Hutch and I both had the day off and, deciding to make the most of it, planned on a full-day paddle. Since it was a mid-day high tide and heading south against the current didn’t make much sense, we decided to head east, to Marshall Island. And just before we launched we discovered Old Quarry had a boat going over to Swans Island that evening to take passengers to a music festival at the Oddfellows Hall. Did we want to meet the boat over there, go to the concert and catch a ride back? Amazingly, we hesitated for about three minutes, since it hadn’t been our plan, but…well, duh. Of course we wanted to take a one-way paddle with a shuttle back.
We chatted as we paddled over to Marshall, which made the longer stretches go by quickly. In addition to a few parallel interests, we had some similarities in our lifestyle choices. Hutch and his spouse Shari have been here at Old Quarry for the summer, where they live in their 1957 ‘canned ham’-style trailer. The trailer is pretty small – only 15 feet long… and they’ve been living in it for 6 years!
We curved around Saddleback Island and crossed Jericho Bay via Southern Mark Island and Saddleback Ledge. It was warm and sunny, clear, with fairly calm seas and not much wind: the sort of day you could go just about anywhere out there. As we neared the southwest end of Marshall Island, we heard a distinctive exhalation of air and saw a minke whale surface not far off, its long back curving above the surface, glistening in the sunlight until the dark triangle of the dorsal fin appeared for a moment before the whale dove again. Since minkes can remain submerged for some twenty minutes, it wouldn’t have surprised us if the first glimpse had been all we’d see, but the whale continued to surface, multiple times. We drifted and watched, all thoughts of getting anywhere temporarily forgotten.
I think that’s when a paddle gets good: when you stop thinking about the destination and you’re just focused on the present, wherever you are, and it’s a bit of a gift, when those moments occur unexpectedly. We landed in Boxam Cove and ate lunch, admiring the pink granite shoreline, banded with dark intrusive dikes – a distinct formation found at a number of headlands jutting southward into the sea along this stretch of coast. Of course we also had to stop at the sandy beach at the head of Sand Cove, if only for a short stroll on the beach and a visit to the tent platforms. We had it to ourselves.
We still had most of the afternoon to meander six or so miles along the islands and ledges leading to Swans Island. It’s a good thing we brought helmets, since the small swell made for some perfect rock play conditions. Again, we lost track of time, trying to catch little waves through the rocks or bumping over pour-overs. We could have almost forgotten our destination.
This relaxed quality to our afternoon would have been difficult if we’d needed to paddle the ten or so miles to get directly back. Instead, we found ourselves at the end of the day, paddling into Burnt Coat Harbor where we waited for the Nigh Duck, floating just offshore. In the late-day light, the harbor, full of lobster boats as well as visiting cruising boats, felt hushed. We ransacked our supplies for any remaining food and ate afloat, watching schooner passengers getting ferried in to the dock.
The Nigh Duck arrived and while the first passengers were shuttled to the dock, Hutch and I climbed aboard and hoisted our kayaks to the cabin roof. We got into some dry clothes and caught the last trip to the dock. Despite having lived essentially next door to Swans Island for the last fifteen years, I haven’t explored much beyond the shoreline, so it was a treat merely to walk along the road to get to the Oddfellows Hall. It was quiet, hardly any cars about, and I admired a few century-old homes along the winding asphalt.
The Oddfellows Hall is massive, a tall wooden antique of a building with the auditorium, holding well over 200 people, on the second floor. The performance was already in progress, but we were expected and a staffer ushered us backstage and into the front row before a packed hall. The Sweet Chariot Music Festival has been going on every summer for over twenty years, a three-night event that attracts performers, usually with a folksy bent, from all over. Since Swans doesn’t have much in the way of accommodations and the last ferry leaves for Bass Harbor too early, the audience is mostly island residents and visiting boaters. Before the evening performance, musicians pile into boats and visit the schooners in the harbor, singing sea shanties. According to some, some of the real musical highlights occur during the after-parties.
But we had to leave before the show was over so we could motor back across Jericho Bay, itself a dreamy experience. The stars were bright, and the moon, just past full, rose over the ocean. Occasionally, headlights flashed atop Cadillac Mountain and our re-entry into our neighborhood was made obvious by the bright lights of the Haystack school angling up the hillside on Stinson Neck.
Hutch and Shari have a website called Freedom In A Can, where they share their blog posts, photos and helpful hints for those interested in their mobile lifestyle. They also write blog posts for The Dyrt.
The Sweet Chariot Music Festival happens around this time every summer. What a cool event: check it out!
Each act in the festival gets about fifteen minutes on stage. One group I particularly liked was a college-age trio from Camden called The Push Farther Project. They play a variety of instruments, including cello and other strings, and create unusual harmonies to sing what they call “documentary” songs that incorporate stories gleaned from other people’s experiences.
Trip #13 in my guidebook, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England covers Swans Island. Buy this book. Buy this book. Buy this book. Repeat after me… I will buy this book…
I've been posting fairly frequently on Instagram, using it like a photo journal, and of course gradually accruing visits to MITA islands for the 30 In 30 challenge.