A week on the Maine Island Trail: Vinalhaven to Deer Isle

This post continues the account of our recent trip from Five Islands to Deer Isle on the Maine Island Trail.  We pick up from the previous post on Hurricane Island, southwest of Vinalhaven, where we spent the night after crossing the western arm of Penobscot Bay. DSCF0375The morning dawned clear and calm, and we broke camp straightaway so as not to miss the tide.  We bid farewell to the island and rowed across the mouth of Hurricane Sound on the last of the ebb, and rounded the lighthouse on Greens Island to open the approaches to Vinalhaven village and Carver’s Harbor.  A breath of wind came up, but there was still a fair amount of rowing involved before we made it to Sheep Island, where both the sea breeze and the flood tide picked up and carried us up the east side of the bay.  DSCF0387

We made a quick pit stop in the lee of Smith Island, then decided that conditions were suitable for the crossing to Isle au Haut, and so set out for the second half of Penobscot Bay.

The front had pushed out the previous day’s southerly haze, so this time we had a crystal clear view all the way across the bay.  As before, Alexis set a course on the chartplotter app so we could keep track of our progress.  The numerous lobster buoys were a bit of a hassle to navigate around, particularly in deep water or popular channels, where two floats are connected by a submerged line of fifty feet or so (presumably so the gear can be recovered if it gets chopped by a passing powerboat). But they were also useful for gauging current, and they provided an important psychological boost when rowing in a calm.DSCF0389DSCF0392DSCF0410By now the flood was at full strength, and the sea breeze was not so strong as the day before, so if it faltered the tide might have carried us right into Stonington (and the psychology would have been a lot different with a strong ebb carrying us out into the Gulf of Maine). But as it happened the wind held, and we reached across the bay at a crab angle to the tide that carried us past Kimball Rock, past the lighthouse, and into Isle au Haut Thoroughfare by mid-afternoon. DSCF0417DSCF0435DSCF0425The wind seemed to strengthen and align with the channel as we sailed into the busy harbor and tied up on the back side of the town float.  DSCF0442DSCF0447

We stretched our legs, got an ice cream and some crackers, and walked a few hundred yards down the road to the Acadia National Park ranger station, where we talked with the ranger on duty about the park and inquired about Duck Harbor campground (booked solid as expected, not to mention upwind against the tide).  So we got back aboard and sailed a very short distance to a lovely MITA campsite with a fine cobble beach and glorious sunset views across the entirety of Penobscot bay – a total of about 16 miles for the day.  DSCF0466

We pulled the boat up the beach above the high-tide mark with on the rollers with the block and tackle, made camp, and enjoyed spectacular sunset views.

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Day seven dawned with a light breeze but a low overcast had set in, with intermittent fog.  We had 3 miles or more of visibility to the south toward Stonington and could see the sun through the mist, so we figured it might burn off, and in any case the islands of Merchant’s Row off Stonington offer numerous campsites.  So we rigged the radar reflector and ran off to the north, amid the lobster boats and the occasional outboard.  DSCF0524DSCF0537DSCF0545We passed west of Merchant Island with a clear view to George Head, but then as we approached George a fogbank rolled in off the bay leaving us with nothing but our compass course and the navigation app.

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Still, the wind was moderate, and the visibility sufficient to make out the lobster boats well away, and soon we could make out Sand Island and the racket of the granite operation on Crotch Island beyond.  At that point the wind faded away, and we took to the oars to make our way past Two Bush Island and into Stonington Harbor and the town dock.  We filled some water bottles, got a snack, and the dogs socialized with others of their kind while we waited for some wind.  DSCF0563DSCF0560The fog lifted, and in time a light southerly sprang up again, so we set off again reaching down the harbor, where we passed a ghostly windjammer in the mist.DSCF0570At this point we had an appointment to make at the end of our trip, so we coasted up the east side of Deer Isle on the tide and what there was of the wind, with the navigation app keeping us clear of ledges and steering us toward our destination in what thickened to become a pea soup fog with mist edging toward drizzle.

For the last mile and a half we had open water, and we set aside the app and steered by dead reckoning, with just the compass and a guestimate of our speed.  We saw our destination loom out of the mist just as I was starting to wonder if we should check the GPS, a dramatic and fitting end to a delightful trip.  We capped the afternoon with a hot shower and a crackling fire in the woodstove to dry off, and the next morning found our way back to civilization. In the end we traveled about 88 (statute) miles over the ground by sail and oars, and our route looked like this:2017 MITA trip map

Given the popularity of both the Appalachian Trail and sea kayaking, I am surprised that the Maine Island Trail doesn’t get more through-trippers.  Membership is reasonable, and the freedom of navigation makes island-hopping more akin to free-form off-trail wandering in the Rockies than the trail-bound hiking and occasional views of backpacking in the east.  Our point-to-point approach left much to explore, including the eastern rivers of the midcoast, upper Muscongus Bay, the Fox Islands Thoroughfare and upper Penobscot Bay, and the east side of Merchant’s Row.  And the trail extends west and east of the section we chose to travel; we both agreed that we would definitely return again to the Maine Island Trail.

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Hearty thanks to everyone who helped make this trip possible, to all the friendly and helpful folks we met along the way, and to the MITA team for enabling this beautiful water trail!

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