It isn’t often that you get to see the full force of Mother Nature at her angriest, so when we knew that Hurricane Bill would glance the Maine coast, it seemed like a good idea to take a ride down to Acadia National Park to witness the event. The possibility of some big waves was exciting, and since the hurricane was way off shore, the potential for any real danger seemed minimal.
We arrived in Acadia National Park just after noon, and knowing that high tide wasn’t scheduled to be until 1:38pm, we decided to take a quick drive to the top of Cadillac to check out the view and see if there were any strong winds to experience. Cadillac was breezy, but there weren’t any hurricane force winds to be had. What we did see though, was a very impressive display of surf hitting just about every piece of coastline in view. Across the bay at Schoodic there are always some pretty big waves, but even from as far away as the top of Cadillac we could see that there was something special going on. Down below in Frenchman’s Bay things looked pretty interesting too, so we decided to make our way down the mountain and along the Loop Road to see just how interesting things were.
As we pulled up to the entrance to the park, we actually hit traffic. In all my times visiting the park, I had never seen more than a couple of cars in line here. I started wondering if there were more people like us thinking we were in for a show, but as we approached the gate an ambulance roared up past the traffic, and at that time we figured something was definitely up. When we got to the gate the rangers were directing traffic away from the park and back toward Bar Harbor. We followed the detour back toward town, and then drove out past where the Loop Road is one-way, and arrived where Otter Cliffs rise up some 110 feet above the ocean. We were not really prepared for what we saw next.
After having just arrived home from our vacation to the West coast where we saw some powerful surf along Big Sur, we thought we had a good idea of what to expect back here in Maine on this day. However, as we walked toward the ocean, we soon realized that this was going to be different. The waves were monstrous… almost frightening. This was not a “cool” sight, but rather it was quite unsettling. There was a definite imbalance here… the powerful swells that were rising and pounding the coast were like nothing I have ever seen. They would ominously and frighteningly roll toward shore, rise up however many feet and then break with a massive wave crashing onto the shore with such force that it casually but violently tossed huge rocks up and down Boulder Beach with ease.
Ironically the weather was nice… sunny and 80 degrees with very little wind. People travel from all over the world to witness the waves along the Maine coast, so it comes as little surprise that some were caught off their guard by the immense power of these waves. Sam and I both had our cameras with us, and he used his to capture this impressive image of a giant wave breaking over Otter Cliffs. For those of you unfamiliar with this area, Otter Cliffs consist of a 110 feet tall granite slab… that’s right, 110 feet!
Normally there are dozens of people strewn across the granite rocks along the coast below Otter Cliffs enjoying what is one of my favorite views, but on this afternoon the park rangers had ordered people off the rocks and even the shore path back onto the Loop Road. Waves were crashing in and some actually swept not only over all of the rocks, but also over the top of cars driving on the Loop Road!
Unfortunately there were some tragedies on this afternoon. As I stood talking to a young park ranger he was obviously agitated about the scene, and he informed me that he thought there had been at least 6 people swept into the ocean, and at that point he wasn’t too optimistic about their chances. What started out as an exciting and truly awe-some sight, quickly deteriorated into a sad and almost surreal experience.
As rumors were flying between the onlookers about the scale of the tragedy, amazingly people were still putting themselves in mortal danger by moving right down to the edge of the rocks along the shore path and if you look closely in many of these images there are people perched precariously on top of Otter Cliffs… all for what, a photograph? Some of these same people actually became somewhat indignant when told by the park rangers to move back to the safety of the Loop Road… I say shame on them.
We realized that the throngs of people doing exactly what we were doing as sightseers were not helping this situation at all, so we quickly decided it would be in everyone’s best interests if we left the scene. We retreated to Bar Harbor with feelings of awe, respect, and a degree of uneasiness in light of the display of raw power that we had just witnessed from Mother Nature.
An update on the events that transpired today – from the Bangor Daily News this evening via the AP:
“A large wave fueled by Hurricane Bill swept spectators out to sea at a Maine park Sunday as the storm-churned surf attracted onlookers and daredevils along the Eastern Seaboard. A man, a woman and a 7-year-old girl were pulled from the sea near Acadia National Park, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shane Coxon said. The girl was unresponsive when she was rescued, the woman appeared to have a broken leg and the man had a previous heart condition that appeared to be acting up, Coxon said. About 20 people were swept into the ocean and 17 of them got out on their own, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Sansoucie said. About 10 of those people were taken to the hospital for minor injuries, he said. Others on shore suffered minor injuries after being knocked to the rocks by the waves, Acadia National Park Chief Ranger Stuart West said.”