One of my favorite kayak adventures is visiting the puffins on Eastern Egg Rock in outer Muscongus Bay. Each year, the colorful enigmatic seabirds arrive at the tiny barren atoll to breed and nest for a few weeks in June and July.
Traveling to Eastern Egg is an ambitious undertaking. The total trip from Round Pond is about 16 miles with substantial exposure to the vicissitudes of the open sea with few opportunities to land.
For a decade, I’ve organized almost annual Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society treks to distant Eastern Egg. After receiving confirmation the puffins had arrived in mid-June, I began studying the weather and tides for safe conditions to attempt the journey. With light winds forecast and advantageous tides scheduled, June 16 appeared to be an ideal day this year so I announced the trip.
Unknown to me, Tropical Storm Bill was forming off the Carolinas. Two days before our planned departure, the forecast changed dramatically. Strong winds and high seas were predicted. I postponed the trip to June 17 but the adverse conditions continued unabated. Three more postponements followed. Given conflicting obligations and a commitment to leave Maine to visit family beginning June 27, it didn’t look like Eastern Egg was going to happen this year.
A kayaker (left) enjoys a close encounter with two puffins next to Eastern Egg Rock. A team of kayakers (right) make the open crossing between Western and Eastern Egg Rocks. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase
One possible date remained, June 24. The tides weren’t right but the winds moderated and seas had calmed to a tolerable 2 to 4 feet. An afternoon onshore sea breeze was expected. After polling interested participants, a decision was made. The trip was on!
Seven solo kayakers met at Round Pond Boat Landing early on a sunny morning. The scene was chaotic. Most of the parking spaces were taken and a large sailboat about to be launched was being repaired in the middle of the parking lot. Maneuvering around the many obstacles, Team Puffin carried boats to the water and began their quest departing south in Muscongus Sound.
Light winds continued as we passed between Ross and Haddock Islands and entered Muscongus Bay. Western Egg Rock could be observed in the distance southeast. Western Egg is a strategic location on the trip since it is the only potential landing spot between Haddock Island and Eastern Egg. Landing on Eastern Egg is prohibited.
About midway between Haddock and Western, the swells began to increase in size. I didn’t bring a yardstick but my guess is we had 4- to 5-foot seas instead of the predicted 2 to 4. The waves weren’t breaking and the winds continued to be negligible. Another concern, a presumed shark, approached close to one paddler before moving away. After some discussion, we concluded it was actually a sunfish. While safety concerns had been alleviated, a real shark would have made for a much more compelling story.
Another setback was encountered as we converged on Western Egg. Surf was crashing against the rocky shore. A safe landing was not possible. That meant remaining in our boats for at least four hours if we proceeded to Eastern Egg. A predominantly senior group, our inability to land was a significant concern. After a group conference, the consensus was to push on the Eastern Egg. The revised plan was to enjoy a brief stopover with the puffins while hoping a change in tide would allow us to land on Western Egg during our return.
More large swells were experienced departing Western Egg but they diminished in the open water approaching Eastern Egg. Our anticipation increased as we neared the rugged island. Another setback was endured. In the past, the vast majority of the puffins had been located on the western side of the island. Not this time; only a handful were spotted.
Since a tour boat was circumnavigating the island, we reluctantly decided to extend our trip and do the same. Our efforts were rewarded as scores of the delightful seabirds were feeding and swimming in large swells on the south side. Numerous additional sightings were made as we persisted around the rock.
Immediately following our successful puffin encounter, we hurried northwest to Western Egg. Alas, landing was still unsafe. Attempts to disembark on Haddock or Ross Island also failed. After about five hours in our boats, we finally found relief at Noyes Preserve on the southern end of Loud’s Island.
A strong tailwind propelled us north in Muscongus Sound. Whitecaps were building as we entered Round Pond Harbor. Despite a multitude of obstacles, ours had been another successful puffin endeavor.