One question people frequently ask us is: “How cold is the seawater up in Maine? Can you swim in the ocean?”
It’s not an easy question to answer. Some people enjoy the bracing ocean waters — but only if they are wearing wetsuits. Others stick to the shallow water, where at least the majority of their bodies can enjoy the sun’s heat. And, admittedly, there are others, who apparently count polar bears among their distant ancestors, who will actually splash around in the water in nothing but a bathing suit. I tip my hat to those foolhardy and intrepid souls.
But here’s a concrete example of how cold the water is. During a recent visit from friends, on a beautiful, sunny day, we took a favored hike through the Barred Island Preserve out to the shoreline across from Barred Island — so called because it is blocked from the mainland by a tidal channel at all but low tide, when you can walk over while the water is receded. When we got to the crossing point it was about midway between low tide and high tide, and the water was a little over knee-high for an adult male. The distance to the island through the water was maybe 30 yards or so, as shown in the picture above.
I tried to walk over — but just couldn’t do it. The water was so brutally cold it was a shock to the system, like plunging your face into ice cube-filled water — except colder, somehow. It took my breath away, and my feet almost immediately became numb. The thought of going knee-deep in the frigidity, even if only for a short 30-yard slog over to the island, was unimaginable. So call me a wuss — but I declined. I’ll save the stroll over to Barred Island for a day when I get there at low tide and can walk over without experiencing water so cold it is like a punch to the gut.
There is one good thing about the ocean water temperature in Maine — when you step out of the water and let the sun heat your chilled feet back to normal temperatures, it really feels good. That’s how cold the water is.