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Destination: Puffins...Four Days off of Port Clyde, Maine, May 11-14, 2015


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Destination: Puffins…. Four Days off of Port Clyde, Maine, May 11-14, 2015

I have gotten so used to going to the same places over and over – and still loving them, mind you – that when Gary York offered the opportunity to accompany him and a friend for a four day paddle out of Port Clyde, where I’d never been, I jumped at the chance – particularly since the jump might land us at Eastern Egg Rock, where the puffins nest. It also made particular sense since I’ve had a print hanging in my house for years entitled “Little Coves, Port Clyde Maine” by Maine artist Katherine Buchanan. It was about time to paddle that print!


On a cloudy and breezy – but not windy – Monday, Gary, a friend of his named Mike, and I gathered at the little town of Port Clyde to launch for a five mile paddle to our camping destination.


It is not enough that Gary is a great paddler and an adventurous soul with a long bucket list of paddling destinations – he is also as many of us know, a wonderful human being who makes friends everywhere. As was the case when I paddled with Gary a few years ago at Vinalhaven (VinalHeaven as we called it), we benefited from this quality as a private campsite on a private island was made available to us. A private campsite on a private island with a water source and a PRIVY!

As is the case whenever I’m somewhere new on the coast of Maine, I was struck by how different everything looked – even though, as elsewhere, all there is is water, rocky islands, fir trees and the occasional boat.


We chose an outer route, south and west around Hupper Island, and then wending our way through a maze of small islands, some inhabited, some not


before heading north again toward our eventual destination.

We set up camp in a leisurely enough fashion that we decided after paddling five plus miles to get there that we were all too lazy to go out again. Our camp home was on a largish island with some (mostly summer) houses and deeply rutted roads and paths to get around on.

No island stay with Gary is complete without taking a hike around, so we took what would turn out to be the first of many walks on the island. I forgot my camera for the first one, so photos will have to wait! You’ll have to take my word for the fact that this was the first Maine island I’ve been on that had a resident donkey.

We turned in early, planning on heading out to Eastern Egg Rock the next morning to see the puffins – a dream of mine! But, ah, mother nature…

A good day to test our navigational skills. I had my compass and chart, Mike had a GPS, and Gary had both. We all took responsibility for keeping track of where we were, where we were going, and when we should get there. This entailed many stops at way points to re-check our calculations,


and to enjoy the local wildlife.


There were many seals, who were more curious and less fearful (seemingly) than I am used to. They are usually more camera shy…


We hallucinated blue sky (none) and sun (a hint, then none….a hint, then none...). But it was calm and peaceful and rather magical in the way that paddling in the fog can be. Everything a bit more mysterious,

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and calm.


Westward we headed,


and at Cranberry Island, a left turn south toward Harbor Island, from which we hoped to handrail down a series of rocks and ledges to Eastern Egg Rock, three miles past the last landable island. Let me say now that one of the reasons I do these trip reports is to remember where I’ve been. I thought I was in unfamiliar territory, until on landing at Harbor I went, Gee….I’ve been here before. And indeed I had, a year ago on a camping trip in Muscongus Bay. Muscongus Bay?! That close to Port Clyde?! And so the process of knitting together a coastal map of Maine continued, Muscongus Bay, where I’ve been many times, finally connected to land and islands northeast of there.

We had moments – past hallucinating – of thinking the fog was lifting. It was. Then it wasn’t.


The fog came and went, clearer then not, in one direction than another. Not an auspicious beginning for a long open water crossing in otherwise favorable conditions (little wind and calm seas). We stopped at Harbor Island


to come up with a plan. We decided to paddle down to Franklin Island, where none of us had ever been, and make a decision there about whether to proceed further.

This island with lighthouse emerged from the fog.

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Franklin Island is one of five Maine islands that comprise a national coastal wildlife refuge. Wikipedia (the source of only reliable information as we all know…) says that this lighthoused island once was home to the largest colony of eiders in Maine, but the eiders were almost wiped out in the 1980’s by avian cholera (cholera?!). Apparently since then they’ve made a comeback, and judging by the number of eiders we saw on our trip, it’s been a pretty vigorous one. We wanted to paddle all the way around the island, but on observing anxious seals moving into the water at our approach, we backed off. Instead, we went a bit the other way around and admired the lighthouse through the trees.


While it might have been possible to (foolishly) convince ourselves that we could keep heading south, handrailing from one exposed ledge (possibly or not visible in the fog…) to the next until we reached the island of puffins, we unanimously decided that destinationitis is a very bad disease (potentially as lethal as avian cholera is to an eider?) and the puffins would just have to wait for a visit from us another time.

We turned around to see that we’d now lost Crane Island to our north in the fog, and so it was compasses and charts to the rescue and off we went again. This time, we travelled up the western edge of Harbor Island, which I remembered from my previous trip featured impressively large outcroppings of granite dropping sheer into the sea.


We went ashore, ate lunch, and hiked the island.



Little purple wildflowers.




Gary’s snake (he posted a photo of this in a long-ago trip report – damned if it hasn’t moved an inch since then!).


We clambered over smaller rocks to the huge boulders on the west side of the island. Gary strolled out onto this log.


My photo doesn’t do justice to how far Gary would fall before hitting another solid surface, and when the near end of the log started to teeter-totter, I shouted at Gary to get off! I did NOT want to make use of my wilderness first responder training!

We went on.


Hallooo…anyone in there?


The fog, which had left for a spell, came back.


Mike was particularly good at finding the trail, and we ended up in an open area of dead silver trees, where the boys stopped to do a bit of trail work.


And there were fairy houses everywhere! Here are a couple…

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Time to head back to camp.

Black Island had risen from the fog.


At Black, Gary and Mike went to the left,


while I kept to the right before we all met at the north end of the island.

We paddled in what was for me familiar territory. Black to Cranberry to Friendship Long Island. Gary had never paddled around the latter (I had), and after 15 miles or so Mike and I were a bit tuckered out, so we split up for the final several miles back to camp. The fog came and went, we needed charts and compasses and didn’t. Nice to be home.


And then the fog was gone and the evening was clear and beautiful.


We went for our second walk, up across a field.


(We were not alone there. The tick population was impressive, and we all spent the right amount of time doing tick checks and pulling those that had landed off of our clothes.)

Heavenly light…

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Back to camp as the light faded, and another comfortable night.

We woke up the next morning to no fog, but oh my, a west wind right into our campsite. Increasing as time went on to a steady 15 knots.


I have never been pinned down by weather before, but we all decided that going out in the wind would end up being not much more than an unpleasant slog. Perhaps there would be places to hide, but it was all pretty vigorous out there. Indeed, it was even unpleasant in camp with the wind right at us, so we decamped to the head of the meadow, out of the wind, in a nice sunny spot, where Gary and Mike did a chart tutorial. I read (except when they grabbed my book to make lines across the chart!)


While we didn’t make it to see the puffins on Eastern Egg Rock, maybe this guy did…


We walked in a pretty birch forest on the island.

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Sat and chatted.


A few times, we had to take refuge in our tents when a squall of wind and rain came through…


By mid-afternoon, the wind had dropped a bit, and as it was low tide, it was possible to walk on the beach out to a rocky outcropping near our campsite. I found this lobster claw.


And some kind of weird creature…


Another walk around the island before bedtime, and then…bedtime.

Our departure day – isn’t it always so – dawned perfect! Not one cloud in the sky. No wind. If not flat calm, well, pretty darn close.



And so we headed back toward Port Clyde, an inner route this time that took us along the coast of Caldwell Island (a privately owned island that apparently welcomes day visitors to part of its well groomed shore and interior) and Little Caldwell Island.


No one appeared to be home at this real estate with a million dollar view…


Some of the views… oh my, achingly, beautifully, typically…Maine.


A pink house on Teal Island…


And a bridge to nowhere…


before a complete circumnav of Blubber Island in the mouth of the St. George River, and past the ferry dock

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then a landing at the most perfectly high tide situated spot ever. Only a few short steps from beach to car.


While Gary had contemplated staying on his own until Friday, before heading down to join the Jewell madness, he ended up coming with us as he had business to tend to where he could get better cell reception than he had been able to on our island…

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Disappointment at not getting to the land of the puffins was tempered by how unique the rest of the trip was… Being in a new place. On an island where being pinned down by weather for the day meant a chance for beautiful walks. A magical day in the fog. Stitching together another bit of the Maine coast as it heads downeast.

Thank you, Gary, for arranging, and Mike, for so enjoying your first kayak camping trip!

Now, how about puffins 2016?!


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Nice report as always.

"Now, how about puffins 2016?!"

Its only May!. Plenty of time left in 2015 to see the puffins and more islands to explore in Muscongus for the first time as well methinks.

Ed Lawson

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I love going out to the Puffins. They are so lovely and clown like. Last year I heard a rumor that the Puffins were scare and NOT abundant as usual. Had anyone else heard this?

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I'm not sure about scarce, but there has been a very worrisome decline over the past two years. Chick survival is down and adults are starving as well. The thinking is the food they rely upon is moving north and/or becoming scarce which is causing population to drop.

They are a great deal of fun to watch and they almost seem improbable in flight.

Ed Lawson

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