Kids Just Wanna Have Fun at SeaSpray Kayaking


Image courtesy of Sea Spray Kayaking

By Tamsin Venn

Our current issue features some great tips and advice on what the camp counselors have to say about the fun kids have learning at kayak camp. We talked to Scott Shea, owner of SeaSpray Kayaking and Paddleboarding on the New Meadows River in midcoast, Maine. Shea is a long-term outdoors teacher and father of three sons so he’s in a good position to know.

“We’ve had kids who started in our kids camp when they were 11, now they are out of college, got their Maine Guide License, and are actually guiding for us… and they have full time jobs. It’s neat to see the interest sparked early and that it’s something that continues for personal and professional reasons,” says Shea.

Seaspray offers half-day and full-day camps for kids starting at age eight. It used to have half-day morning camps for just the younger kids, to keep their attention and to avoid the afternoon sea breezes that the older kids could handle better. But now Seaspray gives a choice of a half day or full day for everybody.

“That’s worked out. The kids know what they like, whether they want to be outdoors all day. The biggest thing we’ve found in teaching kids is that they learn by doing. The adults want to know precisely about what their body position should be, but the kids just kind of watch, and say ‘Hey I can do that,’ and then do it. Younger kids wonder how to do a roll. You just set them up and give them a feeling of what to do and they’re rolling. Adults don’t allow their brains to relax and feel it,” says Shea, psyched by his young students’ can-do attitude.

“With the kids, combining all kinds of challenges and games with the instruction works well. In wet exits, we tell them to hit the hull of the kayak before they release the spray skirt, they do it 51 times, so the next person has to get 52. We don’t have to say anything to keep them relaxed under water, it’s neat to see the kids push one another. They’re learning what they don’t even realize they’re learning. When we get into rescues, we treat it as a game. If they capsize, it’s fun to get the gear, get reoriented, and get paddling versus something that has to be really scary.”

Other activities include sailing with umbrellas or tarps, scavenger hunts, tugs of war, and fishing. SeaSpray offers week-long camps June through August at seven locations in Maine from West Bath to South Portland. It also has an advanced overnight camp and a fishing camp in Falmouth. Like the coast of Maine, every camp is a little different, Shea notes, with wide open ocean and surfing off Cape Elizabeth. Some areas are better for fishing, and some for whitewater. (Seaspray also sponsors a kids’ fishing tournament every year.)

Regarding the use of mobile devices, “The only break they get is snack time or lunch time, We don’t even have to say anything. We don’t have the downtime, so kids can’t go running over to use their devices,” says Shea.

Shea is highly experienced in outdoor teaching. Notably, he is the father of three sons, ages 12, 14, and 18. “They love the outdoors, so that’s always a nice thing,” he says of his three boys. He continues to take any outdoor ed class he can, and he’s gone through all the Maine Guide licenses in the state.

Age appropriate gear is essential. “The kids get free rentals for the rest of the summer, so they’ll bring their parents, and the parents are shocked on how well their children just take off. They didn’t think they could go that fast and that long. A lot of it is in the kayaks they are in. The number one thing parents should understand is the importance of equipment.”

For more information, visit the Sea Spray Kayaking website.

Kayaking Tips for Seniors by Tamsin Venn

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A pod of oldies paddles the Ipswich marsh. Photo by Tamsin Venn.

Kayak touring is one of the best recreational activities for seniors. It is low impact. It’s easy to learn. It’s a great way to get together with other seniors and connect. It’s intellectually stimulating involving navigation skills and tide charts.
Here are ten tips to make this sport even more enjoyable.

  • 1) Go light. Lifting a kayak on and off cars or the beach can strain your back. Light kayaks made of carbon fiberglass material can be well worth the investment. More kayak manufacturers, recognizing the need of the older paddler, are reducing weight using various materials. Aim for a boat 35 pounds or less. Consider a wood kayak, which is light, durable, lively, and lovely to look at.
  • 2) Invest in a good paddle for ease of swing weight. Again carbon light materials can be expensive but well worth the price, and wood is a good option. Consider a Greenland paddle. It has a longer and narrower blade that lessens the upload on your arms and shoulders.
  • 3) Lifting your kayak on and off a car, especially as a solo paddler, can be onerous. Thule makes something called a Hullavator, a mobile rack that allows you to load the kayak at waist level on the side of the car, then lifts it onto a rack on top of the car. A strut device eases most of the kayak’s weight.
  • 4) Most kayak accidents happen on land, on rocky shores where you may slip on seaweed. Always step in between the rocks, not on top of them.
  • 5) A kayak cart removes the need to haul it on your shoulders. You can even rig up a cart to a bike to get your boat to the water. If you ever go to the Adirondacks, where portaging from one pond to another is de rigeur, you will see seniors everywhere using kayak carts. Strap them to the back of your kayak when not in use, or stow them in the rear hatch. Nothing says portage better than kayak cart.
  • 6) The usual kayak safety planning is even more important as you get older. File a float plan with a family member or friend. That indicates your proposed route, time of return, and a description of your kayak. Other useful (and in some cases mandatory) items: a weather radio to indicate wind force and direction; cell phone in waterproof case or VHF; a pfd (personal flotation device); whistle; and a wetsuit or drysuit if you are paddling in cold water. Hypothermia from cold water immersion is one of the kayaker’s biggest challenges.
  • 7) Carry a tow rope, so you can tow the grandkids in their kayaks back to shore if they get tired, or so they can tow you! Towing is a remarkably easy way to assist someone back to shore.
  • 8) In the off season, lift light weights to keep shoulders and arms strong.
  • 9) Do yoga to assist in balance and flexibility, especially key for getting in and out of your kayak.
  • 10) As in downhill skiing, road biking, or other low-impact sports where you might run into crowds of people or vehicles, it’s best to venture out when you can expect less traffic. Avoid busy summer weekends when motorboat and Jet Ski traffic is at its most frantic… and noisy. Go early in the morning, when the world is tranquil, and you’ve got the water to yourself.

Happy Summer Paddling!

Tamsin Venn is the publisher of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker and a regular contributor to

Tamsin Venn Reviews the 2016 MITA Guide

You know summer has arrived when the MITA (Maine Island Trail Assn.) guidebook arrives in the mail. Or the link to the new mobile app in iTunes for the online version. Now we can get down to some serious paddling adventure planning in Maine this summer.
The guidebook always sends me into flights of fancy. Will this be the summer I paddle the entire trail, from Kittery Point to Machias? With family obligations lessening their pull, why not?
The other approach, though, as I read through most of 280 pages or so of the 6×8 spiral notebook is the idea of sampling. Let’s see, I could launch from Round Pond and visit Thief in Muscongus Bay or launch from Tenants Harbor and visit Cylends; or set out from Millbridge Town Landing to land on the bold and beautiful Bois Bubert. I am always ready to go back to Deer Isle, stay at Old Quarry, and do the Merchant Row circuit; then Jonesport Campground and paddle to the exquisite Little Water island. Just drive up for the weekend and putter around for a couple of days.
It is all eminently doable thanks to the MITA guidebook, which has now been published for 28 years. Like a sturdy oak tree, it has aged well. It still uses a lot of the original material – about 40 pages of the essentials like what to carry for safety measures, wildlife protection and viewing, camping regulations, leave no trace, what to do with waste and trash, afternoon winds and weather, and how to tie a knot or two. All of it is incredibly useful information, admonitions interspersed with basic know how.
Then come descriptions of the islands themselves, running south to north, now ending in the Canadian Maritimes. Having received this book every year for more than two decades, I flipped through, savoring many memorable visits of the place and people I was with.
The tenor has altered, from the mix of public BPL (Bureau of Parks & Lands) and privately owned islands, once nearly 50/50 split as I recall. MITA was a marriage of state and private owners who embraced and respected the spirit of mariners using their islands in the public interest. Over the years, a new cast of players has joined the ranks. Fifty concerns – land trusts, friends of, towns, a science center, a college, Audubon, Chewonki, and even the Cuckolds Fog Signal & Light Station Council, have joined the ranks, publicizing use, mostly day use only, but necessary jewels in the crown for safe navigation along the coast. It is a remarkable consortium of island owners, all joined in the spirit of providing public access. They only ask one thing, that the paddler follow the usage guidelines and restrictions, listed on the site description pages in the guidebook.
I would venture that the idea of the trail as an Appalachian Trail on water – the holy grail of paddling the full 375 miles, from Portsmouth to Cobscook Bay, spending a summer to do so, using the 200 islands and mainland sites as stepping stones – is still alive and well.
I found myself checking out, with increased interest, the islands of one acre or less which the guidebook notes would accommodate only two people; like the tiny house movement, maybe the tiny island movement will take off.
Also, I aim to use the app which is loaded with very useful information, including photos of the islands so you can get an idea of what the island looks like and land on the right one.
Summer is not summer without a trip to a Maine island. For the price of membership in MITA, you have all the information you need to make that happen. Go to MITA’s website for more.
See you on a Maine island!
Photos are copyright by Daniel E. Smith / and courtesy of the Maine Island Trail Assc.

Paddling Pater on Dies Patris

So, we were actually a week off. I’m going to try to see if I can winkle another breakfast-in-bed on the actual date. As part of my wishes for Father’s Day, I wanted to go on a family paddle. 18-year-old Anton was unmoved by filial loyalty and buzzed off with his friends, but I managed to get Tammy, daughter Lilly, and her friend Dan out. Unfortunately, although the day was quite lovely, there were extremely high winds (17-45 mph) and small craft advisories, so we decided to go to the closest large lake around, Chebacco in Essex. (And, yes, if you google Lake Chewbacca, you will find a link to it, as well as to that crazy (like a fox!) Chewbacca Mom on youtube.)
We got to the lake just as a large contingent of gleaming, sparkly bass boats were leaving. The lake is small enough (~240 acres) that boats are supposed to all travel counter-clockwise. Since we mostly had the lake to ourselves, and since we hugged the windward shore, as much as one exists on a small lake, we paddled where we chose and encountered nothing worse than winds strong enough to tear my sun hat off. A short paddle, and not one I would choose except in similar conditions, but pleasant enough. I suspect that if the winds had not been so fierce, we would have found the lake covered with boats on a beautiful Sunday. Tammy took the pics with the neat camera I gave her on Mother’s Day 2015, which is why no pics of her, but I think the one of her and Hog Island at the top of the blog makes up for that.


Some accessories for Puisinniaq

Recently got Skinboats of Greenland (Ships and Boats of the North) by Greenlander HC Pedersen and decided to make some accessories. I built two more skinny sticks. I used some scrap Corian I bought on eBay to make “whale bone” tips and edges on one, and ipe scraps for the hard edges on the other. I also got hold of some faux ivory, removed the deck bungees and added carved tighteners and spacers, and then crafted a practice harpoon and made a faux ivory point in case I meet any styrofoam seals on the water.