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A few days out of Muscongas Harbor


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A Few Days out of Muscongus Harbor

Several weeks ago Warren and I decided to plan a trip to Muscongas Bay in which we would be forced to rely only on ourselves, rather than on more experienced companions, or those with local knowledge. This was my first such experience, while Warren had already planned and carried out a solo trip (not my cup of tea!) in the summer. It seemed a good way to cap off what has been for both of us - on sometimes parallel, and other times intersecting, paths - a rewarding year of acquiring paddling skills. I could have entitled this trip report "It Takes a Village," thinking of the many people from whom we have learned and to whom we owe debts of gratitude: from teachers and guides in formal classes to companions on NSPN and other trips. You know who you are - and thank you!

We split up pre-trip functions: Warren pored over his chart of the area as I was still trying to chase down where I could get a waterproof chart; I prayed to the weather gods. Once again, our respective efforts paid off. Warren came up with a solid plan (complete with fallback options), and the weather gods gave us a spectacular stretch of weather for the Columbus Day weekend.

We launched out of Muscongus Harbor on Friday morning. Driving north that morning, I had noticed that there was heavy frost on the ground on the shady side of the road the closer I got to Damariscotta. A mixed blessing: mosquito-killing temperatures might also call for dry suits, which we had decided not to wear as the weekend forecast was for record-breaking temperatures. I know, I know: dress for the water, not the air - but the water wasn't yet deep-fall cold, and the thought of being in a dry suit on an 80 degree day was…stifling to contemplate. Fortunately, the day warmed up considerably even as we loaded our boats, and we were comfortable in the layers that we had brought.

While as the weekend progressed the skies would become completely clear, on Friday there were thin clouds and a spray of contrails across the sky emanating from the airport in Portland to the south. The air was chilly but not cold, and it felt like fall. Deciduous trees had lost their leaves, and we saw the spindly architecture of bare birches among the fir trees. The seas were calm and visibility pretty much endless, but we still decided to work on our navigation skills by establishing headings for each small leg of the trip out to our chosen island. We immediately saw that the calm seas would allow us to do an open crossing to our first choice camping island - near Cranberry Island. (Would someone please clarify what MITA islands we can and cannot name in trip reports!) We stopped for lunch at a MITA island near Loud's to check out the camp sites for future reference. Then we took a heading to Jones Garden Island (which we could perfectly well see!), and followed it until we were right next to the rocky, stinky, bird-covered island. From there, it was another crossing to our destination, which proved to have two inviting beaches for landing.

We looked for the recommended "lilacs" camp site, but couldn't find it, so settled on the site at the northeast corner, a lovely open grassy area. We each set up our tent, and then headed out again for an afternoon paddle. I don't know what the word "Muscongus" means, but on that Friday afternoon, as the temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and the thin clouds thickened, it seemed to have a dark meaning. We circumnavigated Cranberry Island, looking at bare and desolate areas with low shrubs and few trees, and it looked like a place that one might find much further north. When we turned the corner and headed down the east side of the island, we started to feel the full brunt of the southwest winds that had started to blow. The weather gods were tapping us on the shoulder, reminding us that the beautiful conditions they gave us could as easily be taken away… By the time we got back to the narrow passage to our island, we had some biggish beam waves - Warren said he had to brace once - and we were glad when we reached the shelter of our little bay.

The wind was really blowing, and even with layers of dry clothing, we were a bit cold and there was no easily accessible completely sheltered place to prepare our suppers. Nonetheless, we sat out on the rocky beach by the passageway. As we ate, a bald eagle swooped close and low over us. The sun set at our backs.

The wind died during the night, and Saturday dawned a perfect mid-summer day in October. We decided to head back to Hog Island, and from there to island-hop north, to check out the old sunken wreck various people had told us about, and also some other MITA islands for future reference. The seas were very calm and the wind pretty much negligible. Over the course of the day, we ended up stopping at three different islands. We also started seeing a few kayakers, which only seemed right given the ideal conditions. Indeed, we saw one couple paddling a tandem kayak - a lovely strip wooden craft with one long open cockpit - and the man was shirtless. We hoped that both paddlers had pfd's close by. We went to look at the sunken ship, but didn't get far into the cove before an irritable lobsterman gestured to us to keep away. I felt marginally better when I saw that he did the same to some people in a small motor boat. We decided not to risk the lobsterman's…negativity…and looked at the ship from the opening to the cove.

Warren proposed that rather than returning the way we'd come - which might expose us to any increased afternoon winds for the open crossing back to our campsite - that we thread our way over to Bremen Long Island, and from thence to Martin Point and on to Friendship Long Island where we would follow the shore and back to Cranberry and home. However, we ended up doing a longer point-to-point crossing directly to Friendship because once again, the seas were favorable. There were friendly and fun swells and not too many lobster boats.

We had thought that it would take longer to get back, and when we saw that it was still only mid-afternoon, we spent close to an hour playing in what I would have to say is my kind of rock garden: a low-tide exposed series of rocks in a dead-calm area between Friendship Long Island and Cranberry Island. The water was all of a foot deep, and the bottom was covered by mussel shells, little crabs, and some kind of reddish seaweedy somethingorother. I would have been happy to linger there for hours, staring down into the water. Of course, too many hours and the tide would rise and the rock garden would disappear… Warren found an area where a solid mass of mussel shells seemed to flow down between the rocks, a glacier of mussels.

When we got back to our island, we saw a few kayaks hauled up onto one of the beaches, and a man in blue over white Explorer out by our beach fishing for mackerel. In the small world that is the kayak community, it turned out that he was padding a boat he said he'd bought from Gillian Beckwith. He and his friends had found the lilac site that we had not, and we strolled over a bit later to see it (and try and figure out how we'd missed it). He and one of his friends were standing peering into a large tidal pool, in which they had apparently placed - and lost - two lobsters ("free range lobsters," they said) that a passing lobsterman had just given to them for nothing. I rooted for the lobsters' freedom, until they said that the claws were rubber-banded. They eventually found them and asked us if we knew how to kill a lobster (they had no pot in which to boil water, and I think were planning to grill them on a fire if they could figure out how to kill them humanely first). We didn't. And I don't know what they figured out.

It was a spectacular evening and we sat on the rocks facing west. A few clouds sat near the horizon, thin and two-dimensional. To the south, there was a thin band of what must have been fog, which gradually ate a tiny island that we'd seen earlier on the horizon. Not all at once, but starting in the middle and then working outward until the whole island was gone. We watched a slow and beautiful sunset. It was warm and still. Unbelievable for Columbus Day weekend on an island in Maine.

The wind picked up again during the night, and while Warren had predicted that it might fall when the sun came up, it did only briefly. We were glad to be packed up and launched before 9 am for the open crossing back, beating the wind that increased again by the time we'd reached a relatively more sheltered area. Another warm day despite the wind, and I would have been happy to putter about sheltered coves for more time rather than land, unload and drive hours home. But land, load and drive hours home we did.

Throughout our trip, both Warren and I kept commenting on the different personalities of the various places we've paddled in Maine. For example: the Deer Island archipelago somehow more intimate with many tiny islands with white shell beaches; Muscongus - at least where we were - seeming bigger and more open, with brawny dark islands. And what's with the moss hanging everywhere? Does Muscongus mean "moss hanging from trees"?

A fabulous weekend, and I will personally attest that Warren has learned A LOT about navigating and route-planning. Me, not so much, but I certainly can claim some success in my personal relationship with the weather gods.

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Once again, thank you for a great trip report! As you know, I have already begun thinking ahead to next year and all the great and exciting places we need to explore. Last week six more nautical charts arrived and I will look at buying even more. I do not believe a sea kayaker can ever have too many charts!


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I was still trying to chase down where I could get a waterproof chart

http://ocsdata.ncd.noaa.gov/BookletChart/AtlanticCoastBookletCharts.htm or http://marine.geogarage.com/

Draw in parallel magnetic N lines, GPS waypoints, and scale before laminating 8.5 X 11($2 @ Kinkos/staples); 2 maps (front and back)/sheet.

Would someone please clarify what MITA islands we can and cannot name in trip reports

Your copy of the MITA handbook indicates which islands are PRIVATE-shhhhhhh!
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Wow !

Pru, you certainly have a way with words.

I enjoyed your every description as the trip unfolded.

You should contact Tamsin Venn of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine at 978-356-6112 or ackayak@comcast.net

She would most likely love to print your trip in an upcoming issue. If you or Warren have pics, she would use those too I'm sure.

Thanks for spending the time to write and share this trip report. Your passion for kayak camping is obvious.

It's so nice to lose ourselves to our surroundings as we paddle.


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