Watching wildlife from a whisper-quiet ecotour boat in Belfast

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 12:30pm

BELFAST— On any given day, passengers aboard Belfast’s newest ecotour boat Caretta cruising up the Passagassawakeag River will hear no sounds other than the natural strains of wind or the lapping of waves, but they might see seals pop up and dive for fish, or a Bald Eagle family, and numerous seabirds such as cormorants, loons, shore birds and a Great Blue Heron.

Captain Channing Boswell, an outdoor enthusiast, is behind the wheel of this restored Navy whaleboat. Personable, easygoing, he is a wealth of knowledge about the Passy River, as its known to locals, identifying everything in the working waterfront of Belfast Bay from vessels to historical sites along the river.

As the boat passes under the Armistice foot bridge, and the Veteran’s Memorial traffic bridge into calmer, flat water, all noise from the working waterfront disappears, opening up to a myriad of wildlife. And high tie or low tide, the experience changes every day with every trip.

“At high tide, you’re likely to see seals,” said Boswell. “The other day, we witnessed a seal corraling a school of fish and then leaping up to through he center with a fish in its mouth. That was pretty fantastic. At low tide, birders will get to see numerous species assemble on the mud flats.”

The experience is ideal for people who don’t own or can’t kayak the upper part of the river.

With a box of binoculars on board, passengers can use them to see just about anything on both sides of the shoreline.

In June, Boswell discovered a Bald Eagle’s nest in a tree located at the City Point.

“I can’t guarantee a sighting each trip, but we have seen both the mother and father Bald eagle and the offspring, which I call ‘Junior,’” he said.

Boswell hadn’t initially set out to create an ecotour; the idea came to him while searching for model Navy whaleboats on eBay.

“ I was looking at all of these models and then a real one popped up [in the listings] and that’s how I ended up with it,” he said.

It took him six months to refurbish the 1987 whaleboat, raise the floor, install an Elco inboard electric motor, install a canopy and railings and build easy to navigate wide steps down into the vessel. His first tour of the season kicked off the July Fourth weekend.

“Everything is up to code and I can take six passengers with my current license,” he said. “I’m still working with the Coast Guard to get certified to take on 12 passengers.”

Boswell and his wife split their time between Florida and Morrill, Maine where they’ve owned a house for 12 years. In the winters, Boswell works as a captain on a dive support vessel in Lousiana, but his love of kayaking on the Passy led him to a new career change.

Not only is the ride up the Passy a peaceful, quiet break from the respite from the typical loud drone of gas engines, the boat has a zero emissions output, the first of its kind in Belfast. With Belfast a destination known for its “green” shops and practices, Boswell’s new business fits right in with the city’s ethos.

“The city has been very supportive of this ecotour and so have all of the other captains of the tour boats.”

Beyond wildlife tours, Boswell also does private charters and happy hour tours. “You can come out, bring a cooler, bring some snack and everyone can just sit back and talk to each other in a normal voice because it’s so quiet,” he said.


Kay Stephens can be reached at