The magnificent cliffs of Grand Manan Island are its most remarkable geographic feature. They encompass about sixty percent of the rugged coastline including almost the entire south, west and north shore.

A large contingent of Chowderheads from the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society recently shared a week of outdoor adventures on Grand Manan. We cycled the island roads including those on nearby White Head Island and hiked along the spectacular cliffs. However, sea kayaking in the shadow of the breathtaking escarpments and exploring the archipelago to the east was our primary focus.

On our second day of paddling, most of us chose to kayak around North Head, the most dramatic section of the coastline. Weather conditions were a crucial consideration as there are only a couple of opportunities to land in case of emergency. Sunny weather and most importantly modest winds from the south and southwest were forecast. Since our itinerary would be along the northeast and north end of the island, it appeared we’d have protection from the winds for much of the day.

Two tandem and eight solo kayaks departed from Stanley Beach just south of North Head. Teaming up the two most inexperienced paddlers with veteran partners in the tandem boats allowed us to include everyone who was interested in the trip while maximizing safety. We navigated northeast around Net Point, past Swallow Tail Lighthouse and under the watchful eyes of campers on the cliffs of Hole in the Wall Campground. Just beyond, we passed next to a surf chiseled arch known as Hole in the Wall. Much to our disappointment, the tide was far too low to permit passage through the Hole.

Crossing Whale Cove, we persisted north to Ashburton Head, where the barque Lord Ashburton was shipwrecked with a loss of 21 lives in 1857. Rounding the north end of the island, we paddled past the Bishop Rock and under Whistle Lighthouse. Shortly after, we encountered the first serious wind of the day and some swirling currents. Staying just inside the turbulence, we disembarked on a narrow, rocky landing for a brief respite just about a half mile short of our original goal, Indian Beach.

Since there were some significant waves and powerful currents between us and the Beach, the more conservative members of the group (read that the older paddlers) deemed that we were close enough. Successfully traversing a developing wave train adjacent to Whistle Lighthouse on return, our intrepid band enjoyed gentle paddling to a tidal friendly landing in Whale Cove.

After a couple of days of land adventures as a result of gusty winds, I lobbied for a circumnavigation of White Head Island from Ingalls Head. High on my bucket list, the twelve mile trip entailed negotiating through some reportedly treacherous ledges near Long Point on the south side of White Head. Fortuitously, we had a favorable forecast, light winds from the south.

Five of us left Ingalls Head in solo kayaks. Traveling rapidly southeast on an outgoing tide past Ross and Cheney Islands while staying out of the busy ferry lane, we arrived at some magnificent white bluffs, source of White Head’s name. After two in the group decided to return, longtime friends Brent Elwell and Greg Winston joined me as we began the circumnavigation. Both comparative youngsters, that meant a serious afternoon workout for the old man.

Approaching rugged Long Point on the southern tip of the island, we were favored with mild winds and minimal surf. However, just off the point, formidable currents and choppy waves were surging south. Hugging the rocky shore to avoid them, we turned north next to Long Point Lighthouse where skeptical hikers observed our progress. We had calm conditions for the remainder of our circumnavigation to Cow Passage.

Did I mention tides? The Bay of Fundy has the most extreme range of tides in the world. After a lifetime living just a short distance from the ocean and a couple of decades of sea kayaking, one might surmise that I would have considered the tides. Instead, I had an extended senior moment, call it an event. Cow Passage, the relatively wide channel between Cheney Island and White Head, was rapidly emptying out. Racing against the ebbing tide, we were extremely fortunate to escape with only a short portage. The remainder of our return to Ingalls Head was uneventful.

Just one thing remained on my Grand Manan bucket list, Hole in the Wall. High tide was at 11:00 A.M. for our final day on the island. The only kayakers remaining were two senior citizens, Allen Gaskell and I. We were at the Hole about 30 minutes before peak tide and threaded the needle of that impressive arch at least a dozen times apiece. There’s still some kid remaining in the old guys!

Ron Chase

About Ron Chase

At age 70, Ron Chase is old. But, he’s not under the grass…yet. Retired from a career with the Internal Revenue Service, he has embarked on a new life as a freelance writer and tax consultant. Don’t be misled; in reality, he works a little and plays a lot. When not busy kayaking, canoeing, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, he sometimes finds time to write and assist his tax clients. A lifelong Mainer now living in Topsham, he is the recent author of The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery, a biography of Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson.