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Sixth Annual Jewell Island Trip, May 18-20


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Sixth Annual NSPN Jewell Island Camping Trip, May 18-20, 2012

Fifteen of us gathered at the Cousins Island launch spot on Friday morning, planning for a 10:30 launch. The little beach was empty, the tide close to high, when we arrived. We rapidly filled it with our small armada. It was a sunny warm day, the start of a promised stretch of perfect weather for the sixth annual NSPN Jewell Island trip. We ended up launching in two waves, the first group on the water sometime after 10. The sky was clear but for streaks of milky clouds and there was little wind. We headed north to the north end of Great Chebeague and gathered up before crossing over to Bangs.

As MITA stewards for this island, we came prepared for clean-up duty with gloves, black trash bags and a tidy-up mindset. We landed, and I headed immediately to pick up my first piece of flotsam - a chunk of white foam, likely part of a lobster buoy, sitting near the back of the beach to the left, up against the grass and brush beyond. Only to discover after taking several steps toward it that the white foam was actually an eider duck, sitting on a nest. We had learned before the trip started that Crow (another stewardship island) was off limits because of nesting birds, but had not received this warning about Bangs. Where there was one nesting bird there may be more, and our Trash Czar, Rob Hazard, made the decision that the planned clean-up was off. So instead, we set up on the rocks on the right side of the beach, ate an early lunch and awaited the arrival of the second group.

After a time, we saw them in the distance, crossing over from Great Chebeague. We warned them away from the bird, which had not moved from his spot. This seemed somewhat peculiar, given the increasing numbers of large, brightly colored creatures that had invaded his beach. Closer examination (from a distance!) led us to conclude that the bird likely was not nesting, but may well have been injured. When it was time to go, we left him tucked up where he had been when we arrived. We could only hope that he was safe.

And then on to Cliff Island to make the bumpy crossing to Jewell. The wind had picked up some, but it wasn't so windy - or wavy or swelly - that the washing machine action created by water bouncing off the island's eponymous cliffs, which I am told can really rock and roll a boat, was on anything but a gentle cycle, and it was an easy enough crossing. We arrived at Cocktail Cove where all but three of us landed to set up camp. The smaller group kept on past the cove to land at a camping spot further down the island. The cove was empty but for a fat plastic kayak tied off to a buoy. It was mid afternoon.

Other than Mary's discovering that she was about to share her designated tent site with a rather large colony of ants, and Judy's realization that she had left her tent poles back home, setting up camp proceeded smoothly. Mary pitched her tent as far as she could from the ants in the limited area, and hoped that they would respect her space, as she was trying to respect theirs. Judy ended up constructing an absolutely elegant camp. She claimed a spot ringed by trees, ran rope in a circle around the trees, then suspended her tent from at least a thousand different spots - ok, maybe twenty different spots - with yellow line looped over the rope and over itself. She topped off this creation with a floating rain fly, and ended up with a shelter that looked like something out a fairy tale - a rather gossamer floaty structure hanging from the trees. How it would have fared in heavy rain and wind we'll never know - but fortunately it was never put to that test.

(And speaking of camp sites, it should not go without mention that Cathy and Rob F - on their first non-car camping adventure ever - awed and amazed the group with the comforts they managed to bring with them: three-inch-thick foam full-length Thermarest pads covered with white sheets (!) and sleeping bags. Over the course of the weekend the Cathy and Rob Camping Experience amazement continued: from their well stocked larder came pots and pans, plates and utensils, packages of hot dogs and buns, pasta, a bag of marshmallows, and in the morning, a plastic egg container with a dozen eggs. And bacon. There were bags and bags of snacks. In short: they had it all! It helped that Rob has a large boat, although there was some discussion of whether it would make sense for him to design and build a small kayak-trailer that he could tow behind his boat for added space! Word was that they wanted to bring their full-sized Tempurpedic mattress from home for a guaranteed good night's sleep…)

People began to gather around the fire ring. A container of humus and a small bag of carrots appeared. Then some cheese. Crackers. A container of humus. Another container of humus. Red pepper spread. More humus. Olive tapenade. Humus. Cut up peppers. Humus…humus….humus…

In organizing this trip year after year, Gary has, in the spirit of the NSPN CAM model, asked for volunteers to fulfill various functions: Chief Navigator, Safety Officer, Meteorologist, Keeper of the Flame and so on. Suggestion to Gary: Please add "Head of Humus" to the list of tasks for next year. H of H will be responsible for designating who is allowed to bring humus, and how much.

Appetizers morphed into the main course as Rob F, Keeper of the Flame, started up a fire. Over the next two evenings, I don't believe that he sat down for two minutes once fire duty had started. He did an amazing job of keeping the fire fed just so, and it was perfect! Gary served some mussels he'd harvested and steamed up, and Doug passed around his fabulous pulled pork with barbeque sauce. And then…and then… (the amazing things you people miss who don't come on this trip!), Cath pulled from a freezer bag a whole giant cheesecake. How had it fit into her boat?? And proceeded to slice up a slew of fresh strawberries with which to cover it. Not to be outdone, Mary produced an almond cake in the shape of a fish!

Somewhere in the midst of all this eating and drinking and fire tending, the sun began to set. And sometime before it did, we watched seals playing in the water right in front of our campsite, eliciting Ooohs! And Ah's! from the appreciative crowd, as if we were watching fireworks and not a seal launching from the water and splashing back in.

No one went to sleep that night hungry or thirsty. It was a cool quiet night. Those camped at the edge of the island could hear soft sounds of water against rock. The rest of us: just quiet and then birdsong come morning.

While Gary - who had been out on the water for several days earlier in the week - Rob H, Mary, Rob and Cathy F remained behind to spend a day exploring what Jewell has to offer, the rest of us launched into an almost cloudless sparkly blue day. Again, there was little wind, but more was forecast for the afternoon. Warren, the group meteorologist, informed us that it was to be less windy on Saturday than it had been on Friday. (Hah! So much for forecasting.) We headed for Eagle Island, Admiral Peary's summer home, where we were to meet up with Peter, our esteemed club president. Again, while there was some bump as we crossed an area of underwater ledges, it was all calm enough, and we chose to go east around Eagle to the landing spot rather than taking the usual western approach. This required either going through, or navigating around, a surfy area, which all accomplished without problems.

Until it was time to land. At which point, Roger in his beautiful hand-built strip Night Heron, side surfed to shore on a tiny wave and managed to land on one inconveniently placed, shaped and sized rock - and put a through-and-through crack into his recently re-finished boat. It was an impressive sight to see those who converged on his boat - which Roger had pulled out of the water, off the beach and turned upside down on the lush green unmowed dandelion-strewn lawn below the Peary house - with suggestions, expertise, and repair materials. Paul, Doug, Peter and Roger examined the damage, debated the relative merits of various approaches to a temporary repair, and then effected that repair.

After lunch - and for some, a doze in the dandelions - the group split up. Some - including Roger, who worried that his boat might leak - elected to head back to Jewell, while eight of us decided to continue on for a trip north to Whaleboat Island, where Warren was - as is his wont - anxious to check out a potential future campsite. Our passage was protected and the water calm. As we paddled along at a leisurely pace, we saw many jellyfish in the water. Some, a few inches across, were clear. Others, which Peter identified as lion's mane jellyfish, were bigger and a muddled reddish color with long trailing tails of rusty red. We were hot in our drysuits, and I wanted to try a roll with the euro paddle I was testing out. However, the numbers of jellyfish were a disincentive. Imagine rolling and coming up with a jellyfish plastered across your face! Peter said that there were likely also fragments of tentacles and other stingy things floating in the water. Thank you; I decided to remain upright and sweaty.

Whaleboat Island is a long slender island with a central meadow accessible when approached from the east side. We got out of our boats at a little beach. The broad meadow sloped upward. It reminded me of the one in the Wyeth painting - only substitute a figure in a red drysuit for Christina. Warren led us up to the top until we were looking out over the west side of the island. I only realized then that on a day trip last year I'd paddled along the west side of Whaleboat, which is very rocky along its length, never realizing what the interior looked like. It was gratifying to be stitching together a map of Casco Bay from the different trips I've taken there. Warren found a sweet spot at the top of the meadow with an expansive view to the west and proclaimed it his. He lay spread-eagled on the grass, and we took photographs to memorialize his possession. On the way back, Judy pointed out lush stands of blueberry bushes interspersed in the grass. Plump berries - whitish still in color - were already formed. Give it a month and you'll have a feast.

From there, we hugged the coastline to the north end of Whaleboat and on to Little Whaleboat. Along the way, we saw several ospreys circling above us. There were two Canada geese standing on a small beach watching us go by. Half of us took a narrow passage that led us to the south end of Little Whaleboat, while the others went fully around. We saw a seal pup hauled out alone on the seaweed covered rocks in the passage and hurried on by so as not to disturb it - or the mother, wherever she was. In the distance, we could see dozens of seals on a rocky island to the south of Little Whaleboat, and while we tried to keep our distance, our presence still flushed them out and into the sea.

It was at that point, having seen in a short time so many jellyfish, birds (cormorants, osprey, eider ducks, seagulls, geese) and seals that I was struck out the sheer quantity of life that we were observing. Birds, nests, seals, pups, the lime green of delicate early foliage… A wonderfully rich time of year.

We headed back over to the west side of Whaleboat, hugged up against the rocky coast sheltering from the increasing wind. We all gathered up at the south end, and facing a four mile trip back to Jewell - straight into the wind - shared some snacks. And then the slog began, into the wind that had been picking up as the afternoon wore on. (So much for weather forecasting!) Two long crossings until home. Southern end of Whaleboat to northern tip of Ministerial. Northern tip of Ministerial to Jewell. Paul offered tips on paddling in waves (dig in at the crest of the wave, not in the trough, to avoid paddling uphill). Off we went. The first leg offered some shelter from the wind as we approached Ministerial. We assumed the same would be the case when we got into the shelter of Jewell. Not so. So much for the image of reaching the calm of Cocktail Cove. There were now four boats moored there for the night. "How far from the island do you think it will be before we feel the effect of the island's shelter?" I asked Warren, next to whom I paddled for both crossings. Answer: About three feet from where we got out of our boats at the end of the day. If anything, the wind became more intense as we paddled into the cove. It was a relief to be at the end of the day's trip - although Peter had at one point mentioned how nice it would be to circumnavigate Jewell. Once out of the boat, no way I was getting back into it until the next morning. We hauled the boats up off the beach (low tide now, so a bit of a walk) and staggered up the stone steps to place them in the grass and away from the high tide (we learned our lesson about that last year…).

We found that the stay-at-home crew had had productive days. Gary borrowed a chain saw (don't ask!) and cut up a large tree that had been lying all the way across the main camp area when we arrived the day before. I was sufficiently tired that I didn't even notice that the tree was gone until someone pointed it out. Gary also saved ticks that had hitched a ride on his legs and put them in a small ziplock bag for everyone's viewing enjoyment. Cathy and Rob explored the island, climbing the towers. Rob Hazard and Mary…looked for birds? The crew that returned from Eagle did whatever they did all day. Napped? Sat on the beach? Enjoyed the beautiful day? Bill circumnavigated Jewell alone, discovered that that had not been such a great idea, but fortunately returned safely. It was good to find out that Roger's boat had not leaked on the trip back; the patch held.

And then…supper. All potluck, almost all leftovers. Humus. More humus. Even more humus. A fresh batch of Doug's pulled pork. Vegetables that Judy steamed in foil. Hot dogs. Leftover cheesecake. Brownies. Chocolate chip cookies. An entire watermelon. Libations of various kinds to wash it all down. (Beware the clear liquid, purportedly made from prunes, sent by Rene's relatives in Czechoslovakia!)

Rob F got the fire going earlier than the night before. We sat talking, and were joined by three other island inhabitants: a solo paddler who had come ashore at the south end of the island earlier in the day, and two men from Peak's Island (OK, the guys with the chain saw) who were camping for the week on Jewell. The latter arrived clutching beers, carrying two comfortable fold-up chairs, and sat with us asking questions about how we managed to carry all our gear for camping with us.

It was colder the second night than the first. I don’t know when the wind died down, but come morning, the cove was flat calm; the sky once again clear blue. Then it was only a matter of packing up our gear, cleaning up the campsite, checking once again to make sure we didn't leave too much for the chain saw guys to find with their metal detectors (!) when we left. We launched at 10 am into a very warm, very still morning. We paddled south, passing the chain saw guys' campsite. They stood on the bluff of their campsite, high above the water, waving goodbye. We picked up our other three at the lower campsite, and off we went, crossing over to the south end of Cliff and through the waves and swells there. A crossing past Hope and Great Chebeague Islands. We spread out in the channel, aware that if it were a month hence we would need to be more mindful, to stay closer together. But on this May weekend, even though it was very warm, there was little boat traffic. We ran into a pod of five or six kayakers - some of whom were known to some of us. And then there were two ducks, swimming miles from land with a small brood of tiny chicks hustling along between them. Mary shouted out for us to give them a wide berth. Parent ducks have been known to fly off when spooked, leaving the chicks vulnerable to predators from above. We gave them their wide berth, and they all swam on. We continued to paddle at a leisurely pace in the heat and sun, to the south end of Cousins, where we got out to stretch our legs beneath the attractive (not!) backdrop of the imposing power plant. An anxious black dog bounded up the beach, barking and wagging his tail - unsure of exactly what to make of us or how to greet us. He was joined by a woman and a man, with whom we chatted about the beauty of the day.

From there, more calm water back to our original launch spot. Although when we rounded the point under the bridge, it was a surprise to see the beach filled with small children in bathing suits, parents in shorts and t-shirts. Some of the little ones looked in awe as our massively overdressed crew pulled ashore.

Another hour of unloading boats, changing clothes (heaven!), hauling boats up the path to cars, and saying goodbyes.

As Rob and Cathy F brilliantly suggested, let's make it four days next year for those who can do the extra day. Time for the water, the land, paddling and walking, napping and adventuring. Although it may be too much to hope for a duplicate of the three-day stretch that we had, where, yet again, the Weather Gods smiled down for sure.

Thank you, Gary, for organizing this special trip!


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Thank you Prudence for your detailed report - the gifted story teller that you are --

To all of my merry mates for an action packed, belly laughs, full weekend - remembering the seals with poles on their heads just bobbing in the water ?

Special recognition to Gary for organizing this trip -

Muchos gracias,


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