Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hardhead & Eagle Islands

On the west side of Deer Isle, there’s a beach in Sylvester Cove that, in the summer, has a sign that reads “No Kayak Launching”. There’s no sign there now, so the other day I launched there, followed the shore along Dunham Point, and headed-out to Hardhead Island. Snow came down lightly, and the far-off islands were now and again obscured by drifting grey clouds.  

Hardhead is a “bargain island”; it feels much more “out there” than it really is. A mile off Dunham Point, it’s a big hunk of dark rock rising straight out of the sea. Unlike its name though, it has a fuzzy crown, with tall, inviting grasses atop it, mixed with the usual thorny, drysuit-grabbing bushes. In the summer, the island is off- limits, due to bird nesting.

Hand in hand with its bargain island status though, Hardhead Island may beckon unprepared mariners from the relatively calm waters off Dunham Point out to an area that can quickly turn hazardous. It looks so close. But as the water in East Penobscot Bay moves north and south, Dunham Point and Eagle Island funnel that water into a mile and a half-wide gap and the currents increase. Add to that some significant fetch to the south, and the ingredients are there for some chaotic water.


 The only recent kayaking death off Deer Isle (the only one I’m aware of) happened in this area in 2006. Back in 1873, a pair of Eagle Island residents drowned here while going to Deer Isle for supplies. I keep this information somewhere in the back of my mind, reminding me to be aware of the tide and weather, no matter what it looks like out there.

After a quick hike up to the top of Hardhead, I paddled-on to Eagle Island, passing the lighthouse and following the shore to its calm, western side, where I followed wide pebbly beaches and pulled-up to eat my PB&J. Eagle has a long history of habitation, but is now reduced to one year-round family and a small community of summer residents. 

There are even some rental homes. At a little over a mile long and a half-mile wide, Eagle is just big enough to explore much of it on a good morning walk. Paths range over the island, connecting the broad beaches and rocky headlands. All of this is private property where I’ve never walked... but could if I rented a house there for a week sometime. And it’s in a nice neighborhood for paddling: Butter, Great Spruce Head, Bear Island... just a hop over to North Haven. Such are mid-winter fantasies. 

I followed the cliffy eastern shore, admiring the storey-high icicles dripping from the forest above. The snow was coming-down heavier now. I aimed for Hardhead and headed back across the bay. By the time I pulled up on the beach in Sylvester Cove, the islands were all obscured.

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