A seemingly nondescript barren atoll located in outer Muscongus Bay, Eastern Egg Rock does not outwardly appear to be an attractive sea kayak destination. Appearances can be deceiving. For a few weeks each year, migratory Atlantic Puffins breed and nest on the island’s gigantic granite boulders.
The colorful seabirds haven’t always stopped there. A variety of circumstances drove them from that natural roosting habitat in the late 19th century. A historic restoration effort has resulted in scores of puffins returning each year.
Eastern Egg Rock has a dual attraction for me. Navigating by sea kayak to the remote island is an ambitious undertaking and the reward is a thoroughly entertaining visit with what I consider to be the most extraordinary seabirds to be found on the Maine coast.
Getting there is a challenge. Situated six miles east of New Harbor, with the exception of tiny Western Egg Rock at about the midpoint, the journey is completely exposed to the vicissitudes of the open sea. Following an unappealing crossing to New Harbor in unexpectedly windblown choppy seas several years ago, I concluded that route was too hazardous for a timid senior citizen. Fortunately, departing from the scenic coastal community of Round Pond offers an arguably more benign itinerary.
Benign being a relative term, attentive planning is essential for a safe enjoyable trip. A prerequisite, the puffins must be there. Fortuitously, an inside source recently confirmed their presence. Factors to be considered are winds, seas, tides and weather. Did I mention winds? Offshore winds are great going out but the destination is Egg Rock not Spain. Returning into robust headwinds could seem like a journey from the Iberian Peninsula, if you make it back. While onshore winds are preferable when returning, anything over 20 knots gets downright scary for gray panthers posing as kayakers.
Identifying what appeared to be a Goldilock’s day, I announced a Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society trip. Predictably, club interest was significant. A few days later, ten paddlers met early in the morning at the Round Pond boat landing on a calm sunny day.
Departing with a gentle offshore wind and an outgoing tide, we traversed through Muscongus Sound into the bay. Passing between Ross and Haddock Islands, the low profile of Western Egg was visible southeast with a hazy glimpse of distant Eastern Egg beyond. Since landing on Eastern Egg is difficult and prohibited, pausing at Western Egg is essential, especially for those of us with elderly needs.
Western Egg was also a critical turnaround point. If offshore winds increased or seas worsened, we’d call it a day and try visiting the puffins next year. The paddling gods smiled on us as we had calm seas and almost nonexistent winds on arrival. After a brief respite, we persisted about three miles to Eastern Egg.
Approaching the distinctive boulder pile, a paddling companion observed, “I think those two birds are puffins!” Within minutes we were in the midst of dozens of the delightful seabirds. While many floated in the water within yards of our boats, others fluttered rapidly to and from the island in their unmistakable style. While seemingly awkward, they reach flying speeds of 55 miles per hour. A magical time, we lingered for perhaps a half hour bobbing in placid swells just offshore.
Since conditions were exceptional, paddling around the island was the consensus decision. Favorable seas allowed for close exploration of the rugged shoreline. While our puffin playmates were less abundant on the south and east sides, numerous species including terns, guillemots, eiders and gulls were sighted. The bad boys of the seabird world, gulls are a significant threat to the puffin population and “predator management” is necessary for their survival on the Egg.
Completing the circumnavigation, our return direction was not obvious as Western Egg blended in with islands closer to shore and the mainland. Since several of us had calculated compass bearings in preparation for the trip, that predicament was easily remedied by following a predetermined course.
After a brief interlude on Western Egg, we progressed to Round Pond with a tailwind and an incoming tide facilitating an expeditious return. One member of the group measured the trip to be 15.8 miles on his GPS. It’s difficult to imagine more favorable circumstances for the journey. If I’m still taking air and the puffins come back, I’ll try again next year.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.