October 2014

My family and I enjoy boating up and down the Maine coast in search of interesting places to
haul ashore. With over 3,400 miles of seashore and 4,600 plus islands—many uninhabited—
we always have lots of places to explore. To prepare for a recent outing, I perused my dog-eared
Delorme Maine Atlas and Google Earth for a new destination.  

In little time, an island, located well beyond Blue Hill Bay and situated within the municipal
bounds of Swans Island, piqued my interest. What caught my attention straightaway were two
crisscrossed lines etched into the wooded terrain on the island’s north end. Although not a pilot
myself, I recognized the telltale layout of an airstrip. Zooming in closer on the satellite image, it
was evident this runway was long defunct, its once pristine edges now ragged and blurred as
nature reclaimed its dominion. Questions arose as I tried to ascertain answers. Why was a
landing strip constructed upon a seemingly uninhabited island so far from the mainland? What
about the dock jutting into Toothacker Bay on the island’s northeast corner? What evidence was
there of recent inhabitants?     

As is the case when my curiosity is whetted, I didn’t bother hopping on the Internet right away to
seek answers. Instead, I announced my intentions to set forth posthaste and explore this
island—much to consternation of my 12-year old son, Johnny, who would rather immerse
himself in Mindcraft than explore another windswept isle in the middle of nowhere.

Anyhow, it was a pleasant day on September 27th when we launched from Naskeag Harbor in
Brooklin. Generally, the sandy beach affords plenty of space to maneuver a boat trailer, but the
tide was running high, and a gaggle of kayakers were taking their sweet time uncoupling their
craft from atop their Subaru Foresters. Never fails when some kayaker will monopolize a public
boat launch to unload something that can be carried as easily as a lady’s hand purse. Anyways,
I fumed and waited for countless minutes until they secured their last waterproof tote bag and
got the heck outta my way. As usual, it took me a minute or less to back down the beach,
release my boat, and park my truck and trailer.

By the way, I’m not necessarily biased against kayaks or kayakers. I appreciate the appeal of
skimming the waters in such versatile craft…their swiftness and nimbleness…the closeness of
the water’s surface… It’s just…I’ve had issues with folk, who don’t adhere to reasonable
etiquette at a public boat landing, like launching and hauling in your boat expeditiously or
making way for others. Unfortunately, in past years, many newly indoctrinated kayakers seem
ignorant or ill-mannered about such things. But as always, my wife, Heidi, reminded me to take
chill pill if I’m not inclined to simply ask the offending persons to give quarter. Yeah…I’ll go make
nice with some yuppie hipster that just stepped outta an LL Bean catalog… Admittedly, I’m not
the most affable of individuals, so I’ll just keep going with this narrative instead.        

Soon, we’re motoring across the long expanse of Jericho Bay passing Deer Isle to the west and
Swans Island to the east. Though it’s a jaunt, maritime conditions were ideal. Only a riffle of a
breeze stirred the sea, and the swells rolling in from the Gulf of Maine were as gentle as an
undulating highway. We delighted at the sight of porpoises arcing above and below the water’s
surface and harbor seals bobbing in the sea. The sound of clattering diesel engines and
whining pot haulers carried across the bay as lobstermen went about their business. Bald
eagles and osprey dove for fish. Raucous herring gulls screeched above. I inhaled and savored
the alkaline scent wafting through the air. My only concern was navigating a maze of colorful
lobster buoys that glinted on the surface of green waters. I took great care to avoid countless
warp lines that wished to snare my prop. I studied the screens on my GPS unit and fish finder
and continually scanned the bay for swells that churned and frothed over and around shallow

In little time, we arrived at Long Point. Regrettably, the incoming tide made it impractical to haul
my beloved Alumacraft onto the cobblestone shore, so I got out the inflatable raft and anchored
the boat offshore. As anticipated, a trailhead lay beyond a pebbled dune and disappeared into
shadowy woods.

After a quarter mile of easy walking, we arrived at an open space. Fringed by low blueberry
bushes and stunted spruce trees, a gravel track stretched hundreds of yards across a level
plateau. At different places, we found two whitewashed boards nailed together in a perfect X,
presumably to warn away pilots tempted to land. Probably just as well, since the runways was
littered with stones disinterred by winter frosts and rock cairns stacked by trail tenders.

After a while, we hiked down a trailhead at the eastern end of the landing strip. Soon, we were
shrouded within a thick canopy of spruce. Several deer suddenly bounded across the path and
through a garden of fern. In little time, we entered an opening where the ground had been
excavated to provide gravel for the airstrip. Most likely, a shallow pond resided here much of the
year, but the dry summer had sieved away the water, leaving behind crimson lichens and moss
and grassy reeds. Farther on, blue sky and water appeared through the trees revealing a
cobblestone shoreline. An impressive steel-framed dock extended into the water. Upon closer
inspection, I’m wondered how serviceable the structure was considering there were no ladders
to ascend or cleats on which to tie off a boat.

The trail forked, so we took a left and followed a meandering shoreline trail. We crossed an
overgrown meadow dotted with solitary spruce and bordered by knurled maple and stout birch.
We passed a rock wall that vanished into the wooded mist and the crumbling remains of a
stone cellar. Johnny called out when he spotted the boat still safely anchored offshore. All in all,
it was a very good day to end the summer.

Later that evening, I scoured the Internet to learn more about Marshall Island. Evidently, during
the 1980s, some development group had acquired much of the island with the idea of a 14-lot
subdivision marketed as “kingdom estates”. To entice investors further, a commercial district
was envisioned that included an airstrip. Fortunate for this lovely island, money ran out, and the
bank foreclosed. Even more fortunate, the subsequent owners appreciated the island’s
uniqueness and struck a deal with Maine Coast Heritage Trust that safeguarded the island for

If you ever get an opportunity, I highly recommend venturing to Marshall Island. Comprised of
nearly 1,000 acres of isolated spruce forests, ringed by a shoreline of granite ledges and
cobblestone, and laden with ten miles of hiking trails, outdoor enthusiasts should observe of
abundance of flora and fauna found only along the Maine coast. Just plan extra time to wait out
the kayakers at the boat landing… ;-)   

                                                                   The End
Mysterious Marshall Island
Maine Travels by John R. Cobb