Epilogue: The Last Stand

On Monday morning Tanya and I get up at 0400. There is a slight breeze from the north but it is nothing to speak of. Today is the day. I run the generator for one last time to top off the batteries before we leave and to make coffee. Once that is done we move propane and the ramp dolly inside. The south door gets boarded and we move all of our gear outside and down to the ramp. The last thing out is the engine. It slips onto the inflatable without issue and starts right up. Finally the north board gets nailed on and the house is officially closed for the season. We move the boat down the ramp a ways and start loading it up.

The Georgia Madison is moving towards us from the north, the very bright crab lights visible from nearly Great Duck Island. He arrives right on time and Tanya and I are ready. The ramp is slick from the outgoing tide and it is no problem moving the boat down the ramp. I study the sea for a minute and pick a window. There is only very slight northerly chop here now. When the time is right we give a quick push and glide off the ramp into the cove. The boat is slightly bow-heavy. All of our gear is with us. Tanya takes a small spray from a wave over her head but nothing critical. The engine starts up and we move into the dark, headed for the light of the ‘Georgia Madison’. We arrive there and I’m in quiet disbelief that we actually made it this far. It has been a true journey.

We easily load our gear into the boat. I then take the outboard off and pass it to Chris. With that done the inflatable comes up over the rail and into the stern of the boat. For the first time in 39 days we move north away from Mount Desert Rock. We hope to be back in April but the winter project is decidedly now over. Leaving our home behind is bittersweet.

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Epilogue: Relaxation

IMG_1152Over the next two days we really relax and enjoy the Rock. Saturday morning we notice the seals creeping up quite close to the house. Then the peregrine falcon shows up again. We being wondering if our presence has an effect on how the island is used by birds and seals, and if a quieter island equals higher diversity and greater presence. Tanya does one more seal count. This is  her largest count of the season with almost 450 seals; she also counts over a dozen seals with blood on their bodies. We also catch sight of both fully moulted and healthy seal pups: a nice bookend to our stay on the island.

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On Sunday afternoon I speak with Chris about a pick up on Monday. He agrees that weather looks okay and we make a plan. The tide is high at 0500, so we are going to shoot for a pre-dawn departure. Chris will arrive at 0530.

Tanya and I pack up the rock, this time for good. We board up windows, clean, take inventory, and pack our things. We wheel the outboard into the kitchen to heat up. I will leave the heater on overnight to keep it warm.

Two more bloody seals. Seal on left looks like a prop wound, on right like a bite.

Two more bloody seals. Seal on left looks like a prop wound, on right like a bite.

Harbor seals have wounds as well

Harbor seals have wounds as well

 

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Epilogue: Get to the Chopper

In the morning I arise and check the weather. It is 13 kts gusting to 17. Great news! I call Ben from Coastal Helicopter to check in. He is going to head to the airport and will check back in at 0800 for a weather report. When I get the call the breeze has picked up slightly but not unreasonable. Ben should arrive in this Bell-47 helicopter by 0930.

Since we may all be leaving today we need to get the inflatable back into the house so it is not exposed to weather unattended. The five of us make quick work of it and get it stowed back in the south hallway. We then need to prioritize gear and personnel by weight for this transfer. We itemize IMG_0933our gear by weight and bring it to the designated landing pad, which is just a flat part of the island painted red. The coast guard lands here all the time. We keep our eye on the horizon but somehow miss seeing the helicopter before it is right on top of us! The Bell-47 is a relic yet very reliable. It was built in the 40’s and is still going strong. It is just a bubble for a cockpit with an open frame tail. It also has-rubber inflated pontoons. Ben lands gently on the rock and shuts down. It takes a long time for the blades to stop spinning, and with every rotation the whole rig bounces on its pontoons.

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Eventually the blades stop and Ben steps out and makes his way over. He brings out a scale where he will weigh each bag before stowing. Gear is only stowed on the outside of the aircraft, in racks, using bungee cords. I’m sure this is all safe but if feels a bit too extreme for my taste. We load the primary gear and the first person into the helicopter and they take off. One minute later and they have returned. Ben forgot to move a small weight onto the tail frame for ballast. With that moved the take off again and make for Trenton airport.

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Now there are four of us on the island and the next two should be able to squeeze into the cockpit with Ben, with the rest of their gear, and then we should be done. Tanya and I have a lot of gear. When Ben returns 1.5 hours later Tanya and I have made the decision to stay. While Ben wants to make sure we get off the island safely the reality is that

Our first guest leaves the island

Our first guest leaves the island

our options are quite limited. Only one of us can go with Ben at a time, which would leave one person alone. Strike one. We would need three more trips to get all of us and the gear off the island, potentially leaving a person alone on MDR with limited gear. Strike two. Lastly, the wind has been steadily picking up and is now sustained over 20 kts, with gusts to 25. Strike three. Both Tanya and I would much rather stick it out and leave by boat.

Ben is still not convinced he is not coming back. He packs up the two final guests and they do a fly over then disappear to the north. Tanya and I breathe a sigh of relief. We were able to pull off this second trip without a major hitch, and now everyone is headed home happy. We may need to wait two more days for Chris Candage and a weather window but the bulk of our work is complete.

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Epilogue: Second Wind

Our new friends settle right into life exploring and experiencing the Rock. Tanya and I turn back into hosts, doing our best to keep people comfortable. All of our previous routines are gone and replaced with new ones. The dining room table is no longer a lab space and we end up actually eating there. The power consumption drops considerably, so the generator does not need to run as often. We received two more propane bottles and so become a little more liberal with our use. We have new food and so eat very well. Tanya cooks great dinners and people settle right into island life.

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It is fun to watch the enthusiasm that our guests bring to the island. Having new energy here is invigorating. In their short time they experience a variety of weather events – bright sun and calm seas, blowing snow and wind, rain and a thunderstorm, and a beautiful sunrise – all within four days time.

After three days we start looking for a weather window to depart. Each of our guests have major commitments for the weekend. I am trying my best to work out a plan. On Wednesday I see what I think is a good weather window

Same house- different gear and different feel

Same house- different gear and different feel

opening for Friday. Chris Candage is on his way out of town on Friday, so I’m not sure it is going to work. He also thinks that it would be better to try Thursday afternoon. We make a plan for that. He will be out fishing anyway, so can break a little early and pick us up. We have also been speaking with a helicopter company if worse comes to worst. It is pricey but may be our only option.

Thursday arrives and the weather is marginal. It is blowing from the west pretty hard and the steep chop is significant. As Chris is out here anyway we decide to give it a shot. This means closing up the Rock completely. Because of the sea state it also means moving the operation to the eastern side of the cove to use the rocks rather than the ramp to stage. Chris is set to arrive at 1600 – the tail end of the tide as it goes out. I have been watching the breaks in the cove and am not convinced. But we will try. After a couple hours of staging all of the gear is on the rocks and we prep the inflatable. The ramp is the only option for launching the boat. Tanya and I watch as big rollers wash the ramp. We get a lull and launch. The outboard fires up and I reverse directly over to the rocks. It was sketchy but smooth, and we raft up against the granite.

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I let the engine run for a while as breakers stream into the cove and bounce the inflatable up and down. The ‘Georgia Madison’ arrives and I need to make a decision. After a bit I load in one run of gear – all fish totes – down into the inflatable. I step out and watch for a while. The situation is not good. The rollers are steep and relentless. There is no break between sets, and if there is, it lasts for a tiny period of time. There is constant chop. We have four boat trips to make. I have already compromised so much equipment on this project, and I feel responsible for the safety of this crew. Even though we are all staged up, after hours of work moving gear here, I know that we cannot go through with this. I learned my lesson in January when we lost the boat and outboard. Fortunately no one was injured in that event. I feel the need to honor that experience and back down. I tell the crew and they are unanimously in favor. They have been incredibly deferent and understanding, even with their standing commitments. I am very grateful for their patience.

I radio to the ‘Georgia Madison’ that we are not going to make it. I can tell Chris wants us to try but also tells me he will not push it. We go back and forth a bit but I am firm. Part of the draw of this island is the adventure, and pushing limits. But there reaches a point where you can no longer push and this is it.

Darkness is setting in and now we need to move gear back to the house. We have one major hurdle to overcome – the boat. Since launching and being idle for the better part of an hour we have lost our ramp to re-land the inflatable. Our only option is to land it on the rocks. We wait out the tide a bit, until things get quite shallow in the cove. Then we tie a long line to the bow and someone walks it around to the ramp side. From there we haul the boat up on the granite. The outboard comes off and gets stowed on the rocks. With the boat lighter now we drag it up the rocks and onto the ramp. We then bring the outboard up and then move onto personal gear. It is dark by the time we are finished. We are momentarily stuck but the crew is in great spirits. We minimally reopen MDR, setting up just what we will need to be comfortable for the night, and Tanya makes tortellini with italian sausage for dinner.

Later in the night I speak to Chris Candage on the phone. He is pushing to come back that evening after midnight to attempt extraction in the dark. It is uncertain how the weather will look at that time, but I am skeptical it will be very safe. I speak with the crew to get opinions and we vote against the midnight extraction and decide wait until the next day to speak again with Chris C.

On Friday morning, it is eerily calm outside. We are confident in our decision to not leave at midnight; our guests were outside around that time and saw large swells beating on the boat ramp. However if it stays this calm until the tide comes up in the late afternoon we would be able to get off the island. I speak with Chris Candage once more. He is willing to come out that afternoon, but will be gone over the weekend. It is our last shot at a boat departure.

Not as much light in the kitchen with windows boarded

Not as much light in the kitchen with windows boarded

I spend a long time staring at the ramp. Though calm right now, it is hard to predict what the cove will look like in several hours. At low tide, the seal ledges break the swell and keep this area quiet. After a while, I am convinced it might get  sloppy as the tide and winds change. I do not want to push it or to have Chris Candage come all the way offshore to send him home again.  I decide to call it and not take unnecessary risks.

I relay the news to shore. We are going to now push for a helicopter departure if possible. There were some insurance questions that have now been resolved. There is a helicopter service in Belfast, Maine that can make a run in the morning provided the weather conditions are right. The limitations are 20 kts sustained and 30 kts gusts. Unfortunately that is what they are calling for tomorrow. We will need to wait and see. If they do come there are pretty severe weight restrictions. It is likely the chopper will need to do 4 or 5 trips to make it work. We will focus on getting the guests away and take it from there. We head to bed not quite knowing what tomorrow will bring. I plan on checking in with the pilot at 0700 to make a call.

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Day Thirty-Four: Saying Goodbye

18 February 2014 (Tuesday)

Wake up at 0600. As predicted the winds have come around and

A christmas tree brought to the island two winters ago still stands in the debris forest

A christmas tree brought to the island two winters ago still stands in the debris forest

the ramp cove is calm. The occasional small roller piles in but all of yesterday’s energy is dissipated. Encouraging news. I call Chris Candage, who has been up since five preparing Georgia Madison, to confer. All is a go. We move the outboard motor in front of the heater. Time to prepare for logistics.

High tide is not until 1240 this afternoon, so we have a little bit of prep time. Kathy and Kerry are up early to disassemble the secondary weather station. Kerry paints some small circles around the bolts left in the rock for potential future use.

Chris and Tanya get ready to launch the boat for yet another logistics day

Chris and Tanya get ready to launch the boat for yet another logistics day

Kathy, Kerry, and Rebecca finish packing by 0930. Tanya and I launch the inflatable at 1000. The Georgia Madison arrives at the same time. We need to let the outboard run and wait for a higher tide before we can start the supply run. I let Chris know this and he takes the new crew for a journey around the Rock

Tanya leads new guests across the rocks

Tanya leads new guests across the rocks

while I sit in the cove and run the engine. 20 minutes later and we start running gear. We load up the empty propane bottles and I shoot out and meet the boat. I run the new crew into shore and drop them on the rocks adjacent to the ramp to unload. Everyone seems excited to be at the island. This is gratifying after all the struggle to get them here. For this supply run we need to send more off the island than is coming on. Because we did not send anything home during our mid-project supply run, this one ends up taking 6 or 7 trips.

Chris says goodbye to Kathy, Kerry, and Becca as he drops them off on the Georgia Madison

Chris says goodbye to Kathy, Kerry, and Becca as he drops them off on the Georgia Madison

On the last run Tanya and I bid farewell to Kathy, Kerry, and Rebecca. It has been quite a journey for us all, and it is sad to see them go. This moment comes several times during each season at Mount Desert Rock, and it is always abrupt. The tide is going and the boat is waiting. As much as you would like to prolong your friends’ departure it is imperative that you keep moving. We all grab a piece of the boat and slide it down the ramp, jumping in at the last moment. Kathy and Kerry peer back at MDR with what I think and hope is gratitude for what they found this winter. We are certainly grateful for their time. A few waves, hugs, and handshakes later and the crew are stowed aboard ‘Georgia Madison’ for one last ride. Tanya and I were supposed to be climbing aboard today as well, but I turn and make my way back to the ramp. Even with 31 days under my belt I have no reservations about doing so. I am looking forward to what the next week has to offer.

Georgia Madison leaves MDR in her wake. The crew heads back to shore after a successful winter season.

Georgia Madison leaves MDR in her wake. The crew heads back to shore after a successful winter season.

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Day Thirty-Three: End Game

17 February 2014 (Monday)

Wake up at 0730.

Tomorrow is supposed to be our last day at Mount Desert Rock but we now have some complications. It looks like we will get a very short weather window in the morning, which is

Goofy seal pops up in the sea foam

Goofy seal pops up in the sea foam

great. There should be no problem moving Kathy, Kerry, and Rebecca out to the Georgia Madison. However we have a small group of people interested in spending three days at the Rock before we leave and the weather does not look good for such a short stay. If they do come out Tanya and I will stay with them. I have been communicating with Ardrianna at COA about the changing plan. After looking at the weather this morning I think that it is best to call it off. There is no way we can guarantee a three-day stay. I communicate with Ardrianna and Dan. We need to tell the visitors that they can come tomorrow for the day or reschedule for a later date.

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This day is spent packing up the rock and planning for shut down. Kathy and Kerry are packing up everything except for the secondary weather station. Tanya and I stow our gear in case we need to leave. I’m unsure how far to get into closing the rock down because we do not know if we are staying.

In the afternoon I hear from Ardrianna. The guests are interested in staying at MDR for 7-10 days or as long as the weather will dictate. The most preferred scenario is that I stay along IMG_0596with them. This is the last thing I want to do at this point. I immediately decline and Ardrianna moves on to find a replacement liaison. After such a rough start to this project we are at the cusp of ending on a very high note. We are pushing it by trying to do more now. But as soon as I decline the offer to stick around I somewhat regret it. I want to make sure we take advantage of as many opportunities as we can to use this place. I tell Ardrianna I will try and rally. Toby initially agrees to take over but in the end he cannot make it happen. I talk it over with Tanya and she agrees to stick around as well. We’ll make the best of it. It also takes the pressure off of closing up today. I’m just relieved a decision has been made. Now we just need some good weather tomorrow.

Still a lot of energy over seal ledges

Still a lot of energy over seal ledges

Taking advantage of a little extra time Tanya and I pick up the miscellaneous wood scraps that have blown across the island and stow them in the generator shed. This is our small way of picking up the island for the new visitors.

IMG_0814It has been blowing 25 kts all day from the northwest. The sea is quite steep rolling into the cove. The forecast is for the wind to switch around to southeast overnight and drop out. That should cancel things out pretty well. I hope so.

For dinner Tanya makes pizza (bacon, artichoke and caramelized onions). Kerry was quite pleased with the bacon pizza. After dinner we played another round of Up and Down the River – our last for the season.

Tomorrow we will bid farewell to our old friends.

Bed by 2130.

-Chris

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Day Thirty-Two: More Generator Problems

16 February 2014 (Sunday)

Wake up at 0630 having slept very well back in a real bed. It was howling all night and the windows are iced up. MDR is sheeted in snow and ice and the winds are whipping from the northwest. The steep 9 foot chop, one about every five seconds, is captivating in it’s own right as it slams into the island. Such a stark difference compared to the long southerly swells that come in sets, one bigger than the next, until the cycle repeats, with each wave about 15 seconds behind the one in front of it.

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I check the batteries and they are quite low at 22.8. Kerry is awake and I ask how the night went. Their balance scale was not working so somewhat disappointing. It was then reset and seemed to right itself for a while.

I head out to run the generator. It fires up and I head inside. A few minutes later and I hear it overload and die. I am not sure why as the load on the system was quite low. I start it up again but it is having trouble. It will only run when choked. Then it does not run at all. I fear something more catastrophic has happened. Needing power I head inside and gather the troops. We move the big gas generator back outside. It starts up, runs for a bit, and dies as well. However it starts up again without issue and stays running OK.

Tanya catches the rainbow in the surf

Tanya catches the rainbow in the surf

Kathy and Kerry spend the morning setting out multi-cylinders until the balance fails again. Then they move onto vaseline slides as the winds peter out. Becca does some seal observation first from the tower and then from the porch. She has found several entangled seals on the island, most of them with lines around their neck.

We are now starting to get creative with cooking as food dwindles. Kathy, Becca, and IMG_0804Tanya spend much of the day brainstorming new recipes to make with what is left. We have plenty of flour, peanut butter, and beans. Kathy decides to try making groundnut stew, a staple she ate while part of the PeaceCorps in Ghana. Tanya searches the internet and finds her recipes. However, later in the day, Kathy loses confidence and makes chicken curry again for dinner.

After much prodding from Tanya, Becca makes apple crisp for dessert.

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