Sea kayaking around Hog Island

Ever since my first summer at the Audubon Camp, I wondered if a sea kayaking session might someday be offered as a week-long session. Apparently, I was not the only one who was aware of the island’s sea kayaking potential because a few Camp Directors have toyed with the idea, but it wasn’t until this past summer that the first such session became a reality. Since the kayakers would be off-island most of the day, the island facilities would be available for an on-land session, so a Nature Photography session was offered at the same time. While the kayakers were busy paddling, the photographers had the island and its endless photo opportunities all to themselves.

There’s no better way to discover the Maine Coast than exploring it by kayak

The 1998 Nature Photography camp was led by professional photographer, and native Mainer, Mark Warner. Mark wanted to keep the numbers low so that each camper could have individual attention; thus, enrollment was limited to twelve. The course of study focused on everything from the basics of equipment care and selection to the technical aspects of using a camera in the field. The campers had a great time and Mark was a real addition to the staff.

The inaugural “Naturalizing by Sea Kayak” session had sixteen eager people sign up. Most were visiting Hog Island and trying out sea kayaks for the first time, while a few alumni were taking the course to reacquaint themselves with that Hog Island Magic we all know so well. We rented nineteen sea kayaks from a local outfitter and hired Muscongus Bay sea kayaking veteran Mark Digirolamo — a registered Maine guide and naturalist — to be our guide for the week. A few novice kayakers were anxious about what lay ahead of them and whether they would eventually get the hang of their sea kayak. Fortunately, Mark’s steady encouragement, teaching, and years of experience soon quieted their nerves.

On our first full day, I led a half-day Map and Compass class for half of the group and Mark led the required kayak introduction and safety class for the other half of the group. Mark’s session covered paddling techniques, wet exits, self and assisted rescues, nautical chart reading, tide awareness, and other essential kayaking skills. By day’s end, even the more apprehensive beginners were feeling so confident that after dinner we took a short paddle as a group. The next day began cool, and threatening rain as we headed south to Loud’s Island in groups of two for safety. Because of an approaching thunderstorm we sat on the sandy Loud’s beach in our rain gear, ate lunch, continued conversations, and were given a impromptu natural history lesson on life of the exposed intertidal zone led by Bonnie Bochan. In spite of the storm, the first full day of exploring went well and all were excited about the rest of the week.

At midweek the campers had a day off and took a long, pleasant boat ride aboard the PUFFIN IV to Monhegan Island. The day was spent exploring the many trails, sunning on high cliffs, and generally taking in the feel of a fabled island, supported and shared by tourists and lobstermen. On several occasions during the week we came across seals hauled-out on islands, sleeping and sunning themselves. We had opportunities to have close encounters with seas at high tide when the seals were generally in the water. While paddling we often had curious seals swimming near and sometimes startling us when they surfaced so close you could almost touch them with the kayak blade.

Our last day was an all-day paddle up Muscongus Bay and further up the Medomak River channel. That evening we offered a final paddle and a few of us were lucky enough to see the climbing pillars of hazy white light that could only be the ethereal and mysterious northern lights. There are moments when I think back on that week and the vision of the seals cavorting and splashing around us is both hazy and clear …. like a dream.

We’ll remember gazing at the intertidal zone waving rockweed and kelp; patterns of color and texture; taking breaks on sun-warmed rocks; talking about how beautiful the Maine coast is; good people; good food; night paddles; Hog Island each night; and the eerie glow of phosphoresence in the water, eye level with the eiders and seals