Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Last Five

Parked beside the road at Reach Beach, I took my kayak down from the car, and placed it on the sand, just a dozen or so feet away, where the water lapped at the bow. It was nearly high tide on a placid mid-afternoon, the last day of September, with three or four hours before dark, and I had a goal: to land on the five Maine Island Trail islands at the east end of Eggemoggin Reach. To get to them I’d need to paddle a loop of about ten miles and not dilly-dally too much along the way. I loaded my boat and headed out.

It had been at least a week since I’d last paddled, and I could tell; it felt like work. Maybe it was that I was so focused, paddling faster than usual, thinking about how I barely had enough time to cover the route before sunset, but how I really wanted to get to these islands. These would be the final five islands I needed to land on to meet the Maine Island Trail Association’s 30 in 30 Challenge. The deadline was still a week away, but we would be heading to New Hampshire for a bit, so if I wanted to meet the challenge, this was my chance. 

Campbell Island, #27
If you’re just tuning-in, the 30 in 30 challenge is MITA’s way to celebrate the Trail’s 30th year, offering a rare, special edition piece of headwear for those who land on 30 islands before Columbus Day. All you have to do was set foot on the island and then document it. Man, I really wanted that hat. (Of course, what they’ve failed to mention is that the hat is what some would call a lampshade with the number “30” scrawled on it with Magic Marker). It was rare for me to have such a goal. Most of my personal, non-work paddling this year had been fairly leisurely, mostly to get away from it all, in pursuit of hammock time as much as exercise. I’d become a bit of a slacker.

The mountains of Mount Desert Island rose to the east, beyond Blue Hill Bay, their peaks cloaked in a low layer of cumulus, but here it was absolutely clear and sunny, a crisp autumn day with a mild breeze. A couple of small sailboats crisscrossed Greenlaw Cove. I weaved among near-shore rocks below the houses on Oak Point. I realized I was still thinking of the goal more than enjoying the moment, maybe not enjoying it as much as I could, but whatever – I had places to be. Ahead, at the mouth of Fish Creek lay Apple Island, and I thought ‘that will be number 26.’ I looked over at Campbell Island, off to my left and thought ’27.’ I looked at my watch. 

Sheep -Stinson Neck #28
But then, up ahead, a seal popped its head above the surface and looked at me. The water near it roiled with movement, and I steered toward it, arriving amid a school of densely swarming foot-long fish. They swam beneath and turned, as if of one mind, like a cloud moving through the water, catching silvery flashes of sunlight. The cloud moved to the surface, breaking through with fins and tails, a mob of fish, and circled around. This was unusual. If I saw fish around here, which didn’t happen often, they were usually finger-sized, corralled into shallow coves by terns. These were big, fat fish, thousands of them, and I sat floating for a while, watching. I thought vaguely of my schedule, my need to get to five islands before dark. And I lingered a bit longer – so what if I came back in the dark? If need be, I had lights. 

Sellers Island, #29
I continued toward Apple Island, perhaps a bit slower-paced than before. But I felt more ‘there.’ Maybe then I felt some of the stress of the last week begin to slip away. As our season at Old Quarry wound-down, we got the news that we needed to move out of the space in Stonington where most of our belongings were stored, and Rebecca would need to find a new studio. We’ve been transient for nearly four years now since we moved out of our gallery and apartment in downtown Stonington, and we’ve lived either in outfitter housing or in house-sits, but this approach was only possible because we’ve lived with a tiny fraction of our belongings, the furniture and most other household items stored away. So for more than a week we’d been moving from one storage unit to another – an exercise in futility if there ever was one – and to a new studio space for Rebecca.

I arrived at Apple Island and walked around, looking for a photo to document my brief visit. It can be tough to find something interesting when you only hop out of your boat for a few minutes. I felt hungry, but I didn’t have any snacks – I usually paddled with granola bars stashed away in various pockets, but this time I had none. But there were apples on the trees. The lowest had been eaten by deer, but I found a stick and knocked one from a higher branch, and it tasted perfect: sweet, crisp, as fresh as it gets. So I knocked down a few more and stashed them in my day hatch.

Apple Island, #26

I went on to Campbell Island (27) and Sheep Island - Stinson Neck (28) and then headed across the Reach, where I landed on Sellers (29) and finally Little Hog (30). Somewhere in there I found my rhythm and the paddle strokes came more naturally, with less effort. Then, with the current against me, I stayed on the Brooklin side of the Reach, skirting the edges of Babson and Little Babson Island to where I could paddle against a little less of the flow to cross back to Deer Isle. The sun was sinking in the west – right over Grays Cove. I pointed my bow below it and headed back.

Little Hog Island, #30

There’s still a few days to take part in MITA’s 30-in-30 Challenge. You too could wear one of these hats.

In mid-September, I paddled a tandem with Joseph Rosendo, host of the PBS series Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope. We were followed by a film crew in the NIGH DUCK who recorded our conversations, including a stop on Hells Half Acre, where I had a lot to say about the merits of the Maine Island Trail. The episode will air sometime later next year.

This wasn't our year for doing big kayak trips, but we were able to enjoy the trips of others vicariously, and sometimes offer a little assistance. Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson, who together travel the world teaching, mostly Greenland skills, under the auspices of Kayakways, came through Stonington on their way downeast on a long coastal trip, and we just saw them a few days ago while they were driving home. I saw bits and pieces about their trip on Facebook, and hope someday to hear more about it.

In addition to moving stuff between storage units and studios, we've moved from Old Quarry into a an apartment we'll be sitting until next summer. It overlooks Stonington Harbor and is a short distance from the launch there.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Whitmore Neck

For the second day in a row I had a no-show for a scheduled trip. When you wonder why they haven’t arrived and you look for the paperwork so you can call them, and then realize that there’s no paperwork to be found, it seems a safe bet that you’ve been waiting in vain after planning your day around this non-existent trip. And then, while you’re standing there in the office in your gear, your packed boat waiting down by the shore, your employer does his usual ‘who’s on the clock?’ mantra (I wasn’t, though I should have been). 

This is all business as usual at Old Quarry, except that it occurred while a thunderstorm was passing through and the office was suddenly packed with more idle employees than usual. I didn’t really mind the ghost clients’ tardiness – the trip would have been delayed anyway – but after the storm was gone I was ready to paddle, so I headed out.

Before I launched though, I got a curry started; we were having an employee ‘we survived the season’ potluck that evening. So by the time I was on the water I had about three hours ahead of me to paddle. I spent a minute just floating, wondering where to go. It was an hour after low tide, so the current was coming in, and I began imagining a route: islands I hadn’t been to for awhile which were also, conveniently, MITA islands that I could add to my #mita30in30 Challenge list. I would head around Whitmore Neck.

The first part of the paddle was perhaps a little too familiar. I’d already guided a morning trip out to Little Sheep Island, and this stretch went past like a commute in which you arrive with little recollection of getting there. Maybe it wasn’t the fault of the scenery. I had a lot on my mind, mostly involving our plans for the immediate future. The season at Old Quarry was coming to an end. I was weary of how tenuous our way of life sometimes feels. The storm had passed, but grey clouds still streaked the sky, slipping eastward. It wasn’t a great day to lie in a hammock – a little cool and breezy still, and besides, I just felt like paddling, focusing those frustrations into the physical mantra of the clean and efficient forward stroke I seldom have opportunity to engage while guiding. I passed the bulbous granite humps of Whaleback Ledges and turned into Southeast Harbor, catching the inland current.

There’s two MITA Islands up this way, and I stopped on both of them. Polypod Island, owned by Island Heritage Trust, lies just offshore from a few homes on the peninsula leading out to the Tennis Preserve. Like all IHT preserves, camping isn’t allowed, so it’s strictly a day-use spot. I usually get up to this area when it’s stormy or foggy and I’m looking for a more sheltered trip, but now, with the clouds skidding away eastward, the sun shone through, lighting the island’s oaks and birches, the ground littered with acorns.

Inner Harbor Island lies, of course, in Inner Harbor. This stretch of water, nearly surrounded by sheltering fingers of land, was a busy shipping hub in the 1800s until a devastating fire tore through the South Deer Isle port. Given its shallow depths, the harbor would seem a challenging destination for a fleet of granite and lumber schooners. As I sat on a rock at the height of the island, I tried to imagine what it looked like, busy with canvas sails. I also read MITA’s trail log, mostly signed by day visitors, like this one:

That made me smile. I was thinking of writing that it was my 25th island for the #mita30in30 Challenge until I read the last entry stating it was the author’s 57th. So instead I wrote that I liked how the challenge had brought me to this peaceful place when I might not have otherwise gone there.

There’s a rickety tent platform on the island, leftover from pre-MITA island days. Replacing the platform would be a good volunteer project for someone one of these days. Another logbook entry stated that the island had been known as Lard Island.

I paddled past one of my many fantasy cabins, a dream house with lots of potential. I've observed it every now and then over the years, gradually rotting. 

I’d taken my time to ensure that the incoming tide would fill Hatch Cove, enabling me to get through, and by now the evening sun lit the cove’s numerous smooth granite ledges, and the current bore me gently past them. 

This is another very sheltered stretch of water, and though the banks are mostly privately owned, most of the homes are tucked into the woods, out of sight, and it feels wild and quiet. I drifted for a bit, in no hurry to return to Old Quarry, but, oh yeah, I had that potluck to get to.

Despite whatever mixed feelings I had for this place where I’ve worked off and on for the last eight years, I wanted to spend time with my co-workers and maybe have a laugh or two about the various ups and downs the summer had brought us. We would concur that overwhelmingly, the people we’d taken on our trips really had been great, especially once we got them on the water. So I headed back, once again, toward Webb Cove.

Mita's 30 in 30 Challenge is open until Columbus Day. There's still time to get to document your visits to 30 islands to celebrate the Maine Island Trail's 30th year - and you may win fabulous prizes!


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lunch on Kimball, Hammocking on Gooseberry

I had an unexpected day off, and since it was raining and a bit dreary, it seemed unlikely we’d be getting overrun with visitors at the campground. I packed my boat and headed out mid-morning in the pouring rain. The air felt warm though, the raindrops invigorating, and with a day ahead of me, I could meander at will, maybe even find a little time to relax somewhere if the weather cleared.

There were a few MITA islands in the archipelago that I hadn’t visited since I started the #mita30in30 challenge, Little George Head, Harbor and Kimball, so I paddled off in that general direction and saw this pretty boat as I crossed the Thorofare.

As I rounded Green Island, the cove was completely empty – no boats tied-up at the landing, no kayaks on the shore – so I thought ‘why not?’ and stopped for a quick swim in the quarry in the rain. With the end of summer upon us, you never know when the idea of a swim will seem less inviting, so it’s a good idea to do it while you can. Green Island is one of my least favorite popular destinations for guided trips. It gets crowded enough that at high tide we sometimes stack kayaks like cordwood, and most groups take enough time that we can’t get to other islands. You’re sharing the place with all manner of other boaters and it’s often a ‘there and back’ trip, as if the whole point of going kayaking is transportation to a swimming hole. Kids like it though, and some guides seem to invariably take this trip, since their clients don’t seem to mind or know the difference. I had it to myself though, and it felt great to jump in and go for a swim.

I went on to Little George Head, a tiny islet connected by sandbar to George Head Island. I’d stopped on George Head on a guided trip last weekend, but didn’t get over to the tiny neighbor. I love these tiny islands, and I could see it would be fun to camp here, despite being so close to Steves Island, which is truly a favorite campsite (the site on George Head looks awfully nice as well, tucked up in the forest). I suppose this is a good area to head when it’s crowded and you want the security of 7 campsites all within a quarter-mile of each other. By now, the rain was tapering, but wispy dark clouds continued to drift past.

Across Merchant Row, I came to Harbor Island and landed below the smaller campsite. If the weather had looked more promising, I might have stayed here for awhile, since the woods above the ledges are perfect hammock-hanging spots, but I was enjoying the exercise, and besides, another couple miles would bring me to Kimball Island, which would be my 23rd out of the 30 islands for the MITA 30 in 30 Challenge. If nothing else, the challenge was giving me a good excuse to get to some spots where I don’t often stop.

By now the rain had stopped and the wind had begun to blow from the east and north, and it occurred to me that if it persisted, I’d need to work harder to get back. Also, I heard my name on the radio; Old Quarry was trying to reach me. My handheld was not powerful enough to transmit that far, so I called on the phone and discovered that they were indeed expecting me there to guide an afternoon trip. Better to omit what led to this, but let’s say I’d started the day expecting to have that trip, and when it went to someone else instead, I said to myself ‘fine, I’m going paddling.’ So there I was, and too bad, there was no way to get back in time. Someone else would have the privilege of towing a tandem into the wind.

So I landed on Kimball, took a few photos to document #23, and decided to paddle around it. As I did, I stopped on the ledges at privately-owned Rosebud Island for a sandwich. The north wind was picking up, the air turning cooler and clear. A mild swell buoyed me up and down as I went around Kimball Head with Brimstone Island and Saddleback Ledge Lighthouse standing-out clearly on the horizon. I made my way into the Thorofare and passed by the village of Isle au Haut. Now I was kind of ready to get back, but I had about six miles to go, all against a fairly steady wind.

So by the time I arrived at Gooseberry Island, I was ready to relax a bit. Not only that, but the sun was shining, and out of the wind, the air felt warm. I hung my hammock between a couple of boulders and spent some hours of quality ‘hanging-out’ time.

And then I headed back, arriving just after sunset.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

There Goes Summer

Toward the end of the summer there’s a day out on the water when the weather changes moods, and it feels like the season takes a subtle but abrupt turn around the corner. The morning feels like summer, but as the afternoon sun fades and the breeze picks-up, you start looking for those extra layers of clothing. A few days ago felt like such a day. I’d guided a mid-day trip and headed out on my own afterward. I didn’t get far. Paddling past a favorite spot – one that had often been occupied by campers for much of the summer, but was now vacant – I opted to stop and hang my hammock rather than paddle farther.

I felt a bit worn-out, lazy – whatever. Maybe I wasn’t sure if that southwest breeze would let-up before I had to paddle back and I didn’t want to get farther downwind. Or maybe it just seemed obvious that the chances to steal a warm, sunny hour or two in the hammock would become increasingly rare in the coming days.

From where I hung, I had a glimpse of the busy Stonington waterfront a couple miles away. A few sailboats were anchored nearby and while I lay there, occasionally looking up from a book, a couple more boats made their way into the anchorage, sails full with the breeze. I’d hung my wet paddling gear on a branch and lay enclosed within the peapod-like cocoon of my hammock wearing nothing, and it felt good to dry in the sunlight. But as soon as the sun went behind the clouds, I dug from my stern hatch the layer of fleece that I’d carried all summer, but rarely needed.

It reminded me of the day exactly a year earlier, in which Rebecca and I finished our nearly two-month meander of the Maine coast. We’d started the day at The Hub, a tiny island off the northwest corner of Mount Desert Island, and it had been warm enough that I’d taken a swim before launching. It turned out to be the warmest day of our whole trip. I even took a swim at lunch, savoring it, knowing how quickly the whole experience would fall into the past. And I was right. 

We took our last break on Little Sheep Island, mostly because the wind had increased and I was chilled and needed another layer. We crouched in the lee of a ledge and I ate a granola bar, shivering. And then we paddled the last two miles and finished the trip. At Old Quarry, we found the ground covered with boats that needed to be cleaned and returned to racks; they’d had a busy day. We would be working there again, soon enough.

Not long after that, in Newfoundland, I began writing an account of that journey, which has ensured that I don’t go a day without thinking about it somehow. Rebecca began working from the sketches and paintings she’d done on the trip, and in a way then, our experience evolved into something else, something new. We try to relive it and to understand it, but any account of reality is seen through a filter. It gets shaped and re-shaped. The boring parts get cut, and you look for themes, threads that run through it that might give it more shape than a mere account of a summer vacation. I’m not sure that it’s there yet, but the process itself has been good, the reliving. In a way, the writing process echoes the theme that seemed to come up a lot, and I can’t get away from, which is simply the fleeting nature of experience, how quickly it all passes: how we can try to grab it while we’re living it, but how suddenly it is gone. Certainly that’s how summer in Maine feels.

But one thing from the trip that has persisted is my desire to relax a little, to get to these idyllic places and enjoy them for a while, especially when the air is warm. When you’re worn-out after a day of work it may seem like too much trouble to get the gear together and paddle out there for only an hour or two, but I never regret it. And though we may not paddle as far or get to as many places, we spend a little time getting to know this one place better.

Paddling Magazine used one of Rebecca’s photos in their current issue to illustrate a piece on Cumberland Island.

We went to the Maine Island Trail Association’s annual volunteer party a couple weeks ago and were very surprised when they honored us with their ‘Spirit of the Trail’ award, giving thanks for the volunteering we’ve done, both in sharing my writing and research for the new Bold Coast section, and the island clean-ups we’ve occasionally led. We met wonderful people there, kindred spirits, and it made me wish we’d gone out of our way in the past to go to more of these, to get more involved.

We’re mulling-over our options for our next move, but we’re hoping to spend the next months doing a little house-sitting and just enough work to pay the bills while we work on our own projects. If you have something in mind that might work for us, drop me an email at

Friday, August 10, 2018

Escape From Old Quarry: Wheat Island

A few days ago, I had the sudden gift of a day off – just like I did last week: an entire day with no work or commitments. I could do whatever I wanted with it. So I got my gear together. I could do something epic. Maybe paddle around Isle au Haut. At first I thought I didn’t have to work until later on the next day, so I packed camping gear. Then I learned I’d be guiding a morning trip the next day. But I already had the gear and food together. Whatever. I could figure it out as I went along. It was a gorgeous day, and the only thing that made sense was to just get on the water. It was mid-morning by the time I launched.

It felt good to be paddling away, alone, heading across Webb Cove without first getting my group lined-up to make an efficient crossing, no pre-trip briefing or endless foot peg adjustments. And of course, as always, it was liberating to let my paddle strokes fall into their own rhythm: not necessarily fast, just my own, without looking around wondering what I could do to help everyone move more naturally in their boats. As I followed the shore of Indian Point and headed out for Russ Island, I realized I felt weary, and a bit lazy, and maybe I wasn’t in the mood for an epic paddle after all. I had my hammock with me, and I began thinking about setting it up and just swinging in it for awhile, enjoying the day on some island.

As I passed Blasters Rock on Little McGlathery Island, it occurred to me that it was a Maine Island Trail island and I hadn’t yet visited it for the 30 In 30 Challenge. MITA is celebrating its 30th year by challenging members to visit 30 MITA islands and documenting their visits. I’vebeen posting photos on Instagram with the #mita30in30 hashtag, and it’s been afun challenge. At first I figured I wouldn’t need to go out of my way, that I’d naturally land on the islands during the course of my trips. But inevitably I’ve begun to veer toward islands with the goal of adding them to my list, as I did at McGlathery (#15). I’ve taken many pictures of this rock, but why not another?

It’s been fun to follow how other people have risen to this challenge as well. MITA posted an account of someone who took a motorboat around Casco Bay and bagged the 30 islands within 24 hours. I’ve been seeing some nice photos from these island visits on Instagram. And last week, Rebecca ran into a group of women who call themselves ‘Ladies Who Launch’ who took an epic trip around the archipelago to set foot on 18 MITA islands in one day. That sounded like fun, but I wasn’t going to take such extreme measures. Still, I felt the collecting impulse rising in me as I paddled across Merchant Row, plotting how to add a few more islands to my list. 

I pitched my tent on Wheat Island (#16) and after lunch headed next door to Burnt (#17). As popular as Wheat Island is, Burnt Island, less than a quarter-mile away, seems to get far less use. I’ve stopped before to try to locate something that looks like a campsite, and not found anything obvious. This is how it is at some private islands that don’t get a lot of use. There’s also brackish, standing water above the shore, which may be partially responsible for the island’s reputation for mosquitoes. Such a rumor certainly helps weed-out visitors, but even in the mid-day heat I slapped a few bugs, so it’s easy to imagine they might get a bit more intense toward dusk.

From there I went on to Isle au Haut and crossed over to Doliver Island (#18) where I ate my second sandwich. I hadn’t stopped on Doliver in years (perhaps this post from 2007 was my last visit?) having more or less decided that I preferred campsites that are less exposed – both to the environment and to homes on the shore of Isle au Haut. But it struck me differently this time and I instead saw the exposure to Jericho Bay as an asset, that not only was it a pretty place to eat lunch, but would be a special campsite as well. We should never make up our minds about a place after one visit. Maybe the grass was a little greener this time, or the lone spruce tree a little taller than before. Or I was simply in the right frame of mind.

I continued around York Island, enjoying the gentle swell along the rocks on the eastern shore, and then headed back to Wheat Island. 

I hung the hammock, took a swim and dried off in the sun. I realized I’d been looking forward to this down time about as much as I looked forward to the paddling. And it’s funny, how my incentive to paddle has changed over the years. We came to Maine not long after living on a Greek Island, where, when I got off work I would rush off on the scooter to a remote beach and just relax, usually with a bottle of retsina and a book. In my first years of running our gallery in downtown Stonington, I mostly just wanted an escape, a way to get to some remote beach like I did in Greece – a place where I could just chill. The kayak seemed the perfect way to get there, so I saw it more as vehicle: a way to get from point A to point B.

But as I learned how to maneuver my boat, I grew to love the getting there at least as much as any destination. It was all about the journey, not where I ended up. And I think that was reinforced by the kayaking education I’ve had, the emphasis on learning to maneuver well, the joy to be had in overcoming challenges, of riding a wave or slipping deftly through a rocky chasm, propelled by the sea. And since I then learned to teach these skills to other paddlers, the learning and teaching process sometimes overshadows our surroundings.

But last summer when Rebecca and I spent two months paddling the Maine coast, usually in heavily-laden boats, we began thinking more about the destination. Our life was easier if we didn’t dilly-dally too much along the way and we arrived at camp early enough to enjoy the place. We grew to love our zero days when we stayed in camp, usually avoiding some bad weather. My hammock became my living room and office, no matter where I hung it. And everywhere we paddled, we were struck by the beauty of the place. It’s the Maine coast in summer, after all: about as idyllic as it gets.

So lately it feels like my kayaking aims have come full-circle. I love both the journey and the destination, and I’ve been finding more time to enjoy those places. When I’m done with work early enough I’ve been getting out for a couple hours to just ‘hang-out’ somewhere. And my evening on Wheat Island was like that as well. I made dinner, watched the sun get absorbed by the clouds over the Camden Hills and made myself a cup of tea as the stars began appearing. In the morning I paddled back early, in time for a little breakfast before my morning trip.

The areas in this trip are featured in trips #14 and #15 in my guidebook, AMC's Best Sea Kayaking in New England.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lunch on Marshall Island, Dinner on Swans

Hutch and I both had the day off and, deciding to make the most of it, planned on a full-day paddle. Since it was a mid-day high tide and heading south against the current didn’t make much sense, we decided to head east, to Marshall Island. And just before we launched we discovered Old Quarry had a boat going over to Swans Island that evening to take passengers to a music festival at the Oddfellows Hall. Did we want to meet the boat over there, go to the concert and catch a ride back? Amazingly, we hesitated for about three minutes, since it hadn’t been our plan, but…well, duh. Of course we wanted to take a one-way paddle with a shuttle back.

We chatted as we paddled over to Marshall, which made the longer stretches go by quickly. In addition to a few parallel interests, we had some similarities in our lifestyle choices. Hutch and his spouse Shari have been here at Old Quarry for the summer, where they live in their 1957 ‘canned ham’-style trailer. The trailer is pretty small – only 15 feet long… and they’ve been living in it for 6 years! 

We curved around Saddleback Island and crossed Jericho Bay via Southern Mark Island and Saddleback Ledge. It was warm and sunny, clear, with fairly calm seas and not much wind: the sort of day you could go just about anywhere out there. As we neared the southwest end of Marshall Island, we heard a distinctive exhalation of air and saw a minke whale surface not far off, its long back curving above the surface, glistening in the sunlight until the dark triangle of the dorsal fin appeared for a moment before the whale dove again. Since minkes can remain submerged for some twenty minutes, it wouldn’t have surprised us if the first glimpse had been all we’d see, but the whale continued to surface, multiple times. We drifted and watched, all thoughts of getting anywhere temporarily forgotten.

I think that’s when a paddle gets good: when you stop thinking about the destination and you’re just focused on the present, wherever you are, and it’s a bit of a gift, when those moments occur unexpectedly. We landed in Boxam Cove and ate lunch, admiring the pink granite shoreline, banded with dark intrusive dikes – a distinct formation found at a number of headlands jutting southward into the sea along this stretch of coast. Of course we also had to stop at the sandy beach at the head of Sand Cove, if only for a short stroll on the beach and a visit to the tent platforms. We had it to ourselves.

We still had most of the afternoon to meander six or so miles along the islands and ledges leading to Swans Island. It’s a good thing we brought helmets, since the small swell made for some perfect rock play conditions. Again, we lost track of time, trying to catch little waves through the rocks or bumping over pour-overs. We could have almost forgotten our destination. 

This relaxed quality to our afternoon would have been difficult if we’d needed to paddle the ten or so miles to get directly back. Instead, we found ourselves at the end of the day, paddling into Burnt Coat Harbor where we waited for the Nigh Duck, floating just offshore. In the late-day light, the harbor, full of lobster boats as well as visiting cruising boats, felt hushed. We ransacked our supplies for any remaining food and ate afloat, watching schooner passengers getting ferried in to the dock.

The Nigh Duck arrived and while the first passengers were shuttled to the dock, Hutch and I climbed aboard and hoisted our kayaks to the cabin roof. We got into some dry clothes and caught the last trip to the dock. Despite having lived essentially next door to Swans Island for the last fifteen years, I haven’t explored much beyond the shoreline, so it was a treat merely to walk along the road to get to the Oddfellows Hall. It was quiet, hardly any cars about, and I admired a few century-old homes along the winding asphalt.

The Oddfellows Hall is massive, a tall wooden antique of a building with the auditorium, holding well over 200 people, on the second floor. The performance was already in progress, but we were expected and a staffer ushered us backstage and into the front row before a packed hall. The Sweet Chariot Music Festival has been going on every summer for over twenty years, a three-night event that attracts performers, usually with a folksy bent, from all over. Since Swans doesn’t have much in the way of accommodations and the last ferry leaves for Bass Harbor too early, the audience is mostly island residents and visiting boaters. Before the evening performance, musicians pile into boats and visit the schooners in the harbor, singing sea shanties. According to some, some of the real musical highlights occur during the after-parties.

But we had to leave before the show was over so we could motor back across Jericho Bay, itself a dreamy experience. The stars were bright, and the moon, just past full, rose over the ocean. Occasionally, headlights flashed atop Cadillac Mountain and our re-entry into our neighborhood was made obvious by the bright lights of the Haystack school angling up the hillside on Stinson Neck.

Hutch and Shari have a website called Freedom In A Can, where they share their blog posts, photos and helpful hints for those interested in their mobile lifestyle. They also write blog posts for The Dyrt.

The Sweet Chariot Music Festival happens around this time every summer. What a cool event: check it out!

Each act in the festival gets about fifteen minutes on stage. One group I particularly liked was a college-age trio from Camden called The Push Farther Project. They play a variety of instruments, including cello and other strings, and create unusual harmonies to sing what they call “documentary” songs that incorporate stories gleaned from other people’s experiences.

Trip #13 in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England covers Swans Island. Buy this book. Buy this book. Buy this book. Repeat after me… I will buy this book…

Friday, July 27, 2018

Greetings From Tumbledown Dick Head!

I’ve wanted to use that title for some time now. Tumbledown Dick Head is a steep section of shoreline on Pleasant Bay, in Addison Maine that until a few days ago I’d only experienced as that – a feature on the chart that just naturally seemed to invite exploration. Nate and I have been fond of using it during tabletop navigation exercises, and last year, when Rebecca and I camped nearby during our Upwest and Downeast trip, I kept looking forlornly up the bay, wanting to check it out. We finally managed to get there. 

We had a day off and drove to the Addison Point launch, where we caught the outgoing tidal current on the Pleasant River that helped us along. The wind from the south made it a bumpy ride, and by the time the river turned to Pleasant Bay, fingers of dense fog began drifting in. We navigated buoy to buoy, a quick ride to Mink Island, a tiny MITA island, where we stopped for lunch and the fog thickened. We found ourselves, as we often do, off in our own little world for a bit.

We were already feeling good just to be away from work, off the island (Deer Isle) for a day, to be off doing our own thing for a change. I hadn’t driven to many new places to launch for a while, and it all felt familiar and good… stopping to pick up a submarine sandwich to take along for lunch, chatting with a local guy who’d just returned to the launch after tending his recreational lobster traps, watching the current heading out to sea, knowing we’d planned well and we’d get a considerable push from it. And then finally, landing in a place we hadn’t been before, checking out the campsite, taking it all in.

Since this is the Maine Island Trail’s 30th year, they’re doing a challenge called “MITA 30 in 30” that encourages people to visit at least thirty MITA islands this summer by offering a cap for those who manage 30 islands. I’ve been posting photos on Instagram as I’ve visited the islands, which has been a fun challenge and an easy way to document it.

If the fog had been less dense, we would have continued to Sheep Island, which we enjoyed so much last summer that we stayed there twice, and even spent a zero day hanging out there. But the fog was about as dense as it gets, so instead we paddled through the Birch Islands and followed a bearing over to the Addison shore, where we visited Marsh Harbor Island, another MITA island, and then followed the shore north to Tumbledown Dick Head.

As far as I can tell, the odd name of the place probably comes either from Richard Cromwell, a 17th century English head of state whose ineffectiveness earned him a short time in power and the nickname, or from a pub named after him. Either way, it made me want to go to this place, which is worth visiting – a steep cliff rising from the bay – but perhaps less singular than its name.

Of course, by this time, low tide had come and gone, and we had a nice push from the current to help us the 6 or 7 nautical miles back to the launch.

You can see my Instagram photos here. I've more or less stopped using Facebook except to post this blog - for several reasons, but I enjoy the photo sharing more than the sharing of just about everything else that you find on Facebook. I know - you probably followed the link here from Facebook... probably the only reason I still use it at all.