A few years ago my cousin Linwood suggested I join the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA). The Maine Island Trail (MIT) is a 375-mile chain of over 200 wild islands along the coast of Maine. The MIT is a must do for any outdoor enthusiast.
The Planning Phase
Kayaking and camping on islands in the Atlantic Ocean is not something one does on a whim. Who would like to go with me? When do we go? Where do we put-in? Where do we park the car for three days? Which islands do we camp on? Do we need fire permits? Do we need campsite reservations?
I invited my regular camping and paddling buddies, and Dundee was the sole positive responder. Dundee and I selected Stonington on Deer Island as our put-in because it offered a plethora of islands close to shore for our maiden trip. I emailed the office of MITA (email@example.com), and Eliza quickly responded answering my questions about island fire permits (more info in the online guide and hard copy guidebook); and camp site reservations (there is no need for camp reservations on any of the islands – a MITA member has access to all sites on the trail, at any time, unless the guide descriptions indicate otherwise). The Deer Isle overview page of the guide has a list of put-ins available, and we selected Old Quarry Ocean Adventures with parking and launch facilities at a discount for MITA members.
Linwood sent emails on maps for nautical navigation charts. He cautioned us to plan transits from the islands and mainland using a favorable following tide flow. Tides can be 2 to 4 knots in some of those channel passages, and if we end up bucking the tidal flow, we won’t make much headway toward our destination and may run out of energy and/or daylight.
He sent us tide charts as tide knowledge is critical for camp sites and campfires, since the fires must be below the high tide line. The velocity of flow is maximum at mid-tide and slackens toward either end, reaching null at the direction change. In the Stonington areas the tide will run about 12 feet (give or take the phase of the moon effects). We needed to remember to drag our kayaks a boat length or two up the beach landing area for high tide. When the tide rises 12 plus feet, we do not want to find our transportation has gone out to sea.
Packing our kayaks for our three day paddle meant tough decisions on what to bring and what to leave. My wife Cathy thought we would never pack the gear we had readied, but indeed we managed without sinking our kayaks.
Day 1 – Wednesday
We registered our itinerary with Old Quarry (Hells Half Acre Island on Wednesday night and Steves Island on Thursday night with a 4 pm return on Friday). The Old Quarry staff were extremely accommodating with information on islands to camp (e.g. “too buggy”, “be careful of lobster boats when crossing channels and between islands”, etc).
We had a smooth put-in at Old Quarry, and with a smooth paddle we were at Hells Half Acre island in just over thirty minutes. We were in awe of the island and the view of the bay. We took a walk about this two acre island, and located a nice spot on the east end of the island and pitched our tents on two wooded platforms.
Our initial plan was to save a camping spot by pitching our tent, and then doing some paddling to other islands. However, we were in awe of this paradise, and after some adult beverages, we decide to cool it for the night right where we were. This proved to be the right decision as shortly after we landed a three mast schooner with five sails full, tacked into our harbor. It was a magnificent sight.
Dundee was chief chef for this evening’s dinner. We made a campfire below the high water line, and he proceeded to prepare beans and franks. Fabulous meal.
The sunset was dreamlike on this beautiful summer evening with a gentle breeze.
On Wednesday night we went to sleep surrounded by beautiful islands with clear skies and overhead stars. We awoke Thursday morning on an island in the middle of the ocean! We were completely engulfed in pea soup fog!
We had a lazy breakfast hoping the fog would clear. It did not.
At 10 am we decided to use our map and compass skills, and find out way to Steves Island. Dundee’s skills included a nautical map and compass.
I felt comfortable with Dundee leading the way, but I must admit it was a weird feeling paddling into soup fog and hoping to find our next marker island to know we were on course to Steves Island.
It took us about an hour to get to Steves from Hells Half Acre, as we meandered between a few islands enjoying this surreal experience of fog paddling. We could see about thirty feet ahead, so when we located an island, we paddled around it so take in the pleasure of the rocky coast of Maine.
When we found Steves Island, we were met by a couple, Taylor and Catherine, who had spent the prior night there, and because of being fog bound today, they intended to spend another day on Steves trusting that Friday’s sun would burn away the fog.
We found a delightful campsite to pitch our tents. We toured this rock bound island, with balsam trees in the middle. Of course with the fog, our vi
ews off the island were essentially nil. We could hear lobster boats, but did not see them.
During the day four kayakers in beautiful hand-made sea kayaks found the island for lunch. Interestingly, I knew one of the kayakers, so it was fun talking old times. They had all the appropriate navigation equipment, and after lunch left to make their way back to their campsite at another MITA Island.
Given we were now friends with Taylor and Catherine, we invited them to join us for Steves Island fresh mussels and pre-dinner Hors D’Oeuvres.
(Video note: Always check your MITA Guide to make sure whether building a fire is permitted on each island, how to obtain a fire permit if necessary, and how to stay safe! For more info on how to enjoy wild islands responsibly by using Leave No Trace ethics, click here.)
Day 3 – Friday
We awoke at 5:30 am Friday hearing the lobster boats get an early start. The fog was lifting and we knew the day would be clear. Around 9 am we began to be surrounded by islands, as indeed they appeared on our map.
At 10 am we started a gentle paddle back to our Old Quarry take-out via Crotch Island and Stonington. We left Steves Island with wonderful memories of ocean muscles and new and old friends. Crotch used to be a stone quarry, and was loaded with monstrous granite cut stones. We paddled along the shorefront of Stonington harbor, and around 1 pm we pulled into our take-out.
We reported our return at the Old Quarry Ocean Adventures office, and after buying three freshly caught Maine lobsters, we headed home to New Hampshire.
- My Droid Incredible ran out of power in less than 7 hours after its full charge, so my expectations for Where’s my Droid, and My Tracks was a big negative (although some friends used GPS My DROID on day one and it worked great. Thereafter with no battery…)
- Always bring a water resistant nautical map and compass – and certainly know how to use it BEFORE you go.
- Join the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA).
- Most assuredly I will return many times to enjoy and explore the wild islands cared for by the Maine Island Trail Association.
Click here to play a slideshow of all pictures and videos Stephen took on the Maine Island Trail.