NTSK Camping Trip to Muscongus Bay: There’s a Place for Us July 13-14. 2013
Shari, Beth, Sue, Pablo, Warren and I met for the last in the 2013 series of NTSKC trips on another Saturday morning when the Weather Gods smiled down on us as we gathered at Muscongus Harbor. We talked with the man who oversees the parking area, and he told us that over the weekend of the Fourth, he had 50 cars jammed into the lot – although 12 of them were there for an island funeral, with the deceased in his casket being motored over that morning as well. This weekend after, there were only four cars tucked into a back corner – long-time customers who have houses on the islands nearby. Still, I was concerned about whether on such a beautiful weekend, now that we are in high summer, there would be room for us on our planned destination, Crow Island. Ed Lawson had been good enough to let us know that there would be an AMC group on Thief, so we had crossed that off the list of potential sites.
We spoke with S -, a trip leader for the local kayaking company that paddles out of the Harbor, who was awaiting the arrival of about 10 customers for a day paddle. He gave us some tips about nice areas to visit, and even told us about a non-MITA island where it is possible to camp. We then attended to the packing efforts of our compatriots.
When we were finally loaded up, we noticed for the first time the group that would be going out with S -: a flock of lovely, nubile 15 years old girls, whose preferred paddling clothing – shorty shorts and bikini tops – put our nerdy neoprene-and-etc outfits to shame. But practically clad as we were, we launched at the appointed hour of 10 am.
We took the usual route under blue skies on flat water: launch to Hog, Hog to Crow. As we approached the camping site on Hog, we saw a few kayaks launching. They were daytrippers out of Round Pond and we chatted briefly with them. They knew about the Thief group, but didn’t know about Crow. On such a beautiful day it was rather stupid to be feeling apprehensive, but I was worried about getting to Crow and staking our claim.
And when we rounded the eastern side of Crow and could see the landing site, a long expanse of seaweed covered rocks at this low tide, my heart sank: there were a few – two? three? four? – plastic kayaks on the rocks above the high tide line. I volunteered to land to check things out. As I glided up to the exposed seaweedy rocks, a 20ish man emerged from the trees. His body language couldn’t have been any less welcoming if he had been waiting for us sitting in a rocking chair on one of the granite ledges with a shotgun across his lap. I stumbled up onto the beach and said hello, to which I got a grunted response, and asked how many were in his group. “Two,” he answered. There were indeed only two kayaks. I peered beyond him into the trees and could see two tents, widely spaced, a hammock slung between two trees in another area. He looked unhappily at the five paddlers hovering off shore. “Mind if you might have company tonight?” I asked brightly. He responded, “Why don’t you try Hog?” then…. “Why don’t you try Strawberry?” OK, now I was getting annoyed. You don’t own this island, buddy! No doubt there was an edge in my voice when I answered that Strawberry was suitable for about two tents. “Well, you can try Hog,” he said. Again.
This whole interaction was a new experience for me in my kayaking life. As hard as I tried, and I did try, I could not restrain myself from pointing out that Crow has an 11 camper capacity. My blood pressure was going up: Well, there’s Strawberry. Well, there’s Hog. Well, you don’t own this island, bub and are you even a MITA member?? I managed to keep my mouth more or less shut, but left saying that he might be seeing us again.
Aren’t we supposed to leave this unpleasantness on land? Isn’t the fellowship of kayak campers supposed to be all…kumbaya? Apparently not. Through gritted teeth I told the group what I had learned once we were away from the island. I struggled not to let this experience overtake and own me. I thought of George Costanza on “Seinfeld” shouting, “SERENITY NOW!!” as I tried to calm myself down. Don’t let one or two jerks ruin the day. Serenity now. Warren and I discussed other options: Hog, and two not very pleasant campsites on another nearby island that we had visited before. One of the sites would optimally require heavy machinery and a hoist to get all the boats up on top of a high bluff, and the other had a large expanse of mud at low tide – when we would be launching for our return on Sunday morning.
We stopped at Strawberry, an island too small to accommodate our group (unless we were all willing to triple bunk), and checked it out. Warren and I decided that we would just keep with our original plan for the day – to circumnav Bremen Long Island, and then peel off to visit the little group of islands that Boatlaunch Sam had told us about. Hog would be a possibility for camping, although I’m not wild about platform tenting. What I did know was that I didn’t want to return to Crow and spend another minute with that jerk… After entertaining a few more dark thoughts: of paddling over to Crow under cover of darkness and blowing our fog horns loudly to wake him and his friend… I managed to…serenity now…shake off the bad vibes, and the happy day picked up again.
We stopped at Hand Warmer Cove on the northwestern side of Bremen for lunch – although Warren, attracted by some rocks jutting out into the cove, insisted that we land in a shallow area next to them that turned out to have a floor of sucking mud. We all managed to exit our boats and also manage our steps until we were safely on a firm surface. The mud tried to claim our footwear, but did not succeed.
After lunch, we continued the paddle. We watched an osprey in the big cove at the north end of the island. Shari just dodged getting pooped on by a duck flying by. She pronounced that is good luck to be crapped on by a bird, but I will leave that luck to others. When we rounded the tip of the island and headed south again, the predicted 5 kt winds from the south had perhaps doubled. But we hugged the shoreline, avoiding the max flood current in the middle of the channel, and had no problem making good progress. At one point, I looked to my left, and saw that four of us were paddling in perfect formation, side by side, stroke for stroke, in a shadowed line that didn’t break down at all. Warren noticed it as well, and we smiled thinking of the recent web site thread about the proper formation for a channel crossing. We had one coming up, and we vowed to put our CAM lessons to the test. But first, a stop on a cobbly beach for a stretch. I found a nice keeper of a stone: sitting on my hand, it looked like a Maine island emerging from a surrounding fog. (It is now sitting on a shelf in my shower!)
And then we were at the southern end of Bremen and gathered everyone up. We were going to cross a channel to Cow Island to the south. Warren and I suggested the plan: committing to keeping in a row, close together, for the crossing. He took the left side and I the right. And so we were six paddlers side by side, maintaining the line as we crossed. At one point I called out, “Let’s speed it up to beat that boat that’s coming our way!” – when there was no boat at all - but it was an exercise, and so we all sped up, and still kept the line. Beth to my left was smiling broadly, looking at the four paddlers to her left, saying she wished she had a helmet cam to make a movie of the pretty boats flying along tucked one next to the other beside her. And so we reached a pretty cove on Cow, and stopped to admire the real estate – not to mention the signs informing us not to camp, picnic or light fires.
Despite the number of trips we’ve taken to Muscongus Bay, neither Warren nor I had ever investigated the shore of Cow Island, which had one really lovely spot: a small shed-like two story house perched on the rocks right above the sea, the front façade a wall of windows, and to the right, a hammock, no…two hammocks…make that three hammocks slung between the trees, and a picnic table. Now that would be a nice place to spend the night. But of course, no camping, no picnics, no fires… We continued onward, ending up eventually at the island that S- had told us about.
As we approached, we saw what we thought was an immature eagle – because he didn’t yet have a white head. He was cruising in slow circles
then landed on the very tip of an evergreen tree a bit inland, and balanced as his perch, a single vertical spike on the top of the tree, moved in the breeze.
S- had told us there was a beach on the north side which made a nice landing spot. It was just on the far side of high tide, and other than a sliver of sand between some jumbled rocks, there was little that looked like a beach. Pablo volunteered to take a twirl around the outside of the island to see what he could find, while the rest of us gazed up, hoping to see the eagle once again after it flew from the tree. Pablo came back to report that he’d found a cobble beach to the south, which we all went to investigate. We got out, but found no evidence of the camping sites we’d been told about.
Pablo bounded off along the rocks to see what he could find on land, and returned to tell us that there was indeed a campsite right above the miniature high tide beach. And so we turned around and went back to the first spot. We found a nice – if somewhat junky – camping area, and figured out that there would be room for all of us. As the day was getting on, we decided to call it our place for the night.
Hauling the boats out of harms way was a bit of a challenge, but one that we met. And so after setting up camp, we gathered on the flat rocks – which were remarkably free of gull poop! – and provided nice jutting shelves that were perfect for sitting. Two of the ladies – Beth and Shari – went for a swim.
Others of us wandered about a bit and looked at rocks.
And supper commenced. Warren started with his main course (a trial of an Ed Lawson-recommended Uncle Ben’s rice dish), moved on to dessert (homemade oatmeal cookies courtesy of Shari), topped it all off with appetizers (apples and cheese from Beth and a slew of ready-made salads that Sue had picked up at a local store as she had had no time for food prep after returning from a stay in Florida tending to an elderly relative). The rest of us consumed dinner in a more ordinary sequence, and washed it all down with an amusing little box of malbec.
A beautiful sunset over some seal-covered rocky ledges in the distance.
Pablo, on his first camping trip on either land or sea, Shari, Sue and I stayed up to watch the sunset. Sue found an interesting way to stretch out to enjoy the evening.
And then to bed by 9.
Warren had gotten us all enthused about enjoying the sunrise. At 4:15, I peeked out of my tent, which was facing east, and saw a soft pinkening sky over the next island, and also a bank of what looked like fog behind it. At 4:45 I heard Warren walk past my tent on his way to sit on the rocks to enjoy the beginning of the day. I again looked out of my tent, to see that we were completely socked in with fog. First Shari, then Sue stumbled quietly down onto the rocks to greet the day, enveloped as it was in gray.
I got up as well, and we watched the sun hinting of its intention to appear
...then disappearing again. Finally, in every direction, we could see the very tips of trees emerging above the fog on islands across the way.
And in that mysterious way that fog dissipates, whole islands emerged from the inside out.
And so a day that was clearly going to be very still, very sunny and very hot began. We had decided to launch by 8, to investigate the Crotch Islands, where Warren had heard there might be eagles nesting. As he and I waited on the water while the others launched, Warren did two loaded-boat rolls, pronouncing the experience “refreshing” when he came up.
It was almost flat calm and windless as we loaded up and prepared to launch.
We crossed over to the Crotch Islands, and when we arrived, we saw not eagles, but anxious ospreys, circling and peeping: there were two large nests in two different dead trees, and we could see two heads poking up out of one of them. We paddled between the little islands. Warren did another roll – or was it two?
Then we re-commenced the usual site-seeing: the disintegrating ship, which since we were last there in May had clearly fallen apart more. The bow is now very splintered, hardly holding its bow shape any more. How many more seasons, tides, storms will it take before it’s all just a complete jumble? And we paddled slowly back toward our take-out. As we pulled up near a dock by the ramp out of the water, a man was sitting in his underwear next to three clothed friends. They all laughed wildly, and he grabbed a wetsuit to hide himself. We assured him that as kayak campers we have lost any sense of modesty and he had nothing to fear from us! It turned out the group was searching for an iPhone that one of them had dropped into the water the day before. Indeed, when we launched on Saturday morning, we’d talked with one of the group, who had pronounced the water too cold for diving down to look. If they ever find that iPhone, and it works, that will be one impressive ad for the product.
So after worrying about where we would rest our heads for the night, we did find that there was a place for us. But it left with me with questions about island etiquette, especially in high season. Can a small group – or two people – “own” an island with a larger capacity? I like to think that I – and our intrepid group - would have been more welcoming if the shoe had been on the other foot.
And so this series of trips end. Pablo pronounced that in joining the group, he’d been taking this “kayak camping” business for a test drive. I asked him when we landed, “So are you buying?” And his answer was an enthusiastic yes. Excellent! Warren and I both learned a lot, got some very good suggestions from each group, have already incorporated some of them, and will use more of them next year – god willing and the creek don’t rise