Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Journey Downeast

We landed on the cobble beach: the usual heightened moments of a landing in small surf, focused more on the task at hand than your surroundings – pulling your own boat high enough onto the rockweed before helping the next person land and do the same, until our kayaks were all just out of reach of the highest waves. Then we had one of those “we’re here, now what?” moments. Other evenings on this trip we’d pulled-in late enough that there wasn’t time before dark to do much besides make camp and get dinner going. Now we stood beside our boats, pulled-off our gear and looked around: a fog that had dogged us the last four days had lifted, and from the look of the clouds and the dry feeling in the air, it seemed we might get a break from it. Clear, late afternoon sunlight lit the grassy hillsides around us, and after the shades of grey we’d been living in, the greens and yellows and the blue sky beyond seemed almost unreal. Aside from that, as we’d approached the island, a quartet of black-faced sheep had moved down the hillside toward the cove as if to welcome us, only to bound away after we made landfall. They stood on a distant knoll, watching us until they finally disappeared, but it still felt as if we’d been welcomed.

We carried our gear up some wooden steps to a tent platform atop a bluff, pausing every now and then to marvel at our surroundings. To the west, 7 miles beyond the rounded hilly profile of the nearest islands, lay Great Wass Island, and beyond that, barely visible, Petit Manan Lighthouse, roughly marking the area where we’d begun our trip. To the east, the startling array of 26 skyscraper-height red and white antennae on Cutler Peninsula and the cliffs on Cross Island marked the gateway to the Bold Coast. We would have been able to see these sights earlier had it not been for the fog, but now, getting the big picture, including the bold vastness of the Atlantic south of us, we felt a bit overwhelmed. E, having set-up her tent on a grassy hummock, smiled  and said “this is my favorite campsite.”

We’d begun on Tuesday in Milbridge. We’d hoped to begin farther west, but a tropical storm had paused somewhere south of Cape Cod, leaving us with residual big seas that would last through the week, as well as the warm, moist air that became relentless fog.

For this trip we had the luxury of getting dropped-off and picked-up wherever we pleased, so we spared ourselves the eight-foot seas and whatever that might look like at  Petit Manan Point, and chose instead to follow the edge of Narraguagus Bay as it went from calm to bumpy on our way out to Bois Bubert Island.

With only me and two participants, we were a small easygoing group that came to consensus about our choices fairly easily. As with most journeys, the learning focus would be more on journeying skills – the choices along the way and navigation – than on maneuvering or even play. The seas were usually a bit big for play, especially with loaded boats, but everyone would get plenty of navigation practice.

Over the next three days we made our way east through the fog. On Wednesday, after some navigation instruction, we crossed the mouths of Narraguagus and Pleasant Bays with amazingly accurate results. Then the fog cleared as we passed south of Cape Split and crossed over to Stevens Island, where we camped for the second night.

On Thursday we woke to more fog and like the previous day, took our time getting launched in hopes that it might lift.

It didn’t.

We felt our way up through Moosabec Reach, past Jonesport and across Chandler Bay to Roque Island, where we hand-railed among the outer islands in pea soup fog and rather big conditions. We couldn’t get close enough to the islands to play among the rocks, and yet we wanted to stay near enough to see them. The shore appeared as a series of white explosions where the surf hit below a vague outline of spruce. I kept anticipating the gap between Great Spruce and Double-Shot Islands, hoping to slip from the chaos into calmer water. I would start nosing northward, only to encounter more thundering surf where I hoped the gap would be. Finally we pointed-in through the gap, only to find a tide race where the swells collided with the outgoing current. And the quality of light had dimmed enough to suggest that it was then officially evening. On Halifax Island, we ate in the dark: the end of a long day.

On Friday morning the fog hung around us, about as thick as it gets.

We consulted the marine forecast and the chart and decided to go easy on ourselves. We took our time getting ready and exploring the island and not long after we finally launched mid-day, the fog cleared. It seemed so simple now, to just choose a destination and point to it. We paddled up to Roque Bluffs and over to the MCHT preserve on Hickey Island for lunch. The tall, grassy hills on Scabby Island then drew us south and on to the campsite for our final night.

From my tent that night I could see the moon over Englishman Bay on one side and the blinking red lights atop the Cutler radio towers on the other. The South Libby Island lighthouse pulsed regularly, and way off to the west came the flash from the Petit Manan light. In the morning, I sat for awhile on the highest hilltop, just absorbing the feeling, knowing that it might be some time before I passed that way again.

The waves calmed down a great deal – enough that we spent Saturday morning doing rescue practice in the cove, and then paddled in to Machiasport, where Rebecca picked us up at the launch.

On the way home, we stopped at Wild Blueberry Land, the giant roadside blueberry in Columbia Falls. Since I usually drive past at odd times, it is usually closed, but this time, prepared for the “all things blueberry” experience, I devoured some ice cream and a muffin, wishing we had time for a round of miniature golf.

This route took me to a few new spots, but much of it is covered in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England, in Routes 4 through 7.

Launch: Milbridge Marina
Take-out: Pettegrow Beach, Machiasport
Number of other kayakers seen: 0

1 comment:

John Foster said...

Love that first photo.