A Day Out: Merchant Row Islands

Christine and I finally had a day to ourselves and thought we’d take a trip out to some of the Merchant Row islands off Stonington.  The forecast was good, the winds light and we had the whole day free.  Christine hadn’t been before to the inappropriately named island, Hell’s Half Acre, so we made Hell’s Half Acre our lunch destination and set off from Stonington around nine, well after the lobsterman had left for the day and well before it would start to get warm.

 We paddled east on an outgoing tide past several wharves, across from Stonington Lobster Co-op where last night’s lobster catch was being sorted and sized and lobsters were waiting in rows of wooden crates bobbing on the surface ready to be picked up and shipped off the island.  Dow Ledge, a good point to cross the main shipping channel in fog was clearly visible, and out of habit we made the crossing there.  Even when boat traffic is light and visibility is good it’s a good idea to spend as little time as possible in a shipping lane.  

 All was clear for the quarter-mile crossing to Russ Island, the first large island visible directly across from East Stonington.  Russ Island, famous for having provided the granite supporting the cables on Brooklin Bridge is owned by the Chewonki Foundation and has paths leading to the center of the island from a campsite on the east side.  Today it looked very different from the time I camped here the previous year when we woke up to fog which completely obscured islands to the east which were just a few hundred yards away.

 To the south east there are several islands – Camp, Devil, Coombs, Bare and others which form a ring around a body of water which is protected on all sides and is almost lake-like unless the winds are coming from the south west.  Hell’s Half-Acre, just outside the ring, is one of the smaller islands, around two acres. Owned by the Maine Division of Parks and Public Lands it is also on the Maine Island Trail and has a grassy area in the center and a sloping ledge on the east side where we stopped for our lunch break and for some sunbathing.   The island gets a lot of visitors during the summer but today it was deserted and we had the island to ourselves.

We had the early part of the afternoon left to explore the ‘second ring’ of islands – Spruce, No Mans and McGlathery and others.  Since we were almost at low tide and an onshore wind was starting to pick up, I wanted to show Chris a little protected sandy beach I knew that’s visible for a couple of hours at low tide between McGlathery and Little McClathery.  McGlathery at around 150 acres, is one of the larger islands in Merchant Row and is owned by the Friends of Nature, a conservation organization and is open to visitors for day use only.  The water in the shallows was ‘warm’ enough for a quick swim before  we were ready to paddle back to Stonington.      

We headed for the town via Bare, Potato and Russ, zig-zagging behind islands to avoid paddling directly into the wind which by now was up around 15 knots.  By the time we reached the main shipping channel we were looking out for lobster boats returning at full throttle in the mid afternoon, racing to get back to shore before the water got too choppy to land their day’s catch.   We’d been ‘out’ for around six hours.  It had been a wonderful day.