Get Skied At Sea

Kayaking Maine's Down East Islands
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"It's not the north shore of Alaska, but it's not an area for makebelieve," forewarns Tom Bergh, owner of Maine Island Kayaking."The areais wild, rugged, wooly, and let's-get-real. One of the few areas left onthe East Coast that has honest adventuring. I am not saying you need to beGod's gift to kayaking, but you do need to be switched on."

For kayaking purposes, Down East Maine begins where much of the state'stourism ends. It may be only 85 nautical miles to the Canadian border, butthe undulating coast offers 920 miles of some of the most rugged shorelineon the Atlantic seaboard, with hidden coves, cobble beaches, and dramaticheadlands. Offshore, wildlife islands teem with nesting endangered andcommon seabirds.

"Islands are what we are about," says the lanky Bergh. And Down East is chock full of them—255 by one count, from the Schoodic Peninsula to Lubec. They range from Minklet Island's one acre of eider duck nesting habitat to Great Waas' 1,600 acres of headlands, pine forest, and peat bogs, with waterfowl and offshore seals. If one includes outcroppings like Welch Island's mere 0.3 acres and the island count soars into the thousands.

Each is a world unto its own, with telling names like Sheep and Great Duck, or Mistake, Wreck, and Drown Boys Ledge. Old charts even show the Virgin Breasts and The Lecherous Priest. One harbors black bear, two attract puffin, and dozens are nesting grounds for bald eagles, osprey, blue heron, and more. Some are protected islands; many have remained undisturbed since the turn of the century.

Alluring? You bet. A playland for serenity and comfort? Not a chance.

"When people travel with me they walk on rocks, live on rocks, sleep on rocks," Tom says. "There are islands of blueberry barrens and heaths which, if you are rude enough to walk on, the soil would compress 6-10 inches under your feet. For me that is too rude."

As for paddling, there are hazards aplenty. In summer the region is a perpetual fog machine. Libby Island Light's weather station is one of the foggiest places in the United States, according to the Coast Guard. Tom warns: "Paddlers who can't navigate, shouldn't kayak unguided to any Maine island. Visibility is often less than 200 feet and you won't get there and back safely."

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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