At Old Quarry, the road to the ramp lay covered in snow from last weekend’s blizzard. We got into our drysuits in the heated office and pulled our boats like toboggans through the woods. We then carried them down the slippery granite steps beside the ramp at low tide. Heavy clouds hung over the archipelago, but with the air temperature above freezing and not much wind, it looked like a good day. Nate and I gave a minimal pre-trip briefing and we headed out.
This guided trip was the result of Island Heritage Trust creating an event for the Maine Great Outdoors Weekend. I wasn’t sure I wanted to guide the trip. I have no desire to encourage others to paddle in the winter. The risks are far greater than the rest of the year, and it’s probably better for paddlers to incrementally increase their risks as they increase their skills. Going on a guided trip allows paddlers to abruptly leave their comfort zone -- maybe not a good thing. But it allows them to take those risks with guidance, perhaps building skills and confidence to eventually do it on their own.
So it seemed important to get paddlers with some experience. Four of us were licensed guides who had recently practiced rescues in the pool together, while another had taken Nate’s Paddler Development Week course in September. We’d hoped for a few more clients, but it was really no surprise that most people don’t want to go for a paddle in the winter, and it's maybe just as well.
Since this was an Island Heritage Trust trip, we thought we might visit some IHT islands, starting with Millet. We didn't have much of a plan, but we anticipated stronger afternoon north winds, along with some rain or snow. The wind picked-up as we ate our lunch in the lee of some rocks on Millet, and we decided to head west into the archipelago, hopscotching behind a few islands. We found a pleasant minor swell along Spruce and McGlathery, and played a little in the rocks.
It was a quiet day: no lobster boats, rafts of ducks squawking like horns of distant traffic... and us, just meandering along. We passed more IHT islands: Round and Wreck, but we kept moving. I think everyone figured-out that you get cold when you stop. But by the time we made it to Little Camp Island, it was time for another break: hot tea, chocolate, PB&J- it all helps keep you going. Plus, it's not far to the top of the small island: a bargain view, just as it began to snow.
By then, we were on our way home, and the snow felt like a bonus; you go paddling in the winter, you ought to get some snow- right? And it makes us feel rugged to squint our eyes and paddle into the teeth of the storm.