Snorkeling in Maine waters will open your eyes to a “fascinating” new world

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This story was originally published in September 2019.

Lobsters, giant fish, snapping turtles and sunken ships. Maine’s underwater world is filled with wonders, according to those who enjoy snorkeling.

A niche activity in the Northeast, snorkeling is fairly easy to learn. The equipment required – a mask, snorkel and flippers – is inexpensive and low-tech. And given the many lakes, rivers and creeks in the area, there are plenty of places to explore.

“It’s like walking through the looking glass into a totally different world,” said Justus Magee, 42, of Glenburn. “It’s absolutely fascinating.”

In search of lake monsters

Maine is home to thousands of lakes and ponds, many of which are great for snorkeling. These bodies of water vary widely in their geological characteristics, as well as the aquatic plants and animals they contain.

“Every time I go to the lake, even with friends, I always bring my fins and my mask,” Magee said. “I’m kinda kidding myself.”

Snorkeling is an activity in which you swim on the surface of the water, breathing through a tube called a snorkel. One end of the tube is placed in your mouth, while the other end is in the back of your head, above the surface of the water. This allows you to breathe while swimming face down.

Wearing fins on your feet allows you to swim faster, and wearing a mask over your eyes and nose allows you to see clearly. It also keeps you from getting water in your nose.

“It’s like meditation because a snorkel forces you to be aware of your breath,” Magee said.

While snorkeling in Maine lakes, Magee swam alongside a large bass. He found a Coca-Cola bottle from 1962. And he often explores interesting rock formations, which are only visible underwater.

“I think one of the coolest parts of snorkeling Maine lakes is that you can see all the geological differences,” Magee said. “Schoodic [Lake] is absolutely beautiful, the geology of it. You can actually see all kinds of different types of petrified silt patterns.

[Filmmaker dives to sunken steamboats in Moosehead Lake]

Nuggett Wagner, 64, of Ellsworth, also enjoys snorkeling in Maine’s lakes, especially the crystal clear bodies of water near her home. She was first introduced to the activity as a child in Winterport, but didn’t really pursue the hobby until about 8 years ago. Since then, she has been snorkeling fairly regularly, starting in June and continuing through early fall.

“I just like to look around,” Wagner said. “I like to do photography on land, to see what’s under my feet. So why not underwater?

Using a waterproof GoPro camera, Wagner snaps photos of fish, turtles, water lilies and other delicate aquatic plants. She also shoots underwater videos to share with family and friends.

“I don’t really know [my] fish, but at Branch Pond I saw a catfish one day,” she said. “And around fall I was at Craig Pond and there were all kinds of big lazy looking fish circling around in a big school. Someone told me they were probably suckers .

Although the water near her home is relatively clean, she sometimes finds trash at the bottom of lakes.

“I found stuff that was obviously from ice fishermen like frying pans and knives and things they were cooking with on the ice,” she said. “And you know what? I find a lot of golf balls.

Brave the current

Maine is home to some of the wildest whitewater in the Northeast, including a series of turbulent rapids on the West Fork of the Penobscot River. This is where Jay Robinson, 64, of Woodville goes snorkeling.

Specifically, Robinson snorkels in an eddy channel at Pockwockamus Falls, where the current is gentle and fish are abundant. He started swimming there in the 1980s, when his father bought a camp about a mile up the river.

“There are all sorts of interesting things to see, especially the further you swim in the current,” Robinson said. “There are some nice pools, not too deep, where you can hold onto the rocks and lay on the bottom and see some fish and stuff.”

A snorkel only provides air at the surface of the water, but many divers dive to get closer to underwater features. While doing this, they must hold their breath. Additionally, they may need to equalize their ears, releasing pressure by pinching their nose and blowing gently. And when they surface, they often have to blow the water out of their snorkel before using it to breathe again.

A few years ago, on a particularly hot summer day, Robinson went down to “The Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole” and noticed a pile of broken turtle eggs along the shore. Without thinking, he dove in and noticed what looked like a beautiful moss-covered rock on the bottom. When he was about a foot from the “rock”, he realized it was a large snapping turtle.

“I saw his tail slowly waving in the current,” Robinson said. “Never has a person come out of the water faster than me.”

Over the years, while snorkeling in the Penobscot, Robinson has seen freshwater crayfish and clams, sunken logs from the days of the log drive and colorful current-worn rocks. impetuous. And once in a while he spy what the fly fishermen on the river are hoping to catch.

“I found [that] if I stood in the same spot, in deep water, especially in the evening just before dark, I would see good sized trout and salmon,” Robinson said.

Exploring the Maine Ocean

When people think of snorkeling in the ocean, they usually think of tropical places that have colorful fish and coral reefs. But Maine’s coastal waters are teeming with interesting creatures and aquatic plants that can easily be observed while snorkeling. It is also home to a number of sunken ships.

“If you are in a nice site with great visibility, you can see crabs, lobsters, different types of fish, hermit crabs, [and] different types of algae,” said Jim Dock, lead instructor at Aqua Diving Academy in Portland. “You never know what you’re going to get from day to day.”

Freediving is often a gateway activity to scuba diving, which is a much more complex sport that requires special training and equipment, Dock said. Scuba diving allows people to dive deeper and stay underwater longer as it includes the use of an oxygen tank. These two activities are often sports of a lifetime.

“A lot of people get to grips with freediving first,” Dock said. “Kids learn it at summer camp or at their family camp and then go from there. That’s how I scuba dive myself.

Generally moor snorkels in shallow, protected coves where exposure to wind and current is limited. These places are safer for swimming, but they also tend to have clearer water than areas where wind and waves lift sediment from the bottom.

No matter where you choose to snorkel on the Maine coast, it will be cold. Water temperatures peak in September at around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. To stay warm, Dock advises wearing a wetsuit.

“Learning to relax is key,” Dock said. “Once you settle in, relax and ride it, it’s very peaceful. One of the things I enjoy most about snorkeling and diving is that it’s calm and allows you to get out of your normal world and focus on something different.”

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