Monday, April 18, 2016

The Cranberry Islands

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Although we’d been getting out paddling fairly regularly for the past months, it had been awhile since we’d been-out for a full-day trip. And now that the guidebook is out, I’ve had an urge to use it as a reference to go back and paddle all fifty of those routes again. In the best of circumstances – no other commitments, perfect weather, places to stay and not too much time spent driving – it would take at least two months to paddle all the routes again, so it may take me awhile to get around to them all, since my schedule seems to be getting filled.

Sunday morning was a perfect time to get started though, having spent a night after a nearby Bar Harbor pool session in Lisa and Gordo’s posh travel trailer. We’d arrived and found a chart and the guidebook on the kitchen table, along with one of the most important route-planning tools – a piece of string for measuring out distances. We settled on a trip out to the Cranberry Islands, and right away we found a mistake in the distance info that referenced the “Little Cranberry Island launch,” which should have read “Northeast Harbor.” Ugh. Frank came down from New Brunswick and after Barb joined us for a pancake breakfast, we launched late in the morning from Northeast Harbor. 

In the guidebook’s introduction, I made a point that despite the solid-looking line over the water in the route descriptions, paddlers need to make their own choices. I’m aware that some paddlers tend to get their eye on a distant goal, focusing on the most direct way to get there. I’m more prone to keep that destination in mind while focusing on whatever shore I’m passing along, and I zig-zag, making perpendicular channel crossings and following shorelines for as long as possible, rather than making big, open-water diagonals. In fact, I’ve outlined the pros and cons of these approaches in an essay in the guidebook called The Merits of Following the Shore. Aside from the obvious safety and courtesy factors of avoiding channels used by bigger boats, and the proximity of bailouts, near-shore paddling just seems more interesting to me, and it usually adds less distance than one would think. I doubt I would have much passion for simply getting from point A to B in a kayak. Those are highway miles, counting down the distance to the next exit; it’s all in the journey. 

We found plenty of cool stuff along the shore, from the massive osprey nest on Sutton Island and the enticing turn-of-the-century summer homes, to a few spots where small waves rolled in and provided a challenge or two among the rocks. We stopped briefly in Islesford on Little Cranberry, where most of the shoreside homes are still shuttered, but a few lobster fishermen were busy on the dock. We continued around to the beach on the south side and ate lunch while low tide came and went.

The day felt warm, and after a couple of sandwiches and some hot cocoa I felt almost more inclined to lie back and see what sun I might soak-in through my drysuit. But while we ate we’d been watching the various areas where the small swells erupted in white turbulence, and wondered what sort of waves we might find around the next ledges. 

In the past, Rebecca and I had lucked upon some very small, gentle waves that gave us long, easy rides. There are enough variables – mostly swell size and direction, as well as tide height – that it’s tough to predict what you’ll find. 

The waves were small enough to be almost imperceptible from a distance, but once among them, we started catching those long, easy rides. The sea floor there is very gradual, and the open ocean impact is muffled some by further-out ledges, so these waves were small and nicely shaped. You could catch them with a stroke or two at take-off, and if you kept your speed slow enough that your stern hung back over the crest, you could make turns on them all the way into the beach, sometimes falling off the back only to be picked-up by the next one. The water, of course, is still only about 40 degrees, so we all got our share of invigorating wake-up splashes, if not a dunk or two. 

We’d hoped to go-on to see the lighthouse on Baker Island, but we’d launched late and found some features along the way that burned both time and energy. We found it difficult to leave the surf, but decided that we should head back. Besides, brownies and ice cream were waiting back at the house, and there was much to enjoy along the shores of the islands on our way back.

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