Archive for the ‘Maine’ Category

A week on the Maine Island Trail: Concept and Preparation

August 30, 2017

DSCF0244One of the challenges of trying to live as if CO2 emissions matter is that it’s tough to go on vacation.  A cross-continent flight or a long-distance road trip can quickly undo the gains carefully accrued over months of bicycle commuting and solar-powered living.  Fortunately, here on the coast of Maine we live in a top-notch summer holiday destination, and fantastic renewable-powered recreation is near at hand.  We tried this out for a week earlier this August, and had a great time. Besides the beautiful scenery and occasional relaxation, the trip provided a great opportunity to think about the coastal ecology and economy of the place where I grew up, with its uneasy — but symbiotic and picturesque — coexistence of the recreational and fishing economies that give the folks at the Island Institute so much to write about and photograph:DSCF0139

Naturally, climate change was not the only factor in deciding to do the trip.  It had been a while since we’d done any real backcountry, and our two dogs are getting too old for serious hiking.  We’ve enjoyed kayaking and sailing a small dinghy around Casco Bay and Five Islands, and for years I’ve wanted to do a more serious trip on the Maine Island Trail, a loosely-defined 375-mile coastal route from New Hampshire to Canada, enabled by over 200 small islands sprinkled along the route where travelers with a membership can land and camp overnight.  Membership cost is very reasonable, and it includes a useful paper guidebook with precise info about each island, including where on the perimeter of each island provides the best landing and tenting.  We managed to keep the paper guidebook dry (at least until the drive home), but all of the same info is also available in an iphone app, built locally by the good folks at Chimani. Here is Alexis taking advantage of a calm stretch to pick our next camping spot in the guidebook:

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We were fortunate to have access to a suitable vessel for the trip – a Trinka 12′ dinghy.  Most people who travel the trail use kayaks, but we like to sail and wanted to be able to bring the dogs, so the dinghy worked out well.  The Trinka is a beamy, plumb-stemmed, high-sided fiberglass tender with a self-bailing hull, and a single large sail on a stayed aluminum mast.  There’s not much information available online about these boats and I don’t get the sense they’re very common, but the design is by the same guy who designed the Laser racing dinghy (there are also 8′ and 10′ Trinkas by different designers; the commonality seems to be the builder, Johannsen in Florida).  There are some photos available online to give a sense of the boat.  With an LWL of about 12′, hull speed should be about 4.5 knots, but it’s a planing hull, and in a strong wind we saw 5.5-6 knots on a reach (surely it goes even faster when not loaded with camping gear, dogs, and water).

Initially the dogs were a bit put out by the uneven footing and constant motion, but they soon settled in:DSCF0173DSCF0174DSCF0041

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As to the particular boat we used (sail number 18, if that means anything), around 20 years ago my dad bought it from an elderly neighbor who found it too tippy for his own use. We used it a lot when I was a kid, especially since it was a lot drier and warmer to sail than the lower, sportier singlehanded dinghies like the Laser.  Then it spent 15 years or more up on blocks, until we cleaned it up this spring for Fern’s birthday party on Beal Island (which is incidentally also on the Island Trail, though it is owned by and accessible through the Appalachian Mountain Club).

Later in the summer we did an overnight test trip, sailing out of the Little Sheepscot river, stopping for lunch near the mouth of the Kennebec, and then making a trial crossing of six miles or so to Damariscove harbor before running back up the Sheepscot and camping on Powderhorn Island.  That trip went well, so we began preparation for a more serious journey.

A boat this size isn’t big enough to live and sleep on comfortably (thus the island part of the Island Trail), so one major question dealt with how to put up the boat for the night. While it’s light enough for two people to move around a bit, it’s too heavy to carry, so we contrived a couple of methods of dealing with the 10-12′ tides of the Maine coast.  For the typical rocky shores, we carried a ‘haul-off’, consisting in this case of an 8lb Danforth-type anchor with 70′ or so of rode, and about 350′ of light synthetic potwarp arranged in circulating loop passing through a ring on the end of the anchor rode.  With this setup we could set the anchor offshore, trail the haul-off rope to land, put our cargo ashore, then attach the boat to the circulating loop of rope and pull it out beyond the low-tide line, where it would ride comfortably overnight through the tide cycle.  In the morning we could pull on the other end of the rope to bring the boat in to shore.  The 350′ line (which of course gives half that much reach when doubled) was a comfortable minimum, requiring us to carefully select our location and dodge ledges, given that much of the coast of Maine looks like this:DSCF0218Here are a couple of photos of the haul-off in action:DSCF0234DSCF0098To keep the doubled rope from twisting or fouling, the junction between the single anchor rode and the doubled haul-off line is typically made to float, and is given enough width to prevent it flipping over in the water from the inevitable twisting tendency of the rope.  I made the connection with a stout piece of clear-grain oak with a galvanized steel ring bolted to it; to accomplish the antirotation I lashed a red PFD cushion to the oak bar, which can be seen in the photos above.  In doing it again I would definitely incorporate a dedicated float, as the lashing and unlashing was annoying and took valuable time.  In general we spent a lot of time fiddling with knots to secure our gear; on a subsequent trip I’d find some kind of small, corrosion-resistant locking carabiners and incorporate more fastex clips and other time-saving tools, which would be especially valuable in trying to make a fast departure in squally conditions (which fortunately we didn’t have to do).  This photo shows me in the distance at far left fiddling with the haul-off, trying to get the anchor set among submerged ledges and ghostly abandoned lobster traps near Allen Island:DSCF0088

For landing on the rare and wonderful gradual sandy beaches, we brought two hard foam rollers 6″ in diameter, of the sort that athletes use to massage their backs, which worked well for maneuvering the boat up and down a smooth beach surface.  I am told that inflatable dock bumpers work well for this also.  We also had some pulleys that would allow us to turn the haul-off rope into a 3-fall tackle to help pull the boat up a steeper slope. Here are some photos of the beach rollers in action:

DSCF0584DSCF0470DSCF0471We ended up using both the haul-off and the beach rollers multiple times, and both worked well. The rollers performed nicely on surface roughness up to apple-sized rocks; for rougher surfaces we switched to the haul-off.   One time we were able to find some driftwood planks that did a nice job of enabling the rollers to work on a slightly rougher beach; as the coast of Maine is famously rocky I’m happy to have made the trip without damaging the fiberglass. If the weather had been rougher, we would have naturally been driven further inshore, up the rivers and bays to flatter water and muddier, gentler landings, but as it was the winds were on the light side and we kept to the outer islands for the most part.

If I were contemplating more serious or extended expeditioning, one modification to the boat that I would consider would be to cut some high-quality access ports into the double hull, both to check on the condition of the internal flotation foam and to make use of the substantial volume under the seats for gear and water storage – possibly even to the extent of fitting an internal water tank.   As best I could tell, the 2+2 of us consumed about three gallons a day on average, without trying too hard to conserve.  We carried fresh water in two 2.5 gallon plastic jugs lashed in the stern, as well as five 1qt nalgene bottles for daily use, and we picked up an extra 3-liter Poland Spring jug in Port Clyde. We also brought three types of water purifiers (pump, iodine, and a newfangled UV disinfector), and didn’t use any of them, though if we’d been trapped on an outlying island by several days of stormy weather we might have been glad to have at least one of them to purify rainwater.  One piece of gear I would add would be a couple of large collapsible water bags, the weight would be nothing and they would add flexibility and psychological margin, though in reality there was fresh water all over the populated parts of the coast.

DSCF0079Continuing on the theme of gear, we also acquired several dry bags (90L, 65L, 2@20L, two for cell phones) and other maritime sundries including a handheld VHF, a plastic foghorn, a collapsible radar reflector, a small compass that we fitted to the boat, and a waterproof camera that we didn’t take the time to experiment with beforehand (this explains the datecode on the photos).

We also bought a small folding solar panel for recharging phones, headlamps etc.  This seemed kind of awkward, but it actually worked pretty well and wasn’t too much of a hassle.  The phones didn’t get coverage for much of the trip, and we only used the GPS navigation app a few times, so we didn’t need much juice.  The test would be an extended period of cloudy/foggy weather, which would mean more using and less charging.  A surprising amount of gear has gone over to lithium and micro-USB, which I guess is a welcome change compared to hauling lots of AA and AAA batteries:DSCF0120Other than that, our equipment was the usual camping gear – tent, sleeping bags and mats, white gas stove and pots, etc.  While in theory we could have upgraded our meals with bulkier or heavier items, or fresh food in a cooler, we were short on drybag space and wanted to keep things simple, so we kept to our usual backpacking meal planning.DSCF0117

We decided that our launching point would be Five Islands, and that we would go ‘Downeast’, following the prevailing winds to our destination, a friend’s cottage on an island east of Deer Isle.  The following posts will describe the trip piece-by-piece.

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