The island had been off in the distance when I’d paddled the area in the past, and lately it had drawn my attention whenever I glanced out to sea, even at night when its lighthouse emitted one Fresnelian explosion of light for every three LED blips from the Franklin Island lighthouse, as if its shore were beckoning.
So we got an early (for us) start by around eight, and headed-out, first for Franklin Island for the obligatory (but fun) lighthouse snapshots, and onward to Eastern Egg Rock, where we floated just off its shores, sitting as still as the monitors in their bird blinds, and watched the puffins winging about, sometimes swimming not far away.
All the while we floated with the puffins, Monhegan, still six miles distant, seemed to be calling: “Michael,” it said, “I’m here.” Not only that, but we guessed there would be ice cream there, so we kept paddling, via a steep hump of rock called Shark Island where I nearly blew the whole thing by making an ill-advised surf landing among the boulders for a pee. The landing went fine, and the pee went fine, but the relaunch took a couple of tries. Finally, I was glad I’d brought my helmet. Rebecca watched me and wisely decided to wait.
I’m not always a big fan of these offshore forays, favoring the safety and features of following a shore. I tend to think of it as highway miles, counting-off time and distance until you get somewhere, rather then the ‘being there’ feeling I get while following a shoreline closely. But this time I loved it- the glassy, dreamy swells that kept us pleasantly in a motion other than forward; the different birds- gannets and terns and others yet-to-be-identified. And the slow, gradual fulfillment of a goal that wasn’t a goal- that I’d had in mind for a long time. The features of the island slowly grew, and behind us the mainland and the islands we’d left behind melded into a haze, low on the horizon.
A woman stood at an easel, creating a small, very realistic painting that included a house. It felt like we had walked into a drama that had started some time ago and we had no part in, and after the breadth of the ocean, it felt strange and perhaps anticlimactic to be here finally. We carried our boats up high and went looking for a restroom- after all, it had been over four hours on the water. The only public bathroom on Monhegan is behind a take-out place called The Novelty and we were directed there. A sign above a postal flap in the wall asked for donations (suggested 50 cents per visit) since it is privately-operated.
We ordered wraps and waited outside at a picnic table for our number to be called. There were other tourists, all more clean and less stinky than us, but we shared our table with a group that included a very tan gentleman wearing aviator shades who told us that he used to kayak, that they’d paddled sit-inside kayaks, unlike those sit-on-tops that we… he waved his hand dismissively- paddled. Rebecca and I shared a look, but didn’t correct him. He told us he’d done way bigger crossings than what we’d just done – ten miles probably!
We hadn’t talked to a lot of people about our trip. When people did talk to us, it was usually to ask Rebecca about her wooden kayak. When we did though, it often had the effect of inspiring them to recount experiences rather than ask about the one we were having. Even if we did get a chance to talk, I usually could do little more than say 'it's been great.' We didn’t care, of course. We just smiled and nodded and said “that’s wonderful, that’s cool, that’s great.”
It took about two hours to find a bathroom, eat lunch, eat ice cream and buy some broccoli, chips, cheese and a gallon of water from the store. We found room in the boats for the groceries, got our paddling gear on, and set-out around the southern end. You make your way out of the sheltered harbor, and even on a calm day like this you’re bound to get some swells rolling in. We’d had gently-rolling 2-4-foot swells on our way out, spaced far enough apart to move us up and down with a slow, dreamy rhythm. Those same swells, coming from the outer depths and colliding with Monhegan’s steep, seaward side pack a bit of power and make for some dramatic paddling as you make your way along those cliffs. We didn’t get in too close, but lingered offshore taking photos while atop the cliffs, hikers pointed their cameras seaward.
At the northern end, having come all the way around the island, we pointed our bows toward Allen Island, some 5 miles distant, and started back.
We camped that night on Little Griffin Island, a 2-acre island owned by Outward Bound and included on the Maine Island Trail: a little rough and overgrown, but a good place to spend the night after a twenty-odd nautical mile day.
The Muscongus Bay islands are included in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England, but Monhegan, since this was my first paddling excursion there, is not. Perhaps it will find its way into the next edition.
I wrote this shortly after our Monhegan day, but as we've progressed east, the Internet through cell service has become less reliable. We're now on Deer Isle for two nights, doing some resupplying today before heading-off on the Downeast portion of our trip.