How Cold Is The Water Up There?

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.

On The Rooty Route To Barred Island

There are many good hiking trails on Deer Isle.  One of the nicest ones, maintained by the Nature Conservancy, is the trail that runs past Goose Cove to the Barred Island Preserve.  It’s called Barred Island — I think — because when the tide is in Barred Island is an island, but when the tide is out a land bridge forms that allows you to get out on the island without getting your feet wet.  You can see the spit of land that leads out to Barred Island in the photo above..

 

 

 

There’s just one problem:  the trail out to Barred Island, which runs through a dense forest, is just about the rootiest trail you’re ever likely to encounter.  That isn’t an issue for normal folks.  In fact, so many prior hikers have taken this route that the exposed roots are worn smooth by the tread of countless prior visitors.  But if you’re a foot-dragging stumblebum like me, it means you’ve got to carefully watch where you are planting every size 12 shoe, to make sure that you’re not going to turn an ankle or do a face plant on the next root system.

 

 

If you pause for a moment before you make the next careful step on the rooty route, though, you’ll realize that you’re in some of the nicest forest you’re likely to see.  And . . . it’s so quiet!  There’s not a sound to be heard, and if you’re walking on a day where there’s a gentle breeze, as was the case during our hike, not even insects will bother you.  There’s so much pine straw on the ground that, except when you’re walking on the roots themselves, it’s like you’re walking on a plush natural carpet.

As you approach the water, after a hike of about a mile, you begin to sense the salty ocean smell mingling with the overwhelming scent of pine.  Finally you emerge onto a scenic overlook that allows you to see out onto the water and the islands that are far away. It’s a breathtaking view. 

Once you get out to the Barred Island and the bay, you’ll encounter a fabulous waterfront scene.  To the right, across a gritty, pebble-strewn beach, is Barred Island, and to the left are more of those colossal Maine granite boulders, many of them algae covered because they fall into an intertidal zone. And beyond that lies the sailboat-studded vista of the bay.

On the way back, be sure to take the shoreline loop and the short detour to Prayer Rock.  The path leads us up to a flat granite outcropping that is far above the cove and the bay, which can be seen through the ever-present pine trees.  You’re not the first one to visit the promontory, of course — some thoughtful soul has built stone benches that are dedicated to some other people who loved this area and the beautiful view the Prayer Rock offers.

 

Alas — it’s time to return, back over the rooty path to where you began.  Watch your step, and be sure to hand that walking stick that you found to the next traveler who wants to enjoy the hike to Barred Island.