June 24, 2014: After a long day of birding the day before we slept in and relaxed the next day. Then it was time to head north towards New Harbor, Maine and our trip on the Hardy Boat Cruise to see puffins. Our arrival at the dock time was scheduled for 4:30 PM, but we left around noon time so we could bird our way there. We drove north along Route 1 and stopped in Wiscasset to count birds and eat lunch. We dined at a restaurant overlooking the river and the Wiscasset Bridge where we could see the traffic baking up as it headed south on Route 1 and hit the slower speeds of the town. However, the Northbound lanes seemed to be moving right along.
I ordered a haddock calzone sort of thing where the fish and food came wrapped in a pastry crust. While it was very good going down, I wondered if it was wise to eat since we were going on a boat ride, and I know I don’t have a very strong stomach. However, our cruise was still hours away, I reasoned, and my food would be mostly digested by then, right? We finished our meals and went down along the dock near the river to count a few more species of birds before getting back on the road. It was a good thing we did, for we found a Laughing Gull on some nearby rocks down below the bank. We did not see a lot of birds in Wiscasset, other than gulls and cormorants, but we saw two new species, the Laughing Gull, and a Fish crow!
The drive north was uneventful. Chris and Micheal looked out the windows at the countryside, and then the quaint little towns as we drove through Bristol, Maine and down into New Harbor. Once in the parking lot we already started counting birds in the surrounding area and on our walk down to the dock.
Hardy Boat Cruises have things arranged where you park up the hill from the harbor, then walk about 2/10ths of a mile down to the dock. All around us was the typical New England architecture that I am so use to as we passed farm houses and colonials and well kept lawns. Chris and Micheal got to hear a genuine Downeast accent from the parking lot attendant as we paid the $3.00 fee to park.
Once down at the dock I realized how chilly it was getting and I knew it would get colder out in the open air on the open sea, so after being dressed in Capri’s all afternoon, I went back to my car to put on long pants. In the end I was so glad that I did. It was so cold out there! We arrived an hour or more before our sail time so we hung around a bit and watched gulls and house sparrows hanging around and looking for food! We hoped we might see something a bit more spectacular there in the harbor, but no such luck. Finally we boarded the boat and claimed out seats topside and in the open. I knew that if I was going to survive this boat ride, I needed to be in the open air! I had my private collection of homeopathic remedies which I hoped would help me through the trip and I looked forward to seeing puffins! My camera was on my lap and my binoculars around my neck in preparation for our ride! I snapped a few cell phone photos while we waited, but saved my Nikon for the trip.
Then, the captain came on the loud speaker. He warned us the seas were very rough tonight and if anyone wanted to get off, they could get a full refund. But I sat tight. If it was only me, I probably would have rescheduled, but I really wanted to see this bird, and I wanted to share the experience with my best birding buddy, Chris. So I sat tight. It was fairly calm here in the harbor, and though I am by no means an experienced sailor of any sort, I did know the seas would be much rougher once we left the safety of the harbor. And I was right. After numerous appeals for people with weak stomachs to leave the boat (and some did), we finally set sail.
Micheal and I sat next to each other on one bench, with Chris sitting behind us. A brave young man who was the Audubon naturalist went to the front of the boat where he braced himself along the railings of the prow as we hit the open seas. We hit wave after wave and the boat rocked from side to side and up and down. Sometimes spray came over the prow and splashed the young man and others who stood beside him. The naturalist had a helper who tried to hold up placards with drawings of birds as they tried to explain what type of birds we would see out there. They told us the story of the Puffins, and how they were extirpated from the Gulf of Maine and the efforts that went into bringing them back. It was just amazing!
The brave young naturalist from Audubon.
However, I could barely look at anything. I soon found myself with my eyes fixed on the horizon. I could not look through my binoculars, never mind my camera lens. I took one shot of the naturalist before things got bad, and that was the only photo I took on the whole trip. I think I could have managed the motion of the boat, but the smell of the diesel fumes wafted up from below and into my nostrils. It slipped down my throat and into my stomach where the fumes seemed to churn with the fish and the dough and the cup of tea I had drunk long ago. I soon recognized the feeling and I knew I didn’t have long. I asked one of the ship mates what I should do if I have to vomit. He said go to the back of the boat or lean over the sides, but he also sent someone to get white paper vomit bags. I was not the only one who needed one.
I asked Micheal to change places with me so I could be near the side of the boat and he did. While the boat rocked and rolled and my stomach churned, Chris Rohrer was running around and standing up snapping photographs! Soon we were seeing terns hunting and fishing over the rolling sea. While Chris was laughing and having the time of his life, I could feel that it was all over for me. I raised that vomit bag to my mouth and tossed my cookies into it! As wave after wave of nausea hit me, I felt a calming touch on my back. It was Micheal offering me tender support without saying a word. I could feel his calmness flowing into me and it helped me to calm down as well.
Everything gets a little fuzzy for me from here on out. I know we finally reached the island. The boat slowed and made two or three passes along its shore where we could see Puffins, Arctic, and Roseate Terns, as well as hundreds of Laughing Gulls whose cries rose above the sounds of the crashing waves and the boat’s noisy motor. I could not raise my camera to take a single picture, but I did take a couple of brief glances through my binoculars to look at Puffins and Black Guillemots. Then, before I knew it, we were headed back.
I think it was at this point that I feared I needed another vomit bag and I asked Micheal to see if he could find me one. While he was gone I stared at the horizon and Chris ran around taking pictures. There were children on this boat that were totally unaffected by the tossing waves and diesel fumes. They laughed with every crashing roll we made, while I turned green and wondered where Micheal went. He soon came back with another bag for me, but left again, and we did not see him. Finally Chris sat back down and started to wonder where Micheal went as well. Neither of us saw him on top of the deck. Chris went below to see if he was sitting down there, but no. No Micheal. Where was he? Just as we were wondering if he had been tossed overboard he reappeared. It turns out that when he went below to get me another throw-up bag the motion got to him as well, and after bringing the bag to me, he went below deck to get sick in the restroom! I felt so bad then! He had tried to help me, and then he got sick as well! Micheal was my hero on this day!
Finally we breached the rocky shores that led into the calmer water of the harbor. Ahead of us I could hear the booming noise of a band playing at Shaw’s Restaurant. Each boom of the base penetrated my stomach and made me feel sick all over again. I had made the mistake of putting my closed up bag of puke on the floor between my feet. Of course the rolling seas knocked it over and I could not even do anything to pick it up. I was so green and weak and I just wanted off of that boat! I just wanted to be away from all that noise!
I think Chris or Micheal helped carry my tote bag off the boat. I walked slowly and calmly up the hill but as fast as I could to get away from the loud music. As I stood on the firm earth I was so glad to be still. I realized that while I was glad to have seen the puffins, I will probably never do a pelagic trip again! It was just too painful. That means there is a whole group of birds I will never see, for the only way to see them is if you go to sea. They never come to shore.
I was too sick to drive us home, so Chris drove while I dozed in the front seat next to him, and Micheal dozed in the back. For several days thereafter I still felt a bit woozy and weak, but we had more birds to see, and I did not let it stop me!
The folks at Hardy Boat Cruises did the best they could under the conditions. I was quite impressed with them and how they handled things. The Audubon naturalist was amazing and kept his cool and answered questions even though he had to hold on for dear life and his shirt got soaked from the sea spray. If you want to see puffins, I would still recommend this company, but just don’t ask me to accompany you on the trip!
It’s important to note that Hardy Boat Cruises works together with Project Puffin and part of the proceeds from every trip is donated to that cause!
In the end, Chris got four Life Birds on this trip, while I got two; the Arctic Tern and the Puffin, but I have to look at his photos to see them!
Birds seen in New Harbor:
- Common Eider
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Laughing Gull
- Herring Gull
- Great Black-backed Gull
- Mourning Dove
- Eastern Phoebe
- American Crow
- Fish Crow
- Barn Swallow
- Gray Catbird
- European Starling
- Yellow Warbler
- Chestnut-sided Warbler
- Song Sparrow
- Common Grackle
- House Sparrow
Birds seen on the Puffin Cruise:
- Common Eider
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Black Guillemot
- Atlantic Puffin
- Laughing Gull
- Herring gull
- Great black-backed Gull
- Roseate Tern
- Common Tern
- Arctic Tern
- Mourning Dove