Paddling around Stonington and the Isle au Haut had been planned for some time as an NE5STAR trip when I was asked to teach a class at Woodenboat School in Brooklin, ME. This would mean paddling/teaching for five straight days and then at the end of the fifth day, I would need to drive from Brooklin to Stonington and launch in time to make it to an island to camp. It would be a long, albeit rewarding week.
With the plan made and a week of excellent teaching behind me, I made for Stonington to meet John M at Old Quarry. We met up around 4:15, squared things with Bill at OQ and managed to load and launch boats by around 17:30. The put in at OQ is extremely easy if one has 4 wheel drive, given that it's a highly pitched dirt ramp that transitions to natural, slippery stone at the water's edge. We were lucky in that no one else was clamoring to use the ramp when we were there.
Our boats now loaded down with water and gear, we hefted them onto the water and decided we had enough time to make it to Wheat Island. The plan was to follow a roughly 180M course between Round and McGlathery Islands and shoot across Merchant's Row to Wheat Island to camp for the night. Our progress was swift, covering the distance easily as we utilized the beginning of the ebb, arriving at Wheat with light to spare for setting up camp. There is no sandy beach on Wheat, so be prepared to ride the swell onto the rocks. This can be done quite close to the actual campsite.
Once on land, we lifted the ridiculously heavy boats out of the tide's reach and made camp. We did not expect the bug population to be so robust, as swarms of mosquitoes descended upon us. I'm not even sure bug spray would have helped us repel their shock and awe attack. With tents up and dozens of mosquitoes swatted, it was time to eat! Typically on these outings, I function quite well with good cheese, bread, fruit and PB&J sandwiches. On the other hand, John M is something of a gourmand, breaking out the full cook set, and whipping up some excellent fajitas with beer! I must say it was a welcomed change to my typical routine, although I was half expecting JM to pull out a kitchen sink from his kayak when it was time to clean up.
With everything tidied up and the incredible sunset having transitioned to a remarkable starry sky, I ventured over to try out my Eureka one-person tent for the first time. It is very easy to set up with only two poles and stakes (guylines are also included but the stakes did quite well in the breeze that we had). For those who might be claustrophobic, there is plenty of room above you while lying down, but the limited height meant that trying to inflate the Exped pad via the CPR compression method a bit tough on the lower back. I will need to investigate a different pad or another way to inflate the one that I have before using it with this tent again. Overall, the limited headroom is outweighed by the small amount of space it takes up in the kayak and its ease of set-up.
Given the tides and the weather, a clockwise trip around Isle of Haut seemed warranted the next day. We arose rather early, leisurely breaking camp while waiting for the ebb to strengthen. Launching off the rocks onto calm waters and clear skies, we made our way quickly past Burnt, Fog and York Islands, opting to land on Eastern Ear to refill water packs and take a short break prior to heading around the southern portion. Even with the calm waters this day, the few swells and breakers made it clear that this portion of the coast over to Western Ear received a lot of energy on any given day. With the goal of getting around front and center in our minds, we took a direct root to Western Ear, going on the outside and making for Duck Harbor to have lunch and let the flood strengthen. Note that Duck Harbor now has composting toilets and water available.
After lunch when a little red squirrel tried to run off with mine, we continued up the coast stopping one last time on Flake Island. Given the swiftness of our circumnavigation, I decided that I would head back to OQ in order to get home a day earlier than expected. My wife's first week of school had coincided with my teaching at Woodenboat and unexpected issues with our 4-year-old daughter had made the week rather trying for her. JM, having a little one of his own, graciously said he had no problem spending the night on Saddleback by himself so that I could leave early (The week had been so hectic that my wife and I BOTH forgot our wedding anniversary!). We paddled together until we reached the outside of Spruce upon which I rode the swell and wind back to OQ while he went to check out Saddleback. (It turned out that JM ended up camping at OQ instead due to the predicted deterioration of the weather for Sunday.)
The sheer number of islands in this area is mesmerizing and it's impossible to visit them all at once. Of all the islands, the Isle au Haut is by far the most interesting. Along the way around we observed osprey, bald eagles, porpoises, and one really big fish that surfaced quickly right behind my stern. A big thank you to JM for great food and company as we did around 26nm in the 24 hour period.