Great Cranberry Island

I might spend a week in Great Cranberry Island ME next Augus;, before I make “official commitment” with the wife I would like to know if I can rent a decent kayak on the island.

Any suggestion about paddling in this area?

Start with the Maine Island Trails book

– Last Updated: Feb-23-12 12:01 PM EST –

You have to join them to get it, but it is more than worth it. It's a great resource for paddlers. You'll likely hear from Nate on this board - he's from MDE.

You may find some issues with renting what you consider decent kayaks based on what you are already paddling. But maybe if you start poking around now...

Also - what do you have for cold weather? The water will still be in the low 60's at the warmest - dry suits are not an excessive precaution even in the summer up there. And personally I need full finger gloves most days as well - hands chill easily.

And fog - pea soup can't see 30 feet fog. It should be better in August, especially the latter half, than if you were going earlier in the summer. But on a bad fog summer - and they are about due for one because the last two summers have been relatively clear in the midcoast and up regions of Maine - you can get into a world of hurt without a lot of navigation aids and equinamity. Especially on the Cranberries - they are out there a bit. Are you prepped for this?

Paddling Maine
thanks celia

fog is not a major concern for me, give a compass and a chart and i’m ok. gps is nice to have too

cold water instead… that’s a problem we are not familiar with here in south florida.

i’m hoping to find a place to rent both a kayak and a dry suit

The three ferries carry only passengers

– Last Updated: Feb-23-12 3:47 PM EST –

and stuff that can be crammed like bikes.

There are only about 100 year roundpeople on Great Cranberry.

No boat livery. You might try asking if the place you are renting from has kayaks

I have paddled my own boat out there. Stuff like kayaks has to be barged or paddled.

I am not much help as to who rents kayaks if at all on MDI for paddling to the islands.( but its not a great idea to go solo out there..its far enough to have the concerns that Celia mentioned.

Compass and chart are of course must haves but it is difficult to plot an accurate course in pea soup fog. The currents are fairly active and sometimes the best you can hope for is hitting land. Sometimes it requires a little vector analysis.

I suggest reading Islands in Time. And Islanders: Real Life on the Maine Islands.

Drysuit rental in Maine
You can rent a Kokatat drysuit in Freeport Maine at Lincoln Canoe and Kayak. That would be right on route if you are driving up. Not if you are flying in.

If you are flying in, you could consider renting a drysuit ahead of time - In New England Charles River Canoe and Kayak rents suits as does Lincoln.

As for boat rentals in Maine - you should perhaps mention what you are looking for and people can point you in the right direction. What one person calls decent is not what another is looking for.

Personally in middle of summer I choose not to wear a drysuit. Although coming from Florida, you would most likely want one as you would be lucky to have 50+ water for your visit.


nice place to be. :slight_smile:
Great Cranberry in August should be a paddler’s paradise (especially if 70 degrees is your idea of heaven).

However, there are days when you’d be hard-pressed to find a cup of coffee on Great Cranberry, let alone a fine british sea kayak and drysuit for hire. You’ll need to find your equipment elsewhere, and bring it over on the mail boat.

There are a couple places that rent sea kayaks on MDI, but it tends to be stuff like Necky Eskias, and not your kind of boat.

You could try talking to Cadillac Mtn. Sports in Ellsworth. They have CD and WS boats, including a demo fleet. I don’t believe they rent boats, but you might be able to arrange something with them if you ask nicely.

The only place I think you can rent a drysuit in the area is from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures in Stonington (for disclosure, I work there). We have a few NRS and Kokatat drysuits for rent. Kayaks for rent include Tempest 165 and 170, Necky Chatham 16, Necky Eliza (all plastic). Nothing quite like a Nordkapp. If you want more options you’d probably need to rent from someplace a few hours drive from here in Southern Maine. Stonington is a ways from MDI, but I commute between Ellsworth and Stonington, so I could probably work something out with you if you wanted to rent stuff from Old Quarry.

Drysuit can also be rented by mail from a place like Kayak Academy.

For paddling tips in that area -

Baker Island (public, with short hike and a lighthouse) is a nice paddle from G. Cranberry. The string of ledges projecting out from the east end of Little Cranberry can be rough when there are east seas. The gut between Great and Little Cranberry has some current (up to 2 knots, perhaps), but doesn’t tend to get too bumpy. The southern end of Great Cranberry tends to be exposed and has some rock-gardeny areas. There is a MITA island very nearby which makes a nice destination so you may want to get a $35 membership to give you access to that and other area islands.

If you’re up for going a little further, you can paddle west to Bass Harbor Head, and then down to the Gotts (private) and Placentia (which is open for day use). This is a really amazing group of islands; however, currents are very serious throughout the Bass Harbor, Gotts, Placentia area. Tide rips are plentiful, and can be substantial. I’d be cautious about doing a paddle like that without some knowledgeable paddling companions, or a local guide. (MITA members have some additional options in this area.)

Let me know if you want more advice or if you’ve got questions, etc.


paddling over
If the mailboats don’t take kayaks, then paddling over could work. Whether that’s a good idea is entirely dependent on your skill level. Two years ago, on the same day that I was having a totally pleasant paddle from SW harbor across to Great Cranberry and Baker, another woman (paddling an Old Town Otter) died between SW harbor and Great Cranberry.

So without basic precautions and the appropriate skills, kayaking anywhere off Maine can be deadly. The water is cold here.

I was thinking of the Florida part
I agree that if you are acclimated a full dry suit can be overkill for August even there, but OPer and wife will be arriving from at least a couple of months of uncomfortably warm water by northeast standards. They’ll not be used to the water temps in Maine.

And there is always the option of dunking off of someone’s bow if non-rollers, a benefit of paddling with a partner.

Paddling over idea

– Last Updated: Feb-24-12 8:10 AM EST –

Would this work, if kayaks can be arranged? Send over the luggage on the ferry, maybe with the wife, and hire a guide to paddle out to the Cranberries maybe towing the third boat? (with a decent cockpit cover).

Re fog, I would strongly suggest a GPS as backup and spare batteries. Having a compass and chart is not always comforting if you are no longer certain where you are. This can happen quite easily up there. And you will be paddling in an area that you don't know.

If we are in true pea soup fog in home territory, like Musgongous, I don't get much worried about the GPS dying on me. I've brought it out in severe fog there just once, and that was one of the two worst fogs we have paddled in over 10 years of being on the water there starting with the plastic inflatable boats. But I had it out a lot more when we were in similar fog in an area of Casco Bay we did not know nearly as well, especially with major shipping lines lying just to our left shoulder.

Again, you may luck out and get a clear week. But a bad fog period can also last a week up there.

Agree about services on the island by the way - bring as much reading and similar entertainment as you can. We love being less accessible for a month where we go - no phone except for scratchy cell reception, that kind of thing. But we've had friends stay who said they wanted isolation but couldn't take the real thing - bailed in three days leaving half their rental money on the table.

Some Info
I suggest you get the book by Jennifer Paigen titled “Sea Kayakers’s Guide to Mount Desert Island”. It provides a great deal of information about the history, geology, weather, flora and fauna of MDI along with conservative, but good advice on paddling there with suggested trips.

You will be in a great place to paddle. Sutton, Baker, Bear Islands are worth visiting as well as going around Great Cranberry. I believe can rent decent plastic kayaks on Little Cranberry/Isleford. There is a website for the Cranberries and if you poke around you can find the business. There is also a kayak guide/trip business in SW Harbor that might rent a kayak, but most of the guiding businesses use doubles.

One of the nice things about the Cranberry area is the variety of paddling. That in turn means things can get challenging and sometimes quickly. Not only can easterly swells provide spectacular sights, it can go from a bright sunny day to dense fog in the time it takes to eat lunch. Coming from Fla you may think water the locals consider tepid to be frigid and depending upon wind direction it can be cool even in Aug.

While it is a wonderful place to paddle, it is not a place to take lightly and those who do have come to grief as Hansen mentioned. Seems to happen every year on MDI.

If there is a livery on Little Cranberry
I missed it when I was out there for the day last year. (not surprisingly there are no shrieiking signs for businesses)

You could email Isleford Boatworks… they build boats. SW Harbor does tours. Plenty of places in Bar Harbor do too.

There was another outfit in SW Harbor that was a livery. I cant find that it IS a livery right now. They are in Florida but I cant find info on the Maine side of their business.

But gotta say the good stuff

– Last Updated: Feb-25-12 9:01 AM EST –

This thread did get a little dark, and I certainly helped. But to keep it in balance - yes there is plenty to be wary of on Cranberry Island including paddling that takes some care and skills, and cool evenings and mornings that will have you in fleece until 9:30am. Oh yeah - bring one fleece jacket that you can stand wearing for most mornings unless you want to be stuck inside rather than out on the porch.

But there is nothing like the crashing waves and cliffs, the sense of being part of something larger and a little wildness preserved along the rocky coasts of Maine. Especially on an island. Even when we have spent two of three weeks of our vacation being socked in by fog and rain - and it has happened - we've never wanted to be anywhere else. It's just.... something. You have to try it to get it.

(And later add - as Nate says, out on an island in August is not the same fog thang as along the mainland in early July.)

Also, so what if you end up doing tours in a rented tandem in a group? You'll still see the area, will have a better chance to take pics and will walk away knowing more. On the water is on the water, whatever boat your butt is in.

I think there is a sailboat tour that runs out of Bar Harbor too - a restored classic sailboat of some kind. That'd be fun for both of you.

The upside of guided tours
is that you might learn alot more about the area than striking out on your own.

We had been kayaking for fifteen years and when we decided to kayak Glacier Bay National Park the logistics were daunting. So we flew out and took a tour. In horrors, double sea kayaks! It was just wonderful I was busy taking pictures as hubby paddled. We visited whale feeding grounds and kayaked next to glaciers and learned of neat places to hike.

Since then we again have taken tours in horror of horrors. Doubles in Belize. We learned how to snorkel off the yak, and scramble back on and sail the yak. In Something we might not have thought of on our own.

I am off to Isle Au Haut in May… last Memorial Day weekend was all pea soup fog…What had we chosen to paddle and hike? The MDI part of Acadia. Didn’t see a thing. Had a wonderful time.

Second guided tours
They are a pretty good way to see the area and make your own plan. the Cranberries are a place of contrast. To the south you are exposed to the open ocean so it can be real sea paddling. On the other hand, the inner route is fairly protected.

Something no one has mentioned . . . in the summertime there is a lot of boat traffic coming out of NE Harbor, SW Harbor, and Somes Sound. It can be like going down a long road with a lot of stop lights. Ton’s of paddling options on MDI.

There are alot of junk boats for rent around MDI, proceed with caution. I would seriously consider Nate’s suggestion of renting a Tempest for the week from OQ even though they are a bit out of the way.

Good sailing adventures out of SW harbor
Downeast Sailing Adventures is an excellent resource for boating in that area. They have sailing trips on a variety of beautiful classic sail boats, as well as water taxi service to the Cranberries.

Steve Kablinski is the owner. Very nice guy. He could also direct you to kayak options in the immediate SW Harbor area.


Downeast fog is legendary, but I think it can also be overstated. Particularly in August, it is uncommon to be socked in for days. It is much more common to have a fog bank come in with the tide on a humid day, and then leave a few hours later. Early in the season (may, June) you are more likely to get socked in for many days without relief. Also, the further you are from the mainland the more fog, as the landmasses are warmer than the water in summertime, so their warmth raises the air temp just enough to clear the dewpoint. So, Bar Harbor gets less fog than the Cranberries, and Stonington gets less fog than Isle au Haut. and so on.


if you’re comfortable

– Last Updated: Feb-26-12 9:12 PM EST –

with ocean paddling than going from either SW Harbor or from Seal Harbor,not to be confused with Seal Cove, is a relatively easy paddle, assuming good weather--roughly 3 miles if you start from Seal Harbor--a little more if you start from SW Harbor---if you can use a chart and compass (and you shouldn't be making any paddles without a guide on the maine coast unless you can)and have a decent boat--real sea kayak--15-18 feet, sealed hatches front and rear-spray skirt etc-and can paddle comfortablly in winds up to 20 mph than you should be ok. Also I would have at least a farmer john wet suit--also might want to take a VHF if you don't already have one---

as far as the weather goes, if fog does come in, you should have a course plotted that you can follow with your deck compass---Great Cranberry is quite a large island and makes an easy target even in the fog--assuming you come prepared and knowledgable.

Wind and waves can also be an issue--if you are paddling from SW Harbor, part of the trip is exposed to open ocean with corresponding wind and waves. Make sure you get an up to date marine weather forecast--if they are predicting small craft warnings (usually wind over 20 knots and waves over 2-3 feet) you might want to reconsider---I've been out there when the wind picked up and it does tend to test your skills-wind direction can also be an issue--remember if the breeze is blowing from the north, it is blowing out to sea and if you miss cranberry, I think the next land is Nova Scotia about 100 miles away.:)

One final thing--if you are going in August, the boat traffic, particularly on weekends, in the SW harbor area is quite thick--I have a vivid memory of coming back from Baker Island with five other friends via Great Cranberry to SW Harbor and being caught in the middle of a sailboat race (and they were at least 20 footers and bigger) while crossing over to SW Harbor--although there were no close calls--I always yield the right of way to larger boats-it was an interesting experience.

If you are there on a weekend, you might link up with the MDI Paddlers---they have a website and the guy who runs it, George Mitchell, is a real nice guy-and former licensed Maine Sea Kayak Guide-they often go to Cranberry and Baker for their weekend outings and I'm sure would be happy to have you go with them, assuming you have the appropriate experience and equipment. Tell George that Jon Sprague sent you and that I said hi.

just a question: are you going there for the ultra marathon they are having this summer?---a guy I work with who is really into running (regularly runs marathons in less than 3 hours) is going. I told him Great Cranberry is only about 4 miles long---he told me that the plan was to run from one end of the island to the other until the distance-50K- was covered.

Anyone leaving from SW Harbor
ought to check if a sailboat race is on. It was not pleasant when we found ourselves kayaking in the middle of the race course.

see my update above----it’s kind of like try to cross a busy street without a stop light–my memory is that the local yacht club has races either on every saturday or sunday afternoon in the summer.