Friday, September 17, 2010

Bartlett Island Maine – Decorating with Mussels

Basics: Ramp off Bartlett Island Road on Mount Desert Island. Parking limited, Portapottie. High 6AM, launch 10:30AM, finish 1:30PM 9.5 miles.

How crowded is Mount Desert Island? How popular is this area? Well, even before we arrived at the ramp there was a warning sign: “Caution dead end road, no turn around.” There is never much parking at the ramp, which is used by commercial fishermen, and may someday be offlimits to non residents (check the signs.)
As an alternative, if the area is jammed, a similar paddle can be had out of Seal Cove, just a few miles up route 102, and with much less stressful parking. Circumnavigation of Barlett may not be practical from there, but you can paddle by Hardwood and Moose, landing at Pretty Marsh, John, Folly or Bartlett Island.
But September is not as busy as August, so we thought we'd attempt it. We don't try paddles like this in the spring, which is when seals are pupping. Kayaks terrify harbor seals on ledges (in the water seals seem curious about kayaks.) Often seals are scared off ledges even before we are even close enough to see there are seals on ledges. If that happens in June, adult seals will abandon their babies, meaning sometimes a pup misses a feeding. Since pups only get fourteen nursings, missing just one feeding can be a problem. So we avoid any locations with seal ledges in the spring.
Bartlett Island is owned by the Rockefeller family, and the interior appears to be a delightful collection of homes, fields and forests. I imagine that half the houses on Bartlett belong to Rockerfellers and the other half are reserved for a skilled set grounds men and housekeepers. In this photo two trucks are pulling away after a boat pulled up at the dock, a red truck and a black truck.
Bartlett’s owners very kindly allow visitors to land on the shoreline. There are dozens of private beaches available.
We went around the island counterclockwise. On the east side are the narrows which can generate a significant current. Interestingly, we must have caught a back eddy, for though the tide was going out, the water was moving north. At the northern tip is this small island, the Hub, a Maine owned island. It is supposed to be a seal hang out, but we’ve never seen seals there.
MITA (Maine Island Trail) warns to avoid this area in the spring, and we do.
We stopped on a quiet beach halfway along the west side, with a friendly sign at its edge.

The tops of the beaches are littered with piles of storm strewn mussels. Since mussels keep their bold blue color, unlike many shells, they make a striking accent. A few more shots and the camera warned us that its battery was about to fail.

We decided to save the last few shots in case a seal or porpoise appeared.
After that we continued paddling south into the wind. Not a stiff wind, but continuous, with waves from the side, meaning there were a lot of side sweeps. As my hands grew tired, I needed to remind myself “Push, push”, reminding myself to propel my kayak by pushing the top part of my paddle forward with an open hand rather than by pulling the bottom side back through the water. Flexing my hand with each stroke keeps me from gripping the paddle too tightly.
In due time we made it to the south end, passing another pair of kayakers sitting on their “own” beach.
Then it was north again, weaving by two other MITA islands, Folly and John. Since no large sea life had presented itself, we took a few more shots of the area.
At the launch another kayak was heading out, and once again every parking space was filled.


  1. All homes on Bartlett Island are for Rockefeller family members except one for the head caretaker and wife