Friday, August 19, 2011

Out to Bakers Island

Lifesaving Station on Little Cranberry as seen from Baker
Basics:  Launch: Northeast Harbor, launch on Harbor Drive off route 198, restrooms open 8AM – 4PM.  High 2:20PM launch 9AM, finish 3PM, 13 miles, two long stops.

Under unique natural areas, Maine Delorme Atlas lists the “Dance Floor” as an off-shore pile of huge granite slabs hewn by the relentless action of the ocean.  The “Dance Floor” is not just called that, it actually used to be used as a dance floor.  A desire to see this feature first drew us to Baker Island, located south of Mount Desert Island, Maine.

I assume the custom of dancing by the ocean was started by Rusticators, folks coming to summer in Maine in the 1870’s, eager to enjoy simple outdoor pleasures.  After all, dancing on a distant island hardly meshes with the image of the practical, staid Mainer.  A charismatic young man no doubt organized the first dance, convincing his friends to forgo more logical locations and instead to row across from Little Cranberry, walk through the fields of Baker to the ocean side.  There, no doubt picnic baskets were unpacked, blankets spread out and eventually a fiddle began playing.  And tentatively, couples would dance across the uneven surface, giddy at the foolishness of it all.

To get to Baker we paddled out of Northeast Harbor, a small secure harbor packed with beautiful yachts and sailboats. 

It was a quick jump across the harbor, though a bit of a challenge, as sailboats headed out, but also in (surprising at that early hour).  Our journey to Baker Island would take us by three other islands, with relatively short crossings in between.  Along the way we passed bell buoy 10 and the Bear Island lighthouse.

 Crossings were stressful, especially Bear to Sutton and Sutton to Little Cranberry.  Lobster boats were out gathering their traps and pleasure boats and sailboats rushed through.  At each crossing we’d keep close together, twisting our heads in all the various directions.  We never had a clear crossing; there were always others boats moving through, but we’d monitor them to assure we weren’t staying in their pathways.   At times we felt like we were involved in a big game of Frogger.

As we paddled along Sutton I captured this photo of a cormorant.  Usually I see something I want to record, pull out the camera from a PFD pocket, turn it on, realize momentum has taken me past the shot I wanted, paddle back a bit, point the camera in the general direction and hope the most recent wave doesn’t blur the shot.  So I was amazed that the feathers are in focus and you can even see the eerie jade green eye.

There is a irregularly shaped bar and shallows most of the way between Little Cranberry and Baker Island, which turns gentle swells into crashing waves, but by watching ahead we were able to avoid them. 

Since we often wait until September to paddle off MDI, most of the time when we’ve made it to Baker, we’ve been on our own, but this time there were three boats anchored by the beach on the north side, two pleasure cruisers and a tour boat.  Only one person was visible though, the captain of the tour boat who was fishing off the back.

We landed on the cobble beach, pulling our boats up high and tying them to a large rock.
Before we pulled the boats above the high tide line
We followed the mown path up by the old houses.  Baker Island is partially owned by Acadia National Park and partially privately owned.  Red buildings are private buildings.

Beyond the buildings, Baker Light appears, hidden in the middle of the now forested island.  A few visitors were there chatting with a park ranger, like us they were going further, taking the narrow wood trail which started near the brick building once used to store oil for the lighthouse.

Altogether it’s about a half mile across the island, along the trail we spotted just one fairy house; tiny houses of natural material built in some special locations.  Sometimes there have been several fairy houses; I’m not sure if the builders have stayed away, or if the National Park Service discourages their presence.

I was hoping to hear more details of the Dance Floor, perhaps seeing a brave young couple trying a few steps.  Instead, as we stepped out of the woods into the bright sunlight, we just saw folks sitting and watching the waves. 

We hung out there a few minutes and then headed back, preferring instead to wander by this old cemetery on the north west side.

From Baker we went to Little Cranberry.  Unlike most islands we visit, Little Cranberry has a town on it;  Isleford, and even a small tourist area.  There is a historic museum, public restrooms, a gallery, a gift store, a pottery shop, and a lovely restaurant on the end of the dock.  These are frequented by the year ‘round and summer residents, but mostly from day visitors who come out on a scheduled ferry.
Coming in to Isleford Harbor
One visitor asked us if we’d paddled over, and then seemed amazed when we answered in the affirmative.  She called her friend over to share that we’d paddled over three miles out.  I didn’t feel right clarifying that we’d actually done about 9 miles at that point, since Isleford Harbor was about halfway back.

The trip back was much the same as going out, though there were more sailboats.  And we stopped by this arch on the north west side of Sutton; even near high tide the water was a little too low to consider passing through.

If you’re thinking of visiting Isleford or want to see folks dancing on the Dance Floor, this is a nice link.


  1. That trip looks like a fair amount of paddling! Was it about normal for you or was it one of your longer coastal endeavors?

  2. It was longer than most of our paddles, which tend to be 5-10 miles. It's not particularly a long distance to be kayaking though, many distance travelers look to average 20-30 miles or more per day.

  3. So what is the story about the fairy houses?

    Sounds interesting.

  4. Several years ago, fairy houses, small houses built of natural materials, started appearing on many Maine islands. Tracy Kane wrote a book about the houses which really caught on as an activity for children.
    Some places, like Mackworth Island, just north of Portland (connected by a causeway to shore) have permanant areas set aside for fairy houses. Other locations prefer keeping a more natural setting.

  5. Fairy houses have been on Baker Island since the 1960s, though. I'm pretty sure they are the REAL THING.

    1. That's good to know; those houses are charming, and I hope the tradition continues.