Like any good Maine girl, I fell in love over the islands. My partner was born and raised inland, western Maine in the hills. He grew up exploring the lakes and rivers—fishing for brookies (Brook Trout) and catching turtles in the pond down the road. Freshwater. I was raised on the coast where scouring the tide pools for baby lobsters and competing with my sister over who could collect the most seagull bones or fish vertebrae at Kettle Cove was more routine than church. It’s no surprise that our first “dates” were on the water—saltwater—when I dragged my partner out from the hills to paddle around islands in Casco Bay.
Flash forward eight years, and we’re still finding excuses to check out new islands or re-visit old honey-holes like Jewell Island—which isn’t a bad thing. Thousands of years ago glaciers carved out our coastline, turning mountains into islands after the sea level rose. Over 4,600 islands dot the Maine Coast—many of them still in their natural state untamed and undeveloped. Humans inhabit less than 200 of our islands and with the exception of the hardy few, many of the residents are seasonal. Birds of Prey along with the shore birds, deer, gangly moose, and bear call the islands home. Porpoises, seals, and whales (mostly Humpback, Finback, and Minke) can be seen playing and feeding in the North Atlantic waters that surround them. Rich with history, many of our islands are also steeped in legends of buried treasure, real accounts of piracy, and laden with remnants of historical maritime outposts and batteries used to guard the mainland during wartime.
Jewell Island is one of those islands. We’ve stayed there before, paddling from Quahog Bay across the Merriconeag Sound, passing Admiral Peary’s Eagle Island home (now a state park), and crossing Broad Sound’s choppy waters to spend the night at Jewell before continuing on to Portland Harbor. It was dusk by the time we arrived, with little time for anything but setting up the tent and firing up the whisper light. Jewell was just a safe haven for the night and some solid ground to sleep on.
We timed the trip a little better this time, leaving from the public boat launch at East End Beach, threading through the Diamond Islands, Hussey Sound, passing Long Island and crossing Luckse Sound to Jewell. (Plus a pit stop on Vaill Island—white sand at low tide on this small island is hard to pass up.) The clouds were gray and low, so we made a quick trip of it, reaching our destination in about three hours. Because it was early in the season, there wasn’t much water traffic—our only visitor was a curious seal that trailed our kayaks until he got bored and disappeared into the swells. When we arrived, the weather was behind us leaving a full day to explore and read on the grassy knoll where we set up camp.
Jewell’s “Cocktail Cove” is a popular place for sailboats to moor for the night and the punchbowl on the east side attracts folks looking for a warm, protected pool of water to take a dip. The island itself is a little eerie. WWI & WWII structures—bunkers, a decrepit jail, and batteries—can be found all over the island, overgrown with island vegetation. Massive caves with water-worked rock are carved out on Jewell’s south side. Clear paths crisscross the island. And thanks to the efforts of the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA), campsites with fire pits are maintained for low-impact use.
Our only encounter on the island was a brief sighting with an island deer and one other group who was spending the night on their sailboat in the cove. For a short five-and-something nautical mile paddle out, Jewell provided a free day of exploration and a private ocean front stay. I’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend my weekend.