Gary York: Sea Kayaking Vinalhaven / North Haven, May 2013

In the pre-planning days of late winter, I worried that our numbers would crowd the small islands we had planned to camp on. As luck would have it our Group of Seven intrepid gypsies whittled itself down abruptly, one month before the planned launch date, leaving Rob and me, two solo paddlers (“bearded recluse” and the later-to-be-named “solo wanderer”), to fend for ourselves. Early on, I had relayed to Rob that I was going on this trip “no matter what”. I felt compelled to clarify that statement, lest Rob think he was paddling with a crazy maverick. I assured him that I was a very cautious paddler, though I suspect he was unsettled when I told him I was comfortable paddling at night, in calm conditions. In the end, I was glad he trusted me enough to join the most-fabulous-ever trip.

To view the slideshow alongside, click here.

BLOG 1Within an hour of leaving the house Friday morning I received a text from Susie:  “pnt btr sandwchs on counter”; reply:  “frzr”; reply:  “done”. The trip had officially started. We met on Friday afternoon at 3 PM, a pre-arranged time to start the bartered  work party (in exchange for multi-day parking), rather than at the end of a long trip. At the end of the two hours of toiling, we wondered who got the better end of the deal, but would realize only later that it was us. Both anxious to start our journey, we met at the pre-arranged launch site the following day at 6 AM, and were packed and ready to launch an hour-and-a-half later, taking advantage of the outgoing (two hours) tide.

BLOG 2A cloudy start later morphed into a bright sunny day with low winds, a perfect first day to our journey. After the short crossing of Eggemoggin Reach, we swung around the northern tip of Little Deer Isle, Pumpkin Island light to starboard, then a straight shot to Butter Island, passing Pickering and Bradbury to port.

A short hike to the top of the hill opened up 360-degree views, Camden Hills to the west, Deer Isle to the southeast, and home base to the southwest, here indicated by Rob.

BLOG 3We hopped back into our bright-orange boats and paddled leisurely to our next stop, North Haven’s Mullen Head Beach, for lunch and privy. Our southerly course wound between Calderwood and Stimpson’s where we were greeted with head-on 12-knot southeast winds and peak flood. The two-mile slog was barren of conversation, as predicted, though Rob’s broad grin was ever-present. We finally reached the opening to Winter Harbor, and quickly identified the two northernmost MITA islands in the group of three: Little Hen and South Little Hen. We settled on the most distant Hay Island, where we would spend the next three nights. [Access to most of these islands is difficult in the lower half of the tides, but we smartly arranged the agenda to take advantage of launching and landing near high tide, except for one occasion.]

Click the picture for a Route of Day 1

We chose two side-by-side mini-coves to park and set up camp. After my too-long daily baby-wipe bath, we enjoyed dinner on the rocks; mine a simple pasta with sauce, enhanced by sun-dried tomatoes and vacuum-packed fresh veggies (note: they will keep up to four days if stored in the bottom of the boat); and Rob’s a simmered, lime-infused corn (hominy), onions, and garlic burrito-thingy. We watched the sun set and talked into the night, unmotivated to build a fire, content to listen to the guttural eider moans, distant seal belches, and barely-audible peepers from a nearby mainland marsh.

Our plan was to spend the next day circumnavigating Calderwood Neck the long way, by including a long stop on Calderwood Island, and a trip to North Haven. After breakfast we launched to cloudy skies near high tide, crossed the bay to Calderwood, beaching at a protected northerly, pebbly cove. I had hoped to bag a geocache at the top of the hill, and within minutes Rob spotted the booty just off the trail. 

BLOG 5We explored the whole island along neatly-maintained paths, and shared muted fascination with changes to the landscape. Were the seemingly-charred, juniper-like bushes in the broad field a result of a controlled brush fire, or were they evidence of a selective fungus/virus decimation? Bent grass along the trails suggested a very recent visit by mainlanders, but upon closer inspection, the thin, central line of depression was likely an animal. The chalky shell-laden path scat was deposited by some quadruped akin to a small dog, we presumed maybe a coyote? The meticulous trail maintenance should have resulted from a power saw, but different-angled cuts surely were placed by a hand lopper? Our legs rather enjoyed the 1.2 mile land hike, a welcome diversion to hours of paddling. Upon scouring the beach at our return to the boats, I found a nice pair (yes, pair, unattached) of Teva sandals.  

BLOG 6Both without timepieces (save stowed GPS and cells), we took turns estimating the time of day, with reference to primitive methods involving analog clock faces and sun location. Apparently Rob is tuned into the universe more acutely than I, as his guess was within one minute of 11:33am! Off to North Haven via the Fox Island thoroughfare light, landing at a desolate muscle mussel beach.

At the ferry office we were happy to top off our six-liter dromedaries, as I had lost half of my supply due to a loose cap! The eatery across the street was temporarily closed for a Sunday afternoon play at the community center. The waiting line was queued up with teenage boys, and we joined in, anticipating its finish anon. Our late lunch was delicious, Rob enjoying his “Victor” double burger with fries, my “spurch” built with pesto, avocado, artichoke, feta, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and vinaigrette between fresh, local focaccia slices (yummy!). Rob web-checked tomorrow’s weather, and we took a bathroom break before heading back to the boats to continue our journey around Calderwood neck.

We poked into Mill River, with all its nooks and crannies, passing the three giant wind turbines that supply much of Vinalhaven’s power. The current was flooding north under the tiny bridge, and we still managed to scrape our paddles two hours before high tide. We turned west and peeked into Vinal Cove, passing shoreside quarries close to the entrance to the Cove, surprised that granite-laden vessels would dare venture this far up the inlet. Curiosity got the best of me and I was determined to explore an outcropping that I presumed might lead to a quarry above. Not to be, but the short hike and rock scramble was fun nevertheless.

Water levels allowed us to pass between Penobscot Island and the mainland back to our base camp, where we set up the tarp in anticipation of rain, and enjoyed another fine supper. We visited the tool kit for a quick, but effective field repair to Rob’s balky skeg before light drizzle, fog, and a dismal weather forecast drove us to our tents early. With our plans to break camp and make a clockwise trip to Vinalhaven the next day squelched, we both decided to sleep in, with nothing on tomorrow’s agenda.

Click here for a Route of Day 2.

It rained heavily during the night, and I dozed off and on during the early morning hours, quite surprised to be unzipping the tent fly at 9:54. Today’s forecast was for showers, mainly in the morning, and we half-expected to be lolling about, reading in our tents. My legs, not pleased with the agenda of lolling about, had other ideas. I’m not sure Rob was happy to hear the suggestion that we could walk to Vinalhaven, but being the trooper that he is, thought it a splendid idea. I had packed a pamphlet of the Huber Preserve, a beautiful trail that cuts through forest and wetlands. The trailhead was within a five-minute paddle, and we parked the boats on a large granite outcropping before embarking on our overland trek. The trail brought us to Round-the-Island Road; our eight-mile hike would cover this aptly-named “square” by traveling south, west, north, and then east along equidistant segments-no map needed.  My puppies were groaning as we arrived at the only eatery open at this time of year/day, the “Harbor Gawker”. Rob ordered a fish sandwich with chowder, and I dispatched a lobster roll with haste. Not enough for this breakfast/lunch/water-deprived sailor, I chased it down with a fresh crab roll.

Click the picture for a Route of Day 3.

We were perplexed why saltwater Carver’s Pond was winning the battle with the near-peak opposing flood. Rob smartphoned the next day’s weather (ideal) before we headed off to finish our hike. In no time we were lucky to hitch a ride with the very kind Jim Clayter of Pumpkin Ridge Road, who drove well out of his way to drop us off at the Preserve parking lot. We were thankful to have the lift, watching the 4 extra miles slowly tick off from the back of the speeding pick-up. Back to the boats, sharing stories of getting lost on land, before clockwising Penobscot Island back to base camp.

We had planned to launch 6 AM for the long paddle back, but as almost always happens, we pushed off one hour late. I keep a plastic ruler and credit card calculator in my kit for purposes of calculating waypoints to recognizable aids to navigation. I had calculated W68.48.125 and N44.07.864 for nun #2, east of channel rock, at the entrance to the thoroughfare. The forecast called for showers, fog, and light winds from the east. It would be prudent to have a backup of GPS for potential fog. When we arrived at the nun my GPS read W68.48.105 N44.07.861, off by about 82 and 18 feet, respectively. On Rob’s chart only, a neighboring bell buoy was conspicuously absent (remember to report to NOAA).

Click the picture for a Route of Day 4.

Rob made a quick stop to rearrange his lee-cocky ride; a thirteen-pound dromedary shifted from behind the backband to the fore-most cockpit did the trick. We proceeded to Spoon and Snoop Ledges, where dozens of seals, some with pups, half-surrounded our stilled boats with staring occupants. We meandered through the Barred Island chain, where Rob donned his coveted storm cag; nice to see it employed for its dual purpose off AND on the water. A long (seemingly, to this tired paddler), chilly (forecast was for 60 degrees, but my car later told me 52), and wet (showers) crossing to Pickering for a final stop, before heading back to the cars, and home. 


Having spent his formative years on the Maine coast, Gary York heeds the out-of-state siren’s call whenever he can in his later years, exploring by sea kayak, preferring multi-day camping safaris, alone or in small groups.  He hopes to touch down on all of MITA’s islands before the sun sets. He can be reached by email at gyork@crhc.org.