Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stonington Maine, with schooners in the harbor

Imagine a clear green sea filled with dozens of islands within a five mile radius.  And then imagine that many of these islands have beautiful white shell beaches, shorelines of pink granite and best of all, the privilege of access, for careful day use, and sometimes the night as well. 

One place which brings these imaginings to life is Stonington Maine.  No wonder it is a popular pleasure boating destination.  The biggest challenge to Stonington is picking a route - because there are so many great choices.  It’s certainly a place where time flies, and all too soon the day is over.

Stonington certainly rates as a not-to-be missed Maine sea kayaking adventure.  We often like to bring paddlers there, in part because there are no strong currents, and the islands tend to provide protection from winds.  Not that Stonington is without its dangers, the ocean is the same deadly cold it is all along the Maine coast, the area has frequent dense fog, and the waters are heavily trafficked by pleasure and work boats (mostly lobster boats.)  And, though the islands provide protection, they are not immune to waves and wind, so those must be taken into account.
We launched from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures.  Bill Baker, who runs Old Quarry, has everything an adventurer could want, for day trippers: parking, launching, and showers; for travelers coming from a distance: rental equipment, for overnight visitors: camp sites and lodging, and for everyone a series of adventure packages; tour to see Puffins, a boat ride to Isle au Haut to go biking(fun!), of course kayak tours and lessons.  And best of all he creates a two sided sheet detailing which islands are available and what restrictions apply, so we don’t accidentally blunder into a heron rockery. It is the most complete and current list I know of .

Stonington has a strong history of stone quarrying.  Granite for the JFK tomb was quarried on Crotch Island, which still has a working quarry.  Granite from Russ Island went to the towers on the Brooklyn Bridge.  Many of the quarries have closed, but the remnants are everywhere.

Proof of the active quarrying was evident when a tug boat shoving a barge full of granite headed up into Webb Cove as we went to launch.
After letting the barge pass through we crossed over Webb Cove and went along the shore to Stonington Harbor.  Gathered in Stonington Harbor were four schooners, the Victory Chimes, American Eagle, Stephen Taber and one other.   What a gorgeous collection of boats!
We paddled up a little further along the shore; a couple of sights on the way;
a lobster boat in the harbor:
this lobster pound in an old quarry:

And this precarious looking pile of granite.

Near the Crotch Island sandbar we came across the skeletal remains of a ship, not listed on our chart.  It was probably close to dead low when we saw it.

There are many, many islands to choose from when it comes to picking a place for lunch.  I like an island small enough to circumnavigate in water shoes, and Mark likes Steves for its delightful views both of the harbor and distant islands.  On our way there we paddled along Crotch Island, whose shores, like those of many islands in the area are piled high with scrap granite.
That rough shore is barnacle covered mussels
A photo from lunch showing  granite, which appears to be melting, on Steves island shore, and quarrying cranes in the distance.

After lunch we went to wander about the island and discovered we weren’t alone.  A pleasant family from Montreal was camping on the south side.  Fortunately, they welcomed guests, and we spent time talking about favorite paddling locations.  They had been paddling many places along the coast of Maine on this trip.  They'd previously been to many other places which made us envious, including Newfoundland, and down the Saguanay River. 
Meanwhile, back in the harbor, the schooners were setting sail.

After lunch we had a quick paddle to Hell’s Half Acre (which is heavily used, but still incredibly lovely) before heading back to the Old Quarry launch and rewarding ourselves with showers.  It is so amazingly heavenly to shower before hopping back into the car.   After a shower I feel civilized and refreshed enough to explore the downtown, or to go out for dinner. 
Those who look carefully at the chart above will note neither Steves nor Hells Half Acre are named on the chart.  Steves is between George Head and Wreck, Hells Half Acre between Bold and Camp.


  1. Looks like a super place to paddle. Can't wait to do it too!

  2. Photos are fantastic. I can see I need to add a new trip to my adventure schedule. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Stonington is the perfect "Maine" water or've got me motivated to go back again!

  4. Great photos and narrative! Love the schooners! I'm really into the 19th century "wooden ships and iron men" fiction like the Hornblower (C.S. Forester) and Bolitho (Alexander Kent)naval series and your "tall ships" photos reminded me of these great naval adventures!

  5. I want to thank you for all the great photos, My Grandfather use to own a small cabin on Webb Cove, right next to Ralph Carter's place. I spent many summers taking canoe trips, hiking, digging clams, fishing, exploring the Old Quarry, and enjoying nature with him. Your pictures brought back memories of these wonderful summers, and the beauty of this area. Thanks again

    1. Stonington is an amazing place. What wonderful memories you must have from your summers there! Glad we could share our photos with you, we do love it so.