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Second Annual NSPN Saddleback Weekend, July 15-18, 2016


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Second Annual NSPN Saddleback Weekend

July 15-18, 2016


Saddleback Island in the Deer Isle Archipelago:  a little bit of heaven made available to the public through the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.  A well-equipped cabin that sleeps up to eight with a broad protected porch looking out toward Isle Au Haut several miles distant to the south; trails through the island leading to sandy bays and a beautiful grassy camping area; and at the landing spot by the cabin on the southeast side of the island, a wide apron of gently sloping granite ledges leading down to the sea – making for easy launching and landing in all tide conditions. I’ve paddled out of Stonington and Old Quarry, camped on different islands in the area, but had never stopped at – or even heard of – Saddleback until last year, when Peter organized the first group of NSPNers to spend a long weekend there.  I was signed up to go but had to cede my spot to Mike Habich (for what was his first kayak camping trip!) when I suffered a month of almost non-stop muscle spasms in my shoulder that made paddling impossible.  This year, inspired by the enthusiasm of Mike and others who had gone, I was determined to stay healthy enough to join this year’s trip, organized by Paul Sylvester.  It wasn’t until I arrived that I found out what an extraordinary destination Saddleback is. In the days leading up to the start of the trip, our group formed into two pods.   One would launch from Old Quarry for a shorter and somewhat more protected trip to the island.  The second would launch from the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, a longer paddle with more exposed crossings – but still very manageable even after a five plus hour drive from Boston.  I joined Peter, Paul and Gary (hey, they should join up and start a band!) at WBS for a 1:30 launch on a beautiful but breezy Friday afternoon.  Ten to 15 knot SW winds, with gusts even higher, were forecast for the afternoon.  We picked a route that would provide protection from the wind for the first half of the trip. Launching from Wooden Boat is very nice on a number of levels – one of which is seeing all the beautiful – wooden – boats both moored in the harbor and sailing out of it.


We had an easy go of it for the first few miles, and stopped for a quick break at Lazygut Islands off of Stinson Neck.


Gary and Paul used the time to chat about retirement experiences and plans.


Then it was time to head almost due south for three essentially unprotected crossings before we’d reach Saddleback. The first of the three was the longest – and liveliest.  Ledges off of the Lazyguts, together with the wind and a long open fetch made for confused seas with steep peaked waves. 


We all slogged on, finding respite in the lee of the wind at the north ends of Eastern Mark and Shingle Islands before the final crossing to Saddleback.


Peter said that it was hard to see the cabin until one was almost on it, and that proved to be true.  It was a relief to finally see it after the windy slog.  We landed, unpacked, and set up camp. Shari – an earlier arriver from Old Quarry, prepared her signature vegetarian chili for the group’s first night supper.  While she busied herself in the cabin’s kitchen, others set out appetizers, and Yong found his own way to relax on the porch.


The afternoon sun lit up the rocky sculpture on the granite ledge in front of the cabin.


We had a wonderful supper followed by Liz’s extraordinary strawberry shortcake,


which everyone enjoyed out on the porch watching the day turning to night.


Such a beautiful spot for dishwashing duties!


Sunset and cell phone reception on the rocks followed…


It was an early night for everyone. I was awoken at 3:49 am by the distinctive engine sound of a lobster boat heading out for the day’s work.  More followed on this highway of lobster pots.  It was a beautiful morning to be up – and this was the view that greeted me from my tent.


I took a walk on the rock ledges to the south end of the island, where Enchanted Island a few hundred yards distant was lit by the morning sun.


We decided over breakfast to split into two groups for the day.  We would all cross over to Isle au Haut together, but one group would disembark and go for a hike, while another would continue down the west coast through the Isle au Haut Thorofare by Kimball Island.  I elected to join the second group. The sea was very calm.


We stopped in green water to discuss crossing Merchant Row.


Lobster boats chugged by.


And here is Jill reflected in the water as we made the crossing.


Once across,

we saw a girl jumping off a pier into the cold water.  After she had climbed up onto the pier, I called out to her to jump again so I could take a picture of her.   And so she did!  (She and her family were visiting from Australia.  I got her email address and sent her the photo.)


After leaving Gary, Yong, Dave, Jill, and Paul behind, we continued on. 


We passed under the lighthouse that is now a B&B.



We started noticing unwelcome companions as we paddled.  Large horseflies or some such circling around us.  After pulling off to shore to leave one of our number behind to relax on the rocky shore while the rest of us continued south, we noticed more of these creatures.


At Moores Harbor, we stopped for lunch – but not for long because of the flying beasts. Peter voiced regret that no one had brought a crystal ball along for the weekend.  It would have told us conditions would be ideal for a circumnavigation of Isle au Haut.  Some of this rest of us regretted this, too.  I’ve never done the full circle, and would like to some day. We explored Moores Harbor briefly, enticed by this pretty sailboat moored not far from our lunch spot.



The sky had begun to indicate there'd be changes in the weather...


We turned and headed back north, passing this bird busily striding atop this rock.


We picked up the napping companion whom we’d left behind on our way down and came upon a raft of shirtless men in yellow kayaks – none of who was wearing a pfd.  Peter came closest but paddled on by without hailing them.


The ladies in our group wanted a scenic Under the Lighthouse photo.  Glad to oblige!


Drawn by the prospect of finding ice cream treats at the Isle au Haut General Store – which we’d noticed on the way down – we got out of our boats when we were back in “town,” and strode down the main (only?) drag to fill up on something sweet.


It is almost mandatory to take this photo along the way…


I was happy to sit down with an ice cream sandwich made in Maine and a nice cold Diet Coke.


Mike chowed down on the ice cream with a real sense of purpose.


By the time we got back to Saddleback, the sky had darkened considerably.


Peter was the night’s chef – a vegetable curry dish – and we enjoyed it sitting on the porch.


After dinner, most of us set out for a walk around the island.  One doesn’t take a trip with Gary without a hike worked into the schedule.  On the way, I paused to admire this classic Maine vista.


By the time we returned, however, I was regretting my participation as my ankles were covered with bug bites. I was anxious to get into my tent to escape further bites, to scratch the ones I had, and to apply Benadryl spray in the hope that the itching would diminish.  But before I retired for the night – to lie in my tent and listen to the lazy conversation on the porch nearby – there was another sunset to capture.  Red sky at night, sailor’s delight, right?


Well, not exactly. We woke the next morning to a day that was beautiful in its own way.  Still and soft rain created patterns on the water, and everything – sea, sky, islands – was colored in a palate of gray.


Yong had a sweet setup, and was cooking his own breakfast under his nifty new tarp.


The rest of us ate on the porch,


looking out at the peaceful view.


It rained and then it didn’t.  The sky and sea in front of us changed colors.


It rained again and then stopped, and we set out into the foggy morning.


Again, there would be two groups.  Mine was to embark on The Nickel Tour of the Islands.  Our object was to go slowly, to enjoy the calm water and the rocky shorelines of as many islands as we could fit into the day. This rocky little island looked from a distance like a big snapping turtle.


The sky was dark but the sea was calm and reflective.


We rounded a corner of one island and gasped collectively at the sight of a towering black cloud over an island to our north.


Did it have ill intentions?  It was moving west, rapidly,


but never rained on us. It actually began to clear up.  We decided on a lunch stop at Green Island, where some of us had never seen the quarry. 


Both pods had ended up there at basically the same time.  A few of us walked up to the quarry.  A few rocks there…


We spread out over the small rocky cove and ate


before splitting again into two groups. Rocky shores beckoned.


Our group enjoyed doing circumnavigations of islands.  Here is the sandbar at the end of our George Head Island circuit.


Mike led us through a rocky passage.


We ended up back at Saddleback, and decided on one final circumnavigation.  Here is the north tip of the island.


When we returned, the other group was already back and changed into land clothes, with boats stowed.  We had a couple of visitors from the NSK Manly Weekend group.  It was nice to see David and Bob for a quick conversation across a few yards of seaweedy rock and a few feet of water.


Tonight, Paul prepared fajita pizzas, which he turned out one by one and delivered to us on the porch.  After dinner, the necessary chores…


then bed.  The earliest night yet because the next day was Monday, and we all planned to be up, packed and on our way back to our respective launch sites by 8:30 am. We woke to thick fog.  We could see the misty air drifting past, and this spider web captured water droplets on their way past.


We left in three pods.  The first – Jill and Dave and Yong – were ready to go before eight.


Gary’s paddle awaited him.


We all helped bring boats down for packing and launching.



Four person carries were the easiest way to get the loaded boats onto the water.


I left with my Peter, Paul and Gary group, pushing off into the fog.


Paul led the way at first, along the coast of Saddleback before we turned made a left hand turn north for the first of our completely foggy crossings.  Each one required chart and compass work, and an estimation of predicted time to the next land mass that our headings would take us to.


We could hear lobster boats chugging near and far.  When we reached Canary Cove on Stinson Neck, we passed some boats that had stayed put for the day.  Peter passed them by.


And then we were in and across Eggemoggin Reach, heading back toward Wooden Boat.  Pretty boats – Little Bear here – told us we were almost home.


A beautiful paddle back – at a very slow pace – in the fog, hitting all of our marks.  Peter checked in with the Old Quarry pod and found they’d all landed successfully as well.

The extended weekend featured good paddling, good company, good food, and a wonderful variety of Maine weather – sun, wind, rain, fog, lively seas and flat calm ones…all in one of the most beautiful areas on Maine’s entire rocky coastline.  Over the past year, I’ve had the good fortune to kayak in a number of different places inside the US and out, but returning to Maine is always special.  There is no place like here, and when all is said and done, no place I’d rather be on the water.  This is what we do, and this is where we do it!


Thanks to Paul for all of us organizational work (and on a personal note, for his support of some of my efforts to improve my navigational and leadership skills), and to Peter, Gary, Mike, Liz, Shari, Sherri, Janice, Dave, Jill and Yong for their paddling companionship, good conversation and excellent food! And thanks to Maine Coast Heritage Trust for existing and for the work it does…helping to preserve the Maine coast for the enjoyment of the many and not just the moneyed few.  I encourage all who haven’t yet contributed to this worthwhile organization to do so!






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Thanks for the great Trip report. Great Photos.  As usual, great group, great food, great paddling in a great location. Special thanks to Paul Sylvester for organizing  and securing the cabin this year, and Pru for the trip report. ; I can  say with confidence that everyone who attended  sees this as a yearly event. 

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Ah, one of my favorite places on the planet. Have paddled and camped there several times. I need to get back soon--thanks for taking me.

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