Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stonington Maine: The Search for Jem's Island

 “Jem stayed up another hour charting courses to islands in every direction.  He stepped his way with parallel rules across shoals and channels, through the bays to islands called Sparrow and Bear, Scraggy and Bumpkin, Brimstone and Shag, Otter and Colt, Rabbit Ear and Drunken Ledge.  There was a kind of excitement that Jem felt when he drew these lines and knew that they actually meant something, they could actually guide him to new destinations.  The lines turned winter dreams into something real.”*

   Continuing with our wildly popular Kayak Trips Based on Obscure but Awesome Books, this week we went in search of “Jem’s Island.”    Jem’s Island is a children’s book written by Kathryn Laskey, author of many books, including the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series.

   Jem, a young boy living in Cleveland, has been promised an overnight kayak trip for himself and his dad off Deer Isle (Stonington) Maine.  He spends his winter, as many of us do, with charts by his bed, plotting various courses, selecting routes.   And in the end, instead of sticking to his planned route, and based on a mysterious channel leading to the interior, he selects an unnamed island he calls "No Name" to explore.

   We encountered this book years ago and relying on the names of some of the islands listed, searched for “Jem’s Island,” without success.    Then recently, I happened across the book again, only this time not the library-bound edition.  On this version, drawn on the front endpaper, was a simplified Deer Isle chart, with an island labeled “No Name”.    The hunt was on again!

   Comparing the sketch to charts, and looking at geological features on Google Earth, Mark determined that Ram Island was likely the “No Name” or “Jem’s Island” from the book. 

Safety Tip:  Maine’s coast and lakes are littered with Sheep and Ram islands.  The name is left over from when a herd would be transported to the island for the summer and left to fend for itself, safe from predators.  If you are ever in trouble, stating that your location is near “Ram Island” will provide little guidance to rescue personnel.

   Stonington has at least two Ram Islands in its archipelago; we were headed for the Ram island near Merchants island.  We launched from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures, where I finally had a chance to meet the awesome kayaker and writer,  Michael Daughtery of SeaKayak Stonington

   It was an incredible day for paddling, gentle breezes and a sky of endless blue.  The waters were unusually quiet; many of the lobstermen usually active in the area are awaiting the higher prices necessary to make their trips profitable. (EAT MORE LOBSTER!)
    Ram Island looks like the island drawn for the book, but so do many other small islands.   And though Ram Island had some unique rocks, nothing as dramatic as the book showed.   
   There is a channel through the rocks of Ram Island, which would be better explored at mid-to-high tide. 
Dead ending in the channel, a higher point in the tide cycle would take us over the seaweed covered rocks
    Ram is privately owned and not available for landing.  However, due to the foresight of Maine Bureau of Public Lands and organizations such as the Maine Island Trail Association, dozens of islands off Stonington are open. We took the time to enjoy three of them.  We had a quick break by this sleeping rock creature on Steve’s Island.
    Mark and I enjoyed a longer lunch break in the shade on Harbor Island.  Jem, of the book, dined on hard tack, but we opted for more palatable food.
Hanging out on Harbor, with a variety of islands as a backdrop
Looking Southeast from Harbor
    Then, before heading in, we stopped for a quick swim off Hell’s Half Acre.  You can tell it was a hot day by our willingness to dip into the icy July ocean waters.
 Any of the islands we landed on can be yours for a few hours, a day or even overnight, and, at least as far as I’m concerned,  you are welcome to rename them for the duration of your stay.

  I suspect Ram Island is “Jem’s Island,” but I won’t be sure until I’ve done a lot more exploring, a lot more charting courses and plotting lines to distant destinations.

* quote from Jem’s Island by Kathryn Laskey, pictures by Ronald Himler

Summary:  Launch from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures; parking, launch, toilets and showers available, along with a broad range of outdoor adventures.  High 5:30AM, launch shortly before 9AM, arrived at Ram just before 11 AM, close to low.  The “channel” on Ram is probably best mid tide.  We finished shortly before 2PM.  13 miles, 3 stops.


  1. It's great to have not just a trip planned, but a quest... for a mythical island. I'm glad we met finally. Wish we could have chatted a bit more, but I really appreciate your kind words and thoughtfulness. I love reading your blog.

    1. Perhaps a quest, perhaps just an excuse to visit one of our favorite paddling locations. Great to meet you at last, we love your blog, even if we don't aspire to do seal landings! Best wishes for a great summer!

  2. Another awesome story and great pics! Geez, you are making me miss paddling with you so much!

    Cheers from the heat wave in Canada! We need rain.

    1. And we need some of that cool Arctic air! Looking forward to your reports on your voyage: locks and a different kayak! Sounds fascinating!