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Trip Report: Boston Harbor Outer Islands

Posted by on August 6, 2012

Trip Deets

Boston Harbor Outer Islands (including The Graves)

Date: Wed. July 11th, 2012

Launch: Pemberton Point, Hull, MA at 10:05am

Return: Pemberton Point, Hull, MA at 3:10pm

Total Distance: 13.8 miles

Weather and Ocean Conditions:

Temperature: 73 °F

Humidity: 59%

Avg. Wind Speed: 7 knots

Visibility: 10 miles (SSE)

This was my second journey in the unpredictable waters of Boston Harbor. The first time I had ventured through Boston Harbor was during the summer of 2010 on an epic 50 mile trip from Boston to Plymouth. On this particular trip, I was not merely crossing through Boston Harbor on my way to another destination, but Boston Harbor, this time, was the destination. I went on this trip with a small group of AMC members. Although we were anticipating a group of five to eight paddlers, on this occasion, only three paddlers showed up. What at first seemed to be a disappointment at a low turnout, turned into a huge advantage for the trip. We soon  discovered that with a smaller group of paddlers we could cover more distance and possibly explore more islands. With larger groups, trips become more challenging as you have to face a larger distribution of skill sets.

With only three paddlers in our group we set off from a small sandy beach at Pemberton Point in Hull, MA. This is a great launching point because it not only has free parking access but the launching beach area is less exposed to the rougher waters on the northern Boston Harbor side of Hull Gut. Launching at 10:00am, we anticipated to paddle out as far as Outer Brewster Island, take a lunch break, and paddle back for the return trip. Depending on the conditions and how we were feeling, we would potentially paddle out to The Graves (an addition 3.5 miles RT).

The launch

After our launch, we began to make our way towards Georges’ Island. We could see the southern walls of Fort Warren and caught a glimpse at some men unloading a dock on the nearby shoreline. Georges’ Island is noted as one of Boston Harbor’s busiest and most frequented islands in the harbor. What would typically be trafficked heavily with passenger boats, fishermen, ferries, and scrambling tourists busing all over Georges Island was a dead-quiet day. It was a peculiar sight. The harbor had an eerie “quiet before a storm” feeling, and the water was merely glass. While one can expect the harbor to be quiet before noon, the harbor was so quiet, in fact, I kept comparing it to the doldrums.

George’s Island

I had brought my Olympus Stylus waterproof camera along on the trip and I began snapping photographs of the beautiful bay. As we moved alongside Georges’ Island, we crept along the western end were we could see Lovell’s Island to our left. I could see Boston Light in the near distance as we began to approach Great Brewster Island. The shag rocks lingered nearby and mimicked the geography one might find on a Maine coastline. The water remained quiet and we experienced very little wave action or boat traffic. As we moved along the coast of Great Brewster Island, we slowly approached the rock covered beach. As we gained a perspective of the sheer rotundity of the island I began to think about the tens of millions of people who visit Boston every year, but the very few who actually experience Boston from this point of view. One of the most beautiful facets of Boston, isn’t even in Boston, it’s the amazing spectacle of islands which house some of the most beautiful seascapes in New England.

Boston Light in the distance

As we cut between Calf Island and Middle Brewster Island, we could see The Graves in our sights. Just beyond the Chia Pet-like grass poking off the bald head of Green Island, we could see the ominous, graphite coloured, lighthouse to the north. At this point, I was feeling strong and I had just found myself in a paddling groove. Me paddle strokes were consistent, the currents were beginning to shift in our favor, and the boat traffic was scarce. I suggested that we journey out to the Graves and head towards what appeared to be the tip on a pencil beyond the outer limits of the harbor.

Calf Island

After about forty-minutes of paddling toward The Graves, we finally approached our destination. I expected The Graves to be full of gnarly swells, twisting eddys, and unforgiving confluences of current. Instead, I was welcomed by the calming tidal stream which flowed in-and-around jagged, white bird-turd covered rock garden. Approaching The Graves was overwhelming and quite daunting. The dark, slate-like lighthouse overlooked the gloomy shag rocks and let out a hollow growl as the water swept beneath. I looked up at the rugged rocks and tried to appear through to the other side of the island. As a peaked through above one particular rock head, I saw something move. At first, I thought my imagination, combined with the rocking motions of my kayak played a trick on me. But I got a better glimpse at what I was actually peering at. At that moment, I locked eyes with a sunbathing harbor seal whose little triangle head peaked a mere ten yards away. When he first saw me, he gazed a confused, almost uncertain look on his face before sliding effortlessly into the water. I looked ahead, and began paddle onward toward the group when I saw another seal just feet from my bow. This time, a shiny-headed gray seal, whose scalp gleamed like an oil-slicked Mr. Clean. He glanced around with his marble eyes, twitching whiskers, and a sudden splash before vanishing below the surface. Was I surrounded? These fawn and malbec gray creatures meandered throughout The Graves as if it were their personal playground. I was a little bit overwhelmed by the presence of the seals as they began to multiply, what appeared exponentially, around me like a small army.

The Graves

As we began on out return route, we decided to hook around eastern-side of the islands and journey toward Outer Brewster Island. The wind began to pick up a couple of knots and we faced an opposing tidal change which made the leg to our next stop quite sluggish. For a little while, I felt as though I was paddling through a maple syrup-like viscosity. We finally climbed through Hypocrite Channel and made our way into the protected lee side of Outer Brewster Island. It was here where we made our first stop for lunch. We beached ourselves in a small rocky cove which housed a former WWII military reservation and a plethora of unwelcoming seagulls. We were greeted by a squawking orchestra of high pitched squeals from the neighboring birds. We had lunch and explored the outer banks of the island before heading off towards Hull. I stumbled upon a pink beach ball which I was eager to salvage and take back with me. Unfortunately, the combined size of the ball and the low-volume deck of the Dagger Meridian made the possibility of bringing back my treasure very small. I was saddened in not being able to take my unique discovery, but we must go on…

Rocky cove on Outer Brewster Island

My pink ball

The wind began to gain some speed and the tidal changed shifted in a more favorable pattern. As we heading back into shore, the incoming tide moved with us and even provided a decent surf session along the way. The SW tidal surges allowed us to gain speed on the returning route. After cutting through Little Brewster Island and giving a quick wave to the friendly Coast Guardsmen on shore, we scooped through the converging channels where we were nearly flattened by a UMass Boston Ferry. Luckily we were able to tuck into a protective area by the “2A” red daymark where we waited for the massive vessel to pass. The remainder of the trip provided tidal driven surf session where we quickly glided back into shore, streaked past the Hull High School wind turbine, and carved through Hull Gut into Pemberton Point.

-Alex

See Also: Boston Harbor Islands Lighthouse Tour

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