I landed on a large island just off Owl’s Head and pitched my tent in a meadow overlooking a cobble beach and a vast, open stretch of West Penobscot Bay. Seven or eight miles across the water, the trio of wind generators stood on Vinalhaven, blades slowly turning, red lights blinking-- much as they appear from Stonington, nine miles further west.
As the crow flies, I was only about 17 miles from home, but I’d driven three hours to launch on the Weskeag River in South Thomaston, and paddled another three hours to get to this island: maybe not the most efficient way to get here. En route though, I’d paddled the west bank of the Weskeag and followed the shoreline of the town of Owl’s Head, past a lot of unfamiliar territory: a different corner of Penobscot Bay, but still part of our overall neighborhood.
In general, this part of the bay is far more populated than the east side. For much of the Owl’s Head shore, I paddled past shoulder to shoulder cottages, most of which seemed unoccupied. Near Holiday Beach though, at a house with a trimmed green lawn and cars in the driveway, a man stepped out onto the porch. He shouted, “You’re the first one this year!”
I made it to the lighthouse and bobbed in the waves below for a bit, taking pictures. Situated high upon a rugged rocky headland, Owl’s Head light is the epitome of lighthouse quaintness: waves crashing below, wooden walkway zig-zagging up the hill. It looks much as it did in the 1800s, but is still a significant navigation aid to those entering Penobscot Bay.
After dinner, I sat in the grass drinking my evening tea, when I noticed several ticks crawling up my pant legs. I quickly went back down to the rocks and shook-out my clothes. For the rest of the night, I made speedy trips through the grass to my tent.
I woke early and spent the next day meandering out through the islands of Muscle Ridge. Compared to the Stonington archipelago, these islands are far more exposed to the open ocean and whatever it sends your way. Even on a calm day, swells often rolled-in from multiple directions, creating some chaotic spots.
The islands of the north end are spread-out and either privately-owned or occupied by dense bird colonies, so for the most part, I stayed in my boat. Then, as I approached the denser part of the island group, each island I came to, ready for a pit stop, was either occupied by seals or nesting osprey.
I finally beached on Dix Island, which is private, but signs welcome visitors to walk the perimeter trail. I didn’t have time for a walk, but I ate my lunch on the beach, amid cast-off hunks of black and white granite from the island’s defunct quarries. The afternoon felt warm, with cirrus clouds drifting high overhead, forming into “mackerel scale” cirrocumulai, signaling the imminent passing of the high pressure system that had given us such clear weather for the last week. It seemed prudent to return to the shelter of the Weskeag for the evening. I needed to anyway, since all the MITA islands out there were closed due to osprey nesting.
I circled a few more islands before heading out around Andrews Island. Despite a relatively small swell, the steep granite shore roared with surf. I could imagine a fun day playing here with friends, but for now I kept my distance.
The wind had picked-up from the southwest, and since the current in the Muscle Ridge Channel can be significant, I waited for slack tide to cross back to the South Thomaston shore-- about 2.5 nm, stringing my route along some small islands until I returned to the mouth of the Weskeag and found my next campsite. The next morning I was up early-- in time to launch in the sunshine before a new front moved-in, and I paddled back up the river to the launch.