Make No Mistake: A Kayak Trip Around Head Harbor & Mistake Islands

Kayaking is a year-round sport, but my winter trips tend to be on the conservative side. Each trip after Labor Day, then, has potential to be the last “big trip” of the season. The sense that this could be the last big one only adds to my enjoyment and appreciation.

My plan was to head up to the Jonesport area, close up the camp, and do some paddling. And then I got a call from a friend who had put together a group of 4 who also wanted to paddle that weekend. Perfect! An expedition was born.

Following a hearty second breakfast at Tall Barney’s in Jonesport, we drove across the bridge to Beals Island and traced the narrow road to the Beals Town Park, which includes trails through the woods, a fine beach, and a million-dollar view. We loaded our kayaks with spare clothing, food, safety gear, and other essentials, launched from the gravelly beach, and set out paddling east past Sheep Island and then along the northern shore of Head Harbor Island.

The forecast was for gusty winds out of the northeast, but we soon found that the winds were more easterly than anticipated. This added up to a 15-knot headwind at the start of the trip. And it became a beam wind as we curved to the southeast as we got further along the shoreline of Head Harbor Island.

The high black cliffs of the largely wild 1100 acre Head Harbor Island created rebounding waves that can make for difficult paddling. Conditions intensified as we approached Black Head, on the southeastern tip of the island. Waves, wind, and challenge were three of the ingredients that had brought us there, however, so it just made things all the more to our liking. Still the 50 degree water temperatures and remoteness of our location also inspired some caution.

After playing among the ledges and rock formations that stretch between Black Head and Man Island, we turned north into the calm protected waters of Head Harbor. We then circled through Head Harbor and past tiny wooded Black Island. Having had a chance to relax, we turned southeast to the more exposed waters between Steele Harbor Island (450 acres) and Knight Island. The high granite cliffs of Steele Harbor Island are a spectacular sight. We paddled in hushed awe beneath them.

Next we sought the narrow channel between Mistake and Knight Islands. (Note for future trips: you don’t see the channel until you are nearly past it. Don’t turn right until you can nearly reach out and touch the lighthouse with your left hand). We rode steep-sided swells up the narrow channel, curved around the southern tip of Mistake, and then pulled our kayaks ashore for a late lunch in a protected spot. After donning cold weather gear to protect us from the biting wind, we hiked the 500-yard Coast Guard boardwalk to Moose Peak Light.

Like many of the islands in the Great Wass Archipelago, Mistake Island, with it’s acidic soil and cool wet climate, is home to rare “raised bog” plants such as lush blueberry, crowberry, leatherleaf, lambkill, and Labrador tea. Most of the island is owned by the Nature Conservancy with the southern 6 acres, including the lighthouse, owned by the Coast Guard.

The 57-foot brick lighthouse was built in 1851. Somehow the white tower has withstood 150 years of winter storms and still stands, a solitary feature, on this treeless island.

The day was shorter than our ambitions. Hastened by the sun that was slipping into the west, we paddled back past Knight and Steele Harbor Islands, and then cut across Eastern Bay past Little Hardwood and Spectacle Islands before returning to our launch site.

We sighted eagles and seals on several occassions. Flocks of eiders were rarely far away during this trip of about 15 nautical miles.

The trip was just another reminder of the incredible richness and diversity of natural beauty Maine has to offer. If you have a chance to get up to Eastern Maine and do some exploring, either by foot, sailboat, kayak, or chartered boat I highly recommend you consider making it part of your plans for summer 2009, if not before.


Great Wass Island Preserve Guide

Jonesport, Maine
Coastal Cruises and Dive Downeast
Puffin Tours of Machias Seal Island
Water Walker Sea Kayak

Click the link below for an enlarged version of the trip slideshow:

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