Thursday, July 9, 2009
Around Isle au Haut
One price we pay for living in such a superlative paddling spot is that we make much of our living in a short, but intense period of time when everyone else seems to be having all the fun. Over the weekend of the fourth, I spent long days in the gallery, chatting with hundreds of people, smiling until my jaw hurt. This was after a long week of similar days, my mornings and evenings spent in the gallery, getting ready- five days straight with no paddling. I got out Sunday evening with Rebecca, but still, by Monday, the long hours of pleasant chit-chat and repeated conversations had begun to grind away at my soul. The best antidote was a long, strenuous paddle.
On the phone, I told Todd that it was about time we went around Isle au Haut again. He had work to do, but I heard Wendee in the background saying just go. Magic words.
Isle au Haut lies around six miles from Stonington, the hilly backdrop to most of our paddling in the archipelago. At six miles long, by two miles wide, the island has enough shoreline to take up days of exploration, but for a one-day circumnavigation from Stonington in eight or nine hours, one needs to paddle quickly and minimize the dilly-dallying. Still, thinking of the cliffy south end shoreline exposed to the bold ocean swell, we packed our helmets; you just never know what you might run into.
We left at high tide, just after eleven. While this didn’t put a lot of current behind us, we wouldn’t be fighting it. Taking a wide, open route to Ram Island, and across to Kimball Head, we paddled quickly, despite a beam wind that kept us doing sweep strokes for the first eight miles. After Kimball Island, we turned toward Isle au Haut, seeking a little less wind, and arrived at a beach just past Duck Harbor in a little over two hours.
Toward the south end of the island, the coast turns increasingly rugged. A remote section of Acadia National Park, this third of the island is wild, the shore uninterrupted by summer homes. Hikers occasionally watched us from atop the shoreside cliffs. At the southwest corner, amid a rolling fog, we paddled around Western Ear, where a mild swell made for some fun among the rocks, and even though we still had far to go, we took our time exploring. This was the reward for all that quickly-paced paddling. This is where you can lose track of time for awhile, just having fun, occasionally pausing to savor the coolness of those rocks, or the echoey feeling inside a chasm where the swell gently moves you up and down, the water dripping from a wall of seaweed.
By the time the tide turned, we were headed back, arriving in Stonington after about 23 miles of paddling in eight and a half hours.
It's interesting to contrast this excursion with the last (and first) time we circumnavigated Isle au Haut, almost two years ago. Back then, the graceful power of an open ocean swell beneath the boat was still new to me, and when Todd paddled into the bottom of a tall slot in the rock, it seemed a strange and iffy thing to do. Now those rocks seem to exert their gravity upon us (even as I sit here at my desk in the gallery). We were less certain of our abilities, but were willing to push the boundaries. Lessons and repeated practice continue to push them further. Now if we could just sneak in a paddle like that at least once a week, we can work up to the thirty-mile trips.