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Henry Penfold and the long nautical row-d to Bowdoin

September 8, 2023

Courtesy of Henry Penfold
FROM ISLAND TO ISLAND: Henry Penfold '26 rowed throughout the day and camped on islands at night on his 100-mile journey to Bowdoin.

While the majority of students packed up their cars or boarded planes to get to Bowdoin this August, Henry Penfold ’26 grabbed his 18-foot rowing boat and two oars to embark on a 100-mile trip from Deer Isle to Harpswell. After four days, he arrived at the Schiller Coastal Studies Center just in time for Lobster Bake.

Penfold had been considering rowing to Bowdoin for a while, but he decided to execute his plan after seeing the good weather forecast for the days leading up to move-in day.

“There was just a perfect weather window. I had gotten everything ready, just in case there would be good weather, and then when that weather arrived, I just went for it,” Penfold said.

A four-day rowing trip is nothing out of the ordinary for Penfold. He started rowing at 10 years old, puttering around the islands near his family’s home. As he got older, he took on more challenging routes.

“I grew up rowing a lot around Deer Isle—it’s an archipelago—exploring little islands with my brothers and camping a lot,” Penfold said. “I’m used to this format of trip, and over the past couple of years I’ve started going on some longer trips. I just really love getting out and exploring the coast.”

During the trip, Penfold spent three nights camping on different islands to break up his journey along the coast. Through the Maine Island Trail Association, which forms agreements with the owners of islands all over the state to allow for camping, he knew which islands on his route were safe for overnight stops.

Penfold camped the first night on Monroe Island off of Owl’s Head, the second night on Little Marsh Island and the third night on Seguin Island.

“I camped on a tiny little ledge with three spruce trees on Little Marsh Island. It was really great. I just slept outside on the ledge without a tent or anything,” Penfold said.

Island camping allowed Penfold to fuel up and recharge between intense days of rowing.

“I was just eating dehydrated food, and I would cook at night and row all day. I pretty much averaged about 25 miles a day for the four days,” Penfold said.

Penfold used a map and compass to navigate his way through the ocean and along the Maine coast up to Harpswell. However, he ran into a navigational challenge on his first morning: a thick bout of fog.

“Most of it was very easy. I was just looking at a chart of the land, heading south and basically picking out which islands to head for next. The only time [it got] complicated was during the first morning when it was very foggy,” Penfold said. “When you get into places where there’s just nothing but fog all around and there are no landmarks, then it’s just a matter of using the compass and figuring out what bearing you should be going for. I just rowed in a straight line.”

Before setting out on his voyage, Penfold organized his arrival with the Schiller Coastal Studies Center and made plans for docking his boat. His father drove his belongings down to Bowdoin to help him move in after his trek. Upon arriving at Schiller on Tuesday, Penfold felt calm and prepared for the semester ahead.

“It was a very satisfying and relaxing trip. It’s almost a kind of meditation, just rowing all day, [and it was] definitely a good way to unwind before the semester [began],” Penfold said. “I just enjoy being out on the ocean. It’s really relaxing and always incredibly beautiful out there. The coast of Maine is a pretty wild place.”


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