Being up early doesn’t feel so early when the sun has already risen well above the islands to the east, and lobster boats have been grumbling around for awhile, but I’m up doing my stretching routine on the raised ledge that juts out from the east end of Wheat Island. It’s only early because my guests are still in their tents, and I have some precious time to myself. The early sun turns the granite boulders reddish-orange; the water is calm. I do my stretches slowly and sit for awhile, gazing out at the low smudge of Marshall and Swans Islands, and beyond them, the hills of Mount Desert Island rising through the haze.
We spent the previous day paddling around Isle au Haut. One of my guests had just finished her first day in a sea kayak. For most paddlers, an Isle au Haut circumnavigation is a trip you work up to slowly. The day trip from Wheat Island spans at least 15 nautical miles, and the seas around the southern end of the island tend to be lively.
We had no particular goal for the three day trip, but on her first day, my guest had taken instruction well, and she was strong and in excellent shape. My other guest was also fit and had been on some challenging kayaking trips. Aside from that, they had great, easygoing attitudes and I could tell they wouldn’t mind a long day that would kick all of our butts a bit. The weather and tide was perfect for the circumnavigation, so we decided to go for it.
I can imagine making such a choice and soon regretting it, but as we paddled along the east shore of Isle au Haut... past York Island and Turner Cove, forgoing a break on Battery Island for the easier landing on Horseman Point, we moved along easily. We chatted about previous paddling experiences and admired the scenery. Occasionally I gave some feedback to improve forward stroke efficiency. Without an efficient stroke, a longer paddle excursion could be a bit of an ordeal- and I see very few paddlers with anything close to an efficient stroke. It’s easier to teach this to someone on their first day of paddling than to someone who has years of an arm-cranking stroke committed to muscle memory.
Farther south, the swell increased gradually, and I tried to shepherd the group into some close-up exploration of shoreside rocks and chasms. She decided that, for her second day of paddling, getting around the island would be enough. He occasionally went in for a closer look. By the time we reached Eastern Head, the swells were just big enough to keep us a little farther from shore. We made our way along the southern end and ate lunch on a cobble beach, just a short walk to the Cliff Trail.
This was about half-way, and from then-on, our goal was to make our way along the west side and get back to camp without overly-exerting ourselves. We had a nice push from the current through the Isle au Haut Thorofare.
Back on Wheat Island, we all felt pleasantly tired; a pot of curry restored some of our spent energy. My guests sat back with glasses of wine and watched the sun set over Penobscot Bay.
I feel good about the trip. My guests, an experienced paddler and a novice, have each been challenged and received some coaching and guidance to accomplish a trip that most paddlers would work up to slowly, if at all. Not only that, but the food was pretty good.