This story was originally published in November 2021.
Chowderheads with the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society had a multitude of outdoor adventure opportunities scheduled for the second day of our annual fall festival weekend on Mount Desert Island.
Mountain hikes, bike rides on the Acadia National Park Carriage Roads and war canoe competitions were included and some members planned to participate in the unique Belt Sander Races at the Atlantic Brewing Company. I proposed a sea kayak trip. My preference was a traverse along the rugged east shore of the island from Seal Harbor to Bar Harbor. The usual elderly suspects signed on.
The day began with a solemn event, a memorial service for recently departed and much loved member Tee Brower. Held on the beach at Seal Harbor, her husband, John Brower, conducted the ceremony sharing memories and photos of Tee’s long remarkable life.
As the service concluded, I realized that contrary to the weather forecast, winds were blowing from the north instead of the southeast, complicating my kayaking plan. A weather check indicated the forecast had changed and variable winds were predicted throughout the day. Recalling the same trip had to be aborted a few years prior due to strong unexpected winds, I decided to explore alternatives. After consulting with the other intended participants, we elected to complete a circumnavigation of the Porcupine Islands. Our choice was in no way a sacrifice as the area is one of the most scenic in Maine.
The closest location to begin a trip around the Porcupines is a rudimentary landing at the end of Bridge Street in downtown Bar Harbor. The tide was rising when we arrived at the busy launching area. A multitude of hikers were negotiating a sandbar between the shore and Bar Island, and a large group of kayakers were preparing to depart on a guided trip.
By the time we unloaded our kayaks and gear and found parking on nearby West Street, some of the hikers who had misjudged the tide were wading back from Bar Island.
We began our voyage by rounding the west end of Bar Island in Frenchman Bay and continuing on the north side of the archipelago. Proceeding with modest winds from the north, the views were phenomenal in all directions. During previous trips in this area, we encountered cruise ships moored among the islands. Banned due to COVID-19, none were present this time.
After passing Sheep Porcupine Island, we navigated to a secluded gravel beach on the northwest side of Burnt Porcupine Island for lunch and a respite. A wonderful view of Schoodic and Black Mountains on the mainland made my bland outdoor fare much more appetizing.
Continuing east past tiny Rum Key, we persisted along the largest island, Long Porcupine. At the eastern terminus, we approached a narrow channel between Long Porcupine and a miniature atoll called The Hop. From a distance, it was unclear if there was sufficient depth for safe navigation. One Chowderhead successfully probed the passageway and everyone followed.
Turning west, we began our return to Bar Harbor on the ocean side of the island chain. For the remainder of the excursion, we were blessed with continuous views of the mountains of Acadia National Park. Alas, the summit of the tallest, Cadillac Mountain, was enveloped in clouds.
The character of the south-facing periphery of the Porcupines is significantly different as tall, imposing cliffs dominate the shorelines. A different wind direction from the southeast caused some turbulence between Long and Sheep Porcupines. The rolling waves crashed against the precipitous bluffs adding a little drama to our excursion.
The waters calmed as we passed Bald Porcupine Island and entered bustling Bar Harbor. Large yachts, tour boats and a multitude of smaller crafts cluttered the congested waterfront.
When we arrived at Bridge Street Landing, the half mile sandbar between Bar Island and the shore was completely submerged by a high tide. The landing was empty of people except for another group of kayakers who were preparing for the next guided tour.
Ours had been a most excellent paddling endeavor. I had no regrets about our decision to forgo the traverse which would have exposed us to varying winds and possible hazards particularly turning Great Head and Otter Point. Maybe next year we’ll have cooperative conditions.