Three words describe Grand Manan Island; foggy, foggier and foggiest. Although an exaggeration, that’s been my experience during both of my trips to that spectacular New Brunswick island in the Bay of Fundy.
Despite often murky weather, Grand Manan is a wonderful place for outdoor enthusiasts. Offering exceptional opportunities for sea kayaking and great hiking along the island’s magnificent cliffs, for me it also provides a temporary escape from the twenty-first century. Turn off the Iphone and it’s like stepping back in time to a more relaxed place that’s reminiscent of Maine when I was growing up in the fifties and sixties.
Recently, a large group of Chowderheads from the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society (PPCS) met on the island with adventure on their minds. A trip planned months in advance, we were doing a combination of camping and cabins.
The trip organizer, Allen Gaskell , who denied any responsibility for the outing, goes by various identities. A longtime friend with whom I’ve shared many exploits including a whitewater kayak expedition down the Grand Canyon and multiple sea kayak adventures along the Maine coast, his alter ego is a mysterious, elusive character called Alan Gasphell. To say that Allen or Alan is a hoot is a substantial understatement. A Vietnam Veteran seriously injured in combat and retired psychologist, he was my PTSD resource person when researching and writing my book The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery.
This was not a group of tadpoles. Most of us were in our sixties or early seventies but a family of four representing three generations also joined us. However, if you subtract the daughter, granddaughter and her friend, the mean age qualified us for Social Security old age benefits.
Our first full day on the island began in typical fashion; debate over the outdoor agenda. Six of us agreed on a sea kayak trip off the southeast side of the island while the remainder opted for a hike on the cliffs along North Head. Both were great choices.
Almost always a sucker for water adventures, I joined Team Sea Kayak. Arriving at Seal Cove just as the fog was lifting, tide and wind were on our minds. The Bay of Fundy has some of the world’s most dramatic tidal changes and no one was cool with the potential for dragging kayaks through a half mile of deep, sticky mud or over slippery seaweed covered rocks on return. A local had advised that the beach at Seal Cove allowed for decent access and egress at all tidal levels.
Winds are always a concern for sea kayakers. The forecast called for moderate winds from the southwest and it appeared that circumnavigation of Wood Island would provide for at least limited protection if the prediction was accurate.
After a scenic 1.5 mile crossing to the north end of Wood Island, we navigated south along the west shore of the island that was once the site of an ancient European settlement. I was reminded of my late friend, Audrey Ingersoll, who came from the area and was descended from some of the island’s earliest and most prominent inhabitants. An exceptional outdoorswoman who was a winter mountaineering inspiration, she tragically died of cancer at the young age of 49. Also a sea kayaker, I couldn’t help but think how much Audrey would have enjoyed being with us on that beautiful day.
Turning east on the south end of the island, the strong forecasted winds never materialized. Emboldened by calm conditions, four of us decided to continue around rugged Outer Wood Island while Alan Gasphell, Allen Gaskell and a companion took the shorter inner route.
Paddling along the magnificent cliffs of Outer Wood was a real treat. On the extended eastern side of the island, we were tempted to make a run for Three Islands, requiring a three mile exposed crossing. Concerns about a change in the winds and more conservative elderly thinking nixed the idea. Meeting our wayward paddling partners at Green’s Landing on northeastern Outer Wood, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch contemplating plans for our remaining days on Fog Island… I mean Grand Manan.
The advice we’d been given about landing on Seal Cove Beach was spot on as we had a dry, uneventful return. Even better, the happy hikers had finished a wonderful trek and were waiting to pick us up.
Perhaps the best part of the outdoor experience is the friendships you make. This was a group with ties that have bonded us for decades. Allen Gaskell (or was it Alan Gasphell) and his lovely wife hosted a cookout at their funky cabin called Larch Grove in Castalia Marsh to end the day. Plans and schemes were concocted for the coming days.