Isle au Haut

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. 

Course on Day 1

Course on Day 1

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.  

Course on Day 2

Course on Day 2

Monhegan: Day 3

The 15-20kt southwest winds were forecast to continue this day along with seas of 3-5ft.  I awoke to cool temperatures and cloudy skies.  No fog was present but the skies were showing rain and the mainland was shrouded in haze.  Having made the crossing once, I contemplated taking the ferry back with my wife, but the kayaker in me opted to paddle instead.  With the predicted winds on the beam and an ebb tide, I chose a course to compensate with Allen Island as the intended goal.

marshall point light

marshall point light

Launching at 0930 into predicted seas, I headed northeast, surfing half the distance on the quartering seas.  Once at Allen, I chose to follow the eddy running along it up to Davis Island  before heading towards Port Clyde.  With the rain starting to develop and a ferry to meet, I made for the beach.  

Port Clyde

Port Clyde

Mohegan is a place I will go back to in the future.  With 22 miles of hiking trails to explore, of which we were only able to do about 10%, great art, food and people, it's a beautiful place that deserves more than one visit. 

Looking out from POrt clyde

Looking out from POrt clyde

Monhegan: Day 2

The plan for this day was a short, exploratory paddle around Monhegan and Manana.  The forecast was for winds of 10-15kts from the southwest building to 15-20kts from the southwest with gusts to 25kts and seas 4-6ft.  I was glad to see that the local rental shop had not opened as I made my way to the beach around 0830.  

Given the forecast, I opted to head around Manana first, so that if conditions were worse than expected, I could let the winds blow me back into the harbor.  Launching around 0900, I made for the northern tip of Manana, rounding it straight into a 15kt headwind with solid 4 footers coming into shore.  I proceeded down its coast and chose to go from the southern tip of Manana to the southern tip of Monhegan.  With wind and waves on the beam, and the local topography creating waves in the 6-8ft range, I made me way southeast, having to steer wide of the southern tip of Monhegan to avoid the massive breakers.  

After rounding the southern headland of Monhegan, the winds and swells pushed me quickly to the northeast.  There was little in the way of rockplay since the swells rose quickly and exploded off the coast due to the drastic depth changes in the area.  I did, however, have the chance to surf the following seas around Burnt Head and to the lee of the northern shore.  From there I made my way back to Monhegan Harbor.  

Once back at the harbor, I realized that the time spent in the boat thus far had not been enough, so I opted to surf the incoming swell for a bit and play in the rocks off of Manana.  Given the 5 second period of the swells, the rock play was more enjoyable.  It was interesting to watch a sailboat and ferry make for the harbor in the rough seas.

As I was about to call it a day, I noticed that the local rental place had opened and were in the process of renting four kayaks, which were lined up on the beach.  Two were short sea kayaks but two only had a rear bulkhead.  Immediately I recognized that I should stick around for a bit in case they might need help.  I continued to play while watching the renters paddle.  The winds quickly drove them towards the northern part of the harbor where two continued up the coast and the other two stayed in the harbor.  Great, they split the group.  Still holding my position, I evenutally saw the other two kayakers return, and believing now they would stay in the harbor, I made for shore.  Once out of the boat, I noticed a bit of commotion on the bar between Monhegan and Manana.  It appears that one kayak had turned over and a man in a dingy was paddling out.  Great, time to get back in the boat.  I relaunched and headed towards the group.  3 of the 4 kayakers were now out of their boats. One kayaker was in the dinghy returning to shore while the two were on the rocks trying to get back into their boats whilst holding the now empty third boat.  The fourth paddler was floating nearby.  

On approach, I asked if they needed help, to which the response was that they had kayaked before.  I'm not sure how that answered my question but after watching them attempt to get in their boats once to no avail, it was obvious they had no clue what they were doing.  I ordered the one person to let go of the third boat, held his boat and got him in, telling him and the other paddler in a boat to point into the wind and hold position.  The remaining paddler was told to jump in the water, since he was half in the water already, trying unsuccessfully to empty his full boat. I performed a t-rescue just at the man with the dinghy returned, who turned out to be the owner of the rental shop.  I told him to take the remaining paddlers to shore to which his response was one of concern only for the boat still on the rocks.  I told him once more to take the group back while I retrieved his remaining boat.  

With the group on the way, I put the remaining boat under tow and headed back.  Even though I told the paddlers that the forecast was predicted to strengthen and that they should call it a day, they opted instead to stay out.  Their decision may have turned out ok in the end, but it was an uninformed and bad decision nonetheless.  They could not rescue themselves nor could they control their boats well in the conditions.  I had also asked them what they had been told about the weather by the owner, to which they responded it was a bit choppy.  The shop owner and the paddlers both made several poor decisions this day. 

 

Monhegan: Day 1

This was a trip I had tried to do last year, but based on input from family, this would have been one trip too many.  The trip was posted in several places to see if anyone wanted to go along, but with no takers it became a solo trip and birthday present for my wife.  The overall plan would be for her to take the ferry out to the island, while I would paddle out, around, and back over a 2 night, 3 day period.  

On this day, I had planned to launch at 0900 to grab the last hour of the ebb but delays led to a 1000 launch.  The winds were predicted to increase from the SW 5-10kts at launch to SW 15-20kts, which would have been manageable but also a nusiance.  My plan was to follow a 210M course, pass to the left of Burnt island and then make the crossing to Monhegan, arriving roughly an hour after the ferry carrying my wife.

The launch at low tide from Port Clyde is a bit of a walk.  I launched at 1007 into mild wind and fairly calm seas even though they were predicted to be 2-3 feet. It would be about 5nm to Burnt and then another 5nm to Monhegan.  I passed. , the Brothers, and then Burnt.  I opted not to stop after an hour of paddling and made for Monhegan.  The biggest challenge to the crossing was the boredom, spending an hour staring at the same island, which did not appear to be getting closer as time passed.  I spent the time measuring distance by time and by the few landmarks/buoys that were present along the way.  

With the winds and swell against me due to the late start, coupled with a sense of urgency to get to the island to meet my wife, meant the trip felt like an eternity even though I arrived at the island in the predicted 2.5 hours.   I was met by my wife, who after conferring with the owner of Monhegan House where we stayed, directed me to Fisherman's Beach where I would be able to leave my kayak for the duration of my stay.  It was a an uneventful crossing along the course I had laid out.  The conditions were less than expected but would soon change overnight, a post left for  day 2 of the trip.  

After arriving at the island, a remarkable place with very friendly local and toursits, we spent the time getting settled.  The long hikes would wait for later in the week, so on this day we made our way to Lobster Cove to see the wreck of the D.T. Sheridan, a tug boat that got lost in the fog while pulling two barges in 1948 and washed ashore.  The Coast Guard rescued all nine souls.  Althought I have been told that the wreck has lost mass over the years, it is still something to behold.  The rusting hulk lays dormant on the shore like a whale carcass, with severael recognizable parts strewn about.  You can touch it, climb on it, go inside or just take in its presence and fully appreciate the power of the sea. Locals have told me that the hulk moves around in the winter as winter storms push it from one place to another.  I can think of no other wreck that you can get so close to on land.  Truly amazing. 

Matinicus Day 5: Matinicus Harbor to Tenants Harbor

On our last day, we awoke to calm winds and thick fog.  After a quick breakfast provided once more by Bill, we bid him a fond farewell and headed for the beach, with an 0800 launch time.  With having to repack the boats we finally launched at 0820 into a decent fog.  We hand railed along the for about 25 minutes until we hit 305M, the planned course given the expected current and wind.  My securitae call was answered with "I hope you have your tin hats on,"  so with a chuckle we left the northern coast of Matinicus and proceeded with the foggy 5nm crossing to Large Green.  

Prior to launching, there was widespread agreement to check out the beached buoy on Little Green that we had seen on our first day of paddling.  After pulling the boats through some of the smelliest, muckiest low tide water, we had lunch on the same log we used on the way out.   Once done with lunch, we ventured around to the eastern side of the island to finally check out the buoy on the beach.  The thing was enormous!  It appeared that it had broken loose during a storm since one the three chains holding it was gone. The water-powered whistle was still present, but either the red light that should have been there was either removed by the storm or by someone who stumbled across the buoy on the beach. 

After climbing over, under and in it, we noted the buoy's mark of 14M with plans to check out its original location.  Once back on land, I managed to track down the buoy as originally located southwest of Mohegan Island or about 18nm as the crow flies.  The storm / subsequent swell had delivered the approximately 6 ton navigation marker quite a long way!  Curiosity satisfied, we got back on the water for the final leg of the journey back to Tenants Harbor.  With a variable southeast wind and ebbing tide, we ferried the remaining 8nm from Little Green and back to the put in.  

The padding, the people, the weather, the wildlife, and the island culture made this trip one of the most memorable.  It tests your endurance, both physically and mentally, and reminds us of why we train so hard. 

 

Approximately 18nm.

ROUTE FOR THE DAY

ROUTE FOR THE DAY