When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Some Really Good Lemonade

Or a Lemon Margarita.

July 24th. Brooklin, Maine

Having pitched our tent and set up our palatial screened-in sunshade/gazebo in the dark, we awake to an absolutely gorgeous day in Maine and nothing that we have to do.  No boat to get into the water, and – unfortunately – no sailing to do.   As I lie awake in my sleeping bag contemplating whether to get up, I overhear the campers in the next site talking about kayaking.  That’s the idea!  I hadn’t thought of that but here we are near some of the best sea kayaking territory on the East Coast, and I know exactly where we can rent some kayaks to get out on the water before the rest of the Small Reach Regatta arrives.

Motivated by that idea, I jump out of the sack and get a start on the day.  I associate civilized camping with good food – no freeze-dried eggs or canned stew for me – and that means I’m cooking up fresh coffee, eggs and bacon on our little butane stove. 

After a leisurely breakfast we head off to the Old Quarry Campground in Stonington on Deer Isle.   I had used Old Quarry as a launch base for a cruise in my dory several years ago, and it’s ideally located right next to the myriad Islands of Merchant Row south of Stonington. I also knew that they rented pretty good kayaks.  By a little after noon, our butts are in kayaks and we are headed south across the Deer Island Thorofare towards Merchant Row.  The day is spectacularly perfect for paddling, with very little wind and a cloudless blue sky.  

Merchant Row encompasses at least 30 small Islands flung out on the water like a giant’s marbles all the way between Deer Isle to the north and Isle Au Haut to the south.  A well-known paddler’s paradise, the Row has the highest concentration of Maine Island Trail campsites anywhere along the coast:  something like 8 sites within a 3 mile radius.  We’re not camping on this day trip, but we can see why this is the place to go kayak camping in Maine. 

After passing several Islands we land at our chosen lunch spot, the gorgeous sand spit between Devil’s Island and Shivers Island.   (You really can’t beat the names of these Maine Islands… in addition to these two, later in the day we would pass Hells’ Half Acre, Wreck, Bold, Bare, St. Helena and Crotch Islands, among others.  I wonder if the ghost of Napoleon lurks on St. Helena. And on the chart, Crotch Island is shaped like a – well, use your imagination.

The sand at our lunch spot is made entirely of broken bits of seashells, the water is Caribbean clear, and we have a captive view of what little boat traffic goes by on Jericho Bay, making for a most inviting scene for lunch and a snooze.

After lunch we skirt Devils Island and then Spruce Island, where John is intrigued by the huge monolithic granite shoreline and the enormous glacial erratic boulders sitting there like dice left behind by some geological giant.  We pull up right on the sloping granite shore – no beach here – a maneuver made possible the incredibly smooth water, and get out of the boats to poke around.   John even finds a lawn chair sitting on the granite.

Isle Au Haut on the horizon

Back on the water, we head south to McGlathery Island where a couple of sailing yachts are anchored. Then I spot a large vessel anchored to the west and we decide to go investigate.  As we draw nearer we see that it’s a REALLY big yacht, with a sleek and classic design that is either quite old or a new boat designed to look right out of the 1930s.   As we get up close I am dazzled by the mirror-smooth and gleaming Navy-blue hull and the brilliant varnished brightwork.  It’s the motor yacht “Marie”, which according to her transom hails from Newport Rhode Island, and she is flying a New York Yacht Club burgee.  I comment to John that “that’s a big chunk of change floating there” and he replies “$20 million, you think?”  Probably not too far off, judging by the size (I guess 120 feet) and the quality of the workmanship (immaculate).   The photo of John in his 16-foot kayak next to Marie gives a sense of scale.

The sublime and the humble: M.V. Marie and John in his plastic kayak

A little post-paddle internet research reveals the identity and history of the vessel: Known until recently as Acania, Marie was built in New York in 1930 by Consolidated Shipbuilding for the silent film actress Constance Bennett. Over the years she has had several owners and served duty as a submarine echo finder during WWII. In 1995 a new owner rescued her from a scrap yard and did a complete overhaul while keeping as much of her history and original features intact. I will say that the restoration was wonderfully done.

Spruce Island, with Mount Desert in the distance

From there we thread our way through more of the many gorgeous Islands in Merchant Row, heading north until we get into the Deer Island Thorofare just in front of the town of Stonington.  Then an easy paddle down the Thorofare brings us back to Old Quarry.  A wonderful day in a truly fabulous and beautiful marine playground!

Author: Larchmont Jim

A 50-something investment banker from Larchmont, New York (about 15 miles from midtown Manhattan). Amateur small boat sailer, boatbuilder, kayaker, musician. I grew up spending summers sailing the New England coast on my grandfather’s beautiful 47’ 1952 Sparkman & Stevens wooden yawl. I’ve lived in Larchmont, a major and historic sailing center on Long Island Sound, for 25 years, but career and family obligations kept me off the water for all of my 30s and 40s, and only about 7 years ago did I get back on the water, first in sea kayaks, and then in small boats.

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