Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Journey Downeast

We landed on the cobble beach: the usual heightened moments of a landing in small surf, focused more on the task at hand than your surroundings – pulling your own boat high enough onto the rockweed before helping the next person land and do the same, until our kayaks were all just out of reach of the highest waves. Then we had one of those “we’re here, now what?” moments. Other evenings on this trip we’d pulled-in late enough that there wasn’t time before dark to do much besides make camp and get dinner going. Now we stood beside our boats, pulled-off our gear and looked around: a fog that had dogged us the last four days had lifted, and from the look of the clouds and the dry feeling in the air, it seemed we might get a break from it. Clear, late afternoon sunlight lit the grassy hillsides around us, and after the shades of grey we’d been living in, the greens and yellows and the blue sky beyond seemed almost unreal. Aside from that, as we’d approached the island, a quartet of black-faced sheep had moved down the hillside toward the cove as if to welcome us, only to bound away after we made landfall. They stood on a distant knoll, watching us until they finally disappeared, but it still felt as if we’d been welcomed.

We carried our gear up some wooden steps to a tent platform atop a bluff, pausing every now and then to marvel at our surroundings. To the west, 7 miles beyond the rounded hilly profile of the nearest islands, lay Great Wass Island, and beyond that, barely visible, Petit Manan Lighthouse, roughly marking the area where we’d begun our trip. To the east, the startling array of 26 skyscraper-height red and white antennae on Cutler Peninsula and the cliffs on Cross Island marked the gateway to the Bold Coast. We would have been able to see these sights earlier had it not been for the fog, but now, getting the big picture, including the bold vastness of the Atlantic south of us, we felt a bit overwhelmed. E, having set-up her tent on a grassy hummock, smiled  and said “this is my favorite campsite.”

We’d begun on Tuesday in Milbridge. We’d hoped to begin farther west, but a tropical storm had paused somewhere south of Cape Cod, leaving us with residual big seas that would last through the week, as well as the warm, moist air that became relentless fog.

For this trip we had the luxury of getting dropped-off and picked-up wherever we pleased, so we spared ourselves the eight-foot seas and whatever that might look like at  Petit Manan Point, and chose instead to follow the edge of Narraguagus Bay as it went from calm to bumpy on our way out to Bois Bubert Island.

With only me and two participants, we were a small easygoing group that came to consensus about our choices fairly easily. As with most journeys, the learning focus would be more on journeying skills – the choices along the way and navigation – than on maneuvering or even play. The seas were usually a bit big for play, especially with loaded boats, but everyone would get plenty of navigation practice.

Over the next three days we made our way east through the fog. On Wednesday, after some navigation instruction, we crossed the mouths of Narraguagus and Pleasant Bays with amazingly accurate results. Then the fog cleared as we passed south of Cape Split and crossed over to Stevens Island, where we camped for the second night.

On Thursday we woke to more fog and like the previous day, took our time getting launched in hopes that it might lift.

It didn’t.

We felt our way up through Moosabec Reach, past Jonesport and across Chandler Bay to Roque Island, where we hand-railed among the outer islands in pea soup fog and rather big conditions. We couldn’t get close enough to the islands to play among the rocks, and yet we wanted to stay near enough to see them. The shore appeared as a series of white explosions where the surf hit below a vague outline of spruce. I kept anticipating the gap between Great Spruce and Double-Shot Islands, hoping to slip from the chaos into calmer water. I would start nosing northward, only to encounter more thundering surf where I hoped the gap would be. Finally we pointed-in through the gap, only to find a tide race where the swells collided with the outgoing current. And the quality of light had dimmed enough to suggest that it was then officially evening. On Halifax Island, we ate in the dark: the end of a long day.

On Friday morning the fog hung around us, about as thick as it gets.

We consulted the marine forecast and the chart and decided to go easy on ourselves. We took our time getting ready and exploring the island and not long after we finally launched mid-day, the fog cleared. It seemed so simple now, to just choose a destination and point to it. We paddled up to Roque Bluffs and over to the MCHT preserve on Hickey Island for lunch. The tall, grassy hills on Scabby Island then drew us south and on to the campsite for our final night.

From my tent that night I could see the moon over Englishman Bay on one side and the blinking red lights atop the Cutler radio towers on the other. The South Libby Island lighthouse pulsed regularly, and way off to the west came the flash from the Petit Manan light. In the morning, I sat for awhile on the highest hilltop, just absorbing the feeling, knowing that it might be some time before I passed that way again.

The waves calmed down a great deal – enough that we spent Saturday morning doing rescue practice in the cove, and then paddled in to Machiasport, where Rebecca picked us up at the launch.

On the way home, we stopped at Wild Blueberry Land, the giant roadside blueberry in Columbia Falls. Since I usually drive past at odd times, it is usually closed, but this time, prepared for the “all things blueberry” experience, I devoured some ice cream and a muffin, wishing we had time for a round of miniature golf.

This route took me to a few new spots, but much of it is covered in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England, in Routes 4 through 7.

Launch: Milbridge Marina
Take-out: Pettegrow Beach, Machiasport
Number of other kayakers seen: 0

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Keep Isle au Haut on Your Left

When you begin what you know will be a long day of paddling, it’s best to think more of the task at hand than the task ahead. With the hilly profile, some six miles distant, of Isle au Haut rising behind the archipelago islands, the thought of not only getting there, but then paddling around the island could be enough to make you prematurely weary. It’s best instead to focus on an efficient forward stroke and to enjoy the surroundings along the way.

As we paddled, Rebecca and I hardly needed to speak. We’d been over this territory – the islands within a couple miles of Old Quarry – many times over the summer as we’d guided trips out of the campground/outfitter, enough that our bows seemed to point of their own accord. It felt good to let loose and just paddle without worrying about leaving anyone behind, and soon we pulled up to the beach on Hell’s Half Acre.

When you’re guiding a group, it can be nearly impossible to take a short, quick break, and their visit to this island may be as much their reason for the trip as the paddling they did to get there, so you won’t deny them a good visit. We were on the beach for a leisurely six minutes- enough time for a pee, a drink and a snack, as well as a few photos - and were on our way again. On this trip we weren’t answering questions or trying to remember names. It was just us – the first time we’d paddled together on our own since April. Pathetic, yes, but that’s how the summer had gone. So we cut loose and just paddled, the dark shape of Champlain Mountain drawing us onward.

We skirted the edge of Ram Island, where, just over a year earlier, similarly stressed as a busy season wound-down, we’d celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by watching the sunset from a granite bluff (an event Iwrote about for a piece in an upcoming issue of AMC Outdoors Magazine).

It was a sunny, warm morning with the wind from the northwest pushing us along with the ebbing current. We passed between McGlathery and Little McGlathery Islands and decided we’d head counter-clockwise around Isle au Haut – opposite of the direction I outlined in Route #15 of AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England. If the wind continued we would get a push down the west side of Isle au Haut, and be sheltered from it as we returned on the east side. Besides, I thought, it couldn’t hurt to spend the day considering the route from a different perspective. The current in Merchant Row pushed us east as we tried to keep a range on Bills Island and avoid the path of a lobster boat hauling traps. We passed Bills and Pell Island and began following the Isle au Haut shore, beneath the dock of Point Lookout, into the Isle au Haut Thorofare. We tried to catch what current we could and avoid the eddies, but here our current seemed to be slowing. We’d paddled over six nautical miles to get here, and depending on how much we explored the shoreline, it would take us another nineteen to get back.

But we were feeling good. Aside from our usual state of feeling a bit beat-up with sores and cuts here and there (one that had grown into a painful infection) a creaky shoulder threatening to do something weird, and a mind full of tricky questions about what we ought to do with our lives, things were going okay. The cadence of our paddle strokes remained even, almost as if we were fueled by some deep desire to break on through to the other side, to find something akin to the runner’s high; just paddle paddle paddle, the demons getting exorcised, callouses on top of callouses, miles upon miles, past the lighthouse at Robinson Point, past the Seal Trap until finally, along the shore, we began to slow down as a mild swell began filtering in among the rocks and the rock magnets in our minds began searching for opportunities, nooks to get into, places where we’d feel the tug of the ocean and try to get into that rhythm, in and out, over and through the rocks. Far to the south, Matinicus and Seal Island rose just over the horizon, unusually clear. To the west Saddleback Island Light and Brimstone Island seemed almost close. It’s a very different world out there than the one just off Webb Cove.

We’d planned on lunch at a favorite little cove on the other side of Western Head, but Rebecca paused in front of a cobble beach and said “let’s eat here.” She liked the look of the rocks, and I could see why. The way a few scraggly trees stuck-out above the beach, the piles of smooth beach cobbles heaped among boulders all looked like paintings waiting to happen. We ate lunch, drank coffee, walked around leisurely and looked at rocks. An hour and a half later we said maybe we’d better get going. We had a staff party to get to at Old Quarry at six.

But that didn’t speed us up as we went around Western Ear and found play spots along the cliffs on the east side of Western Head. We found just enough swell to make it fun, but not enough to be intimidating. In one part of our minds we knew we still had about 13 miles of paddling to get back… and not enough time to make it to our staff party on time, but the other part of our minds – the part that says we’re here, make the most of it – dominated. 

As we played, I inevitably thought of some of my first forays into these rocks, nearly a decade earlier with Todd Devenish, who was more skilled and confident than I was and helped push me beyond my comfort zone. And yet, looking back, I realized that we probably pushed it a little too far at times, like that five-mile foggy crossing from Brimstone to Isle au Haut. Given the same circumstances now, I’d certainly think twice before doing so many things that relied essentially on luck.

At Eastern Head we took one last helmet-clad foray – this time into the dark chasm known as Thunder Gulch, before switching back to our other hats and our getting-home strokes, willfully ignoring the shoreline features with an eye toward the farthest point, trying to catch the most current. 

We had far to go, and not much time to do it, even before sunset, which we observed from the middle of the Deer Isle Thorofare, and arrived back late for the party, but not too late for the food, which we devoured. I felt tired enough that it all felt a bit surreal- the difficult questions (would I like my veggie burger on a bun?) (the accident off Corea at the beginning of the summer – talk about it). When the staff party began dwindling, we retired to the upstairs classroom and played Uno, which was oddly satisfying. I looked around at the people we’d been working with, most of them a good deal younger than us, and thought this would probably be the last time we’d all be together like this, and it seemed unlikely that most of us would even work together again after the season ended. We would all go our separate ways and this evening would become a footnote to a season remembered by most more for staff melodramas than kayaking trips. But as those dramas and the usual office ups and downs became the forefront of life at Old Quarry, we had retreated a bit: a house and a cat to sit, work at other outfitters, and now even a kayaking excursion of our own.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Stonington Archipelago


When we launch from Stonington with a full day of paddling ahead of us, the difficulty lies not in finding a good place to paddle, but in narrowing the choices down to the narrow path we will actually take, knowing that no matter where we go, we’ll be forsaking some other perfectly awesome destinations. It’s a good problem to have.

M, new to the Maine coast, wanted me to show her around the Stonington archipelago. She’s a very fit paddler with a good forward stroke* so we could have gone just about anywhere, getting out to far-off targets like, for instance, the Spoons, but we opted instead for the approach I outline in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in NewEngland… a route plan that I first wrote about in an article in Sea Kayaker Magazine in 2009 called “The Archipelago Arc.” The idea is that you can paddle out 2 or 3 miles to whatever island you would like, and then arc around the edge of the archipelago, maintaining the 2-3-mile radius so that you always have approximately the same distance for the return trip.  There’s the “inner” arc and then the “outer” arc that crosses Merchant Row and winds through some of the islands on the Isle au Haut side.

Or you could mix it up a bit for a hybrid inner/outer route, which is what we ultimately did. With a little wind from the southeast, we decided to go counterclockwise, heading first toward Penobscot Bay, with a vague plan of meandering through the islands back toward Jericho Bay, and getting a push back to Webb Cove at the end of the day from the southeast wind. We set-off toward Indian Point like so many of our trips begin, but with a whole day ahead of us.

In a way, such a trip – a full day off Stonington with one paddler – is my dream trip, and I felt very lucky to have it, especially after a busy week in which I’d guided or taught in Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Sullivan Falls as well as multiple trips from Stonington. Most days had involved some rescues (instructing and otherwise) and plenty of uncertainties about the weather and the capabilities of my groups. I felt tired and a bit beat-up, and I’d started imagining the calendar ahead and how, as much as we love the summer, the slower pace of autumn would be welcome. But the prospect of a full day paddle among some of my favorite spots helped me summon some energy for yet another long day. 

We took our first break on Green Island, largely because it seemed I would be remiss to not show M the quarry pond that many of our half-day trip clients are keen on swimming in. I enjoy swimming in it as well, especially after a long paddle, but for many of our visitors it is all they see of the archipelago, since a swimming stop there, especially with a bunch of kids, takes up all the time that would be spent paddling among other, perhaps more interesting islands. Green also tends to represent the western limit of our half-day trips, so it felt good to paddle onward from there, out between Crotch and Sand Islands into the eastern edge of Penobscot Bay, where we meandered among islands thick with gulls, terns and seals. To the south, the horizon loomed large, with Brimstone Island bumping above it just south of Vinalhaven. It seems that everywhere I paddle I’m reminded of all the places I haven’t been to in awhile. 

We’d stretched the western end of the arc out to Sparrow Island, five nautical miles from Old Quarry, and now began a meandering path back, which brought us to Ram, Hardwood and Merchant Islands before we took a lunch break on Nathan, sitting on a sunny granite slab, warm in the lee of the island. I made instant coffee. We chatted. We fueled-up for more paddling: Pell>Bills>Gooseberry (another break among  glacial erratics spilled over the shore like marbles). McGlathery>Spruce>Millet> and another break on Phoebe.

The “arc” part of our journey had taken us about eight nautical miles. Now we had a little over three to get back to Old Quarry, passing the campsite on Saddleback where I waved to the group I’d advised about campsites the previous evening (it looked crowded there – at least two groups with multiple tents). One camper, who sat on a rock a short distance from the campsite played “Yankee Doodle” on a penny whistle, a tune that maddeningly stayed with me as we paddled toward the lowering sun, re-entering the usual territory of half-day trips, Bold and Grog Islands and that last stretch along Buckmaster Neck toward the busy-ness of Old Quarry. The office at Old Quarry had been trying to reach me, perhaps to remind me that “full day” trips are only 6 hours, rather than nine or ten, but my radio had accidentally skipped down a channel and I’d been blissfully off in my own world, where a full day is whatever I can squeeze out of it.

It's worth mentioning that, though in some ways the Stonington area gets a bit busy with paddlers in mid-summer, we saw only one other kayak on the water all day, far in the distance. It helps to get away from town.

In my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England, The Stonington Archipelago is Route #14. This is a good example of how you can take that basic route concept and expand it to suit your desires and the day’s conditions. If you would like to join me on a more involved learning journey to some truly outlandish places, there's still room for another paddler or two on the Downeast Journey I'll be guiding from September 6-10.

*You might notice that I very seldom have praise for anyone’s forward stroke. Rebecca recently remarked that the best forward stroke she’d seen lately was done by the nine-year-old girl she’d just taught (it seems nearly impossible to get anyone who has already been paddling to improve much, the first step in the process being acceptance of one’s need for improvement and the will to do the work). This is a diatribe I will save for another day, but this aside is merely intended to point out the rarity of guiding or teaching someone with a decent enough stroke. Which is not to say that this stroke couldn’t use work – we are all constantly trying to improve or at least maintain the efficacy of this commonly misunderstood skill.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Around Swans Island in Four Days

We floated just off Devils Head, a granite bluff on Hog Island, at the edge of Eggemoggin Reach, a dense white wall of fog between us and our destination. R held the radio up to his face and made the call: Sécurité Sécurité Sécurité,: attention boaters in the east end of Eggemoggin Reach. We’re a group of 5 kayaks crossing from Hog Island to White Island, estimated crossing time, twenty minutes, standing by on one-six.

We paused, we listened: nothing. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.” Or I might have said “let’s boogie,” which I often seem to say in such situations. So we did. We boogied, but at that moderate pace that enabled us all to stay close together as we made the crossing. We were all following our compasses, but D paddled just ahead of the pack, the chief navigator who made it easier for us to follow the bearing without bumping into each other.

This was the fourth and last day of our around-Swans Island journey, a trip organized through Pinniped Kayak, and though I hadn’t exactly planned for this fog, it was, in a way, a good thing. I wouldn’t have been heartbroken had it lifted, but it enabled us to work on navigation and communication in a way that gave us immediate and obvious feedback… or consequences. 

The four paddlers in the group had come on this trip not just to have a guide, but hopefully to go home with some improved skills as well. They’d all had some previous instruction and experience, and at times I found myself wondering what they most needed me to teach, which were usually subjects provided more by the environment than any agenda. A four-day journey doesn’t lend itself as well to nit-picky strokes and maneuvers development as well as it does to overall journeying skills.

At every juncture I tried to put the route planning and decision making into the hands of the group. We had an overall plan: try to get around Swans Island, camping along the way on three probable islands. On the first day we left Old Quarry and took our first break on Saddleback Island, hoping to get across Jericho Bay to our first campsite on Marshall Island. But the winds blew in the mid teens, gusting into the low twenties – blowing with the flooding mid-tide current, but still likely to create some lively conditions for a 3-plus-mile crossing. Like the fog though, this was an opportunity for decision-making and for paddling in rough water that one might not venture into without the safety net of an instructor.

We could have taken the easier downwind ride northward. I would have been fine with that, but the overall consensus pointed us toward Marshall Island, so off we went, and soon found ourselves amid some considerable ups and downs. I’m sure we each have our own mental picture of what it felt like in those waves. At first, the skills learned in calmer water might be difficult to muster – the edging and efficient sweep strokes to keep from turning too much into the wind, the degree of skeg needed to avoid weathercocking. A couple of schooners blew toward us from Isle au Haut, sailing wing on wing, straight downwind, passing behind our sterns. We tried to stay close together without colliding, keeping a heading toward the northern end of Marshall Island, where, after an hour, we landed.

So we got the bumpy crossing out of the way, and that evening I think everyone felt some sense of relief and accomplishment as we ate our dinner and watched the sunset. Each evening we were treated to a display of shooting stars, as the Perseids meteor shower drew near, lying back and watching the night sky until we could no longer keep our eyes open. 

On Tuesday we wound through the islands south of Swans and made our way to Frenchboro Long Island, where we ate our lunch before heading to our campsite on West Sister Island. On Wednesday we followed the east shore of Swans up to Casco Passage and through the Black/Opechee group of islands before heading across the north end of Jericho Bay, to our campsite for the last night. 

As always, I often felt challenged to get people to focus more on the moment than the destination, which is more difficult when you have some miles to cover to get to your campsite. But that last evening after we’d made camp, I offered to go for an additional paddle around the island we were camping on, and half the group joined me, while the other half, a bit cold and tired, took a well-deserved break.

The distance around the island wasn’t much more than two miles, but we took our time, following each contour of the shore: around rocks, beneath bluffs and boulders, picking our way in empty boats through the mist and fog. Despite the miles we covered in the overall trip, and despite the challenges we’d overcome to get places, these moments were certainly the most peaceful, and perhaps most representative of why I paddle in the first place: the joy in maneuvering a boat well, the quiet connection to a place, those moments where your head empties of all the choices and chit-chat, narrowing-down to the path you’ll paddle among a winding, rocky passage.

As often happens on the last day though, the focus on getting there becomes heightened. We made a couple of foggy crossings and after the fog cleared, took one last break on the Lazyguts before heading back to Old Quarry for lunch.

Swans Island is Trip #13 in my guidebook, AMC’s Best SeaKayaking in New England. This version of the route is suggested as one of the alternatives, launching at Old Quarry Ocean Adventures in Stonington, rather than Naskeag Point, and focusing more on the surrounding islands than on Swans. We camped on Maine Coast Heritage Trust Islands (Marshall, West Sister and Hog). 

I have one more journey on the Pinniped calendar this year: The Downeast Journey, September 6 through 10. There may be space for one more person.

Here's a photo of me, courtesy of Rob Sidlow. Yep, that's a toilet and a tarp lashed to my stern deck.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cranberry Islands Figure-8

Occasionally someone asks me if sea kayak guiding is fun, and I shrug and say “most of the time.” Like any job, some days are better than others. But some days are even better, more like going for a paddle with a friend or two. It helps sometimes if I get to paddle someplace where I don’t get to go every day. It also helps if I like hanging-out with the people I’m guiding or teaching.

On a previous trip, J had been out to the Porcupine Islands and this time wanted to do something around the southern end of Mount Desert Island. The weather was warm and perfect, so for this trip through Acadia Park Kayak Tours, we met at the launch in Northeast Harbor and headed out of the harbor, where I felt pleasantly distracted by the sensual curves and gleaming varnish of the well-kept boats drifting on their moorings. Some of those boats are called, I think, ‘picnic boats’, and it says a lot about the idyllic lifestyle that goes with them – to have such a beautiful (and pricey) vessel meant only to take you out on picnics. But we had our own picnic boats, and a whole day out among the islands ahead of us.

We paused below the lighthouse on Bear Island and crossed over to the giant osprey nest near the west end of Sutton Island. We had talked about following the shore of Sutton and taking the shortest crossing over to Little Cranberry, but J was paddling well and the day felt calm and warm, with only a handful of powerboats out to worry us on our crossings. So we headed straight across to Great Cranberry and followed the western shore, which feels mostly undeveloped despite a few homes tucked into the trees. At the south end, the open ocean lay before us with the Duck Islands appearing closer than they really were, nearly four miles south. Swell rolled-in toward the rocky shore, lifting us before it broke into white waves over the ledges, and I watched J to make sure she was comfortable; she wore a huge smile and said she loved it.

We took a break and checked out the MITA island and the view of the MDI mountains rising over the Cranberries. It’s one of those views that is a bit stunning at first and you keep taking pictures and staring, just trying to take it in. I thought about the last time I’d camped there – it’s been a couple of years – and promised myself to get back and camp there again before long, since you almost need to sit there for a long, quiet period to take-in such a magnificent landscape.

We switched boats – J wanted to learn to maneuver better, so I took the Tsunami and she took my Cetus. Again, her smile was almost immediate, as if she’d been let in on a big kayaking secret (yes, those boats and paddles are worth every penny). I’ll admit that I often take good kayak design a bit for granted, since I generally paddle nice P&H kayaks (I mostly paddle a Scorpio at Old Quarry). And when I hear paddlers blaming the boat for their own inability, I tend to take it with a grain of salt – the boat is usually a small part of the equation, especially when we’re comparing kayaks with similar designs that were meant to be paddled without a rudder. But if I’d started with a big plastic ruddered boat with a pronounced keel, I think I would have either needed to switch to something more maneuverable, or I wouldn’t have progressed as a paddler. And perhaps this is why a lot of paddlers find it hard to get out of the “point A to point B” mode and discover the pure joy of tooling along a shore, maneuvering the boat as if we’d morphed into more aquatic creatures.

We headed north through The Gut and pulled-in at the beach beside the town landing. We’d hoped to eat lunch at the Islesford DockRestaurant, but sadly it’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so we had more usual fare (pb&j) on the beach. The restaurant is in its last season, and I’ve never eaten there… it seems that everywhere I go I come up with reasons to return – soon.

Having gone around Great Cranberry, it seemed a good idea to now head around Little Cranberry, which we did, paddling along the northern shore where some fine old “camps” have stunning views of MDI. It’s tough not to think that jeez, maybe when we sell the foreign rights and the film rights to the guidebook, maybe I can buy one of these places… and a picnic boat or two with matching colors. But I didn’t ponder my color choices for long, since I’d been watching for thunderstorms, and now some very major, dark clouds began gathering over Mount Desert Island.

We kept an eye on the clouds as we proceeded around the island, cataloguing the places where we might get out to seek shelter. The clouds stayed north until we were headed to the lighthouse on Baker Island and the storm clouds began pushing-out through the mouth of Frenchman Bay, rolling toward us. We turned back and settled for a Figure-8 around the two big Cranberries.

We were getting tired by then anyway. Or at least I was. I kept watching J for signs of fatigue that never seemed to materialize. By the time we landed back in Northeast Harbor we’d paddled nearly sixteen nautical miles – farther than most of my guided day trips. We’d had the tidal current with us most of the time, and a couple of miles might have been augmented by our fear of thunderstorms, but still, not bad.

If I had the time (or if anyone did, for that matter) it would be fun to systematically go through my guidebook and paddle all fifty routes. I am working on paddling them all again, but my approach is a bit more haphazard, mostly dependent on where I get to guide and teach people (perhaps in a month or two when things slow down I’ll get to choose paddling excursions a little more selfishly). But this was yet another approach to Route #10 in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bois Bubert, Jordan's Delight


One tactic for beginning a narrative about a trip is to choose a highlight, perhaps something from the middle of the trip, or maybe the event that felt like the climax, and start there. Paint it in vivid detail and then explain briefly how you got there and maybe a nod toward how the trip will proceed. And you could even return to that special moment to end your narrative. It makes it less likely that you’ll get bogged-down in tedious details, and hopefully gets you quickly to the good stuff. But this quick trip to Bois Bubert Island was mostly good stuff.

My first thought was to begin when three of us sat watching the moon rise over the sea, lighting the granite shoreline, outlining the nearby islands where we would paddle the next day. The red lights atop the array of antennae at Cutler twinkled in the distance, and a few very bright lights shone from Great Wass Island, some eleven miles across the mouth of Pleasant Bay and Western Bay. It seemed a minor miracle that Barb and I had been able to get away at a moment's notice to join Nate and Melodi on this learning journey, and even more so just to be sitting there together, gazing at the moon over the sea, feeling the warmth still emanating from the granite beneath us.

I could just as easily choose the moments the next morning when I returned to the same spot to do my stretches, warm in the lee of the island with the early sun on me and I wanted to point my camera at pretty much everything because it all just seemed so perfectly gorgeous (but knowing that my photos would not convey it). 

Or I could start with the last stretch of ocean before we arrived at Jordans Delight, a craggy island with sheer cliffs dropping straight down into the sea from bright green hilltops, splotchy with purple wildflowers. We’d slipped out of the lee of Bois Bubert and cruised downwind, arriving quickly at the island where we spent the next hour and a half exploring the near-shore rocks, finding a few splashy challenges for ourselves in the process. Since this was a class for Melodi, she and Nate worked on developing skills, while Barb and I ... worked on developing skills with a slightly less structured approach.

If I wanted to hit a different note, I might instead focus on the lobster boat that apparently motored out of its way to check us out (it was pretty windy and a little wavy) passing first one way behind us and then returning the other. Nate and I guessed that all the hub-bub since the accident, two months ago now, had reinforced some fishermen’s views about kayaks not belonging on the ocean (an article had inevitably quoted a fisherman saying just that). Of course we were fine; we were more than fine.

Barb Todd photo

Or I could even just revel in the feeling, after I'd first launched, of paddling alone again in a less familiar environment and how great it felt, both the aloneness as I pointed toward the vertical exclamation of the Petit Manan lighthouse, which tends to look somehow ominous from a distance, and the knowledge that friends awaited in camp. 

Or maybe that moment before falling asleep in my tent, the night so clear I’d left the fly off, waking every now and then to track the moon’s arc across the sky. 

Or how after we’d all landed back at the launch and loaded-up, Barb and I took a hike up Pigeon Hill to look out over the stretch of ocean we’d paddled, laid-out below us like Google Earth. Or even the drive home, listening to the radio, eating cookies, feeling good. Or the bear I saw lumbering down the roadside embankment in Sedgwick. Or the beginning of the trip when I left Old Quarry, having just guided a morning trip and hurriedly loaded my gear, and realizing the moment I’d left that I’d forgotten a few things, but deciding not to go back for them, that it wasn’t worth one more delay. 

Every trip has a story, the beginning, middle and end that we might expect – I suppose, but in a way, from the moment I started the car to my return a day and a half later, the trip was a series of moments, all of them held together by a route traced over a chart, possible in a vessel that enables us to paddle side by side with our peers- in this case Barb, Melodi and Nate, and experience the overall same trip, but a different series of moments. 

Then of course there’s the information, the ways that so many people measure their trips, be they statute or nautical miles, the speed of the wind, the height of the waves, time departed, calories burned, food consumed, etc. You can find more information about this trip and the different ways to approach it in my guidebook AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England. Trip #7. 

Our upcoming opportunities include a 4-day trip around the Swans Island archipelago, August 8-11, and a 5-day Journey up the Downeast coast, September 6-10 (in which we will very likely visit the Bois Bubert/Jordans Delight area). We have plenty of other opportunities as well, both through Pinniped Kayak and Old Quarry Ocean Adventures.