Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More Puffins

Once again, Todd and I loaded our kayaks aboard the Nigh Duck, taking Old Quarry Ocean Adventures’ puffin watch out to Seal Island, with Captain Bill Baker. We had a perfect day this time: eighty-degrees, not much wind, a little hazy, but no real fog. Sixteen passengers boarded the boat, and as we motored through the archipelago, Todd and I fielded one question after another, updating our postion on the chart, identifying the islands, and, as we entered deeper water, pointing out the porpoises and birds.

Looking down at the chart, passengers inevitably asked “so where are we going?”
I pointed to a place well off the chart, beyond Isle au Haut. Finally I got out a bigger chart and watched their eyes widen when they saw how far we were going.

As on our last trip to Seal Island, Todd and I were playing it by ear, waiting to see what the conditions were like before committing to a plan. As we passed the end of Isle au Haut, the low bump of Seal Island appearing on the horizon, we had a pretty good idea that this was our day: the conditions wouldn’t get much better than this. We began to see puffins about half way across and large pods of porpi. (If that wasn’t plural for “porpoise” before, it is now). By the time we disembarked, Todd and I had decided we would make the crossing back to Brimstone Island, returning along the east side of Vinalhaven.

Seal Island was far quieter than two weeks before. Where the rocky shore had previously teemed with puffins, razorbills and terns, we now saw groups of gulls and cormorants. The puffins floated on the water surface, taking to the air when we approached, circling us again and again. Soon they will leave the island, living on the open ocean until they return next spring.

With far smaller seas than on our last visit, we paddled close to shore, exploring the fissures and cliff faces along the exposed southern side. We met up with the Nigh Duck and confirmed with Captain Bill that he could leave us there. Waving goodbye to our fellow passengers we were on our own (and soon to be snapshots in various vacation albums).

Finally, we pointed our bows to 10 degrees and began paddling. Eight miles away, Brimstone Island lay obscured in a haze. A mild swell occasionally lifted our sterns, but the paddling remained easy. Occasionally, a gannet or puffin circled around as if curious about these strange little craft so far from shore. After an hour, we rolled to cool off and took a break, dangling our legs out of the cockpits to stretch out. We did the same after two hours, and each time a large grey seal surfaced nearby and stared at us for what seemed a long, thoughtful moment.

Finally, the quiet gave way to the crash of waves on Little Brimstone Island, where large rafts of ducks swarmed the water surface, emitting a sound not unlike the hum of a large, restless audience. We had arrived.

After two and a half hours, it felt like waking up. Now there was shoreline. Now there were rocks. We paddled among them, finding the slots and passages, the mild swell lifting and dropping us. Finally, we found a small beach on the south side of Brimstone, and took a break beneath the steep, rocky hillside.

From Brimstone, it took us less than three hours to get back to Stonington. We rode a strong current along the east shore of Vinalhaven, covering nearly six miles in the first hour. After Stoddart Island, we pointed toward Mark Island light and the water tower in Stonington, making a five-mile crossing via the Brown Cow to Mark Island, where we took one last break, savoring that “exhausted, but you know you’ve made it” feeling.

Well, that’s one way to paddle 25 miles on a Sunday in August and never encounter another kayak. Thanks to Old Quarry for getting us out there.


Quackey McKnuckles said...

That's a great cormorant!

Speedbumps said...

True, as cormorants go, it's really not bad at all. But yes, it is the rare great cormorant.