Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Bold Coast: Boot Head

I had a lesson to teach on Cobscook Bay, so Rebecca and I used the opportunity to get away for a couple of days and get in a little paddling and hiking of our own. We’ve been at Old Quarry in Stonington, doing a bit of everything, and it felt good to be going down the road, off in our own world again.

Meeting the locals at Cobscook Bay
We camped at Cobscook Bay State Park, and after my lesson on Monday we went in to Eastport to poke around in a way that we really couldn’t when we were camping out of our kayaks. The town seemed quiet, recovering from the weekend festivities – a Pirate festival, and there wasn’t much going on. We strolled the empty sidewalks, peering in windows: antique shops, galleries, a marijuana dispensary, a pet store… We looked at the statues and the waterfront and pondered the menu at a restaurant before deciding to return to the campground to make dinner. 

But Tuesday we had all day to explore and the weather was fairly calm and warm- almost hard to believe how nice it felt. Like summer. We launched at Baileys Mistake, at a launch mostly used for the 8 or 10 lobster boats that moor nearby. There’s not much parking there along the roadside- barely enough for the fishermen’s trucks and trailers, so at this point it’s not really a dependable launch for kayakers, but I heard it was being acquired by a land trust. Hopefully this is true and they will develop the parking enough to accommodate both fishermen and recreational boaters. The launch adds considerable possibilities to Bold Coast paddling – easier access to (or a bailout from) the stretch between Moose Cove and Quoddy Head (Route #2 in my guidebook) which includes Boot and Eastern Heads, cliffy sections of coast with plenty of nooks to explore if the seas aren’t too big.

We paddled out of the harbor and soon exchanged our caps for helmets so we could get into some tighter spots among the rocks. The mild swell felt perfect for some gentle play, and we made our way along the shore slowly, looking for small challenges. We hadn’t done much paddling like this for awhile. The last time we’d passed here we’d been offshore in a dense fog, a thirty-four mile day that afforded us little time or energy for anything beyond getting to our destination. Today, with no destination, we paddled our barely loaded, nimble Delphins – the opposite of the sort of paddling we’d done most of the summer, and we felt playful, cut loose, remembering how it feels to make a tight turn through a slot or let the surf take you over a ledge, simply because you can.

Currents get to be fairly consequential in this area, but for the first stretch we noticed very little current close to shore- not even eddies. We rounded Boot Head near mid tide though, and with the increased mid-tide current and the concentrated flow off the headland, the conditions were getting livelier. As we took a break on the beach at Boot Head Cove, we watched the surface turn into acres of whitecaps- true to form for the Bold Coast. I’ve heard plenty of sweeping statements about the place, but the most accurate and useful one is that things can change here pretty quickly, and often, dramatically.

The paddling was really no more difficult though. For us it mostly meant that our long-period small swells had been replaced with short-period bouncy chop- not really conducive to much play along the shore. That was okay- we’d had our fun and now it was a short paddle back to the launch. We were still hoping to get-in a hike. 

Last month as we paddled past the Cutler Peninsula – another stretch of awesome cliffy shoreline, we saw some hikers atop the bluffs and wondered how they’d managed to get there. Chatting with some local walkers on another trail, we heard about a trail that goes out to Western Head in Cutler, down near the end of Destiny Bay Road, and we thought we’d give it a try. We weren’t too surprised to find a 247-acre preserve owned by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, preserved since 1988. Like many of MCHT’s properties, the deal seems to be that ‘if you don’t already know about it, they won’t tell you,’ which is probably an effective way to limit traffic. It has a small parking area- maybe room for 5 or 6 cars, and maybe it’s good that it’s a well-kept secret, since it is an absolute gem. A 3.5-mile trail follows the Little River out to the head where it loops along the bluff-tops with views out to Grand Manan and southwest toward Cross Island. The trails are well-maintained, and you get some nice glimpses of Cutler Harbor as well. I’m glad we found it, and it makes me wonder how many more MCHT properties there are out there. I guess we’ll just keep roaming and see what we run into.

Route #2 in AMC’s BestSea Kayaking in New England covers the area between Carrying Place Cove in Lubec and Moose Cove. The launch in Baileys Mistake is not included, but if it really is being acquired by a land trust and the parking situation improves, it will make it into the next edition. Conditions during today’s paddle were mild, but the guidebook has much sterner warnings as well as strategies for paddling this area. One of the most volatile and remote areas of the New England coast, it is not a place for inexperienced or unprepared paddlers.

Here’s a link to some more info on MCHT’s Western Head Preserve. And here’s a link to the MCHT website, which does have information on their other nearby preserves, but not this one.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Frenchman Bay to Stonington: The Last Stretch


If you're just tuning-in, this post covers the last couple of days of a two-month meander along the Maine Coast.

After the last blog post, we paddled the last forty nautical miles, from Frenchman Bay to Stonington, to finish the trip in two more days. We still needed to stop in Bar Harbor for some groceries and one last water fill-up, so we followed the Porcupine Islands in, stopping first for a quick break on The Hop. The fog had just cleared and the sun shone through- a good day to see the mountains of Mount Desert Island rising before us, welcoming us back to our neighborhood.

The seas were still pretty lively though, and we paddled into a strong west wind. A big cruise ship lay at anchor in the near harbor, while an odd private ship dominated the water southeast of Bar Island. It carried a full-size sailing yacht on one side, ready to be lowered to the water. 

Later I learned that it belongs to a Russian oil guy – the word ‘oligarch’ is tossed around to describe him and his 90+ million-dollar toy, that also carries a large motor yacht on its stern deck, and a helicopter that transports a Range Rover. Apparently the ship is still there, still the talk of the town.

Despite the strong winds in our face as we made our way from one Porcupine Island to the next in the lumpy wind-against-current seas, we encountered a guided kayak trip led by one of the guides I’d trained in June. I’d already been thinking that if I were guiding, I’d be taking the more sheltered paddle along shore to Compass Harbor, but I was not surprised. They were flying along downwind, and when the guide said hello, he said they were just going to “peek around this island up here,” as if I might have some thoughts on his choices or the task he would now have of getting these people back to the launch against the wind. Of course I did, but after nearly two months of not guiding or teaching people, I just smiled, happy it wasn’t my job that day.

Tourists stood on the town beach, doing what tourists on beaches do: staring down at the wrack line, skipping stones and taking photos. One man was so engrossed in his attempts to skip a stone that his rock nearly hit me. We pulled our kayaks up and I went off to get water and groceries, plunged briefly into Bar Harbor tourist chaos. Is it possible, that among all these clean, teeming hordes in their new Bar Harbor sweatshirts congregating on the sidewalks seeming to not know where to spend their money next, that I felt a private smug satisfaction when they glanced at me wide-eyed and quickly looked away- that I secretly reveled in my three weeks with no shower grime and my sun and salt-streaked skin? It is possible. After our mostly-alone Downeast sojourn, this was a new, but not unexpected sensation; not really where I wanted to be, but a sensation just the same.

We ate our customary pint of gelato on the beach and continued on our way around the north side of MDI, eventually re-encountering that strong west wind and a current that, thanks to our taking too long in Bar Harbor, had turned against us. We ate lunch on Thomas Island and continued-on beneath the bridge, where slow-moving traffic was backed-up for some distance. That last stretch, with our campsite more or less in view, was a slow slog.

Which was why it was so great to arrive at our last campsite of the trip, a tiny state-owned island called The Hub, and get our camp set-up one last time. We arrived at low tide, and began the work of carrying our gear and boats up the steep rocky ledges. But we’d spent all this time getting better at it, and knowing this would be the last such carry of this trip, performed the task with momentous care. Yes, we wanted to get through this and finish the trip, but we also wanted to hang-on to the moment as much as we could. Though the sun had been gradually setting earlier each night, it had begun to feel like things were speeding-up, the days growing quickly shorter, and we knew that time would pass and this would soon be a vague memory. We stayed out on the ledges well after dark, watching for shooting stars and satellites, and finally, reluctantly, called it a night.

We decided to end the trip at Old Quarry and we spent that last day paddling, still mostly against the wind, down Blue Hill Bay to Naskeag Point, our route now overlapping with the previous segments of the trip as we followed Stinson Neck out to the Lazyguts and across to Sheep Island. With only a mile and a half left, we took a break on Little Sheep, an island we’ve visited many times, usually on the short guided‘family’ trips with kids. The day had begun hot – one of the hottest so far, but the sun had sunk low enough that with the wind I began to feel a hypothermic chill, and I added a layer for the final stretch.

We arrived at Old Quarry on one of their busiest days of the summer. The area above the ramp was a solid mass of uncleaned boats. Much of the staff had just left, returning to college, and the remaining crew had been multi-tasking all day. We learned that our small travel trailer, which we’d loaned for the summer, was vacant, so we carried our gear up to it. I checked my messages and found one from Vicki, who offered a ride to our car after she was done at the library. I called her and heard the background hub-bub of a post poetry reading crowd, and she told me she could pick me up as soon as the crowd left. I felt like I knew the quality of that background chatter well – the same chit-chat from a dozen years of art gallery events, with many of the same people. And I knew that a whole new challenge awaited us, that of returning to something akin to a ‘normal’ life after living this parallel fantasy out among the islands. It would not be easy, but that’s a story for another time.


Much of the area we paddled in this stretch is covered in trips #8,9, 12, 13 & 14 in my guidebook AMC’sBest Sea Kayaking in New England.

I have a short article in the September/October issue of AMC Outdoors. It's about my first Instagram post while camping on an island, this spring, and the mixed feelings I had about it. Of course, since then, I've been posting quite a few photos on Instagram, as an easy way of letting friends know we haven't dropped off the map.

We’re now in Stonington at Old Quarry Ocean Adventures for maybe the next month or so. Stop by, say hi.

As we go through photographs from the trip, we'll be adding more to previous posts.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Upwest and Downeast: Almost Done

I nearly titled this 'almost home,' but knew that it wouldn't be quite correct. We'll be back to Deer Isle by Thursday or Friday, and it is about as close to home as we have, other than this feeling we carry with us as we paddle up and down the coast, a sense of being where you should be. We get our mail in Stonington still. We have friends there, and a rented storage space where our stuff is stored and where Rebecca keeps her studio, but no house or apartment or place to live (we've mostly house-sat the last couple of years). We rent a few spots in a kayak storage space by the town boat ramp,  and until summer kicked-in, were regulars at pickleball, twice a week at the Community Center. 

This was our fifteenth summer living in Maine, but it's the first in which I've tasted the sense of joy and freedom that I hoped I'd find when we came here. Much of that comes down to economics. We haven't worked since June. And yet we've spent very little money on this trip. Probably less than we usually do on food,  two nights at a commercial campground... a tank of gas at the beginning of the summer. And of course the usual overhead: health insurance, phone bill... a tank of gas in a car that's been parked all summer.  The storage and studio... subscriptions to unwatched Amazon and Netflix.

We haven't lived in a way that most people would find comfortable. It's been weeks since the last real shower, and pooping into a plastic bag has become surprisingly normal. We've eaten well, including a shared pint of ice-cream in most ports. We're a bit damp much of the time, with a layer of salt that seems to permeate the skin. I do look forward to a long soak in a tub of hot water. Obviously this existence- even as a temporary foray- isn't for everybody. Which is good. We've had little competition for campsites and have encountered amazingly few kayakers, especially those who seemed to be going somewhere or camping.

It's premature to recap the trip, but knowing that we're almost done brings-on a wistful sense of melancholy. All those summers we worked so much, and they went by so fast. Well, this one went by fast as well. Many people tell us this is the trip of a lifetime, and they're right, but all we can think is that we want lots of trips like this in our lifetime, or even that we want our life to be more like this.

Right now I'm sitting on a comfortable slab of rock on the south end of Stave Island, in Frenchman Bay. Rebecca is nearby, painting. I don't know what she's painting- the fog has come in pretty thick, obscuring most everything out there, but a little while ago you could see it rising over the Porcupine Islands with Cadillac Mountain in the background. There's a storm forecast for tonight and we decided yesterday that this might be a more comfortable spot than the ones ahead. I think we also just liked the idea of one more time-out on an island, without rushing back to Deer Isle.

Since my last post, we left Dickenson's Reach, up at the sheltered head of Little Kennebec Bay in Machiasport, and made our way down to Jonesport, where we once again bought a few supplies and refilled water at the Moosabec Variety (you can still rent VHS tapes there too). We continued on to Sheep Island off of Cape Split and spent 2 nights there to wait-out predicted rough seas (don't  think they got too rough, but we were glad to stay there). We identified the nearby home of modernist watercolorist John Marin (the weird-sounding seabird that turned-out to be an alarm system helps give it away) but never got over to see, up-close the bluffs of Tumble-Down Dick Head. It's good to save things for future trips.

On Sunday morning we paddled into Milbridge for groceries and headed out to Bois Bubert Island. From there, yesterday morning, we went around Petit Manan Point, on to Corea and then around Schoodic Point during the eclipse. Quite a crowd there;  it felt as if we were sauntering along the outskirts of a party, where everyone was waiting for the band to start, but had kind of forgotten what they were doing there and hey, the light is kind of funny now, isn't it? And we'll give the eclipse credit for the big eddy that took us all the way here, against the dominant current.

Just after lunch today, we spied two skiffs coming our way, and they turned out to be MITA boats, carrying the Maine Island Trail Association's Trail Committee. We're not on a MITA island, but they were checking things out, and we had a sort-of impromptu meeting right there, discussing such things as the need or feasibility for sites along the Bold Coast. They took our trash away and left us with some extra water. And provided us with more human contact than we've had in awhile, which was welcome.

Over the next couple of days, we'll meander back to Deer Isle- only two or three days and nights, and maybe a stop at Old Quarry for a shower before we pack our gear into the car an head over to a family lake home in New Hampshire, where we have a week to recover a bit while hanging-out with some of the constant people in our life. Then we're sort of transient again. Maybe a little teaching and guiding in September... a dentist's appointment... and maybe some time up in Newfoundland with Rebecca's parents. For now though, this fog has come-in thick and cool. Time for some food.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Deer Isle to Eastport

The second part of the trip has gone quite differently from our first month paddling. If you're just tuning-in now, we've been paddling the coast of Maine since July first, a trip that began in Deer Isle with a meandering route and pace that took us to Portland and back to Deer Isle- some 330 miles in 34 days, with a few zero days for weather. Part of our aim was for Rebecca to do some painting on the islands along the way, and I of course would at least write an occasional blog to keep up with things. 

We were guests for three nights in Greenlaw Cove at the house where we house-sat last winter- time that included some resupplying and other tasks, as well as some socializing... which was great but a little weird. I felt very preoccupied, anxious to be back on the water. Unfortunately, Spider-Man, which had been scheduled to play at the Stonington Opera House, was cancelled. 

We got underway again on Sunday, August 6th, paddling over to Naskeag Point where Steve Stone from the website Off Center Harbor did a video interview with us. It probably won't be out until after the trip is done. We said some brilliant things as well as some goofy things, but I understand they can edit it to make it go in either direction. Camped that night on Little Hog Island. 

Since I'm still in the middle of this trip, and I have adventures yet ahead of me this evening, I'll be super-brief, but overall, this stretch of the journey has been a bit more rushed than the upwest (southern) portion. Leaving on the sixth, we had less than three weeks to get up the coast and back to Deer Isle before other commitments loomed. This stretch of coast has a few longer stretches between campsites, and a few areas that we'd rather paddle in not-too-huge days. Also, resupply opportunities are a bit scarcer Downeast, so it just makes sense sometimes to paddle some longer days. We've had far less time to hang-out and do any painting or writing. I'm still only half-way through the novel I started reading a month and a half ago. Internet and cell service is sketchier. We've had some early starts and late finishes and more or less pass-out after dinner. In short, it's the way life should be. 

Hopefully after I return I'll get some maps on here, but for now, this will have to do. From Little Hog Island we went across Blue Hill Bay, rounded the southwest end of Mount Desert Island and camped on a small MITA island near the Cranberry Islands. From there, we followed the southeast corner of MDI (Otter Cliffs, Thunder Hole, etc) and crossed Frenchman Bay, around Schoodic Point and on past Corea into Gouldsboro Bay, where we camped on another MITA site, this time on a ledge/island, that kept us about three feet above the full moon high tide.

On out to Petit Manan Island (puffins and a lighthouse!) and in to Bois Bubert for lunch and across to Sheep Island, a Downeast Conservancy island, newish to the trail, to camp. We refilled water bags and bought some convenience store fare the next day in Jonesport before continuing on to Ram Island in Machias Bay, and then to Cross Island before making the 34 nautical-mile hop up to Sumac Island near Eastport.

This doesn't scratch the surface, I know. In Eastport, we unsuccessfully tried to clear customs by phone and opted to stay in the US. A kind woman (kayak guide now watching-out for marine mammals at the pier construction site) leant us her car so we could get groceries. Topped off water at the Port Authority. We spent three nights in Eastport before grabbing our weather window for the return trip down the Bold Coast in total fog. There is much to be said about this experience beyond the mileage (34 nm again). I have kept copious notes. From Cross Island, we came here, to Dickenson's Reach, a remote mainland property on a millpond in the far inland reach of Little Kennebec Bay, in Machiasport. This was the home of simple living philosopher and yurt-guru William Coperthwaite. We're trying to soak-up that simple-living vibe. And sitting-out a Small Craft Advisory. We've got about a week to get back. Yesterday, our 47th day on this trip, the tripometer (don'T all kayaks have them?) passed 500 nautical miles. But that's just a number. It's been fun. Dinner time.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Monhegan to Deer Isle

After Monhegan, after  a night on Little Griffin Island, we woke to strong south winds and increasing seas that helped push us in to Port Clyde, where we did some quick shopping, topped-off a water bag from the hose at Port Clyde Kayak (thanks!) and steeled ourselves for a pretty rough stretch of paddling from Marshall Point light and around Mosquito Head, where the waves were now behind us and pushed us along toward Tenants Harbor and onward up to Lobster Buoy Campsites. 

We would have liked to linger a little more in Muscle Ridge, but we settled for a lunch stop on the sandbar at Birch Island, and made our way out to Crescent Island. As we pointed our bows to White Island, five miles across West Penobscot Bay, that seventies instrumental piece, part cheesy TV show soundtrack, part disco, part light jazz, cued itself on the turntable of my mind, and we set-off amid a chorus of soaring,  synthesized violins. Rebecca still can’t hear them, but for me, they begin in the morning, accurately reproduced by the intro the tent zipper plays. I may need to hear some other music soon.

We stayed on Ram Island that night, made our way around the south end of Vinalhaven the next day and bought some groceries at the village before continuing around to Seal Bay, where we camped on South Little Hen Island for two nights. As we approached the island, we saw several paddlers off to the right… and kind of pretended they weren’t there until we reached the island, whereupon we realized we knew a couple of them… This brought the total number of camping kayakers we’d met in nearly a month to six, and here they were, arriving at the same coveted campsite at the same time (well, about twenty seconds later than us). Not only that, but they were at least partially directed there by the Xeroxed pages of AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England, in which I must have written something nice about this place. Why am I sharing this stuff? We offered to share the site, but it would have been a bit crowded, and they graciously went-on to Hay Island.  

We spent a windy day on South Little Hen, which was excellent refuge. Cruising sail and power boaters thought so too, as Seal Bay is a very popular anchorage. In the evenings we watched a parade of boats entering the bay, and in the morning a parade of boats exiting. Again and again, we observed boat occupants rowing dinghies ashore, either to the bigger Hen Island or the Little Hens, with anxious dogs standing in the bow as if watching for obstacles. We were back in the country of smooth, glacial granite, and Rebecca found plenty to paint. 

The next morning we paddled out to Brimstone Island, south of Vinalhaven, and found another pair of familiar sea kayakers parked on the beach of dark, polished stones. We’d met Jeff and Steph a few times at Old Quarry, where they were usually embarked upon excursions for a week or two, and I always felt jealous of them. I may have been paddling every day for work, but there’s something quite different about heading-off on your own trip, at your own pace. We sat and talked for a long time, then took a quick jaunt up to the hilltop for a view of our next five-mile stretch over past Saddleback light to the south end of Isle au Haut. Which we then paddled. 

We ate a late lunch on Isle au Haut’s south end an paddled down the east side. We might have stopped on Wheat, but kayakers were already camped there, so we went on to Harbor Island, and watched the familiar lights of Stonington come on as we ate dinner. 

We decided to head over to Marshall Island where Nate was guiding/teaching a Pinniped journey class, but first we needed to pick-up a few supplies in Stonington (with a dip in the Green Island quarry en route to reduce our stink. Despite the remaining stink, People in Stonington still wanted to chat with us. It seems very difficult for us to not get sucked-in to the Stonington vortex, and it took quite awhile… too long to get to Marshall that night, so we camped on Buckle Island before heading off to Marshall, crossing Jericho Bay in a dense fog, landing in Sand Cove where we met up with Nate and the crew. 

On Marshall, Rebecca borrowed an empty Scorpio and I mostly emptied the Cetus and we got a chance to don our helmets and play a bit. It’s hard to convey how good that felt. On the trip I generally paddle very conservatively, since a little mishap can have big consequences (hole in the boat, injury, etc) and our boats tend to be a bit heavy and harder to maneuver. We enjoy the ‘getting there,’ but admittedly a little less than when we get to play a bit. 

The swell was generally small- a perfect size really- for finding little challenges among the rocks on Marshall Island’s south end. A little play now and then seems almost necessary to maintain the sort of confidence we need to really make it fun.

On Thursday we crossed Jericho Bay again, this time with the group as we made our way to Deer Isle, and we parted ways as we turned into Greenlaw Cove, where we are now after two nights, enjoying the hospitality of Michael and Devra, the friends who leant us their house to sit last winter. Yesterday was our Ellsworth resupply day. Resupply is just a cooler word for shopping, and I it really kills the mood we’ve been developing over the last month. Five weeks, actually. I did get to listen to some music in the car though, and that was a bonus.

Sorry for the ‘we did this, we did that’ nature of this post, but it’s all I can do to just catch up. I’m also sorry that, writing on this iPad, which is wonderful, I’ve not quite figured-out the technical challenges of easily uploading photos, and there are quirks with font, etc. At some point I’ll try to remedy it, but for the next three weeks, I’ll be doing well to have Internet and to get something posted.

And of course, you can find information about some of these places we’ve been paddling in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England.

Friday, August 4, 2017


Sandwiched between a couple of windy days, Wednesday (7/26) brought the gift of a calm, hot day that began with us camped on Black Island, in the middle of Muscongus Bay – within range – 10 nautical miles or so – of Monhegan. We hadn’t exactly planned on paddling to Monhegan, nor had we planned not to. It seemed a bad idea to put it on the schedule, to assume there would be a day calm enough that we’d want to paddle the five or six-mile crossing- committing ourselves to the return paddle as well. On the other hand, if we got ourselves to the right spot and had a good day for it… by all means, we wanted to paddle to Monhegan.

The island had been off in the distance when I’d paddled the area in the past, and lately it had drawn my attention whenever I glanced out to sea, even at night when its lighthouse emitted one Fresnelian explosion of light  for every three LED blips from the Franklin Island lighthouse, as if its shore were beckoning.

So we got an early (for us) start by around eight, and headed-out, first for Franklin Island for the obligatory (but fun) lighthouse snapshots, and onward to Eastern Egg Rock, where we floated just off its shores, sitting as still as the monitors in their bird blinds, and watched the puffins winging about, sometimes swimming not far away.

All the while we floated with the puffins, Monhegan, still six miles distant, seemed to be calling: “Michael,” it said, “I’m here.” Not only that, but we guessed there would be ice cream there, so we kept paddling, via a steep hump of rock called Shark Island where I nearly blew the whole thing by making an ill-advised surf landing among the boulders for a pee. The landing went fine, and the pee went fine, but the relaunch took a couple of tries. Finally, I was glad I’d brought my helmet. Rebecca watched me and wisely decided to wait.

I’m not always a big fan of these offshore forays, favoring the safety and features of following a shore. I tend to think of it as highway miles, counting-off time and distance until you get somewhere, rather then the ‘being there’ feeling I get while following a shoreline closely. But this time I loved it- the glassy, dreamy swells that kept us pleasantly in a motion other than forward; the different birds- gannets and terns and others yet-to-be-identified. And the slow, gradual fulfillment of a goal that wasn’t a goal- that I’d had in mind for a long time. The features of the island slowly grew, and behind us the mainland and the islands we’d left behind melded into a haze, low on the horizon.

As you approach Monhegan, Manana, the steep, treeless island that forms one side of the harbor separates itself from the island proper, obvious eventually as its own entity. A building that in the distance appeared small reveals itself as a fairly large hotel, backed by a warren of more modest buildings on crooked streets. The ferry from Port Clyde arrived shortly before us, disgorging a crowd of day trippers. We landed shortly after noon at a public strip of sand just below a take-out restaurant with a 2nd floor Harbormaster’s office above it. Other boaters had left their dinghies there, and a few dozen people sat around, doing nothing much but watching the ocean. A young girl collected sea glass- the beach had more than its share, still mostly jagged and sharp. It seemed very quiet, but then a woman at the take-out restaurant would shout a name, like a parent scolding a child, and someone would get up to claim their order before their name could be repeated.

A woman stood at an easel, creating a small, very realistic painting that included a house. It felt like we had walked into a drama that had started some time ago and we had no part in, and after the breadth of the ocean, it felt strange and perhaps anticlimactic to be here finally. We carried our boats up high and went looking for a restroom- after all, it had been over four hours on the water. The only public bathroom on Monhegan is behind a take-out place called The Novelty and we were directed there. A sign above a postal flap in the wall asked for donations (suggested 50 cents per visit) since it is privately-operated.

We ordered wraps and waited outside at a picnic table for our number to be called. There were other tourists, all more clean and less stinky than us, but we shared our table with a group that included a very tan gentleman wearing aviator shades who told us that he used to kayak, that they’d paddled sit-inside kayaks, unlike those sit-on-tops that we… he waved his hand dismissively- paddled. Rebecca and I shared a look, but didn’t correct him. He told us he’d done way bigger crossings than what we’d just done – ten miles probably!

We hadn’t talked to a lot of people about our trip. When people did talk to us, it was usually to ask Rebecca about her wooden kayak. When we did though, it often had the effect of inspiring them to recount experiences rather than ask about the one we were having. Even if we did get a chance to talk, I usually could do little more than say 'it's been great.' We didn’t care, of course. We just smiled and nodded and said “that’s wonderful, that’s cool, that’s great.”

It took about two hours to find a bathroom, eat lunch, eat ice cream and buy some broccoli, chips, cheese and a gallon of water from the store. We found room in the boats for the groceries, got our paddling gear on, and set-out around the southern end. You make your way out of the sheltered harbor, and even on a calm day like this you’re bound to get some swells rolling in. We’d had gently-rolling 2-4-foot swells on our way out, spaced far enough apart to move us up and down with a slow, dreamy rhythm. Those same swells, coming from the outer depths and colliding with Monhegan’s steep, seaward  side pack a bit of power and make for some dramatic paddling as you make your way along those cliffs. We didn’t get in too close, but lingered offshore taking photos while atop the cliffs, hikers pointed their cameras seaward.

At the northern end, having come all the way around the island, we pointed our bows toward Allen Island, some 5 miles distant, and started back.

We camped that night on Little Griffin Island, a 2-acre island owned by Outward Bound and included on the Maine Island Trail: a little rough and overgrown, but a good place to spend the night after a twenty-odd nautical mile day.

The Muscongus Bay islands are included in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England, but Monhegan, since this was my first paddling excursion there, is not. Perhaps it will find its way into the next edition.

I wrote this shortly after our Monhegan day, but as we've progressed east, the Internet through cell service has become less reliable. We're now on Deer Isle for two nights, doing some resupplying today before heading-off on the Downeast portion of our trip.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hog Island, Muscongus Bay

Part of the fun of a trip like this is that it is pretty tough to foresee the twists and turns wrought by weather, whims and tide and know where you'll be in a few days. We keep trying though- always a couple of different route scenarios for the next day or two that will bring you to X in a week or Y in two weeks. You may pore over charts and guidebooks all you want, consult the weather and the tide predictions and still, the place you find yourself at the end of the day may not be what you expected in the morning. In a way, that's part of the beauty of the Maine coast and the Maine Island Trail. In some areas, like here in Muscongus Bay, there are many options. You may feel inclined to try as many as you can.

This morning, we're on Hog Island, in the northwest corner of Muscongus Bay. It's been a good, fairly sheltered spot to hunker-down while a storm passed-through. We have a picnic table, over which we've hung a tarp, and the tent is up on a platform. The landing was an easy beach landing, and an easier than most spot to pull our boats well-up past the post-new moon high tide line. Late in the afternoon, after interspersing our time between rainy walks on the beach (a beach that actually has some sand) and time here at the picnic table updating notes and sipping hot beverages, we took a damp two-hour walk on a mossy trail that circles the Audubon-owned island. In some spots, we waded through shoulder-high ferns. Back in camp, Rebecca made brownies in the Outback Oven.

We came here from Thief Island, less than an hour's paddle, but worth it to find a more sheltered spot before the storm arrived. We'd landed there after sunset the previous night after paddling around 24 nautical miles from Ram Island, in the Sheepscot River. We hadn't intended to go so far - the whole idea behind this trip is to make a little time for ourselves to enjoy these places and paint and write, rather than slogging through long miles. But with the storm coming, we knew we'd get land-bound somewhere, and rather than spend another couple of days on Fort Island in the Damariscotta River as we did on our way south, it seemed prudent to just get around Pemaquid Point while the getting was good, and explore some other spots.

A good choice; it felt good to push ourselves, and Thief Island is home to the picnic table with one of the best views around, taking-in a broad swath of the bay, looking to the north, where the Camden Hills are visible above the Saint George Peninsula - a new perspective of a very familiar landmark. Last night, standing on the beach before bedtime, I gazed seaward, watching the Franklin Island light flash three times for every blinding flash from the light on Monhegan.

After leaving Crow Island in Casco Bay, we went-up Harpswell Sound and spent a night at Strawberry Creek Island, and the next morning caught the current up around Sebascodegan Island into the New Meadows River, where our friend Will picked us up and brought us back to the small house where he and his wife Sue spend their summers. We've known Will since we lived in Iowa (which we left in 1998) but reconnected through Facebook. Both Will and Sue are writers and we had a lot to talk about, late into the evening. They dropped us off at Five Islands the next day, and we paddled-off, heads full of stories, inspired.

The Sheepscot River MITA sites were busy that night, and we camped on Ram Island, sharing it with a young family who'd arrived in a powerboat. It's worth mentioning that we see very few sea kayakers, and have encountered none camped on islands. The next day, Sunday, we paddled to Muscongus Bay.

So today we're weighing our options. It's calm now, but the forecast calls for increased winds as the day progresses. We'll probably meander a bit more through Muscongus Bay, keeping in mind the series of moves that will bring us back through Penobscot Bay, and then Stonington in a week or so.

Notes: Some of these places are covered in my guidebook, AMC's Best Sea Kayaking in New England.

Our host, Susan Futrell's book Good Apples: The Story Behind Every Bite is forthcoming in
September, and promises to be a good read. Will Jennings' personal essays may be found in various publications, including  I'll Tell You Mine: Thirty Years of Essays from the Iowa Nonfiction Program.