Maine Canoe Symposium
Keith Attenborough was kind enough to share his thoughts on the wonderful Maine Canoe Symposium. Read on!
The way to start summer – the Maine Canoe Symposium
I’m an old(er) paddler, but new to canoeing; so as my first season with a single blade ended, I started looking for places I could get some help. A quick search turned up the Maine Canoe Symposium. The Symposium has been held at the Winona Camp for Boys on Moose Pond in Bridgeton, Maine for 38 years — the first 25 as the L.L. Bean Canoe Symposium and the last 13 as the Maine Canoe Symposium, organized by a group of dedicated volunteers who have kept it going since L.L. Bean withdrew (these folks deserve at least three “Huzzah”s). When I saw the history I immediately registered and began looking forward to June 9-11, 2017.
When the time came, it only took a couple of hours to get from Newburyport to the Camp. Winona (established 1908) is a beautiful venue with multiple launch points for separate, simultaneous on-water sessions and plenty of space for on-land workshops,. Permanent buildings abound and the dining hall was not only comfortable, but contained a really talented group of cooks — the food was substantial and very good. The view across the Pond to the snow on Mt Washington in the distance was inspiring, and even the loons were in tune. The Winona staff was uniformly courteous and helpful — a great crew.
A real advantage to the Symposium being at Winona is that, between the camp and the instructors, all the gear (canoes, SUPs, paddles, life vests, etc.) needed for the on-water workshops is supplied. This makes it easy for folks who are just getting a feel for canoeing or coming from a distance to participate in all of the activities.
The Symposium starts with Friday afternoon registration and runs through Sunday lunch. I got there a little after it opened and got directions to the tenting area where I had reserved space. Attendees can reserve platform wall tents, which come with camp beds and linens, or bring their own tents and gear, which is what I did. I spent the rest of the afternoon setting up my tent and doing a walk about to get familiar with the facilities.
Dinner was at 5:30PM and, on Friday, was followed by the Kids’ and Parents’ Meeting at 6:30PM. That’s another thing that stood out – how family friendly the Symposium was. There is a dedicated Junior Program Staff and activities specifically designed for the younger set, including during the evening presentations. Camping areas include family and adult-only sites. There are quiet hours at night and the meals have offerings that appeal to the younger folks.
The first round of workshop signups, for the Saturday morning sessions, started at 7PM. Workshops (1:15 hours) were grouped into 2 sessions Saturday morning, 2 sessions Saturday afternoon, and 2 sessions Sunday morning. Each session had 9 to 12 individual workshops (some were workshops are repeated), split between on-water and on-land. Topics covered everything from strokes to safety and from camping to tripping. Lot of stuff going on!
Most of the on-water sessions had some space limit, so a sign up process was needed. This year the organizers assigned each attendee a random number (printed on the name tags — the tags were another nice feature). The first signup round (for Saturday morning) ran the numbers from low to high, the second signup (for Saturday afternoon) from high to low and the last (for Sunday morning) used a somewhat random order. It worked very smoothly and it seemed most people got into their first choice.
The workshops were a treat. You can see the full schedule and class descriptions on the Symposium’s web site (link below). I can tell you the instructors were incredibly experienced paddlers and uniformly good at teaching. I learned something useful in each class and smoothed out several kinks in my strokes. I did a bit of unscheduled swimming in the canoe poling class (I figured I might and had swimming gear on) and in the Intro to the High Kneel on SUP. Here’s a hint: if you’re learning a new stroke on a watercraft you’ve never paddled before (my first time on a SUP), wear a bathing suit.
The evenings after dinner were filled with presentations (and fun and games for the kids). On Friday night, Winchell Delano described how he and five friends paddled from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Circle, in a talk titled “Rediscovering North America”. Saturday night started with a Silent Auction of donated gear. Then Pam Boteler of WomenCAN International, described her fight to get Women’s Canoeing accepted as an Olympic sport (Spoiler alert: Women’s C1 and C2 will be in the 2020 Games). The evening closed with a campfire.
Attendees: Consistently friendly, especially with newbies like me, with a lot of good info to be had just by chatting.
Bugs: Not bad — no-see-um’s didn’t seem to be out and the mosquitos were easily managed with bug spray.
Food: Buffet style, multiple choices at each meal, well cooked and plenty of it.
Walking: Camp runs along the shore of Moose Pond, so it’s a modest walk from one end to another. If you bring you’re own boat it’s easy to paddle from one spot to another.
Facilities: Indoor plumbing and hot showers, scattered throughout the camp.
Let me close this way: if you’re interested in canoeing — from “just starting to think about it” to “fully dedicated” — the Maine Canoe Symposium should be on your calendar for next June. It is well planned, well run, in a great location, with friendly folks, skilled instructors teaching interesting stuff, good food, and family friendly. What more can you ask for?
Link to web site: http://www.mainecanoesymposium.org/Site/Home.html
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Maine-Canoe-Symposium-184685804942288/