Saturday, August 8, 2009

Isle au Haut Rocks and Ledges

On the Nigh Duck, we had a foggy ride back from Seal Island, disembarking in the calm water at Duck Harbor. We paddled south through the fog, following the shoreline toward Western Head. The swell that had seemed mountainous out at Seal Island came in a bit more gently here, which turned out to be good for rock gardening, especially as the tide fell, exposing a maze of boulders and outcrops.

It can take awhile to really get into the rock gardening groove. We came to some ledges, which were now and then getting pummeled as the swell came in and turned to a breaking wave. Todd waited, timing the waves until one took him over some rocks. I did the same. He tried it in another spot, but didn’t quite make it, managing to back off before getting stranded atop the ledge. This was okay, but... I don’t know. It was like doing the white man’s overbite boogie on the dance floor at a wedding for a relative you don’t really know. Except instead of just looking stupid, you’re worried that maybe that dance floor, which is hard and covered with barnacles, is going to bite you in the face.

“Should we move on?” Todd was already on his way. I followed. Soon, we were going around Western Ear, among some familiar rocks. Again, we looked for the fun spots. We paused before a passage among some rocks. Last time, we’d waited for a wave to come in and buoy us across. This time we waited until a much bigger wave came in and broke violently, crashing into the rocks and rebounding into the next crashing wave. We backed off.

I’m not sure how it happened, but eventually the pathways became evident, the process more akin to skiing powder through trees and moguls. The waves can either knock you around, or put some space between you and the rocks, pointing you where you want to go. For a short while, it was magic. The cliffs rose above us, topped by vague stands of spruce in a thick fog that made the rest of the world feel very far away.

The fog remained thick as we paddled back along the east shore of Isle au Haut. Attentive to the the contours of the shoreline, we noticed details that we’d only seen before from a distance. As the tide rose, the current picked-up, and we made good time, dead-reckoning through the fog.

We paused on the south side of the Stonington Thorofare, and Todd did a securitay call on the VHF, warning other boats that we would be crossing in the fog. As usual, no one replied, so we followed our bearing into the fog. We didn’t hear the boat bearing down on us. My first clue was the look on Todd’s face when he glanced to the side. I started paddling hard even before I looked to see the shape of a large fishing vessel coming straight for us. “Fisherman’s Pride” was clearly legible on the bow- the biggest fishing boat around.

We were quickly out of the way, breathing hard. Todd got back on the VHF and did a radio check. Someone in Stonington Harbor said he was coming in loud and clear. He hailed the Fisherman’s Pride, asking if he’d heard the radio check. After a moment, a voice came on “I heard you but... it was muffled.”

So, if you’re doing a securitay call in Stonington Harbor in the fog, especially in the evening, make sure and say “Calling all mariners... including the Fisherman’s Pride” and maybe you’ll be heard.

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