Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Spoons

York Island

On Wheat Island, I ate my sandwich while the others set-up tents. They had driven some sixteen hours from Canada the previous night, sleeping in the truck once they arrived at Old Quarry, and spent the morning packing boats. They were all a bit tired, but still up for a good paddle.

They paddled nice boats and knew what they were doing, and I felt a little concerned that I might be the slowpoke of the group. They assured me that it didn’t matter. They had all week to explore, and for the first day, wanted me to show them around so they could make the most of their time. We’d been emailing each other for weeks, but I hardly knew where to start. A base camp on Wheat Island seemed like a good idea. We meandered out through the archipelago while I answered a lot of questions.

Every now and then I'm reminded of how difficult it is for visitors to get information about paddling out in the archipelago. The guidebooks to paddling the Maine coast tend to be a bit broad, focusing on details about one particular route. There's the MITA guide, but it only covers MITA islands. You could do plenty of research on-line and still be in the dark about which islands are private, and which ones have public access. Actually, I'll blow my own horn here and say that my article in Sea Kayaker Magazine (Dec 2009) is probably the most comprehensive source (despite its being under 3 or 4 thousand words). To make matters worse, some magazines publish misleading information. One suggested a trip around MDI, camping at the national park campgrounds (those would be some long portages to the water). And I recently taught and guided a family who, inspired by Outside Magazine, expected to "crash in a lean-to" on Isle au Haut and buy lobster from the boat. Yes, these things are possible, but you need a little more information- and paddling skills. Those five campsites are reserved months in advance. But I'm sure the beverage recommendations to accompany the lobster were spot-on.

Around the southern end of Little Spoon, White Horse in the distance.

So our friends from Canada knew they could save some trouble by hiring a local guide for their first day out. Lucky me; it turned into a great day of paddling. After they set-up camp on Wheat Island, we looked at the chart and talked about options. Finally, they just asked "what would you most like to do," and I pointed to the Spoon Islands- Great Spoon and Little Spoon. Off we went.

I don't get to the Spoons as often as I'd like. It's about a ten-mile paddle from Old Quarry (via Wheat Island) and there's no camping there (although Todd and I bivvied there one blustery autumn night a few years ago when conditions turned bad).  The islands are home to a number of lesser-seen birds, and as part of the Maine Coast Island Wildlife Refuge, they're off-limits for the summer. When we'd launched from Old Quarry hours earlier, the visitor's launching area was about as busy as I'd seen it, but we hardly saw anyone on the water, particularly after passing Merchants Row. The Spoons felt especially quiet- except for the crashing of waves.

Great Spoon Island

We hung-out with some grey seals for awhile and paddled around the southern end of Little Spoon, where the swells came-in unimpeded from the open ocean; big conditions to guide in, but by then I had no doubts about my clients- they obviously loved it. We headed over to Great Spoon and drifted beneath the bluffs. I tried to see the place from the Canadians' eyes- was this everything they'd hoped for? They had paddled in a lot of places, but their usual haunts were in the Great Lakes and the lakes and rivers of the Canadian Shield. Gorgeous granite bluffs and bumpy water were nothing new to them. They were scouting the area for their friends back home- a group of experienced paddlers from central Canada who regularly got-together for ambitious trips. If they liked it, they might get a bigger group together for a bigger trip. My clients were seeing it all through sleep-deprived eyes, and I'm guessing it felt a bit unreal. They seemed happy. They also seemed happy when we returned to Wheat Island and they called it a day.

Shivers Island

I watched the sun sink as I made my way back to Old Quarry.


Paddle2See said...

Wow...great shots! And in rough water too - very impressive. Hey, the person in the boat with the green deck seems to be dragging something orange from the rear toggle. Any idea what that is?

Michael Daugherty said...

Thanks- the green boat has the streamer that was used while car-topping trailing from it. Since I was worried about keeping-up, I put it there to slow him down a bit. Also prevents weathercocking.

Paddle2See said...

I never thought of handicapping the clients to keep them from sprinting! You're brilliant. Now, if you only have a solution for the laggards that doesn't involve towing them...

Michael Daugherty said...

Try paddling around in large circles. The islands all look pretty much the same anyway, and most people don't notice: "This island is called Hells Quarter-Acre... not to be confused with the Half-Acre we passed earlier." This works especially well in fog. When you catch-up to the slow paddlers, they forget that they were behind you, and the boost to their confidence tends to get them paddling faster.

Aside from that, just putting the slower paddlers out front tends to speed them up, but I tend to just stop and go, stop and go..."hey let's pause here for a moment..." etc.

Michael Daugherty said...

Also, it's good to observe the slower people and watch for easy fixes: "put your whole blade in the water" or "sit-up straight" and other details that can make a big difference.