A Day paddle to Monhegan Island
Maine, 26th July, 2008

Scribe: Laurie Ford
Edited by Elli Tappan

Part of the chart I used, with the course pre-plotted ready for the anticipated night paddle (Little Griffin marked with a black tent).

This was another trip with the Southern Maine group, and the four day trip was advertised like this.
This is a trip for bold paddlers, not-so-bold paddlers and non-paddlers. You can paddle out from Port Clyde; you can bring your kayak out on the ferry, or just ride out on the ferry. The bold paddler will leave from Port Clyde at 9.00am on Friday - and lots more info about accommodation on the island (all a bit expensive). Monhegan is a serious tourist destination in the summer months, day trippers and longer visits, and there is heaps and heaps of accommodation. I am led to believe the winter population of Monhegan is about 90 people. It is also a destination for bird watchers in spring.

Elli and I checked out the accommodation online and decided we didn't really want to pay those prices so planned to paddle out with the bold paddlers (10.5 nautical miles), maybe arriving just after the middle of the day - have a good look around, then paddle back late in the evening/night and camp somewhere on an island nearer the mainland. We would much prefer to camp, but unfortunately there is no camping on Monhegan Island. But after having weeks of really good weather it did break up into rain and thunderstorms for a few days, and one paddler sent this to the trip leader

There is a small craft advisory out of Port Clyde on Friday with 7 foot seas and wind gusts up to 20+kts. In the afternoon the seas are supposed to subside but only to 3-5 feet with winds from 10-15 kts from the South. Generally the same conditions are supposed to prevail on both Saturday and Sunday.
This was sent on the Wednesday before the trip.

(Weather info at the end of this report)

The leader then sent this out. Also sent on Wednesday.
I’ve been looking at the forecast this afternoon; I almost decided to postpone the Monhegan departure from 08:00 to 12:00, but the NOAA graphical forecast showed a tendency for the wind to increase later in the afternoon. I thought it would be better to wait to see if the wind window remains at midday or if it shifts either forward or backward. If the forecast doesn’t change tomorrow I think I will shift the departure time to 11:00.

This put our plan of going over and back in a day out of kilter, as we would no sooner get there when it would be time to turn around and come back.

So Elli and I drove to Bath on Thursday evening to stay with Dave, even though this was no longer really necessary due to the start time being put back. We enjoyed looking at his photos of Newfoundland, and Belize. Friday morning we followed him up to Port Clyde and unloaded the kayaks and packed them with all our camping gear. Bob was the only other paddler. At 11:45 the four of us launched and headed out across the port towards Little Burnt Island for a planned lunch break. Of course I was now having to rethink Elli's and my plans - by the time we got to Monhegan it would almost be time to head back again. It seemed fairly obvious that a better idea was to camp on Little Griffin Island this afternoon and go across to Monhegan early in the morning - have most of the day there, and paddle back in the afternoon or late evening. So we gave Bob our new schedule, and after the lunch stop we circled back round across to Little Griffn and camped. At first glance there is a depression in the middle of the island with very short grass and would accommodate 4 tents - however with all the recent rain it was soft to say the least. We walked all round the very small island and decided the best spot was on the shell grit ledge a few feet above the hightide mark. We watched the tide come and go and figured it probably peaked about 4.45pm. It is easier to land here right on high tide, and then it is only a few feet to the camp spot. Otherwise at low tide you can land on the sandspit but then have a longer carry over slippery rocks.

Very pleasant evening - the fog lifted and the stars were out. Right on dusk 5 more paddlers turned up looking for camp sites, and they camped on the opposite side of the island to us. I didn't hear them, but Elli says she heard a harmonica playing very late into the night and early morning as they sat around their camp fire.

Saturday morning we were up early and on the water paddling at 5.45am - in dense fog. Our course was along the west side of  Davis Island, through the channel between Benner Island and Allen Island. Somewhere off the bottom end of Allen we struck out to look for the red 2OM buoy but never saw it or heard it. After 25 minutes I figured we were somewhere near the route I had marked on the chart and set the reciprocal course to 15 degrees magnetic. Looking at the lobster pots as we went past them we could see a slight current from north to south. Now I have to say that in most of Australia (and certainly in Tasmania) we don't have all these buoys with their bells and whistles and fog horns etc and I really have to put reading glasses on to read the fine print on the chart. I hadn't done this, so when we started to hear a bell somewhere in front of us I didn't think to check the chart and I guess I thought they probably all had bells on them. So we found the big green buoy (and could see land over the top of the clearing fog) and when I then studied the chart closely could see this wasn't actually the big green buoy I'd been looking for - but three quarters of a mile away from the correct one that had a gong. Not to worry as we changed direction, and then the fog magically cleared away totally - to present a hot sunny day for the rest of the day. We landed at the swim beach at 8am, and visited the bakery on the wharf  for some muffins and chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.

We wandered up to the old lighthouse on top of the hill overlooking the town, and then went looking for Bob and Dave - and spent the rest of the morning in their company.
We did think that if we were going to camp on Little Griffin on the way back then we needed to leave Monhegan no later than 3pm to arrive near high tide. But by lunch time we had had a bit of a look at Monhegan Island and were ready to leave. Actually we felt we were cramping Bob and Dave's style a bit, as they chatted to the numerous ladies on the island. Someone said there were 13 women for every man on the island - and when we left I think Dave was trying to buy a Polish dictionary so he could converse with the Polish waitress where we lunched.

We launched at 12.45 and had perfect conditions to cruise back across to Burnt Island, where we found a light breeze was funnelling between the islands just enough to make it worthwhile putting up the sails. The current was still from north to south. By this time we had decided to head all the way back to Port Clyde, landing at 4.15pm. We had a key to Dave's house in case we had arrived back later, but dropped the key off and kept going to Wolfeboro. Home and showered and checked the emails by 9pm.

Driving up to Bath (Maine) to stay with Dave - originally arranged because of the 9am start.

The start at Port Clyde, right next to the Ferry wharf - $8 for overnight parking.
Not so many of the bold paddlers.

The alternative way of getting to Monhegan - Bill and Debra chose this, but were kicking themselves later on.

Half way across to Burnt Island - not a wind ripple in sight.

Lunch stop on the sandbar between Burnt and Little Burnt Is.

Elli and Bob.

Dave and Elli.

Arriving on Little Griffin Island.

Little Griffin Island.

Repairing a split tent pole.

Camped on shell grit.

More paddlers looking for camp sites - 5 altogether.

A small fire to keep the fog at bay.

The sand bar drying out between the island and the ledge.

Much later.

Halfway across to Monhegan on Saturday morning there was just a hint of sun - but nary a wind ripple.

This was a sort of a 'white rainbow' to the west of us, away from the sun. Too large to photograph fully.

A mile off Monhegan.

First sight of Monhegan Island as the fog lifted to a lovely sunny day.

The haulage way on Manana Island.

The harbour and Manana Island from the small beach nearest the wharf.

Oh to be a kid again.

Some of the accommodation.

Continuous activity all day at the wharf as ferries and oil barges etc came and went.

The top of the hill above the town.

The town and harbour with just a bit of fog creeping back in - but it cleared immediately.

Bill and Debra setting off to circumnavigate Monhegan Island.

Yet more tourists coming ashore.

And another ferry arriving.

Bob and Dave at the lunch table.

Leaving Monhegan, visibility was at least a couple of miles and clearing all the time.

Exactly an hour later at the buoy near Allen and Burnt islands.

We found a breath of wind through between the islands and were able to use it all the way back to Port Clyde.

The afternoon ferry making another run.

Back in Port Clyde - 3 1/2 hours from Monhegan Island. Average 3 knots - alright for out-of-condition 69 year olds.

Weather forecasts (back to top)
Of course everyone knows that I think the people at the weather bureau putting out these guesses about the weather are taking money under false pretences - they are absolutely great at telling you what the weather was doing last Friday, but pretty inaccurate when guessing what it will be doing next Friday. In my opinion a fortune teller with a crystal ball would do just as well. And my old club - The Maatsuyker Canoe Club - had an unwritten rule that if a trip was scheduled to depart at 8am Saturday, then despite any forecasts we would turn up ready to paddle at the start time, and we would then assess the conditions. Well over 50% of the time the weather was never as forecast.

These are some of the forecasts I got 24 hours before we put our kayaks in the water at Port Clyde:

11 knots SW at 11am, 11 knots SW at 2pm - sheer bloody nonsense.

9 knots SW in the morning, 13 knots SW in the afternoon - sheer bloody nonsense.

  (back to top)
Seas 5 to 8 feet, winds 10 to 20 knots - bullshit (I think their crystal balls were full of condensation).

The weather we actually did get Friday and Saturday was a light SSE wind less than 2 knots (not enough to blow a candle out) and fairly glassy smooth seas.

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