For more than 10 years, the Natural Resources Council of Maine has partnered with Maine sporting camps to offer discounts on outdoor adventures and overnight stays to NRCM members. Recently we have started partnering with other outdoor recreation companies, the most recent being DoryWoman Rowing in Belfast. Between now and May 31, 2022, contact us to receive your discount voucher to try rowing in Belfast Harbor with Nicolle Littrell, a licensed Maine Guide and owner of DoryWoman Rowing. To learn more about what Nicolle offers her guests, read this blog she shares about a recent winter rowing excursion, and then start planning yours today!
It’s February 16th and fifteen degrees. My client and I head down to my slip where my dory boat Sorciere is docked. A light frost coats the docks, which glitter in the sun. Despite the frigid temperatures, we don’t feel cold. The sun is beaming at full power, and the wind is fairly calm. This abates some of the bitterness. We greet my boat and remove her cover, which I’m grateful for in these colder months, rife with snow, sleet, and ice. The cover protects her interior from these vagaries of winter. I’m now feeling warm enough to remove my “cover,” as well. I take off my coat, confident the other three layers I have on will suffice! After my boat’s lines are untied, our oars in the oarlocks, the VHF radio on, and the right gloves decided on for the conditions, we push off from the dock.
The water is dead calm in the inner harbor, though further out we can see “cat’s paws,” signifying the wind that awaits us, coming out of the south. A red-throated loon skims nearby, plunging into the water in search of food. As we approach the red tugboats near the Belfast City public landing, we see traces of sea smoke rising up from the water’s surface. I try in vain to capture an image of this with my iPhone; it is as ephemeral as a ghost.
As we progress further out into the harbor, we are careful to avoid the surface ice that is clinging to and radiating out from the shoreline. We row south out into the bay, staying close to shore and are greeted by a gentle headwind, which increases as we move away from areas of shoreline that provide a lee. We see buffleheads take flight from the water and flutter by, as well as flocks of mallards and gulls.
We practice several technique-focused drills, staying in motion, important when temperatures are this cold. We get into a good rowing groove and soon reach our turn-around point—a pier jutting out from the shore, about two miles from my dock. We pivot the boat around and take a break, floating on the ocean swell. This is an opportunity to take a drink of water and drink in the view, which, from our location, offers a panorama of Penobscot Bay. Bayside and Isleboro are just ahead to the south. Castine and Blue Hill to the east. Sears Island and Moose Point just behind us to the North. We can see the mountains of Acadia and Isle au Haut in the distance. We are just a small speck in this vast body of water. It feels big, but we also know we are a part of it.
It is quiet in the bay this time of year; few other boats venture out in the winter in this area. Yet, the water is persistently alive, everchanging with the interplay of light on the surface and effects of the wind, which is now picking up. Time to head back to the dock! Before we start rowing, we acknowledge the moon, which, though not visible to us, will reach full illumination this morning. I lament that I will not be able to do my Moon & Stars row this evening, marking a break in my near continuous run of these special rows, which I’ve been doing since last spring. It will be too windy, cold, and cloudy to gaze at the Snow Moon this evening. Sigh.
We row back toward Belfast Harbor, noting the contrast of the feel of rowing against the wind and tide versus a trailing wind and following seas. The boat tracks differently in these conditions, and we work with her to catch the current and surf the waves back into the harbor. In a way, it feels like choreographing a dance with a clumsy partner (the boat, not my client)!
This is winter rowing. Fierce winds, bitter temps, snow, ice. Why do my clients and I do this? Because there is nothing else like it. There is also the brilliant sun, wildlife to commune with (some species that are only here in the winter), days of dead calm where it feels like you could row to eternity, startling sunsets and rising moons, the briskness and freshness of the cold…a potent reminder we are alive. And the deep relationship to place. I am grateful and privileged to have this opportunity to row in the winter, and also for the folks who choose to join me.
Nicolle Littrell is an ocean rower, licensed Maine Guide and owner of DoryWoman Rowing in Belfast.
To learn more about Nicolle and DoryWoman Rowing or to book your row, please visit www.dorywomanrowing.com or @dorywomanrowing on Instagram and Facebook.
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