Occasionally someone asks me if sea kayak guiding is fun, and I shrug and say “most of the time.” Like any job, some days are better than others. But some days are even better, more like going for a paddle with a friend or two. It helps sometimes if I get to paddle someplace where I don’t get to go every day. It also helps if I like hanging-out with the people I’m guiding or teaching.
On a previous trip, J had been out to the Porcupine Islands and this time wanted to do something around the southern end of Mount Desert Island. The weather was warm and perfect, so for this trip through Acadia Park Kayak Tours, we met at the launch in Northeast Harbor and headed out of the harbor, where I felt pleasantly distracted by the sensual curves and gleaming varnish of the well-kept boats drifting on their moorings. Some of those boats are called, I think, ‘picnic boats’, and it says a lot about the idyllic lifestyle that goes with them – to have such a beautiful (and pricey) vessel meant only to take you out on picnics. But we had our own picnic boats, and a whole day out among the islands ahead of us.
We paused below the lighthouse on Bear Island and crossed over to the giant osprey nest near the west end of Sutton Island. We had talked about following the shore of Sutton and taking the shortest crossing over to Little Cranberry, but J was paddling well and the day felt calm and warm, with only a handful of powerboats out to worry us on our crossings. So we headed straight across to Great Cranberry and followed the western shore, which feels mostly undeveloped despite a few homes tucked into the trees. At the south end, the open ocean lay before us with the Duck Islands appearing closer than they really were, nearly four miles south. Swell rolled-in toward the rocky shore, lifting us before it broke into white waves over the ledges, and I watched J to make sure she was comfortable; she wore a huge smile and said she loved it.
We took a break and checked out the MITA island and the view of the MDI mountains rising over the Cranberries. It’s one of those views that is a bit stunning at first and you keep taking pictures and staring, just trying to take it in. I thought about the last time I’d camped there – it’s been a couple of years – and promised myself to get back and camp there again before long, since you almost need to sit there for a long, quiet period to take-in such a magnificent landscape.
We switched boats – J wanted to learn to maneuver better, so I took the Tsunami and she took my Cetus. Again, her smile was almost immediate, as if she’d been let in on a big kayaking secret (yes, those boats and paddles are worth every penny). I’ll admit that I often take good kayak design a bit for granted, since I generally paddle nice P&H kayaks (I mostly paddle a Scorpio at Old Quarry). And when I hear paddlers blaming the boat for their own inability, I tend to take it with a grain of salt – the boat is usually a small part of the equation, especially when we’re comparing kayaks with similar designs that were meant to be paddled without a rudder. But if I’d started with a big plastic ruddered boat with a pronounced keel, I think I would have either needed to switch to something more maneuverable, or I wouldn’t have progressed as a paddler. And perhaps this is why a lot of paddlers find it hard to get out of the “point A to point B” mode and discover the pure joy of tooling along a shore, maneuvering the boat as if we’d morphed into more aquatic creatures.
We headed north through The Gut and pulled-in at the beach beside the town landing. We’d hoped to eat lunch at the Islesford DockRestaurant, but sadly it’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so we had more usual fare (pb&j) on the beach. The restaurant is in its last season, and I’ve never eaten there… it seems that everywhere I go I come up with reasons to return – soon.
Having gone around Great Cranberry, it seemed a good idea to now head around Little Cranberry, which we did, paddling along the northern shore where some fine old “camps” have stunning views of MDI. It’s tough not to think that jeez, maybe when we sell the foreign rights and the film rights to the guidebook, maybe I can buy one of these places… and a picnic boat or two with matching colors. But I didn’t ponder my color choices for long, since I’d been watching for thunderstorms, and now some very major, dark clouds began gathering over Mount Desert Island.
We kept an eye on the clouds as we proceeded around the island, cataloguing the places where we might get out to seek shelter. The clouds stayed north until we were headed to the lighthouse on Baker Island and the storm clouds began pushing-out through the mouth of Frenchman Bay, rolling toward us. We turned back and settled for a Figure-8 around the two big Cranberries.
We were getting tired by then anyway. Or at least I was. I kept watching J for signs of fatigue that never seemed to materialize. By the time we landed back in Northeast Harbor we’d paddled nearly sixteen nautical miles – farther than most of my guided day trips. We’d had the tidal current with us most of the time, and a couple of miles might have been augmented by our fear of thunderstorms, but still, not bad.
If I had the time (or if anyone did, for that matter) it would be fun to systematically go through my guidebook and paddle all fifty routes. I am working on paddling them all again, but my approach is a bit more haphazard, mostly dependent on where I get to guide and teach people (perhaps in a month or two when things slow down I’ll get to choose paddling excursions a little more selfishly). But this was yet another approach to Route #10 in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England.