I consider a sea kayak trip to Damariscove Island to be one of the most unique destinations on the Maine coast. The southern terminus of the rugged rockbound island is located about 5 miles off the shore of Ocean Point situated on the far end of Linekin Neck in East Boothbay.
The now uninhabited island has a rich and tumultuous history. Native Americans used primitive canoes to travel there long before European settlers arrived. Prior to the founding of Jamestown and Plymouth colonies, English fishermen began occupying the island in 1604. During the King Philip’s War in 1676, survivors from nearby coastal settlements fled there for safety from attacking Native Americans. A cluster of offshore ledges, The Motions, have been the scene of numerous shipwrecks which prompted construction of a lifesaving station late in the 19th century.
For me, kayaking to Damariscove is a very stimulating endeavor. It requires 10 miles of paddling, including navigation through the potentially treacherous Motions. An additional benefit is a visit to one of Maine’s most historic islands with phenomenal coastal landscapes.
Since a voyage to the “cove” involves significant exposure to open seas with little opportunity to land, careful planning is essential for a safe trip. Forecasts for tides, wind, seas, fog and weather are factors to be considered. I recently identified what appeared to be a quality Damariscove day with light winds, calm seas and summer-like conditions predicted. The tides were not helpful, but winds normally trump tides.
When I announced a Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society trip, four frequent kayaking companions enthusiastically agreed to join me. The day before the scheduled excursion, a forecast for dense fog threatened our plans. Particularly concerning was the prospect of negotiating The Motions in fog. A decision was made to meet late in the morning, speculating that would provide sufficient time for the fog to lift.
Our strategy was deemed successful when we met at the boat landing on Ocean Point the following day. Only a foggy haze remained and the northern end of distant Damariscove Island was visible. Seas were calm and winds light. The trip was on!
After confirming a compass bearing for nearby Ram Island, five of us departed tranquil Grimes Cove in solo kayaks. Approximately a mile away, tiny Ram Island and its prominent lighthouse was our first objective. Completing an uneventful channel crossing, we passed adjacent to the inactive light station now under the purview of Grand Banks Schooner Museum Trust.
Close by, Fisherman Island was next. A distinctive stone house was observed, situated high on the mile-long but otherwise barren atoll. Light winds and seas continued as we proceeded along the west side. Two lobster boats were hauling traps a little farther offshore. Another larger vessel was maneuvering north dragging an unfamiliar device, possibly related to a scientific study. We were part of the diversity that personifies the Maine coast.
A southwest breeze increased as we concluded the 1 mile traverse to the northern tip of Damariscove Island. Massive granite ledges dominated the western shoreline as our tenacious band progressed south. A narrow rock-strewn isthmus separates the northern and southern half of the island. The northern sector is a bird sanctuary where landing is prohibited.
As we approached the southwestern end of the island, cascading surf from The Motions could be discerned ahead. The capricious conditions that constitute The Motions were relatively benign on that fine day and passage was accomplished with minimal risk.
Entrance into the serene cove was in stark contrast to the rolling swells just outside in The Motions. We paddled past the decommissioned Coast Guard Life Saving Station to a gravel beach at the top of the inlet and secured our kayaks.
Boothbay Region Land Trust is conservator of the island and maintains an elaborate trail system. We chose a short hike sidestepping patches of poison ivy to high ledges on the east side for lunch.
The panoramic view from the location was exceptional.
From the expansive overlook, seas appeared turbulent on the southeastern tip of the island so the consensus was to backtrack through The Motions and return to Ocean Point on the west side of the islands. Before departing, we enjoyed a friendly chat with the land trust caretakers.
Conditions were ideal for the return trip. Ours had been a most pleasurable undertaking to one of Maine’s most remarkable locations.