Watch the tide at Oak Island
Maine boaters have the opportunity to experience some of the state's most spectacular natural wonders, whether in the form of seals basking on a seaweed-covered shoal or the awesome topography of a place like Mount Desert Island's Somes Sound, the only fjord on the East Coast. But by far the most impressive and powerful natural wonder that the Pine Tree State dishes up four times a day is the coming and going of the tide, and one of the best places to experience this force is at Oak Island (NOAA Chart No. 13305), on the north side of North Haven.
Forget to monitor your tide tables before transiting this narrow passage dividing West Penobscot Bay from the east bay and you'll soon discover why all the local captains have suddenly opted for the Fox Island Thorofare instead. "Not only can you have the tide going against you in the Oak Island passage, but there's also the Webster Head doldrums, where the warm air rising off North Haven, pushed by the prevailing southwesterlies, creates a calm spot," remarks Noah Barnes, captain of the passenger schooner Stephen Taber out of Rockland. "You always need to be thinking about the tide in that spot."
Barnes points to a couple of other troublesome tidal locations around Penobscot Bay, including the Muscle Ridge Channel off Owls Head and Dice Head near Castine, as spots where a foul tide can run several knots at its peak and even create huge waves for unsuspecting sailors. Though he admits to occasionally being on the wrong end of this natural phenomenon, Barnes says Maine's tides serve an important purpose in the Maine boating scene. "They scare the daylights out of visiting yachtsmen, which is a good thing as far as we're concerned," he quips. "A twelve-foot tide is simply baffling to most people, but up here it really is a factor in how you go about planning your day and the possibilities of where you go."