A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Paddle from St George River to Burnt Island

August 20, 2020
Emilie Phillips

The open ocean had been calling to Tyson and I all week, but at Isaac speed, we couldn’t make it far from our cabin in the protected St George River. Wednesday had been a longer day for Isaac, so on Thursday, I convinced my parents to take him on a shorter paddle while Tyson and I struck out for Burnt Island at the southern end of the Georges Islands archipelago. The tide would be against us all day, but we hadn’t seen much current.

See also: Isaac and the grandparent’s day and the rest of our week vacation in Maine.

Tyson stretching

The first leg of our route was familiar territory; head to the red nun, then continue the same heading to the gap between Caldwell and Little Caldwell. I was feeling slow passing the red buoy. By the time we approached Caldwell, my muscles were stiff and groaning from Wednesday’s paddle. That wouldn’t do for the start of a long day of paddling. We stopped on the little rocky outcropping between Caldwell and Little Caldwell to stretch out all my muscles until they stopped complaining. I even loosened up some shoulder muscles that were tight from working at the computer the previous week. When I got back in the boat, I felt much better, this is how kayaking is supposed to be.

Emilie paddling by Thompson Island

We paddled along the islands in the St George Archipelago, partly to block the west-northwest wind, and partly to enjoy the islands. Imagine quaint Maine farm islands. That’s what most of these islands looked like. Some trees, some fields. A small shingle sided house or two, and maybe a barn. And then a few islands with mansions. Lobster buoys everywhere. The water between Teel Island and Stone Island was exceptionally clear. We saw some seal heads pop up and watch us. Lots of gulls flying around and cormorants diving or sunning their wings.

We hardly saw anyone else out. I wondered if that’s because it was the middle of the week, or COVID, or if most boats avoid the shallows near the islands. We saw one lobster boat. That isn’t notable in Maine. However, this lobster boat had a cheerful black lab (I think it was black. It was silhouetted the whole time so I couldn’t make out the color.) I first saw the dog perched high on the gunwale watching us. When the lobstermen turned their boat for the next trap, the dog hopped down, ran across the boat, and stuck its nose up to watch us from the other side. As soon as it was sure the boat had stopped spinning, it hopped up, ears perked, on the gunwale to better monitor us. And so it went, back and forth as they checked their traps.

Narrow passage between two parts of Thompson Island

We always carry a GPS, but we prefer to navigate by chart. You get better situational awareness from the chart. On the ocean, distance is hard to tell. The water never seems as big as it looks on the chart. Far away landmarks appear close together. Islands often blur into each other on the ocean horizon. When navigating by chart, you have to constantly track the nearby landmarks. As we approached each island, I identified it on the chart for Tyson. I got all the islands correct until the second to last island, Thompson Island. Without my glasses on, I missed that at high tide, the water flows between the main part of Thompson and the southeastern lump. Tyson spotted my mistake, so I didn’t stay confused for long. The passage between the two parts of Thompson Island was a fun narrow spot. And it didn’t add much distance to our first destination on Griffin Island.


We stopped at a nice sand beach bordered by giant roses and rose hips. The roses reminded us of some of our early paddling trips when we were dating. We took a lunch break on the rocks and looked out at all the islands. This was the first time we had gotten to relax together without Isaac since covid. So we took our time and discussed a few things that needed to be discussed. And then we settled back in our kayaks to paddle to our real destination, Burnt Island.

Former coast guard station on Burnt Island

Most of the St George archipelago isn’t connected to the power grid. However, the farthest south islands are connected to the mainland. They tap off the cables going to Mohegan Island, five miles farther out to sea. Connectivity changes the character of the islands. They have bigger settlements. Burnt Island is shared between an active lobstering family, Outward Bound, and MITA. The active wharf and the grounds of the former coast guard station were impeccably maintained. The camping facilities back in the woods were serviceable, but not as well kept. (We saw former rotting tent platforms, plastic tubs and things scattered in the woods.) Based on the signs, it looks like the trails around the island are open to respectful public use. We didn’t have time to explore the whole island, so we came back to the rocks between Burnt and Little Burnt and ate lunch. A seagull landed and patiently waited all lunch to see if we would leave behind crumbs. I explained to the gull that we didn’t have Isaac with us, so we were going to leave no trace. It just stood there stoically. Maybe later it would find the green crab that we spotted.

Emilie surfing home

We left Burnt Island at 2pm. Had we made better time getting to Burnt, we would have struck eastward to Old Cilley Ledge to see the wreck of the SS Polias concrete ship. But given the time, we needed to head home. The wind now blew from the south-west; a quartering tail wind, which had built up following seas. The sea was busier with sailboats who had come out to play in the afternoon wind. For us, the waves were the best part. The waves weren’t well formed, but if you chased after a good wave, the next one was usually good enough to surf too. If you look at our GPS track, we went from averaging 3ish miles per hour on the way down, to spiking up to 6mph on the good surf rides on the way back. All that surfing was fun and sped us up, but by the time we reached Hupper Island, I was drained from sprinting after waves. I declared a rest stop, and it shows on our GPS track. The waves mostly died down at Hupper Island. We had returned to the protected water.

Tyson caught a sailboat

The rest of the way home should have been a slow steady paddle, but as we neared Deep Cove, we saw the Thistle unfurling her sails and departing Deep Cove. So what did we do? We decided to paddle faster and see if we could get within hailing distance before she finished hoisting her sails and caught the wind. Unfortunately, she was faster than us and sailed straight west, headed towards Pleasant Point Gut. Tyson kept watching. He saw the sailboat tack and turn south towards Port Clyde via the channel to our left. We both turned left and sprinted towards the channel, hoping to get there before the Thistle passed us. Tyson aimed for the shortest line perpendicular to the Thistle’s heading. I didn’t aim as carefully as Tyson, so the Thistle passed my nose before I reached the channel. Tyson, on the other hand, caught the Thistle before she passed. Grinnell turned the Thistle in an arc so he and Tyson could talk for a moment, but then the wind whisked the Thistle on her way. Tyson said from up close, she was moving fast. So there you go, a kayak can catch a sailboat.

I was tired enough that we then just plodded home. Almost fourteen miles, wind and waves, and a sailboat chase. A good adventure out on the water.

All Photos

GPS Track