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July 5 – July 9, 2023 - From Waldoboro to Harpswell, Maine. (Littles and Rams)


Ricardo Caivano

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More photos here

I like paddling with others but I also like solitude, and the decision-making process that comes when it is only me who is deciding. My last solo camping trip was June 2021, so another was overdue. A weather window opened after Independence Day and, with a detailed plan, (thank you Floatingtrails.com!) I headed out.

Gary York suggested a route that I adopted with a few changes (thank you Gary).  Virginia, my wife, happily (?) drove me and my black Zephyr to Waldoboro, Maine. I left from the Pine Street ramp and paddled down the Medomak River with plenty of supplies and stuff for five days.

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I planned to visit all the islands on the route that allowed camping and spend nights at Little Marsh, Fort, Little Ram, Little Snow, and Jewells before paddling to East End in Portland to rendezvous with Virginia. I thank MITA and all the owners of the different islands who make these type of trips possible. They are outstanding.

July 5 was warm and sunny, with a light SW wind. The water was warmish. The ebb gave me a gentle push forward. With chart and compass, I soon found the first island on my list: Havener Ledge, a little beautiful wooded island (did I say I like little islands?). Approaching from the north side, two Bald Eagles, one on the nest and the other perched nearby, supervised.

I paddled around the south side and found a (wrong) place to access the campsite. I bushwhacked my way up to the MITA sign and log, which was on a small clearing, with room for one tent, and great views. From the site I realized that the proper path was a steep incline to the east. Someone had installed a rope to pull and lower a small boat.

Next stop was Strawberry Island. On the way, near another island, I saw two small black/ dark brown animals swimming back and forth with only the head above water. Minks?  They looked like minks, but in salt water? According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, “minks are found statewide in wetland habitats along streams, ponds, and rivers, they can also be seen in ocean bays. Mink are excellent swimmers that hunt the shoreline, often popping up on rocks and logs.” Later on another island, I saw one more, outside the water on the rocks, about 10 feet away.

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Strawberry is a larger island, with capacity for six people. I landed on the NW side. It does make a good alternative to Crow and is a nice destination in itself. I did not see any strawberries (false advertisement!), but it does have raspberries plants and should have fruits later in the summer.

Crow Island was my next stop. With two campsites and easy access it is apparently the most popular MITA island for camping in Muscongus Bay. There was no one. I liked it, but the plan was to do “littles” so I paddled on. A bit later I landed on the south side of Thief Island. Both campsites were nice, one had a picnic table. Rocky access at low tide. I liked Thief and its name.

My last stop and campsite for the night, if I could make it work, was Little Marsh. Cath (a local expert) warned me that it was “rocky, small but pretty.”  She was right on all counts. It took a while to negotiate the landing, empty the kayak, and bring the boat to high ground. With plenty of “soft” rocks to slide my kayak up and a few strategic logs (that probably Gary York purposely placed, thank you Gary), I got the kayak above high tide. The only spot to set the tent in Little Marsh was so tiny that I did not need to put down stakes. It is between two of the four trees in the island, at the very top, with a large flat rock in front, which served as a beautiful table to lay stuff, contemplate life, and enjoy beautiful views. It was warm so I did not put my tent fly. I am glad I didn’t because in the middle of the night I woke just as a big red moon was rising next to the Franklin Island Light. Beautiful.

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Next morning, without enough caffeine, I stumbled and fell. Just a scrape but a reminder to be careful and that I was alone.

Off I went in the Muscongus Bay, which is filled with lobster traps; I have never seen so many. Thousands of buoys littered the surface, but I saw few working boats, always with busy people doing lobster farming.

I paddled SW with the ebb towards Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.

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The lighthouse is beautiful and the ocean was gentle with 2 footers rolling in and a light breeze. Cath had suggested to cut across to Thrumcap Island if conditions allowed. They did and since there is a Little Thrumcap as well, how could I resist?

The 1.5 NM crossing was easy. I went around to the east side of Little Thrumcap and then north along the Thread of Life (finally an original name!). The Thread seemed like a great place for rock gardening but not with a loaded boat and alone. 

I paddled into Johns Bay, pass Rutherford Island and to The Gut where I stopped at the South Bristol ramp and walked to the COOP where a smiling woman filled my container with fresh water and sold me an ice cream.

The ramp is nice, nearby are chairs and benches where I sat and enjoyed my ice cream watching the tide roll away. There is a porta potty close by.  I chatted with a group of women and one man who were painting. “It is a nice excuse to get out, meet your friends, and talk” said one. Same as kayaking sometimes.

The Gut is small. I felt a bit of an assist with the flood. The opening under Route 129 is narrow and curved making it difficult to see the incoming traffic. Stay to the side or call the operator to get an all clear. If the bridge is open, wait until the boat traffic goes by and the bridge is closed before going through.

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From The Gut, I paddled up the mighty Damariscotta River with the flood and soon I was landing on Fort Island. This is a big island with a large campsite and fire ring, but the trails are overgrown and tick friendly so I stayed at the campsite with a nice view of the river. Many boats were going up and down. Landing is easy and the island has a toilet.

Early next morning, with the ebb, I paddled the Damariscotta to Ocean Point. The waves were more pronounced here and I could see small standing waves in the middle where the Damariscotta met the ocean.

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Of course I crossed to see the lighthouse on Ram Island! (Did I say that I collect Ram islands?)

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I paddled to Fisherman Island, poking around the multiple rocks and shallows. I had planned an optional side trip to Damariscove Island. As I was feeling good and conditions were mild, without paying much attention, I headed to the nearest island thinking it my goal. Once there I realized it was the Outer White Island. Only 90 degrees off. Here is when an alert and polite partner would have said: “Ahem, isn’t Damariscove that way?” The Outer White I is nice but a colony of seals kept me from getting close. It has a still-standing stone chimney of a long gone house.

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Humbled, I went back to the Ram Island lighthouse and took a serious bearing to Burn Island Light in Boothbay and paddled on. Along the way I saw three Coast Guard patrol boats, obviously not looking for a lost kayaker, having a great old time going back and forth. A large cruise ship was anchored off Boothbay Harbor. Someone at Burn Island told me it was a, “French junk cruise ship that comes once in a while; when you paddle next to it you see the rust underneath.” Since I was far away and did not feel like paddling to check the amount of rust in the hull, I can’t corroborate the gentleman’s assertion. A little research revealed the ship’s name as the “American Constitution” which belongs to American River Cruises. Built in the USA in 2018, I doubt that it’s too rusty…so go ahead and book a cruise if you like (but paddle around it and check first just in case :-)

Shortly after Burn Island, I was at the Robinson Wharf in Townsend Gap enjoying a well-earned beverage, a clam chowder, and fish tacos to go. The kayak? In the water, nicely tied to the dock, thank you.

With the flood still running north in the Gap and the Sheepscot, soon I was at Little Ram (double score: Little and Ram) eating the fish tacos and setting camp for the night. Lots of boats.

Little Ram is nice. It sits next to Isle of Springs, is wooded, has room for one tent, and it was not difficult to land. Thank you members of the Isle of Springs Association for making it available.

Saturday was the long day. I got up before sunrise but it was all fogged in, I could not see Isle of Springs 250 yards away. I loaded the kayak, put it in the water, and waited for clarity.

After an hour, I could see the shape of Isle of Springs and felt comfortable to paddle on. Island to island and marker to marker, using the compass, the water movement, and keeping track of time, I made it to Hendricks’s Head Light Tower, passing only one working boat.image.thumb.jpeg.eb06c6cb2240d47ddf15dac4f66aca74.jpeg

From the light, I made the uneventful but eerie 0.7 NM crossing to Five Harbors. I had my fog horn, radio and a flashlight handy. None were needed. All was silent. At about the calculated time, phantasmagoric Malden Island appeared in the fog. I patted myself on the back and followed the coastline to Salter Island where the Kennebec River empties into the ocean. I had heard that currents and rough conditions are often the case there.

The ebb was still running but the ocean was flat, no wind. The crossing from Salter to Pond Island was easy, perhaps because of the conditions and the distance to the tide rips. But I could feel the ebb pushing the kayak south. From Pond I paddled to Wood Island, Morse Point and Fox Island, (where the beach goers made strange silhouettes through the fog), and the Heron islands. Here I looked for, but did not find, a passage between the rocks mentioned in a trip report. Perhaps because a large group of seals made me stay further out than I wanted.

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I had enough energy to make it to Little Snow as per the plan (otherwise, the option would have been to go up the Kennebec and stay at Perkins Island, or go around Cape Small and stay at the Hermit campsite). I stopped at an empty Seal Cove in Cape Small for lunch, rested, and went on. The tide had turned and the flood gave the kayak an assist past Hermit, into the Meadows River. The fog had lifted considerable by then and a gentle breeze had a few sailboats on the move. I raced a small one going in the same direction; I said I raced it since I don’t think the sailboat raced me (they probably only race other sailboats). I won, but after the excitement of the victory wore off, I realized that I had passed my mark and instead of turning north before Yarmouth Island, I had gone all the way to the Quahog Bay. Not a big deal in distance but …

25.6 NM later I made it to Little Snow, not too tired but hungry and happy. The mosquitoes were also happy to see me, and soon I was inside the tent.

Several motor and sail boats were anchored in the calm and very warm waters surrounding Snow Island.

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For Sunday the plan was to paddle to Jewells and on Monday to East End for the rendezvous with Virginia. However, all the weather models in Windy were forecasting rain and possible thunderstorms for Monday, therefore I decided to cut the section out and made arrangements with Virginia to be picked up next day at the Dolphin Marine and Restaurant in Harpswell.

The paddle next morning was in the fog but very nice. Very few boats out, lobstermen resting at home or at church, calm waters, no wind and with the ebb helping, what else can one ask for? Sunny skies? Overrated.  

Three hours later I was at the Dolphin ramp, we had a reunion and a nice lunch, with excellent views of the fog through the many windows of the restaurant. Thank you Virginia for picking me up!

I should mention that I had all the campsites for myself in every island I visited. There were fewer boats in the water than I expected for a 4th of July week. Everyone celebrating Independence Day must have gone to Europe. I had the company of wildlife: the minks, bald eagles, ospreys, the usual sea and land birds, seals, the ticks at Fort Island and, of course, always some mosquitoes (except in Little Marsh, too small). The mosquitoes in Little Snow were so friendly that they even came along in the kayak for an hour, buzzing sweet things in my ears.

Four nights; four days; 70.2 NM; 7 Littles and 3 Rams. Excellent trip. I shall repeat, remembering that: "Access to coastal islands is a privilege built on landowner trust and visitor care. Visitation guidelines vary by island and owner expectations can change from year to year. When planning a trip, please be sure you have the most up to date information for each island, and be a mindful guest when you visit. The Maine Island Trail Association is a good source of information about many coastal Maine islands open for recreational use, www.MITA.org. MITA membership is the best way to keep current and support responsible use and stewardship of these special places." 

 

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On 7/14/2023 at 6:29 PM, Ricardo Caivano said:

 

After an hour, I could see the shape of Isle of Springs and felt comfortable to paddle on. Island to island and marker to marker, using the compass, the water movement, and keeping track of time, I made it to Hendricks’s Head Light Tower, passing only one working boat.image.thumb.jpeg.eb06c6cb2240d47ddf15dac4f66aca74.jpeg

 

 

Aside from the fog effect, comforting to know that some things never change. Same shot on my solo through this area on a spectacular day 11 years ago!

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