Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stonington Maine

This spring I joined the Maine Island Trail Association ($40) and received their Stewardship Handbook and Guidebook. I’ve been fantasizing about kayaking and camping along the coast of Maine. I had spent a number of nights perusing the book while simultaneously planning my Alaska trip. Before I left for AK I offered to loan the book to Bob in hope that he’d plan a trip. My plan worked and he and Carole did the homework to set us up for a paddle out of Stonington.

Stonington is about a 6 hour ride from Worcester. Bob arraigned camping at Old Quarry Camp ground. From there we could explore the dozens of islands between Deer Isle and Isle au Haut. When we arrived Sunday evening we were a bit disappointed because “overflow camping” turned out to mean we could stick our tents in any number of spots along the camp road that were just big enough for a tent. CC, BH, and RB set up near a parking lot where a fire ring and picnic table were situated. E&H’s site was occupied by a “lingerer” so they too set up near the parking lot for the first night. (They would not arrive until after midnight so we also wanted it to be obvious where they were to drop their palatial tent.) Lisa and I set up in a tight gravelly spot between the quarry pond and the camp store. Fortunately we would spend very little time in camp and most of our time on the water.

In an interesting twist of desire, L,P,E,&H were content to car camp and eat fancy meals instead of packing all our boats and lugging stuff out to the islands. (We had done plenty of that in AK.) B,C, and R were more adamant that island camping was in the cards. As a compromise it was agreed that we’d explore potential camp sites the first day and return to the most desirable site (if we found one) the next.

For breakfast Monday morning Lisa and I cooked pancakes and bacon on the Coleman stove. We all carried our boats to the launch and set out in exploration of the islands. We were quickly greeted by a small pod of porpoises (well actually we saw them from a few hundred yards away.) C was nominated leader and map reader. H seemed determined to follow along also. We meandered around a number of islands C&B stopped at one to look for a camp site while Rick picked muscles from his boat. We stopped for lunch on a long sand spit off an island that was occupied by a couple with a friendly black lab. He stayed with us looking for food handouts the whole time (Bob obliged him often.)

After lunch we crossed Merchant Row to Harbor Island. There we found three nice camp sites that would comfortably fit our 5 tents. It was agreed, assuming the weather was good, that we would return with tents the next day. We paddled back on a different route through the islands and explored another potential camp site. For dinner Rick cooked the mussels he gathered as well as a delicious shrimp dish.

On Tuesday morning Carole cooked eggs and home fried potatoes. We packed our boats, this time with tents and fresh water, and headed back to our island camp site. Although we got off to a late start we arrived to a vacated island and had our choice of sites. Choosing the right site was a balance between picking a prime location visually and avoiding being near the snorers of the group. Although L and I were interested in the meadow on the west side of the island we offered it to E&H. Instead we set up as close to the rocky shoreline prominence on the south east side as we could. C,B, and R spread out in various other spots with similar great views. Shortly after we got our tents set up a family group of about 8 showed up. They set up their tent city in the meadow around E&H. Boy did L & I luck out!

After setting up camp we headed over to Isle au Haut. C was expecting a little town but all we found was a general store. We descended on the store in search of ice cream. But six dripping wet kayakers was more than the store keepers could take (they were stocking shelves with their recent delivery). They kicked us out and locked the door behind us, asking us to return in 15 minutes when they were finished (and presumably we had dried off!) We never returned. My sunglasses were a casualty of the short landing. Lost somewhere in the melee of getting out and into the kayak.

For dinner back on the island H&E created a Mexican dish on the ultra light camp stoves. This was much more difficult than cooking on the Coleman stove. The temperature was dropping and the breeze was blowing over the meadow. We were all bundled up in as many layers as we had. After dinner we headed to the lee side of the island and lit a fire by the shore. We shared our fire with a couple from Brookline NY who had set up near Rick. We all settled into our warm sleeping bags relatively early. In various late night extra-tent excursions L, C, and B all mistook the anchor light of a near by sailboat as a celestial curiosity!

Wed morning Bob cooked an oatmeal dish with various fruits to liven it up. We talked about what the plan might be but really we all just sat in the sun on the rocks like little lizards absorbing the heat. I gathered more mussels for a pre-lunch snack. Then we all shared very soft cheese and other snacks for lunch.

About mid-afternoon Eric had a plan to paddle back along the eastern side of the islands. This route offered us some beautiful views toward Acadia over open water. One of us was a bit under the weather so the rest of us took opportunities to practice our towing skills in a non-critical situation. We found that the double-I-tow was the easiest. The V-tow seemed to have a lot of drag from the tow ropes being pulled sideways through the water (although it was reasonable when the tow-ers were close together).

For Wednesday evening’s meal we went to a restaurant in Stonington. Thursday morning we all fended for ourselves with breakfast, packed our stuff, and headed off in our own directions.

The coast of Maine is a beautiful place to paddle. Our pod of 7 kayakers was great from a safety point of view and it made for plenty of laughs and interesting conversation. But it was a little bit difficult to find sites that could accommodate such a large group. The camp sites are primitive and you have to carry EVERYTHING out. We were fortunate to have beautiful albeit cool weather. Rainy days would make it far less enjoyable.

Water temperature mid-50s, air 60-80 days, 48-55 nights, winds light, seas <1 foot.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain has been on my list of places to kayak for a few years now. I was excited about paddling on this fresh water lake that is over seventy miles long and as much as 15 miles wide. Lisa and I headed up on a Friday evening and arrived at a hotel a little after dark just south of Burlington VT. We were planning on paddling the next day from St Albans to the “Cottonwood” site on Knights Island. The 185 acre island has only seven sites on it, all spread out on the shore.

We paddled the 6 miles from Kill Kare Point by Woods Island to our little private site on the Northern most point of the island. The winds were light and the boat traffic was light relative to what I would expect on Narragansett Bay for the same weekend. It was a very pleasant crossing

Upon arrival we set our tent up facing west on the pea-gravel beach. We could swim and sunbath “very casualy dressed” with the warm fresh water and the pleasant air temperatures. We were so relaxed we were thinking about staying a second night on the island. We walked a half mile of shoreline to the Ranger’s Station to try and pay for our site and inquire about it’s availiability for an additional night but there was no one to be found. We walked back by a trail down the center of the island. Our pace was quick as there was a preponderance of mosquitoes given the significant wetland acreage on the island.

We swam some more and cooked a lovely dinner on the camp stove. The sunset was beautiful and the stars were plentiful. I was awake to see a large and bright shooting star. It was part of the Perseid Meteor showers.

The next morning we woke to a stiff breeze. Our site was on the lee side of the island so it didn’t look like much. We made coffee and cooked breakfast (boiling water twice because some uninvited guests had slipped into the first pan of water). We hiked a 1.5 mile loop to the other side of the island and saw that the exposed side was experiencing a short wavelength 2 foot chop (and some more wonderful views from the thirty foot high cliffs).

We loaded the boats and paddled in the protection of the island as long as we could. We stopped and paid the ranger and talked with him and his family for a while. We decided to make the 5 mile crossing directly to Burton Island so that we’d take on the seas more directly with our bows. The loaded boats have the advantage of mass that keeps them from being knocked off coarse by the wind and the waves. I was extra careful to load them with the weight low to keep them uber-stable. We had chosen to head out early to avoid the seas building any more but as it turns out we would have been better off waiting as the breeze subsided a bit as the day went on.

We landed on Burton Island and relaxed and ate lunch. We were entertained by dozens of small frogs hopping around on the shore. One more mile of paddling got us back to the launch point in the mid afternoon.

The section of the lake we visited is a beautiful place to paddle. (It’s the only section we explored.) If you can get reservations through the Vermont state campground system to one of the islands (Knight or Woods) you’ll be delighted. Membership in the Lake Champlain Trails Association ($35) will get you information about a number of other first come first serve sites. We did not visit any of these but I’d be leary of these on a summer week-end.

Air 80, water 75. Sat winds light. Sunday winds 15+