The first time I paddled near Petit Manan Island, my goal was merely to get past it. That was a few years ago on a trip up the coast with Todd. We’d been stuck on an island in bad weather, waiting for a window of good enough conditions so we could paddle around Petit Manan Point. What we knew of the point came from guidebooks with stern warnings of the dangers surrounding the two-mile sandbar stretching out to the islands. The lighthouse--the second tallest in Maine-- stood like a big, dark exclamation point, as if to suggest that whatever lay beneath it needed emphasis. We launched before sunrise and crossed the bar at slack low tide in placid conditions—anticlimactic, but also a relief.
But I’ve always kept the place in mind. Aside from its reputation for rough conditions, Petit Manan Island is known for seabirds, home to one of the few puffin colonies on the Maine Coast. And that lighthouse—hard to explain it, but it just seems to exert a pull; you can see it from miles away (26 miles, to be exact). It makes you want to paddle up close and check it out.
We chose a calm day with a mid-day low tide. Not only did we want some current-assist, but we wanted to minimize the current while we paddled around the island and the bar. Peter and I launched in Pigeon Hill Bay and paddled out along Bois Bubert Island, taking a break on a ledge before pointing toward the lighthouse. Petit Manan Island is off-limits this time of year due to seabird nesting, while adjacent Green Island is always off-limits, so we would be in our boats for a while.
To the west, the bar was visible only by the occasional ridge of white-topped waves above it. A couple of bell buoys marked a channel for sailboats. We aimed for the lighthouse, but felt the pull of current drawing us toward the bar. We’d picked a calm day though, and had little worry about tough conditions. We began seeing less-familiar birds: an oystercatcher with its long orange bill, some others I still haven't identified and the more-familiar laughing gulls.
I didn’t see any puffins on shore though. “Maybe not this trip,” I thought. But then I noticed Peter ahead of me, watching some small birds in the water. Puffins. I drifted toward them, and soon, one of them swam right beside my kayak, checking me out.
This trip was during my annual “waterproof camera is broken” period, which usually happens right in the middle of the summer. Sometimes that means I go without a camera. This time I had Rebecca’s SLR, double-dry-bagged. I snapped-away, taking many photos.
Peter finally asked “Didn’t the tide change a little while ago?” Indeed, it had. We went around the island and found fairly mellow conditions over the bar, which we followed back to Petit Manan Point. The current increased as we went, giving us an easy ride up Pigeon Hill Bay, back to the launch.