Photos by Basha Burwell and Joy McPeters
The backseat of Jen’s 1976 Cadillac convertible was piled high with gear and supplies. The three of us — my college roommate Jen, her 12-year-old daughter Estelle and I — climbed into the front seat, because the rest of the car was crammed full of coolers, gear, beach towels, tents, grocery bags and other outdoor essentials. As we drove toward the Center Harbor Yacht Club where our boating and camping adventure would begin, Estelle looked at “our stuff” and at her mother and exclaimed, “Mom, this isn’t camping; it’s glamping!”
The mother-daughter camping trip had been a topic of discussion for many years, and it was finally happening. The dream getaway was conceived by five women and their daughters, who were long-time friends in Brooklin, ME, located on Eggemoggin Reach. The girls had spent summers sailing and swimming together, and their moms were all avid boaters. The idea of combining a boating and camping trip to an island was destined to be the perfect summer adventure. And this female-only crew was excited to show our significant others that we could handle the prepping, boating and camping, as well as having a blast.
On a crisp August morning, we gathered on the dinghy dock at the Center Harbor Yacht Club. Several boaters walked by and gasped at the amount of gear and supplies we had laid out on the dock for a one-night camping trip. We laughed and commented that we were prepared for anything and everything.
Somehow we managed to load everything into two boats: Scout, a 1977 Cape Dory 25-foot sailboat and Handy Billy, a 21-foot powerboat. Our destination was Little Hog Island, situated just off Naskeag Point. Three adults, Jen, Elizabeth and I, along with two eight-year-old children, Isla and Lavinia, set off on the powerboat. Scout’s crew was comprised of Basha and Julia, along with Estelle (aged 12) and Frankie (aged 13).
The day was idyllic. Along our route, curious seals popped their heads above the water and playful porpoises jumped in our wake. In less than an hour, we passed Naskeag Point on our port side and began looking for the right spot to anchor close to Little Hog Island. As we slowed down, the dinghy we were towing came closer into view, and I instantly recognized a problem. The dinghy line was tied too close to the boat, so it filled with water and was close to capsizing.
After pulling the dinghy next to the boat, I started bailing. In Maine, bailing water out of sailboats and dinghies is common. Luckily, we had a good-sized bailing container, so after 15-20 minutes, I handed the bucket to Jen. When the dinghy was stabilized, we sent the kids in to finish the job.
While dropping the anchor line, we reminded each other that we arrived at high tide, so we should let out extra line. After the anchor was set, we started the daunting task of unloading gear into the dinghy to row to the island.
Jen, the two girls and I took the first load, because we had an ulterior motive about reaching the island – we wanted to secure Little Hog Island as our own. In Maine, lots of islands allow camping, but most are on a first-come, first-served basis. The girls saw kayakers heading toward the island, so Jen frantically rowed us to shore so they could jump off the dinghy and claim the island for our party of nine. Success! The kayakers turned toward Naskeag Point, reserving Little Hog as ours for the night.
At high tide, adjacent Hog Island looked like a separate island, but locals told us that at low tide the two landmasses were connected. After dropping off the first round of gear, Jen went back for the second as I found a good spot for our kitchen area and a protected space under the trees to hang hammocks and put up tents.
Before long, all the gear from our boats was safely deposited on Little Hog. As a bank of fog approached, we anxiously surveyed the water for a sighting of Scout. When we spotted her under full sail heading our way, we decided to start unpacking and sent the kids to gather firewood.
Before we knew it, Basha had anchored Scout, and the crew was rowing to shore with the next round of camping necessities. When we finally laid everything out on the rocks, we could see that we had enough “stuff” to last a week!
When the fog moved off, the warm sun and sparkling water beckoned us for a swim. Some of the kids had already jumped off the rocks into the water, but the older group needed a bit more coaxing. The rum punches helped give us courage to take the leap, and soon we were all gliding around in the clear cold water laughing like children. There is nothing like the refreshing, take-your-breath-away feeling of swimming in Maine.
Eventually we moved from our sun-warmed rocks back to camp and started dinner preparations. The efficiency of five close friends working in tandem makes miracles happen: We seamlessly prepped dinner, started the fire and made sure the tents were set up properly. Jen took charge of the taco dinner that she had cooked before leaving so we just had to warm a few dishes and set up the buffet line on our rock table in our rock kitchen. We were all starving. It’s amazing how camping and living outdoors can create huge appetites. Dinner was delicious, and we ate everything except the paper plates.
After dinner, we gathered around the fire and noticed that the fog had returned. No worries; we had our fire and S’mores! While watching the cracking logs and glowing embers, we discussed the different methods for roasting marshmallows. Who knew there were so many ways to make S’mores and so many great stories about Maine adventures and mis-adventures?
When I noticed that my hat was getting wet, we realized that the fog had fully arrived causing a light rain. It was almost time for bed anyway, so this seemed like a good opportunity to get everything cleaned and put away.
By now the fog grew super thick, and we could hear the foghorn from Georges Bell, which added to the eeriness. Basha reminded us that she planned to sleep on Scout, and that meant she’d row out to the boat in dense fog at night. For safety’s sake, Jen and I decided to row next to her and make sure she got on her boat.
We put on lifejackets, and Elizabeth grabbed her lantern and headed to the tip of the island to help us get back. At the time, this seemed unnecessary, as the boat was only 50 yards away. Jen rowed and I looked ahead trying to help navigate, but it’s amazing how disoriented you can become in thick fog. The mast of the Cape Dory finally came into view. Once Basha was safely on board her boat and the dinghy was secured, we turned back toward the island. The lantern definitely helped guide us back to camp and to our tents and sleeping bags, which I could not wait to crawl into.
We all had a restless night’s sleep, because the fog droplets made everything wet, including our tent. A foggy but beautiful sunrise greeted us that day. Julia made coffee on the fire, and a few daring souls plunged into the ice-cold ocean to wake up.
Everyone was eager to explore Hog Island, which would now be possible at low tide. The morning fog slowly lifted and created a surreal atmosphere, and all we could hear were the birds and the foghorn. A juvenile bald eagle watched us from a tree above our campsite.
After a tasty breakfast of eggs, potatoes and homemade bread, we were ready to investigate Hog Island. This 72-acre island is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which allows visitors to enjoy the beautiful beaches and rocky shores.
When we returned, the fog was lifting, so we broke down camp and tried to pack up. Unfortunately, the fog droplets left everything really wet, so as soon as the midday sun rose in the sky, we laid sleeping bags, gear and tents on the rocks to dry. Our campsite looked like a disorganized yard sale.
Before heading back, I took a solo walk around Little Hog to absorb the absolute beauty of this area and relish the last views of our home for the past 24 hours. Packing up and ferrying the gear back to the boats was easier this time without all the food, water and rum punch.
We agreed to switch boats on the way home, so Jen and I rode on Basha’s sailboat, and the rest went on the powerboat. As we sailed back toward the yacht club, several seals popped up to say goodbye and porpoises escorted us in our wake. What a beautiful ending to what we hope will be an annual mother-daughter camping adventure! The women felt empowered for successfully pulling off our gals-only camping adventure and pleased that we showed the next generation that the sky’s the limit — even if a little fog gets in the way.