; stay well to the side so they can pass. As you paddle between Browns Point and Parker Point at the mouth of Royal River, you'll see the entrance to the Cousins River off to your left. This is a nice stretch of water that you can explore, but only on the upper half of the tide. The sounds of traffic will gradually increase as you near the interstate. Still, you will likely see great blue herons, snowy egrets, and red-winged blackbirds. It is easy to sit and enjoy a snack or hone your bird-watching skills in these protected waters.
The nice loop trip around Cousins and Littlejohn Islands can be expanded to include a stop on Little Chebeague Island or Basket Island. Little Chebeague Island, a popular public island that sits off the southwestern end of Great Chebeague Island, has several sand and gravel beaches for landing. Its interior features 2 miles of trails that explore the remains of old cottages and a hotel. Little Chebeague Island is known for its ticks, nettles, browntail moth caterpillars, and poison ivy, so move carefully. Basket Island, which is managed by a local land trust, has a nice gravel bar for landing on the east shore at low tide; its northeast point allows easy access as well. There are walking trails on this nine-acre island, and you are likely to have company from fellow kayakers and powerboaters. Keep an eye out for poison ivy on these shores as well.
Kayakers are often spoiled about water depths when it comes to reading a chart. If it isn't green and it isn't low tide, then we figure we're okay. Some of the areas on this trip will force you to actually read the soundings if you are paddling at low tide, especially during a full or new moon. As you swing around Cousins Island to the north, be very careful about picking your way through at low tide. Small runs of water allow you to navigate through the grassy areas, but often only a skim of water sits over thick mud, so beware. There are two approaches to the Royal River: one from the southeast and one from the southwest. As a kayaker, you have more options, but only if you pay attention.
trip highlights: A very accessible piece of water that is pleasantly quiet and great for novice paddlers. Shorebirds are numerous on the mud flats.
trip duration/length: A loop from Yarmouth around the islands of Cousins and Littlejohn covers about 10.5 miles; including Little Chebeague Island in your travels adds 3 miles. To include Basket Island in the Cousins Island loop, swing wide to the southwest to add another 1.5 miles. A lazy exploration of the Cousins River will cover 4 to 5 miles round trip.
Navigational Aids: Chart 13290 Casco Bay (1:40,000). Lighted buoy at entrance of Royal River channel. Lighted buoy off Basket Island and marking the crossing to Little Chebeague Island.
Cautions: Mud flats that can constrict boat traffic to a single track adventure.
Launch site: To reach the Yarmouth town landing, take exit 17 off I-95 and turn right onto Route 1 south. Be ready to take the first left onto Route 88. Follow Route 88 for 0.2 miles and turn left onto Bayview Road. Take the first right off Bayview Road; this is Old Shipyard Road. The landing is 0.5 miles further. There is a harbormaster's office (where you'll need to pay the $10 nonresident town fee), a pay phone, and a portable toilet. A large parking area is available to recreational boaters, but it will fill up on a busy summer weekend. You could also use the launch site on Sandy Point on Cousins Island. Turn left into Sandy Point Park just after coming off the bridge to Cousins Island. You can hand-carry your kayak to the water, but you may have trouble accessing open water except on the upper half of the tide.
Local Attractions: It is a short hop to Portland, which has all the services you'd expect in a city.
Excerpted from Guide to Sea Kayaking in Maine : The Best Day Trips and Tours from Casco Bay to Machias by Shelley Johnson with permission from Falcon Publishing.
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