Dense fog and very humid conditions greeted four of us when arriving at the rudimentary Spruce Head Boat Landing early morning in preparation for a Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society sea kayak trip in western Penobscot Bay. The Channel Six weather guy had promised clearing by then. After unloading boats and changing clothes, the fog remained but appeared to be diminishing. Laurie Wunder had her protractor and map out carefully plotting a course while I estimated the required bearing using my marine chart. Our concern was an open crossing east from the tip of Spruce Head Island to Graffam Island, a mile and a half distance.
Completing our calculations, we reached a similar conclusion, a magnetic bearing between 125 and 130 degrees should accomplish our objective and 305 to 310 would be necessary for the return. Contemplating the predicament, should we go was the overriding question. Maybe was the answer.
The consensus was to paddle a long mile to the end of Spruce Head Island and decide. Experiencing patchy fog along the western shore, the visibility plummeted to a virtual whiteout entering the channel beyond the island. Bobbing in three foot seas surrounded by fog a thoughtful discussion followed. This was not our first rodeo. All of us in our sixties or older, collectively we had experienced hundreds of challenging outdoor adventures, many together. The unanimous decision was to continue.
Proceeding into the murky mist with emergency lights flashing and fog horns handy, our apprehensions were twofold: Vessels motoring through the often busy passageway might not be able to see our low profile kayaks and missing Graffam Island could be problematic. Erring north would not present a significant risk, as one of the many islands in the Mussel Ridge Archipelago would undoubtedly be encountered. Veering too far south was another issue. With the exception of a couple of tiny atolls, the open Atlantic Ocean was the only thing beyond.
Bouncing in mildly bumpy swells while a barely discernible lobster boat was hauling traps in the area, our bearing deviated between 110 and 140 degrees. Carefully watching our deck compass readings while remaining vigilant for motorized traffic; the thirty minute crossing seemed longer. Navigating through a cluster of lobster buoys, the hazy contour of trees above land gradually appeared. Shortly after, we were relaxing along the rugged shore of Graffam Island. Scoring a direct hit, Laurie and I were feeling smug.
Electing to turn inside the archipelago for refuge from the strong wave action, the fog began to lessen. Halting for rest and relief on sandy Bar Island, the nearby substantial Hewitt and Pleasant Islands were hidden from view. Our original destination, more distant and exposed Two Bush Island, was an unrealistic goal.
Reluctantly, island hopping northeast in the fog was our alternative selection. Traveling slowly, time was taken to identify each island. Upper Flag, Hewitt, Andrews, and Neck Islands were passed as we approached high tide. Despite the lingering poor visibility, numerous seals were observed in an area renowned for its large population of the playful creatures. By the time we stopped for lunch at a diminutive beach on a nondescript shoal between High and Andrews Islands, the fog had cleared.
Contrary to the forecast, robust winds from the west were confronted during the return to Graffam. A rollicking crossing to Spruce Head Island seemed probable. Again stopping at Bar Island, Two Bush Island was still partially cloaked in fog but visible. No matter, if trudging through a long stretch of mud at the Spruce Head Landing was to be avoided, we were out of time.
Nearing the western terminus of Graffam, Tom Meredith observed that winds seemed to be abating. I’d had the same thought but was reluctant raise expectations. The weather guru had gotten that portion of the prediction correct. The wind speed was supposed to decline mid-afternoon and become southerly. We were in luck. A gentle tailwind was a welcome benefit during the easy traverse to the impressive rockbound shore of Spruce Head Island.
The intent was to reach the landing by 3:00 P.M to avoid the extensive mud flats that occur at low tide. Our arrival time was 2:55. While wallowing in some mud was necessary toting our kayaks to shore, the mire was only a nuisance not an ordeal. Ours had been truly an exceptional stimulating adventure in one of Maine’s premiere sea kayaking destinations.
Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at ronchaseoutdoors.@comcast.net