Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marshall Island

I guided over the weekend. Both days were on the chilly side, a bit foggy and breezy, water temps still down in the mid-forties. We got the clients suited-up in dry suits, and, other than a bit of seasickness, they had a great time. At the beginning of a trip, I sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by all that I would like to show the clients in the few hours we have. But on each trip this weekend, it took only a half-hour of paddling before someone paused, looked around with a huge smile and said, to the effect “ I can’t believe how great this is- I’m doing this again.” That’s when I know why I’m guiding.

As we returned to Old Quarry on Sunday, Nate stood on the shore, leaning over his kayak as he finished packing. I said goodbye to my clients, picked-up my duffel of camping gear and repacked for phase two of the weekend. Nate and I had until Monday night. We’d decided on Marshall Island, a large public island on the east side of Jericho Bay.

Paddling against a mild headwind, we made our way first to Enchanted Island and took a lunch break on the ledges, avoiding the usual beach where several seals were hauled-out. Actually, there were seals everywhere- often mothers with pups following close behind, and it was difficult to avoid them. As we ate our lunch, they occasionally popped their heads from the water nearby and got a good look at us. From Enchanted we made a three-mile crossing over to Three Bush Island, in the lee of Marshall. We thought we would stop there, but a bald eagle sat atop the single bush-like spruce, so we kept moving, following Marshall’s pink granite coastline south.

We paddled in close to shore on gentle seas, weaving in and out of the rocks, occasionally rising or falling on a small wave. The rocks sloped up to a forest interspersed by grassy meadows. A couple of deer perked up when they saw us and bounded away. Gradually, the seas increased and we took more care picking our route until, at Lower Head on the southern end, the swell came unobstructed from the open ocean, occasionally rolling a few bigger waves at the steep pink headlands. If I were writing this with certain publications in mind, I might say the waves rolled toward us like big bowling balls aiming to knock us down, but that really didn’t occur to me at the time. They were really just nice gentle swells. Nate, paddling his new P&H Delphin caught a few beautiful rides. Unfortunately, my waterproof camera isn’t working, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

We camped at Sand Cove, where there’s a few tent platforms a couple hundred feet up in the woods. Admittedly, I wasn’t eager to leave the boats and lug our gear up into the woods. The idyllic camping spot would be overlooking the beach, right next to my kayak. I like to camp right next to my boat- it serves as animal-proof food locker, gear storage unit, camp furniture... and I like to look out of my tent and see my boat there. But it worked-out fine. Maybe it’s a land trust way of doing things- hiding the traces of man so the island appears unpopulated as you cruise past. We finished dinner late, in the dark, gradually pulling-on all our layers as it grew cool.

According to the MCHT website, at 985 acres, Marshall Island is the "largest undeveloped island on the eastern seaboard" with seven miles of shoreline. We had it all to ourselves. It seemed like a good day for a walk, so off we went, following the trail north through the forest, occasionally popping out atop the rocks where the views took in the south end of the Swans Island archipelago. Dark basalt dikes filled-in cracks in the granite, like the one above, pointing off toward Ringtown Island. The woods were busy with migrating birds and we managed to identify a couple of the more common warblers.

Black & white warbler

Heron Island

We made our way to the north end and walked up the hill for a look at the overgrown airstrip. In the 1980s, the island was owned by developers, who hoped to create an exclusive subdivision, reachable by air or sea. When that didn't work out, the bank auctioned the island to owners who never developed it, finally selling it to MCHT. Of more immediate interest, just west of the airstrip is a freshwater well, with a well-maintained pump.

Ringtown Island

We walked around most of the island, which took us about four hours. By the time we returned to Sand Cove, the wind had picked up out of the south. We paddled along the trails we had hiked only hours earlier, but now the seas had grown- too big for playing in the rocks... and big enough to need to get back across Jericho Bay before the tide turned.

In the lee of Halibut Rocks

Again, we faced a three-mile crossing, but this time we had strong beam wind and waves from the south. A third of the way across, we rested in the lee of Halibut Rocks, then pointed for Phoebe Island. It was wavy out there, with occasional sets of big ones rolling through: dramatic, but not so hard to negotiate with plenty of sweep strokes. I wouldn't have gone out there if we didn't need to, but it helps to be paddling alongside someone you've practiced plenty of rescues with and you know you can count on. At some point, my mindset shifted from vague worry to... a sort of calm satisfaction. Two-thirds of the way across we paused and looked around: steely-grey churning sea, the sky a few shades lighter. We could see waves breaking on Phoebe Island. Isle au Haut cut a distinct profile through the fog; other islands were reduced to distant smudges above the waves.

"Nice," Nate said, and I could only agree.

1 comment:

Ginger Travis said...

Nice writeup, and I loved your photo of the basalt dike cutting through the granite. I'll be up there myself one of these days!
G in NC