Q: I'm planning a kayaking trip to the Maine islands for a group of seven people. We would like to camp on one of the public islands for one night and paddle back the next day. Some of us have kayaked on day trips before, and others have only been on canoe trips, but we are a rugged bunch and love a challenge. Do you have any advice for us? Can you recommend a route? Do you think it would be safe for us to carry our camping gear in the kayaks with our limited experience? Any advice appreciated!
Jennifer, Milford, Massachusetts
A: A few things you should consider before kayaking the islands off the Maine coast: Sometimes the fog's so thick it feels like you're breathing water; 30-foot tides are pretty much the norm; currents often run strong enough to pull you way off course; and the water's so cold that a capsize could be fatal.
My intent here is not to discourage you from taking this tripthe Maine islands offer some of the wildest, most scenic landscape available to paddlers anywhere in the U.S. But going it alone in these waters with an inexperienced group is simply a bad idea. Most outfitters in the area won't even rent out their kayaks to the public, because, as one guide put it, "We just haven't figured out a way to do it with a clear conscience yet."
A better plan is to hire a guide who will take your group on a custom adventure. The Maine Island Kayak Company (www.maineislandkayak.com, 800-796-2373) offers two-day trips from their Peaks Island home base, a 20-minute ferry ride from Portland. You'll spend the first couple hours gearing up (you can carry your own camping equipment or have it shuttled in), talking about the weather conditions, and getting comfortable with the kayaks. Then you'll paddle along the coastline for a little while before attempting a short crossing. The 200-plus islands in Casvo Bay sit close together, so you're reasonably protected from rough water as you explore the dramatic, rocky outcroppings this area is known for. Aside from a few lobster boats and fishing trawlers, you should have much of the bay to yourselves. And, since a full-time cook accompanies the groups on these trips, your guides are free to spend more time leading you from site to site.
There's plenty of challenge on a two-day trip to keep your rugged hiking group happy, though I can just about guarantee they'll want to make the next one longer. There are more than 3,000 Maine islands to explore, spread through three distinct ecosystems. This weekender is a tasty little nibble that will make you hungry for much, much more.