Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Moonlit Nights

We had a few especially warm, sunny days that just happened to coincide with the holiday weekend, and I was stuck at work. From my window in the gallery, I saw kayaks atop cars and out beyond the harbor, wet blades flashing in the sun as if to call my attention to them. And of course, everyone coming into the gallery remarked on what a nice day it was, just rubbing it in. Beneath it all, you know there aren’t many days like that left before it turns cold and stays cold for the next seven months or so.

But the full moon was approaching. The best nights for a full moon paddle are the evenings before full, when the moon is already in the sky after the sun goes down, so it never really gets dark. I finished work, got my gear together and launched a little before sunset. I paddled out to Steves Island, and paused for a moment as the disappearing sun turned the western islands into silhouettes. I turned on the light suction-cupped to the deck behind me, strapped on my headlamp, and continued on a very familiar route, out around McGlathery Island.

It helps to know the route well. It’s not so hard to recognize the shapes of islands and know where you’re headed, but it’s good to have some idea of where the ledges are, and when you see the lights of an approaching boat, to know that you’re out of the channel, out of its way. I eased into the darkness as I followed the south shore of McGlathery, and began navigating by the sound of waves on the rocks, and maybe even the feel of the water beneath the hull. I waited among the ledges for a lobster boat to pass, listening to its hum turn into a roar. Bright lights lit-up the deck where the sternman hosed everything down. Then it was gone, bound for the lights of Stonington, and with no other boats approaching, I crossed the channel, toward the dim outline of Ram Island.

It was a holiday weekend to be sure. A couple of miles away, the Haystack School glowed as it does on summer nights, and someone had a couple of lights on over on Devil Island. A lone sailboat was anchored near Camp Island. As I passed Russ, I smelled campfire smoke. A pair of campers, marked by their headlamps, moved between the campsite and the water’s edge. Metal pots clanged against rocks.

The next evening, I paddled out past Crotch and Sand Islands and watched the sun go down before pointing west. I paused at each island, wondering, as it grew darker, how dark it would finally feel, but I kept going until I landed on the sand at Sparrow Island. From there on, I found my way by moonlight: listening to the waves crashing on nearby rocks as I approached Scraggy Island, landing on the ledges beneath Mark Island Light, finally aiming for the flashing green light at the entrance to the Thorofare. The moon lit the high cirrus clouds and sparkled on the water. It’s tough to describe it without the word “magical” coming to mind. Everything is just the same as in the daylight, but it feels like another world. When I returned to the ramp, it was hard to believe I’d only been gone two hours.

And then Monday afternoon, at the end of the holiday weekend when gallery traffic had slowed to a trickle, I closed the door, got my camping gear together and headed-out to Wheat island. I’d thought I might get out and paddle in the moonlight, but it was enough to wander around the island on foot, the moon casting my shadow on the granite ledges, and listen as the wind whipped-up the waves, lapping ever higher as the tide rose. I sat and drank my tea. I could see a handful of lights in Stonington, a couple over on Vinalhaven, as well as the red flashing lights from the tower on Swans. Over on Mount Desert Island, an occasional headlight flashed from atop Cadillac Mountain.

The next afternoon in the gallery, after I'd spent the morning paddling, visitors commented on how nice the day was. I could only agree, but the nights weren't so bad either.


Telemarkmike said...

Sounds great. I've been thinking lately about trying a little night kayaking under the right conditions. What do you use for a light?

Next summer I'm definitely going to spend some vacation time paddling around Stonington. It sounds fabulous.

Michael Daugherty said...

I use a Paddlers Supply deck-mounted LED light, available at REI, and an Underwater Kinetics Vizion headlamp... which maybe came from Amazon. I keep the light behind me so it doesn't mess-up my night vision, and only turn the headlamp on when there might be other boats about. I've tried other lights that didn't inspire much confidence, but these are very bright and have held-up well.

Thanks for reading!

mrkaen002 said...

beautiful pictures!